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A World on Fire
White House Thinks "Chickenshit" Bibi Won't Bomb Iran

Does the White House no longer think Israel has the guts to bomb Iran? That’s the implication of an explosive new piece by Jeffrey Goldberg in the Atlantic. While Goldberg’s well-sourced account is blowing up on Twitter for senior officials’ derisive descriptions of Netanyahu (“Aspergery”, “chickenshit”), their opinions (right or not) have strategic implications beyond the short-term media sensation:

“The good thing about Netanyahu is that he’s scared to launch wars,” the official said, expanding the definition of what a chickenshit Israeli prime minister looks like. “The bad thing about him is that he won’t do anything to reach an accommodation with the Palestinians or with the Sunni Arab states. The only thing he’s interested in is protecting himself from political defeat. He’s not Rabin, he’s not Sharon, he’s certainly no (Menachem) Begin. He’s got no guts.”

I ran this notion by another senior official who deals with the Israel file regularly. This official agreed that Netanyahu is a “chickenshit” on matters related to the comatose peace process, but added that he’s also a “coward” on the issue of Iran’s nuclear threat. The official said that Obama administration no longer believes that Netanyahu would launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities in order to keep the regime in Tehran from building an atomic arsenal. “It’s too late for him to do anything. Two, three years ago, this was a possibility. But ultimately he couldn’t bring himself to pull the trigger. It was a combination of our pressure and his own unwillingness to do anything dramatic. Now it’s too late.”

If this is in fact the conclusion U.S. senior officials have reached, their Middle East policy becomes clearer: The Israelis and the Sunnis are whiners who complain about U.S. policy toward Iran but are unable to do anything about it or come up with an alternative.

If the threat of Israeli military action is really off the table (and we should remember that this wouldn’t be the first time a U.S. administration misjudged Israeli intentions), then it’s very unlikely that a strong international coalition in favor of tough sanctions against Iran can long survive. Many of the European countries that have supported sanctions on Iran have been trying to deter Israeli military action as much as to influence Iran’s behavior. If Israel has missed its chance for military action, or is perceived to lack the will to take it, then as that perception spreads we will have to expect significant changes in the politics of the region and in the attitudes of the Europeans.

Israel may be at a critical turning point not only in its relations with the United States but in the way its power is perceived in Europe and in its home region.

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  • David Heller

    I would neither be surprised, or disappointed with a tactical nuclear attack by Israel on Iranian WMD sites. Israel has the means, the motive, and the existential need to launch a First Strike.

    Obama has a perfect track record of misjudging, and then bungling every foreign policy issue that comes his way. I expect his record will continue to be unbroken.

    • FriendlyGoat

      Are you saying Obama is bungling if he leads Israel into doing a nuclear strike that you “would not be disappointed with”? Or would you rather the USA do one?

      • f1b0nacc1

        I don’t want to put word’s in David’s mouth, but I do think that it would be fair to describe Obama as bungling if he leads Israel into doing a nuclear strike whatever his (David’s) feelings about such a strike.
        Nukes are serious things, and even if they are used successfully and with perfect control, using them at all is a very, very bad idea. Do I think that Iran needs to be seriously beaten up, certainly, but there are ways to do that which don’t require establishing the precedent for using nukes in the middle east.
        With all of that said, Obama’s dithering, and obvious disinclination to do ANYTHING that will upset the mullahs is pushing Israel closer and closer to concluding that if they don’t wish to see a nuclear Iran, they are going to have to take care of it themselves. That is an outcome that nobody really wants to see, but Obama is making it more and more likely.

        • FriendlyGoat

          And Obama is supposed to do what?

          OF COURSE I agree with you that Israel should not be using nukes on Iran or anything else. But everyone constantly blaming Obama for the entirety of these difficult world situations is a conservative sport that seems counterproductive to me.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Obama has bent over backwards to help Iran escape the sanctions that we are told are designed to help deter them from building a bomb, has continued to take a soft line in negotiations that the Iranians themselves acknowledge will not stop the progress towards such a weapon, and in general has declined putting ANY pressure on the Iranians in his single-minded drive to get some/any agreement (even one which the Iranians would not honor) with them.
            The Iranians have logically concluded from this that they have nothing to fear from the US, and that the US will restrain the Israelis. Whether or not this is correct is perhaps debatable, but it is clearly the the message that they have gotten. With this in mind, they are continuing to take actions that will inevitably force the Israelis to take matters into their own hands, a result that no sane person really wants to see.
            What could be done? Obama COULD enforce sanctions strictly, stop providing excuses/extensions in the negotiating process over an agreement, establish (and enforce) limits on what is negotiable and what is not, and then back of all this up with a credible threat of force. If the Iranians remain intransigent at this point, it should be clear that they are hell-bent on building a bomb, and we can draw what conclusions are necessary.
            Allowing the Iranians to build a bomb would be a catastrophe for American interests in the middle east, but even more for the interests of the inhabitants of that unhappy region. Even a successful strike against Iran to disarm it would be a disaster for everyone involved. To blindly go forward as if this is not a problem, or that there is no realistic threat of this happening is not the action of a responsible leader. Obama’s dithering, combined with his refusal to acknowledge that his policies in this area are not working, is bringing us closer to an abyss that nobody should welcome.

