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Speak Softly, And....? By: Brett Joshpe
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, December 16, 2008

This week's report by Haaretz.com that the Obama administration plans to offer Israel a “nuclear shield” in response to any Iranian attack on Israel is a frightening reminder that the economic recession is not all that currently plagues the world.

The Israeli newspaper quotes an anonymous source, who reportedly is “close to the administration,” saying the U.S. will warn of a nuclear response if Israel is attacked. However, Israelis may see this is an admission by the incoming administration that Iran will eventually acquire nuclear capabilities. Not only is that potential development unacceptable to Israelis, given the threat that a nuclear Iran would pose, but there are significant reasons to doubt the credibility of any retaliatory policy that Barack Obama proposes. 

Obama has long expressed an aversion to nuclear weapons, and there is doubt whether he would use nuclear weapons even in the most exigent circumstances. Back in August 2007, when asked about the possibility of ever using nuclear weapons in the War on Terror, Obama said, “I think it would be a profound mistake for us to use nuclear weapons in any circumstance.” Perhaps realizing the foolishness of such a blanket declaration, he then said, “Let me scratch that. There's been no discussion of nuclear weapons. That's not on the table.” 

If Obama's position on using nuclear weapons is now different, it would not constitute the first significant change in his thinking.  While campaigning last summer, Obama also made several statements reflecting his desire to eradicate nuclear weapons. At a July 16th roundtable discussion at Purdue University, Obama cited the danger of fighting "the last war." Then, during Obama's famed July 24th speech in Berlin, Germany, he said that "we must renew the goal of a world without nuclear weapons." Around that time, Obama also declared that he would use “big carrots and big sticks” to prevent Iran and its saber-rattling President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from acquiring nuclear weapons. The president-elect has said on numerous occasions that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptable. Yet, how Obama intends credibly to deter or prevent Iran from pursuing atomic weapons remains an open question that will need to be answered quickly and with more than lofty campaign rhetoric.

Admittedly, President Bush, with plenty of help from the do-nothing international community, has dealt Obama a difficult hand, given that the current administration has not arrested the Iranian government’s move toward nuclear capability over the last several years. Nonetheless, conceding nuclear status to Iran should not be an option. And while there still might be time to derail Tehran's ambitions, doing so likely will require a military strike, either from Israel, the U.S., or both.

However, if Obama is unwilling to use military force to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons in the first place, why should anyone take seriously his threat to retaliate against Iran with nuclear weapons in the event of an attack on Israel? Similarly, if Obama would resort to the latter, why not employ the former?

These developments also highlight another questionable policy initiative of the incoming president. Specifically, Obama indicated during the campaign that he would “cut investments in unproven missile-defense systems.” Now, more than ever, we must pursue, not abandon, technology that could protect Americans from attacks from rogue nations like Iran or North Korea. If Obama carries through on prior statements on missile defense, it would come at a particularly ill-advised time, given that the U.S. recently conducted its most successful and significant missile defense test to date, bringing us closer to a functional shield that could protect the U.S., as well as allies like Israel and India. 

So far, Obama deserves credit for appointing a foreign policy cabinet, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, that reflects a tougher, more realistic worldview than the one Obama set forth on the campaign trail. However, substantial questions and concerns surrounding imminent dangers that Obama must face still exist. 

How he intends to stop Iran, rather than how to retaliate against them, should be foremost on the list. 

Brett Joshpe is co-author, along with S.E. Cupp, of the recent book, Why You''re Wrong About the Right: Behind the Myths: The Surprising Truth About Conservatives (Simon & Schuster). Mr. Joshpe also founded Students for Protecting America while attending Harvard Law School, an organization that supported the war in Iraq. He currently practices law in New York City at Wrobel & Schatz LLP.

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