Reuters is reporting that President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are both satisfied with their non-encounter at the United Nations last week. Both men "left the U.N. meeting with more than they arrived with: Obama with an assurance that Israel would not attack Iran's nuclear sites before the November 6 U.S. presidential election, and Netanyahu with a commitment from Obama to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from producing an atomic bomb."
I found the second half of this statement surprising. If it is indeed news to Netanyahu that Obama has promised to do "whatever it takes" to prevent Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold, then he hasn't been listening. He's not the only one who hasn't heard the President clearly on the subject. I run into people constantly who believe that the bluffer in this relationship is Obama. Their argument holds that Obama will move toward a strategy of containment soon after the election, and that there is no way he would ever use military force to prevent Iran from getting the bomb.
I'm in the camp of people, however, who take him at his word, in part because he's repeated himself on the subject so many times and in part because he has laid out such an effective argument against containment and for disruption, by force, if necessary. With the help of Armin Rosen, of The Atlantic's International Channel, I've posted below a partial accounting of Obama's statements on the subject. Of course, it is possible that in a second term, should he win his bid for reelection, he will change his mind on the subject, and it is possible, of course, that Iran will somehow manage to defy his demands. But the record is the record: Given the number of times he's told the American public, and the world, that he will stop Iran from going nuclear, it is hard to believe that he will suddenly change his mind and back out of his promise.
Here are some of his statements on the subject, going back to his first campaign for the presidency:
June 5, 2008, in Cairo: "I will continue to be clear on the fact that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be profoundly destabilizing for the entire region.It is strongly in America's interest to prevent such a scenario."
June 8, 2008, to AIPAC: "The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat.... Finally, let there be no doubt: I will always keep the threat of military action on the table to defend our security and our ally Israel."
October 7 2008, in the second presidential debate: "We cannot allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon. It would be a game-changer in the region. Not only would it threaten Israel, our strongest ally in the region and one of our strongest allies in the world, but it would also create a possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of terrorists. And so it's unacceptable. And I will do everything that's required to prevent it. And we will never take military options off the table,"
November 7, 2008, press conference: "Iran's development of a nuclear weapon, I believe, is unacceptable. And we have to mount an international effort to prevent that from happening."
February 27, 2009, speech at Camp Lejeune: "(W)e are focusing on al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan; developing a strategy to use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon; and actively seeking a lasting peace between Israel and the Arab world."
January 27, 2010, State of the Union address: "And as Iran's leaders continue to ignore their obligations, there should be no doubt: They, too, will face growing consequences. That is a promise."
July 1, /2010, at the signing of the Iran Sanctions Act: "There should be no doubt -- the United States and the international community are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
May 19, 2011, speech on the Middle East: "Now, our opposition to Iran's intolerance and Iran's repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known."
May 22, 2011, in an address to AIPAC: "You also see our commitment to our shared security in our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.... So let me be absolutely clear -- we remain committed to preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons."
October 13,2011, press conference after meeting with South Korean president: "Now, we don't take any options off the table in terms of how we operate with Iran."
November 14, 2011, press conference: "So what I did was to speak with President Medvedev, as well as President Hu, and all three of us entirely agree on the objective, which is making sure that Iran does not weaponize nuclear power and that we don't trigger a nuclear arms race in the region. That's in the interests of all of us... I have said repeatedly and I will say it today, we are not taking any options off the table, because it's my firm belief that an Iran with a nuclear weapon would pose a security threat not only to the region but also to the United States."
December 8, 2011, press conference: (In response to question about pressuring Iran): "No options off the table means I'm considering all options."
December 16, 2011, speech to the General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism: "Another grave concern -- and a threat to the security of Israel, the United States and the world -- is Iran's nuclear program. And that's why our policy has been absolutely clear: We are determined to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons...and that's why, rest assured, we will take no options off the table. We have been clear."
January 24, 2012, State of the Union address: "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal."
March 2, 2012, interview with Goldblog: "I... don't, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."
March 4, 2012, speech to AIPAC: "I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency."
March 5, 2012, remarks after meeting with Benjamin Netanyahu: "... I reserve all options, and my policy here is not going to be one of containment. My policy is prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons. And as I indicated yesterday in my speech, when I say all options are at the table, I mean it."
March 6, 2012, press conference: "And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon -- because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists.
March 14, 2012, remarks after meeting with David Cameron: "...And as I said in a speech just a couple of weeks ago, I am determined not simply to contain Iran that is in possession of a nuclear weapon; I am determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon -- in part for the reasons that David mentioned... We will do everything we can to resolve this diplomatically, but ultimately, we've got to have somebody on the other side of the table who's taking this seriously."
September 25, 2012, speech to the United Nations General Assembly: "Make no mistake: A nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained...the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."