Mar
07

Obama slams GOP for casual war talk re Iran, stresses Costs

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President Barack Obama, in his Super Tuesday news conference, explained his thinking on Iran and tensions between it and Israel.

The most impressive thing he said was,

Now, what’s said on the campaign trail – those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Obama castigated the Republican presidential candidates for their often cavalier references to unilaterally striking Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment plants at Natanz and at Fardow. He said that his opponents spoke about this prospect casually, not taking into account seem of the key ways in which a strike on Iran would have a profound influence on the US.

President Obama went on to assert that his massive sanctions on Iran are having a profound impact on that country, and that, essentially, it is too soon to tell whether they will cause Iran to change course.

Obama mentioned the impact a war with Iran would have on the lives of American soldiers.

Well, the war in Iraq killed nearly 5,000 of them, and wounded tens of thousands, about 30,000 of them fairly seriously. Many suffer from traumatic brain injuries. Others have lost limbs. They have faced large numbers of Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs.

Of Vets treated at Veterans Administration hospitals, 2004-2009 :

21 percent were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but not traumatic brain injury (TBI),
2 percent were diagnosed with TBI but not PTSD,
An additional 5 percent had both PTSD and TBI.

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Linda Bilmes have concluded that their original estimate of $3 trillion as the cost of the Iraq War, including care for wounded Vets, was too low.

Treating brain injuries has been more expensive than they had estimated. They believe going to war contributed to our high price of petroleum today, because it discouraged investment in the oil countries of the Middle East. Likewise, they believe that the costs of the Iraq War contributed to the economic meltdown in 2008.

I will reiterate here that Iran is about 3 times as populous as Iraq and is a much bigger, more rugged country (Iran is as big as Germany, France and Spain rolled into one). So all those statistics can easily be tripled or more if there is a US-Iran war.

That is, its cost would not be ‘more than’ 3 trillion. It would be more than 9 trillion. And we’d likely see some 100,000 dead or severely wounded.

And gasoline surely would go to $7 or $8 a gallon, maybe $10, throwing millions back out of work.

It is the height of hypocrisy for Republican candidates to campaign on lower gasoline prices, on economic recovery, and on reducing government debt, but then to cavalierly pledge to strike Iran. While they may think they can do a hit and run, such a strike could easily spiral into war, and war has unexpected costs.

While Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have spoken recklessly about striking Iran, Mitt Romney has hemmed and hawed, and basically has suggested exaction the steps President Obama is taking.

On the other hand, much of what Obama said about Iran is wrong. Iran is in compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory. It has the right to close the fuel cycle according to that document. Iran’s nuclear facilities are regularly inspected. While the NPT exempts military bases from being inspected (Russia and the US didn’t want their own bases under scrutiny), Iran has just agreed to an inspection of a military base where no experiments with uranium are being conducted.

Here is the transcript of the relevant passages:

Q Yes, sir. On the Middle East and as it relates to American politics, a little less than a year ago Moammar Qaddafi gave a speech, and he said he was going to send his forces to Benghazi, he was going to rout opponents from their bedrooms and he was going to shoot them. You frequently cited that speech as a justification for NATO, the no-fly zone and military action against Libya. In Syria, Bashar al Assad is killing people. There’s a massacre underway. And your critics here in the United States, including, most notably, John McCain, said you should start air strikes now.

And on Iran, Mitt Romney, on Sunday, went so far as to say that if you are re-elected, Iran will get a bomb and the world will change. How do you respond to those criticisms?

THE PRESIDENT: All right, Mike, you’ve asked a couple of questions there, so let me – let’s start with the Iran situation since that’s been the topic in the news for the last few days.

When I came into office, Iran was unified, on the move, had made substantial progress on its nuclear program, and the world was divided in terms of how to deal with it. What we’ve been able to do over the last three years is mobilize unprecedented, crippling sanctions on Iran. Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way. The world is unified; Iran is politically isolated.

And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon – because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists. And we’ve been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.

At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That’s not just my view. That’s the view of our top intelligence officials; it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials. And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they’re meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

That’s my track record. Now, what’s said on the campaign trail – those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war. If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.

Q That goes to Syria as well?

THE PRESIDENT: With respect to Syria, what’s happening in Syria is heartbreaking and outrageous, and what you’ve seen is the international community mobilize against the Assad regime. And it’s not a question of when Assad leaves – or if Assad leaves – it’s a question of when. He has lost the legitimacy of his people. And the actions that he’s now taking against his own people is inexcusable, and the world community has said so in a more or less unified voice.

