3) Obama also did something that increased the chances of the negotiations succeeding. He had long held that Iran shouldn't be allowed to develop a
nuclear weapon. Netanyahu had long held that Iran shouldn't be allowed to have even a nuclear weapons "capability"--that it shouldn't be left with the
technical wherewithal to produce a bomb should it decide to do that.
Netanyahu's position, if adopted by Obama, could have impeded a deal with Iran. A ban on an Iranian nuclear "capability," if interpreted broadly, would
mean that Iran shouldn't be allowed to enrich its own uranium for peaceful purposes, since even a modest enrichment infrastructure reduces the amount
of time it would take to produce a weapon (if only reducing it to, say, two years). And pretty much nobody thinks Iran would agree to a deal that meant
giving up its entire enrichment program; the hope had been to keep the enrichment modest and place it under intrusive monitoring that could detect any
moves toward a weapons program.
Happily, Obama stood firm against Netanyahu. He signaled this in an interview late last week with The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg, when he repeated
that what was unacceptable was Iran's developing a nuclear weapon. He maintained that position through Netanyahu's visit to Washington this
4) Standing firm against Netanyahu on this issue not only increased the chances that negotiations will succeed; it decreased the pressure Obama will
feel to conduct or support air strikes during 2012 in the event that negotiations fail. Depending on how loosely you define "nuclear weapons
capability," Iran could have it well before the end of the year--in fact, if you define it loosely enough, Iran has it now. So if "capability" was the
"red line" that Iran can't cross, Netanyahu could argue that Obama is obliged to start bombing any moment now. But there's pretty much no chance that
Iran will have a nuclear weapon by the end of the year. So Obama can get through the November election and beyond without bombing Iran and
without anyone claiming that he's reneged on his promise to keep Iran from going nuclear.
OK, enough good news. Now for the argument that the chances of war during 2013 have risen, an argument outlined by former Israeli negotiator Daniel Levy of the New America Foundation.
Though Obama basically stood firm against Netanyahu, he did give the Israeli prime minister a consolation prize. Even as Obama refused to move the red
line from "nuclear weapon" to "nuclear weapons capability," he added an extra coat of paint to the red line, stating more emphatically than ever that
he wouldn't let Iran cross it.
Particularly significant was his declaration during the Goldberg interview that "I don't bluff." This vow made it into a New York Times
headline, and you can rest assured that hawks will recite it via all known media should Iran get close to developing a nuclear weapon on Obama's watch.
And that could happen as early as 2013 should negotiations fail in 2012 (though a weapon developed in 2013 almost certainly wouldn't be deliverable via
missile in 2013). So Obama has managed to reduce the pressure for military action in 2012, but the price he's paid may be increased pressure down the