          • FriendlyGoat

            A “credible threat” of WHAT “force”? An American nuke?
            An American invasion?

            I get it that you wanted Obama to bluff more like a cowboy, but most people actually didn’t and don’t want Obama making war on Iran or anyone else.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Lets start with a simple truth…nobody (other than a few nitwits on the fringe) wants a war. There is ample evidence that sanctions against Iran (some of them substantially enhanced by this administration early on) were having a strong impact on Iran’s economy, and were producing desirable (from our point of view) effects. These could have been further strengthened (and should be) as a first step in any campaign against Iran, unless it unconditionally renounces any nuclear program and permits unlimited inspections by not only UN, but credible Western inspectors.
            IF that does not work (and I remain skeptical that it will, despite my sunny, optimistic nature…grin…), then, and ONLY then, should other options be put on the table. A slow motion air campaign, first against Iranian air defense assets, then against their existing military complex (production and command centers first) as well as selected nuclear targets with conventional forces would have the desired effect. There is little doubt that the Iranians have no real ability to stop such efforts, and the costs to them of such an engagement would be far, far higher than they have the ability to offset by any means at their disposal. None of this would be cheap, or easy, but the long term costs of a nuclear Iran would be far, far higher.
            As for your comments regarding McCain and Palin, I have nothing but contempt for McCain, and slightly less for Palin. With that said, either of them is far more capable, qualified, and yes, intelligent than the fool in the White House at this moment. Looking back on 2008, the GOP was likely destined to lose no matter what, so perhaps it is fortunate that we got McCain’s candidacy out of the way before he had any real chance of winning the election, and doing real damage. The truth of the matter, however, is that the alternative to Obama’s serial incompetency and inability take any lessons from his manifold failures is not simply McCain, or whatever boogeyman/woman you choose to point to. Pretending otherwise out of some sort of ideological tribalism only undercuts any serious contributions to a discussion of how to go forward on critical issues that concern all of us.

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m glad you don’t actually like McCain or Palin. I’m sorry you think they would be better presidents than Obama. It is truly hard to imagine the number and types of weapons they would have shot at people by now to avoid looking soft when their bluster didn’t sell.

            I most certainly AM ideological, but not tribal. It was not
            “vital” to me, for instance, that Democrat Al Gore be elected in 2000. I would have been more happy with Ralph Nader, actually.
            Unfortunately, that was not possible. Neither is it likely possible that Bernie Sanders can become president in 2016 as an independent, although I’d prefer a leftie independent to a Dem. With that in mind, I’ll be for Mrs. Clinton if she is the credible path to avoiding Bush, or Walker, or Christie, or Cruz, or Perry, or Paul, or Santorum, or Romney, or any other zealot wishing to enable more job-killing tax cuts and more conservatives on the Supreme Court.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I think that there are bits of lemon peel floating down the Potomac that would be better qualified to be president than Obama, and I include BOTH McCain and Palin (both just barely) in that list. As for what they might or might not have done as President when it comes to war and peace, I might remind you that few presidents are as bloodthirsty once in office as they are while campaigning. Reagan was supposed to be itching to nuke the Soviets, and in fact showed remarkable restraint throughout the waning days of the Cold War. Sad to say that the Left often treats anyone more belligerent than Gandhi as a would-be Genghis Khan.
            We certainly disagree on economic matters, though I do regret that Obama defeated the Hildabeest in 2008. As loathsome as I find her, she would have been better than what we got, and certainly would have been unable to sustain herself for reelection. At the time, however, I had no idea of how worthless Obama would turn out to be, and was thus relieved to see him as a lesser of two evils. Live and learn…
            This isn’t the place for a discussion of tax cuts or the Supreme Court, but I suspect that the next 6 years or so should be quite interesting in both areas. We shall see….
            PS I have had some time to know Senator Bernie with enough intimacy to suggest that you wish for another candidate. Ideology notwithstanding, he is not the sort of man you want to be given any sort of real authority over others….

          • FriendlyGoat

            Well, okay, if you know Sanders and don’t trust him, fine.
            I don’t know him, but as I stated, would be looking for any credible leftie who can win—-and we all pretty much know he probably can’t win anyway. That leaves Mrs. Clinton.

