At last a leader, Obama fingers ‘Israeli interest’ in war

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
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Walter Reed
Obama signs prosthetic of Marine Corps Sgt Carlos Evans on White House tour yesterday.
(White House photo by Pete Souza)

President Obama’s press conference yesterday was bravura. He firmly dismissed the talk of war and exposed Israel’s push for war with the kind of comment the lobby hates:

This is not just an issue of Israeli interest; this is an issue of U.S. interests.  It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely.  There are consequences to the United States as well.

The lobby hates there being any public daylight between the United States and Israel. Obama was saying openly, there’s daylight.

And more than that, he fingered Israel as the only country with an interest in war. The Israelis are surely enraged by this. The onus is on them. As the Financial Times’ Tobias Buck explains:

 “All of a sudden, this is being framed as a problem between Israel and Iran. But it shouldn’t be. It is an issue for the international community” [says Emily Landau, a senior fellow at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies]

Israel is now so far ahead of the pack that it has itself become the target of stern diplomatic pressure. Israel recently has heard warnings not to attack Iran from the US, Germany, France and Britain – countries it normally regards as its closest allies. “Now, it is all about the US having to restrain Israel, rather than having to restrain Iran,” observes Ms Landau.

Obama was reading from the left’s playbook yesterday. Did you hear him talking about the “drums” of war? I thought he had read Leonard Fein in the Forward:

Just now, Israel and most American Jewish organizations are loudly beating the drums of war [against Iran].

Here’s Obama:

I think there’s no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. 

Did you hear Obama’s beautiful set speech on the soldiers maimed by war at Walter Reed?

When I visit Walter Reed, when I sign letters to families that haven’t — whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost.  Sometimes we bear that cost.  But we think it through.  We don’t play politics with it.  When we have in the past — when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes.  And typically, it’s not the folks who are popping off who pay the price.  It’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.

I thought he was channeling MJ Rosenberg at Huffington Post:

A few months ago, on a beautiful Saturday, I was walking on the grounds of the Walter Reed Army Hospital here in Washington. (A friend got me in.) There were dozens of young guys being pushed around in wheel chairs by parents, wives, girlfriends, buddies, etc. They looked like injured members of the high school football team, except that so many were missing limbs.

The question remains, Why did Obama do it? Why after all these years of caving to Netanyahu did Obama grow a spine?

Obama seemed angry to me. He couldn’t wait for the Iran question at the press conference, and as he answered it, his face was taut and flushed with emotion. I sensed his rage at AIPAC and at the Republicans for playing political games, blustering. And as Sanam Anderlini and Kate Gould said at Occupy AIPAC on Saturday, we’re talking about a possible World War 3.

But it’s an election year, and so, politically, why did he do it? I think Obama sees a winner. The polling data have clearly shown that Americans don’t want another war, and he’s talking to those Americans, educating them, and exposing the lobby to do so. The coverage of Obama’s defiance on the news yesterday was all positive. Andrea Mitchell was impressed, CNN’s Barbara Starr was too.

The president is showing leadership because he has gotten some political cover in the establishment, which is beginning to distance itself from the lobby. Jim Fallows’s angry opposition to the lobby taking us to war is huge– Fallows is a judicious centrist. MJ Rosenberg’s valiant use of the words Israel firster in order to single out the war party has had an effect; he has educated people and even the New Yorker has come to his side. (The New Yorker supported Bill Kristol’s last bad war, it’s not going to make the same mistake twice.)  The lobby has jumped the shark.

“Today on Morning Joe (Scarborough, MSNBC), there was a discussion about Obama’s press conference yesterday,” my friend Ilene Cohen informs me. “Everyone agreed that it was masterful…  Brokaw contrasted the president’s discussion of this very serious matter of war with the ‘bombast’ at AIPAC. There you have it– bombast and AIPAC in the same sentence. In addition, Republican Scarborough cited some new poll (WSJ and something else) finding that Americans do not want ‘a third war in the Middle East.’ I hope that Obama is duly reinforced by the incredible feedback.”

Emergency Committee ad in Washington
Bill Kristol bus shelter ad pushing war

And yes, I think the incredible women who led Occupy AIPAC had an effect. We were all over AIPAC; 200 of us massed the corner of 7th and M after the President’s Sunday AIPAC speech, to be there as his limo drove away. We were near three or four of Bill Kristol’s bus shelter ads (left) — and in fact Kristol himself squirted past us down 7th Street and into the hall (evidently not wanting to be in Obama’s audience) as we waited, holding antiwar signs.

Peace With Iran, they said in stark black and white, in English and Farsi. As the president went by, I have to believe he gave us a little clenched fist in solidarity.

(Thanks to Jasmin Ramsey, who was on this yesterday.)

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