Now, President-elect Obama has said something very sane, and even my friends at Anti-war.com don't seem to get it:
President-elect Barack Obama reportedly intends to offer a strategic pact to Israel promising a “devastating US nuclear response” against Iran in the event Iran launches a nuclear attack on Israel. The move would be designed ostensibly to increase the deterrent factor against an attack on Israel.
Yet the pledge seems rather curious, insomuch as Iran not only has no nuclear arsenal, but is known to not be working on any such arsenal at the present time. Why the President-elect, while claiming an openness to direct diplomacy, would choose to make such a bellicose promise as a hedge against an attack the Iranian government couldn’t even hypothetically make is unclear, at best.
Even the Israelis seem puzzled, with one senior Israeli source wondering about the credibility of the threat when the US has been reluctant to support a pre-emptive Israeli attack on the still non-nuclear Iran. A top Bush Administration source added that he thought it would be difficult to convince the average American citizen that the US needs to enter a nuclear war with Iran, also wondering “what is the point of an American response after Israel’s cities are destroyed in an Iranian nuclear strike.”
The answer to the statement in bold is this: by making a pledge of retaliation for a nuclear attack on Israel, Obama undercuts the legitimacy of any Israeli preemptive attack on Iran, and gives him a tool to use on Tel Aviv by threatening to withdraw the pledge if the Israelis act irresponsibly toward Iran.
The source of this new doctrine is most likely Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton, who--as I reported in April--recommended extending the US nuclear umbrella over not just Israel, but also all of our NATO allies.
The NATO thing is a problem, as I don't think Clinton and Obama seriously want to make the case that we should consider an attack on Romania or Latvia to be the equivalent as an attack on the US.
On the other hand, while it may not work, Obama's positioning of Israel under that umbrella is one of the first new ideas that both protects Israel and conceivably gives us some leverage to influence (if not control) Tel Aviv's tendency toward rampant military adventurism.
Credit where credit is due: a better foreign policy idea from the Obama pre-administration is good.