On the other hand, for us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake. What happened in Libya was we mobilized the international community, had a U.N. Security Council mandate, had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a much more complicated situation.

So what we’ve done is to work with key Arab states, key international partners – Hillary Clinton was in Tunisia – to come together and to mobilize and plan how do we support the opposition; how do we provide humanitarian assistance; how do we continue the political isolation; how do we continue the economic isolation. And we are going to continue to work on this project with other countries. And it is my belief that, ultimately, this dictator will fall, as dictators in the past have fallen.

But the notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn’t been true in the past and it won’t be true now. We’ve got to think through what we do through the lens of what’s going to be effective, but also what’s critical for U.S. security interests.

Jake Tapper.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. What kind of assurances did you give Prime Minister Netanyahu about the role that the U.S. would play if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to work to convince Iran’s leaders to change their behavior, and Israel goes ahead and prepares to strike a nuclear facility? What kind of assurances did you tell him? And shouldn’t we – I recognize the difference between debate and bluster – but shouldn’t we be having in this country a vigorous debate about what could happen in the case of a Middle East war in a way that, sadly, we did not do before going into Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there’s no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be.

I’m not one of those people – because what I’ve said is, is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table. And we’ve got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.

I’m not going to go into the details of my conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But what I said publicly doesn’t differ greatly from what I said privately. Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security. And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any Prime Minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland.

What I’ve also said is that because sanctions are starting to have significant effect inside of Iran – and that’s not just my assessment, that’s, I think, a uniform assessment – because the sanctions are going to be even tougher in the coming months, because they’re now starting to affect their oil industry, their central bank, and because we’re now seeing noises about them returning to the negotiating table, that it is deeply in everybody’s interests – the United States, Israel and the world’s – to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion.

And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks, or month or two months, is not borne out by the facts. And the argument that we’ve made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries, but one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal – particularly one in which we have a stake. This is not just an issue of Israeli interest; this is an issue of U.S. interests. It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences to the United States as well.

And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there’s going to be a price to pay. Sometimes it’s necessary. But we don’t do it casually.

When I visit Walter Reed, when I sign letters to families that haven’t – whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost. Sometimes we bear that cost. But we think it through. We don’t play politics with it. When we have in the past – when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes. And typically, it’s not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.

And as a consequence, I think it’s very important for us to take a careful, thoughtful, sober approach to what is a real problem. And that’s what we’ve been doing over the last three years. That’s what I intend to keep doing.

Q Sir, I’m sorry, if I could just quickly follow up – you didn’t –

THE PRESIDENT: Jake –

Q You might not be beating the drums of war, but you did very publicly say, we’ve got Israel’s back. What does that mean?

THE PRESIDENT: What it means is, is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies – just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan. And that broad statement I think is confirmed when you look at what we’ve done over the last three years on things like Iron Dome that prevents missiles from raining down on their small towns along border regions of Israel, that potentially land on schools or children or families. And we’re going to continue that unprecedented security – security commitment.

It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action. It was a restatement of our consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about, and that the deeds of my administration over the last three years confirms how deeply we care about it. That’s a commitment we’ve made.

Jackie. Where’s Jackie? There you are.

Q With the news this morning that the U.S. and its allies are returning to the table, are taking up Iran’s offer to talk again, more than a year after those talks broke up in frustration, is this Israel’s – Iran’s last chance to negotiate an end to this nuclear question?

And you said three years ago – nearly three years ago, in a similar one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that the time for talk – by the end of that year, 2009, you would be considering whether Iran was negotiating in good faith. And you said at that time that “we’re not going to have talks forever.” So here we are nearly three years later. Is this it? And did you think you would be here three years after those first talks?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, there is no doubt that over the last three years when Iran has engaged in negotiations there has been hemming and hawing and stalling and avoiding the issues in ways that the international community has concluded were not serious. And my expectations, given the consequences of inaction for them, the severe sanctions that are now being applied, the huge toll it’s taking on their economy, the degree of isolation that they’re feeling right now – which is unprecedented – they understand that the world community means business.

To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful. They know how to do that. This is not a mystery. And so it’s going to be very important to make sure that, on an issue like this – there are complexities; it obviously has to be methodical. I don’t expect a breakthrough in a first meeting, but I think we will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are about resolving the issue.

And there are steps that they can take that would send a signal to the international community and that are verifiable, that would allow them to be in compliance with international norms, in compliance with international mandates, abiding by the non-proliferation treaty, and provide the world an assurance that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon. They know how to do it, and the question is going to be whether in these discussions they show themselves moving clearly in that direction.

from Juan

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