            The real money from the right in America is ALWAYS trying to elect more tax cuts and more conservatism in the judiciary. Foreign policy is important, but the money is always spent to get the tax cuts and court decisions for corporations over people.

            Sooooo, I’ll take note of your example that not even Reagan started a big war and Jeb Bush (for instance) would be likely reluctant. That leaves tax cuts and the judges as the real issues, and military issues secondary.
            The Republicans will pretend that national security is the biggest issue WHILE they spend money to get the tax cuts. I’ll call that a charade and stay firmly on the left.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Two points:
            1) In fairness to Senator Bernie, I don’t believe that he isn’t trustworthy. In point of fact I trust him FAR more than either of the Clintons or Obama, though I do confess that isn’t saying much. He is a deeply bitter, very angry man, petty and vindictive, the sort who I believe would be extremely dangerous if he ever had any real power. In my dealings with him, I was never a target (he actually liked me, which shows his ability to judge people is also questionable), but I saw how he deals with those he doesn’t care for. Another thin-skinned narcissist we do not need…
            2) Without debating our differences over the courts or tax cuts, I suspect that you assume that most GOP presidents place far more emphasis on these subjects than they actually do. Bush Sr., for instance, was not a fan of tax cuts, nor did he have a real love of conservative justices, and he was the most patrician of our recent presidents. Nixon was almost a lefty by the standards of his position on both taxes and justices, and so was Ford. Reagan was an obvious exception to this, but the overall trendlines don’t really support your characterization. They DO, on the other hand, support the opposite characterization regarding Democrats….
            Anyway, unless you have something to add, I believe we are done here

          • FriendlyGoat

            The Republicans have no intention of electing a president who is not Conservative with a capital “C”. Alito and Thomas are the standards they expect for the Supreme Court. A low flat tax or better yet, in their eyes, the so-called “Fair Tax” to kill the entire Internal Revenue Code is their goal. I wish I could believe the modern Republicans can produce and support a true moderate. They cannot and they will not. We know this because they are “primarying” every actual statesman they can. It’s all “no compromise” all the time.

            So I will have to be against every last one of them for the presidency. There are no “good men or women” willing to spin falsehoods at the level now required in the GOP, and nothing else is permitted there in the 21st Century.

          • f1b0nacc1

            When was the last time that the GOP nominated a conservative with a capital ‘C’? Romney/McCain/GWBush/Dole/GHWBush? All of these men were derided by conservatives within the party as RINOs or squishes, and all of them campaigned as such. Perhaps by your standards (and to be fair, you describe yourself as both ideological and off to the unelectable Left) they might seem to be conservative fire-breathers, but they are mildly right of center at best.
            I am surprised that you left out Scalia in your discussion of justices, but then how do you explain Kennedy or Roberts? And surely you don’t mean to suggest that the Dems are more ‘reasonable’ in their nominations? Ginsburg? Sotomayor?
            How I wish that the GOP really was willing to look at a revamped (and reduced) tax code, but it is not to be. Nobody on either side of the aisle is going to give up the opportunity for so much lobbying money and outright graft that the tax code provides. Nice to campaign on, but really….not something one governs on.
            As for compromise…just what is the left willing to compromise upon?
            Anyway, I had said you get the last word, and I apologize for not keeping mine. This time, you get the last one…if you want it!

          • FriendlyGoat

            The Republicans did not like their RINO’s (as they were called.) Three of those you mentioned were not elected. The party faithful are going to the right of the right—-perhaps mitigated by next week’s results in various places. We’re all waiting to see if some of the wing nuts lose in the statehouses.

            As for Scalia, Roberts and Kennedy—-all of them way too conservative, Yes, even Kennedy. They all slapped Lilly Ledbetter and they all gave us Citizens United and McKutcheon.

            Nice visiting with you.

  • Arkeygeezer

    Bibi Netanyahu will act and protect the best interest of Israel. Israel will not fight the U.S.’s wars for it. If this Administration wants to attack Iran they can’t do it because there is no domestic political support for such actions. If the Administration wants Israel to attack Iran, it will be disappointed. Israel will defend itself, act in its own best interests, and trade with whom it likes.

    Israel has energy reserves, a domestic industry that is doing very well, diplomatic relations with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India, and the Kurds that surpass the U.S. This Administration’s relations with Israel are tepid at the very best. Israel is not dependent on U.S. Foreign aid, nor could this Administration cut off Israel from U.S. Aid.

    Why should Bibi listen to Obama?

  • Maynerd

    Obama and his minions keep drinking their left wing Kool-Aid. Often wrong but never in doubt. They are much more interested in scoring petty political points again their “enemies” – Netanyahu and Republicans rather than making the world a safer and more prosperous place.

    God help the US, Israel, and anyone else who will be harmed and bullied by a nuclear Iran.

