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August 23, 2012

Good Old, Dependable John Bolton
Posted by David Shorr

Bolton-BushWe're having a lovely late-summer in the Midwest, and I don't want to spoil things by devoting too much time or energy to John Bolton's latest offering in the Washington Times. So I won't give Bolton's Tuesday Iran op-ed the same full-on exegesis that I did for two of his earlier efforts. Still a few key points need to be emphasized. 

Ambassador Bolton's main argument is that President Obama can't be trusted to follow through with military action to keep Iran from building nuclear weapons. Bolton is basically asking Americans and Israelis to use his assessment as the basis for their debates on the issue -- the choice between Obama and Romney as commander in chief and Israel's internal debate about possibly striking Iran unilaterally.

First of all, Bolton is engaging the issue on different battleground than his Weekly Standard piece on sanctions and negotiations just last month. That article made no mention of how President Obama has reserved a last-resort option to strike Iran's nuclear facilities. By the dubious standards of 2012 Republican tactics, it might be more honorable for Bolton to charge President Obama with not really meaning what he says rather than completely ignoring Obama's all-options-on-the-table stance. It was also interesting to see Bolton acknowledge divided Israeli attitudes over mounting a unilateral attack -- another key fact that's been conspicuously missing from typical right wing portrayals of Israeli eagerness to force the matter militarily. The next advance in intellectual honesty would be for Republicans to admit what an outlier the ultra-hawkish Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Barak have been in that debate; in fact one analyst the other day, Shai Feldman of Brandeis University, declated that debate over. 

As I say, Bolton is basically calling the president a liar when it comes to the use of force over the Iranian nuclear program. Here's what President Obama said last March to the AIPAC policy conference:

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

Former Under Secretary of Defense and top Obama campaign surrogate Michele Flournoy has vouched for the Pentagon's robust planning for military options both in a speech in Tel Aviv and a debate at Brookings against Romney surrogate Ambassador Rich Williamson. But hey, if you don't find declaratory policy or military planning persuasive, Walter Pincus of the Washington Post has reported on recent exercises in the region and the forces that could be drawn on.  

What I really want to know from Ambassador Bolton, though, is how he squares the following two passages from the Washington Times piece

Of course, Mr. Obama has created during his presidency the most antagonistic relationship ever between Israel and the White House.

and

Last week, Israeli President Shimon Peres took the extraordinary step of saying publicly that Israel should not strike on its own. Sounding surprisingly like an Obama surrogate, Mr. Peres said, “I am convinced [Obama] recognizes the American interest, and he isn’t saying this just to keep us happy.”

That's right, the most antagonistic relationship ever with a country whose president who vouches for President Obama's reliability. I mean, seriously. Now thanks to Michele's former Defense Department colleague Colin Kahl, we have a detailed account of the many many ways that President Obama has indeed supported Israel. To which I can add just one thing. Last year on the AIPAC study tour in which I took part -- which did not involve any skinnydipping -- we learned the security support from the Obama administration has met all of Israel's requests (most famously the "Iron Dome" anti-rocket system) with one exception. The only requests turned down were for items the US military needed for its own operation in Afghanistan.  

White House photo - Paul Morse

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