Obama and Iran, Redux


Some suggestion that this post was unfair to Barack Obama. An, certainly, this August 28 statement on Bush's Iran / mushroom cloud remarks from Obama doesn't sound like the words of a man looking to beat the drums of war:

There is an eerie echo to the President's words today. Five years ago, he made a misleading case to the American people that the trail to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden somehow led through Iraq, and too many in Washington followed without asking the hard questions that should have been raised. Now we are dealing with the consequences of that failure of candor and judgment, and the President is using the politics of fear to continue a wrong-headed policy. It's time to turn the page on the failed Bush-Cheney strategy and conventional Washington thinking, remove our combat troops from Iraq, mount a long overdue surge of diplomacy, and focus our attention on a resurgent al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Similarly, one plausible (albeit frightening) interpretation of what's happening here is that the Bush administration is blocking legislative efforts at an approach to Iran centered around sanctions and carrots specifically in order to be able to proclaim that the diplomatic approach "failed" and military strikes are needed. So, okay, I don't think Obama's trying to grease the skids for war. At the same time, his Daily News op-ed did get the head and subhead "Hit Iran where it hurts: Democratic presidential hopeful takes a get-tough stance against tyrant of Tehran." Writers don't pick their own headlines, but you've got to imagine that the campaign signed off on that framing on some level. What game is Obama playing? Well, according to the Jewish Week:

Capitol Hill insiders say Obama genuinely believes in the necessity of curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions — but also that his championing of the Iran divestment measure is part of a concerted effort to reassure Jewish voters that began with his March speech to a Chicago gathering of AIPAC.

“There are soft spots in his campaign,” said Kean University political scientist Gilbert Kahn. “He doesn’t have a long record; he got negative attention for suggesting he would negotiate with Syria and Iran. So he wants to stake out a piece of the Mideast question where he knows he’s not going to get any Jewish flak.”

Basically, there seems to be one policy here, namely that curbing Iranian nuclear ambitions is an important priority that needs to be accomplished through a greater commitment to diplomacy on both the carrots (willing to hold talks without preconditions) and sticks (sanctions) front, and that a war with Iran would be a bad idea. But there also seem to be two messages here, one about a "get-tough stance" that's supposed to "reassure Jewish voters" and another about an "eerie echo" that's aimed at other people. I'm not sure how long an Iran message divided against itself can stand. I'm also not sure what the evidence is that Jewish voters (as opposed to AIPAC board members) have unusually hawkish views on Iran.

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Matthew Yglesias is a former writer and editor at The Atlantic.

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