In a speech Sunday to the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), President Obama emphatically restated his commitment to protecting Israel and preventing Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon — and, anticipating GOP attacks in the near future, he took the liberty to rebut criticisms of his foreign policy toward the Jewish state as well as Iran.
“If during this political season you hear some questions regarding my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it’s not backed up by the facts,” Obama told the AIPAC crowd. “And remember that the US-Israel relationship is simply too important to be distorted by partisan politics.”
The president evoked dozens of instances where his administration has worked to bolster Israel’s interests, diplomatically and in other ways. He also discussed the “crippling sanctions” he’s pushed to help prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon. “As you examine my commitment, you don’t just have to count on my words. You can look at my deeds,” he said. “So there should not be a shred of doubt by now — when the chips are down, I have Israel’s back.”
Meanwhile, on the campaign trail in Georgia, Mitt Romney repeated an often-used line: “If Barack Obama gets reelected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon, and the world will change.”
Bashing Obama on Israel has been a recurring feature of right-wing politics, but there are signs that Republicans intend to zero in on this attack. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) is expected to do just that in a speech to AIPAC Monday, one day after Obama’s address. In a new Foreign Policy op-ed titled “How to Beat Obama,” Karl Rove and Ed Gillespie urge Republicans to use the issue of Israel to hurt the president politically.
“His approach to Israel must be presented as similarly weak and untrustworthy,” Rove and Gillespie write. “The Republican candidate must make clear the existential threat to Israel from a nuclear-armed Iran — not only because it will lead to a better policy, but also because it will reduce the president’s support among this key voting bloc in the critical battleground states of Florida, Michigan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania.”
Appearing on CNN’s State of the Union Sunday, House Homeland Security Chairman Peter King (R-NY) said he has “no doubt that Iran is getting extremely close to being able to have a nuclear weapon that’s operational.”
Obama’s carefully worded speech aimed to thread a fine needle: shield himself from conservative attacks while also seeking to quiet the growing saber-rattling about war with Iran. “Already, there is too much loose talk of war,” he said, declaring that such “bluster” has “only benefited the Iranian government, by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.”
The Republican attacks are likely to intensify this week as Obama meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday. In prior policy disagreements between the two leaders, Republicans have routinely sided with Netanyahu, and will be eagerly looking for opportunities to make political hay out of any possible daylight between their president and the Israeli leader.
“Israel can’t afford to make a mistake. Their window of opportunity is shorter than ours is,” King said. “But I don’t know right now if they trust [Obama]. And that’s really why tomorrow’s meeting with Netanyahu is so important.”
Sahil Kapur is a congressional reporter for TPM. He previously covered politics and public policy for numerous publications including The Guardian and The Huffington Post. He can be reached at sahil [at] talkingpointsmemo.com.