Obama’s AIPAC Gambit

Obama Dana Milbank makes a funny at Barack Obama’s expense:

Now, here’s a change we can believe in.

A mere 12 hours after claiming the Democratic presidential nomination, Barack Obama appeared before the American Israel Public Affairs Committee yesterday — and changed himself into an Israel hard-liner.


As a pandering performance, it was the full Monty by a candidate who, during the primary, had positioned himself to Hillary Clinton’s left on matters such as Iran. Yesterday, Obama, who has generally declined to wear an American-flag lapel pin, wore a joint U.S.-Israeli pin, and even tried a Hebrew phrase on the crowd.

Obama even outdid President Bush in his pro-Israel sentiments. On the very day that Obama vowed to protect Jerusalem as Israel’s capital — drawing a furious denunciation from the Palestinian Authority — Bush announced that he was suspending a move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem.

Pat Lang is bemused by Obama’s positioning here, noting that he won the nomination by taking a moderate tone on foreign policy while his chief opponent alienated the anti-war wing of the party with her votes supporting the Iraq War and labeling Iran’s elite military force as a “terrorist” organization. Now, he’s gone from a getting ridiculed for saying he’d sit down and talk with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to saber-rattling worthy of a neocon.

Obama said to the AIPAC devoted that he would do “anything in his power to prevent Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, anything.” Anything is a lot for an American president. Under the authorities still in force an American president has complete operational control of the strategic nuclear force. A launch order from him will be obeyed. Why? Easy. It would be a lawful order. An American president would not do that? How sure are you?

Actually, I’m pretty sure. But I must admit to sharing Lang’s confusion about what Obama is trying to do here. Yes, Obama has something of a “Jewish problem” and, yes, Democrats tend to tack right after the primaries while Republicans tack left. But this seems out of character for him and not in a good way.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. John425 says:

    “But this seems out of character for him”

    Not if you notice that he is an opportunist of the first order!

  2. Triumph says:

    Did you actually read/listen to the speech? It is consistent with what he’s been saying all along–in fact he said essentially the same thing to AIPAC last year where he implored that “we should take no option, including military action off the table.”

    All major candidates have said that they would resist Iran getting nuclear weapons. In fact, Iran would be in violation of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty if they acquired nuclear weapons.

    The difference between McCain & Obama is huge. The former wants to “bomb, bomb, bomb” Iran in the absence of evidence that Iran has violated its treaty obligations. Obama said nothing of the sort. His argument is sensible: military action is one tool for asserting US interests in the foreign policy arena.

  3. PD Shaw says:

    Obama said similar things in 2004 about a nuclear Iran being unacceptable, and the potential need to use military force because it doesn’t look like the Iranians are going to blink.

    I don’t think this is merely catering to AIPAC since I don’t think Jews were an important swing constituency against Alan Keyes. I think his foreign policy instincts are not fully formed (Samantha Powers has said as much) and he shares many of the idealistic tendencies of other internationalists. Sort of like GW Bush.


  4. Dave Schuler says:

    in the absence of evidence that Iran has violated its treaty obligations

    I’m a little confused by this statement, Triumph. Didn’t the IAEA say just last week that Iran had violated its treaty obligations?

    Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that all treaty violations are created equal nor do I think a country should go to war at the drop of a casus belli. Specifically, I do not believe, absent something even more foolhardy and more egregious than the Iranians have done to date, that we should bomb or invade Iran.

    But haven’t the Iranians repeatedly violated their obligations under the NNPT?

  5. Bithead says:

    Correct, David.
    And to think BOOOOSSSSHHH got changed with selective application of UN rulings.

  6. Triumph says:

    But haven’t the Iranians repeatedly violated their obligations under the NNPT?

    The latest IAEA report says that Iran has failed to provide it with necessary documentation to adequately analyze its nuclear activities and has said that Iran failed to abide by Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment.

    So, yes, the report is troubling.

    The issue of the post, however, was Obama’s rhetoric. James presents him as some sort of flip flopping opportunist. In reality, his position has been consistent. Even if his rhetoric is stronger at this point–than it was during his visit to AIPAC last year–it suggests that he recognizes “changes on the ground” with regard to IAEA developments.

    The difference between Bush/McCain and Obama is that the former jump to conclusions about “facts” that haven’t been fully vetted to tragic consequences. Obama would likely take an approach more in line with international law.

  7. joe says:

    Is Obama a friend of Israel? Perhaps he will be a better friend than Bush, Clinton, McCain or John Hagee. Will Obama continue to allow Israel to control foreign policy? McClellan said that Bush purposely mis-lead the American people concerning the Iraq war. We later found out that Bush was only a part of the conspiracy. Jessica Yellen said that MSM (Main Stream Media) played a major roll in the propaganda campaign leading up the the Iraq war. What about main stream religion, evangelists and ministers…they were major players in this conspiracy.. Phillip Zelikow, Bush adviser and member of the 911 commission said “Iraq war was launched to protect Israel.” .America has lost over 4000 of our finest to protect Israel. Obama should be pro-Iraq war.

  8. LaurenceB says:

    As an Obama supporter, this “Jerusalem capital” business is one of the few times I’ve been disappointed in him – the other that comes prominently to mind was his pandering to the protectionist anti-trade crowd.

