“It felt like pandering.” – Steve Clemons

Clemons is talking about the interview Pres. Obama gave to his colleague Jeffrey Goldberg.

Coming just before the annual AIPAC meeting, how could it not be presidential pandering?

For me, it just seemed like the same old political game from a man who knows better, but who is getting incredible pressure from the same people who got us into war with Iraq to get “tougher” on Israel.

To give teeth to the deterrent threat against Iran, Israel and its backers want Mr. Obama to stop urging restraint on Israel and to be more explicit about the circumstances under which the United States itself would carry out a strike. – U.S. Backers of Israel Pressure Obama Over Policy on Iran

The headline above from the New York Times today is typical of traditional media’s myopia at what describes “backers,” but also why Pres. Obama’s interview with Goldberg came out as it did.

Goldberg recently made the case that nobody has been stronger on Iran than Pres. Obama.

Memo to Republicans: Obama Is Tougher on Iran Than George W. Bush

But Obama, while avoiding rhetorical drama, has actually done more to stop Iran than the Bush Administration ever did.

That’s an understatement, especially considering it was on Pres. Bush’s watch, who forced the Palestinians to vote before they were ready, which gave Hamas a path into the governing echelon.

So, the choice of Pres. Obama to sit down with Goldberg is understandably, if predictably, self-serving and comes with all sorts of tangential implications.  It’s getting a lot of attention for tone.

Jeffrey Goldberg, whom I’ve been following closely on Iran and Israel, is one of the political writers on the right who continue to label critics of Israeli policy “anti-Israel” and much worse. Goldberg’s history includes being in the IDF, which is worth bringing up here to give Pres. Obama’s decision to give Goldberg the interview its full context (links are available at the original post).

For those of you haven’t read the book (you can conveniently buy it right here !), the hyper-short version of the loyalty issue is this: As a teenager, I felt a bit like David Ben-Gurion (or Ari Ben-Canaan, more to the point)  set adrift on Long Island. I thought, for various reasons I describe in the book, that Israel might have been meant to be my true home, so I moved there in my early 20s, only to learn that in Israel, I felt like George Washington. I realized, by the time I arrived at the central army intake base as a not-so-happy draftee, that I was irreducibly American, and this feeling was reinforced by my service at an Intifada prison, which I disliked very much, mainly because I thought the occupation (or more specifically, the settlement) of the West Bank and Gaza was counterproductive, brutal and generally un-Jewish.

From the state of the Senate resolution, to Bill Kristol’s front page ad, to the swiftboating of Media Matters and Center for American Progress, to Pres. Obama giving Goldberg this interview at a critical moment in time, the stage craft is purposeful.

Pres. Obama is competing with flyswatters like Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, as well as religious conservatives like Rick Santorum, all of whom are competing for what is our annual ritual.

Who can be more pro-Israel?

As for Mitt Romney, he’ll do what’s expected of any post-9/11 Republican who has no foreign policy credentials: channel George W. Bush.

Pres. Obama is telegraphing he won’t take a back seat to warmongers like Sens. McCain, Graham and Lieberman, even as Josh Rogin reports the anti-Obama forces are determined to prove Obama is not Israel’s friend. Rogin has the trailer for the campaign, which is hyperbole at its worst and something I won’t even post.

But hearing Stephanie Cutter, co-chair of Obama reelect, with Chuck Todd on Friday emphasize “all options are on the table,” on top of Pres. Obama’s hawk bluster with Goldberg, is embarrassingly transparent.

I’m never impressed when a politician talks about military action as a threat against Iran, especially since Pres. Obama will be warning P.M. Netanyahu that a strike by Israel would be catastrophic, especially for the United States.

GOLDBERG: Do you think Israel could cause damage to itself in America by preempting the Iranian nuclear program militarily?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don’t know how it plays in America. I think we in the United States instinctively sympathize with Israel, and I think political support for Israel is bipartisan and powerful.

In my discussions with Israel, the key question that I ask is: How does this impact their own security environment? I’ve said it publicly and I say it privately: ultimately, the Israeli prime minister and the defense minister and others in the government have to make their decisions about what they think is best for Israel’s security, and I don’t presume to tell them what is best for them.

But as Israel’s closest friend and ally, and as one that has devoted the last three years to making sure that Israel has additional security capabilities, and has worked to manage a series of difficult problems and questions over the past three years, I do point out to them that we have a sanctions architecture that is far more effective than anybody anticipated; that we have a world that is about as united as you get behind the sanctions; that our assessment, which is shared by the Israelis, is that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon and is not yet in a position to obtain a nuclear weapon without us having a pretty long lead time in which we will know that they are making that attempt.

In that context, our argument is going to be that it is important for us to see if we can solve this thing permanently, as opposed to temporarily. […]

Israel has 200 or so nuclear weapons.

Pakistan has nuclear weapons.

North Korea has nuclear weapons.

Ghadaffi gave up his and look what happened to him.

Saddam Hussein was seen to have WMDs and even when he didn’t, people like Sens. John McCain, Lindsay Graham, Joe Lieberman, Joe Biden, Hillary Rodham Clinton and every other presidential hopeful in the Senate voted to give Pres. Bush power to begin the path to war.

Pres. Obama was lauded by his fans and supporters for being different, which at the time I said he wasn’t on national security, with, once again, my analysis of Obama from 2008 being true, as we’ve seen play out in the Administration’s drone policy, in Yemen, through targeted assassinations that go beyond Osama bin Laden, at Guantanamo Bay, as well as Libya.

Obama made an effort to shift the dynamic with his strong statements on settlements, but was ignored by Netanyahu, while V.P. Joe Biden was humiliated while on Israeli soil. In an election year, Obama’s now trying to talk the language of the neocons to posture strength he’s shown through a strategy that is diametrically opposed to their hair on fire warmongering.

Steve Clemons is correct, it’s pandering.