    Oh well… I guess there are no perfect candidates, and he’s still the best one out there for me.

  9. Fence says:

    But haven’t the Iranians repeatedly violated their obligations under the NNPT?

    As has the US. Read Article VI, which we signed 40 years ago next month: “Each of the Parties to the Treaty undertakes to pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to cessation of the nuclear arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament, and on a Treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.”

    So say you are Iran. The biggest nuclear power in the world just invaded your next door neighbor without provocation, their President calls you part of the “axis of evil” and the guy with 50-50 chance of being the next President sings “bomb bomb Iran.” Obviously, none of us would run Iran they way they do, but if I were them, I could see wanting a nuke in my back pocket.

    A big and obviously growing percentage of Iranians were born after the Revolution and don’t like their government, they like NBA basketball and video games. When they eventually take charge of the country Iran could turn into an important US ally. But we risk messing that up with the elitist antagonism we throw at them, it turns their Millenials away from US and toward their government. And yes, there are risks as we wait, but what real choice do we have? If we can’t control Iraq we certainly can’t control Iran.

  10. Spysmasher says:

    “Out of character for him.”


    It’s something a super-slickster con man would do, the action of an empty suit, so it fits Obama perfectly!

  11. anjin-san says:

    I don’t think any Democrats, from Obama down, are saying that in the case of Iran we don’t need to keep our eyes open and our powder dry.

    What they are saying is that we need to have options other that “we won’t talk to you” and “we will bomb the crap out of you”. McCain may think that singing little diddies about blowing up other human beings is amusing, but I for one do not.

    The tragic thing is that the government of Iran enjoys little support, and a lot of Iranians still like and admire the US in spite of the fact that we pretty much screwed them over.

  12. anjin-san says:

    the action of an empty suit, so it fits Obama perfectly

    The stupidity of the “empty suit” line is self-evident. Whatever you may think of Obama, there is no debate that he just took the vaunted Clinton political machine apart in a contest that began with Hillary holding every advantage.

    Yes, the same Clinton machine that beat the GOP like a drum with great frequency not that long ago…

  13. Alex Knapp says:

    Actually, Obama has consistently taken a hawkish, pro-Likud pose, even to the point that he said he wouldn’t sit down and meet with Hamas. These are disappointing stances.

  14. Hal says:

    If this is a measure of the ammo on the right, then it’s going to be a lot more fun than I thought.

  15. James Joyner says:

    If this is a measure of the ammo on the right, then it’s going to be a lot more fun than I thought.

    I don’t think either Milbank or Lang are “the right.”

  16. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    All right Pilot, just what is it in Obama’s resume that makes you think he is capable of being President of the United States? Was it his valuable time as the editor of a school newspaper? How about his time as a community organizer? No, his 6 voteless years as a Illinois state senator or the 1/3 of a term he has served in the U.S. Senate. The suit looks pretty empty to me. He began his political career in the house of Will Ayers and un repentant domestic terrorist, both his spiritual mentors are race baiting haters, all of his associates are marxist. None of his friends are people of worth and you want this man to run America? WTF is wrong with you Anjin? You have no idea who Obama is. Not even a clue. When his close associates, like Tony Rezko, are found out to be criminals or worse, Obama claims they are not the person he knew. If his is running on judgment, maybe he should have shown a little. I wonder what judgement he was using when he had that crack pipe in his mouth?

  17. Hal says:

    I don’t think either Milbank or Lang are “the right.”

    Well, duh. I think of their remarks as the bullets folks like you use – as evidenced by this post.

    As I said, pretty weak ammo, dude.

  18. Fence says:

    Dang, it is so disappointing to learn that Obama is unqualified because his waitress at a Waffle House in 1975 filed her taxes late. ‘Cause I already eliminated voting for McCain because I already got a robocall telling me he once spent 5 years hanging out with dark-skinned Commies who were at war with America.

    I supported the guy in 1980 who had less experience. I think that turned out pretty well.

  19. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Fence. Are you aware Reagan had 8 years as governor of the State of California. What is it in Obamas resume that measures up? Community what? There are none so blind as those who will not see.

  20. Fence says:

    Yes, of course I was aware of that at the time and haven’t forgotten. Reagan was a good President, but not because of his largely unremarkable experience as Governor. In 1980 Jimmy Carter had much more relevant experience than Reagan. Lots of duds have been governors for awhile, that doesn’t mean they’d be good Presidents. There’s more to picking the President than the number of lines on a resume.

    I’m not saying there’s no point in the general direction you are swinging, but when you talk so disrespectfully about Obama (who needs not my attempt at answering your question to establish his credentials as a very impressive dude), no one whose vote is up for grabs this year will listen for 2 seconds.

  21. anjin-san says:

    Experience is a funny thing. GHW Bush was, on paper, better prepared to be president than any of his predecessors. In spite of that, he was a mediocre one term president who did not seem to really understand the job on many levels.

    Bill Clinton, with relatively little experience when he took the job, turned out to be an excellent president, mostly by virtue of brainpower and political skills.

    The resume don’t mean a heck of a lot.