  • Anthony

    “Netanyahu, and the even more hawkish ministers around him, seem to have decreed that their short-term futures rest on a platform that can be boiled down to the formula: ‘The whole world is against us. Only we can protect Israel from what’s coming.’ For an Israeli public traumatized by Hamas violence and anti-Semitism, and by fear that chaos and brutality of the Arab world will one day sweep over them, this formula has its charms. But for Israel’s future as an ally of the United States, this formula is a disaster.” (Jeffrey Goldberg)

    Has the United States and Israel historic relationship come down to the personalities (or relationship) between representative leaders) of Obama and Netanyahu? By extension, what is good for America and by extension fortifies the State of Israel going forward? More to point, is Shiism (Iran) America’s enemy? That is, is it in the long-term interest of the United States to side with the Sunni Arab states against Iran or vice versa as Israel readjusts its regional rapprochements? Meanwhile, how can risk of proliferation (Iran and Nukes) be contained? On the whole, the aforementioned considerations ought not come down to Bibi and Barack. That said, Goldberg’s article referenced in Feed provides insight.

  • Fat_Man

    The idea of this Administration questioning another leaders courage is quite humorous. Project much guys?

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    With the incompetence of this White House on full display everyday (Have they ever been right about anything?), why should any intelligent person give any credit to their opinions or predictions?

  • Y.K.

    What’s more important is that the admin’s taunt boils down to: “You ****ed up, you trusted us” [on Iran]. Essentially, the Obama administration is mocking Nethanyahu over _accepting their position_ regarding Iran.

    Now, I wouldn’t worry about Nethanyahu or Israel. With no big military threat and a productive economy, they can make do [expect Israeli-Russian relations to flower though]. It is Obama you should be worried about. There’s no way Obama will have a relationship with anyone following this behaviour [would even Iran trust him after this?], and you still have two years…

  • jeburke

    It is reprehensible for high officials of the USG to usd such derisive ande derogatory language about the democratic leader of a close ally. Israelis, even Bibi’s rivals, must feel deeply insulted.

    Moreover, one cannot escape the feeling that these are the words of puerile incompetents who are themselves inwardly ashamed of their own demonstrated lack of both strategic resolve and political courage.

    • PDX_traveler

      Try switching USG and Israel around in your opening line. Have you paid attention to the kind of gratuitous insults Israeli cabinet members have used towards US administration officials engaged in efforts to help *Israel* (referring to the attempted negotiations with Palestinian officials)? Read the Atlantic article. If the current Israeli govt. and PM are too shortsighted to see the cliff coming up ahead, the US is entitled to feeling bemused as they are rebuffed for trying to help them see this.

      • jeburke

        If you were right, I’d still say it was reprehensible – and puerile. But you’re not right. I read the Atlantic piece and saw nothing that excuses these American officials.

      • Fat_Man

        “Read the Atlantic article.”

        I figured out your problem. You believe Obama. I am sure you kept your insurance plan and your doctor.

        • PDX_traveler

          Re. insurance plan/doctor: yes, and yes. Next?

        • w12

          I don t know enough about Bibi and Obama to talk about, but what I know for shure is that health insurance is the best thing ever. We have it since 1883 here and it works excellent. It s a good thing especially for the middle-class, and I profit in many ways from it and so do the other people around me.

  • CubbyTBear

    Did the idiot who sourced this story want to provoke Israel into a zero-notification pre-emptive strike on Iran? Because that’s likely to be one consequence of calling them cowards unwilling to stop a nuclear Iran. I can’t see the Israelis being nearly as cavalier with the credibility of their military deterrent as this White House has proven to be with America’s.

  • FriendlyGoat

    “Chickenshit” is not the correct way to describe any leader who is responsible for the lives of people in any democratic nation. No matter who the “source” is, Jeffrey Goldberg ain’t helping American diplomacy with his piece.

    Netanyahu, it seems, has recently been about as supportive of America as say Mitch McConnell has been supportive of Obama. It’s no wonder he gets no love in return from this administration.

    There is always the chance that both Goldberg and his source are trying to goad Netanyahu into going it alone on some bombing runs.

  • זאב ברנזון

    this isn’t 1991 anymore
    america is no longer global hegemon
    and israel is a powerful regional actor
    we will protect our core interest regardless of american posturing

    p.s insulting this administration is a vote winner in israel we love america but will not bend a knee

  • Shahar Luft

    There’s little in the reported WH characterization of BB that’s not known to most Israelis: the guy is preoccupied with his own career; he is overcautious about most things; he is captive of some far-right elements; and he does come across as an unpleasant person. I would take ‘chickenshit’ here not to mean originally ‘coward’ but more like ‘obssessed with trivia to the point of being incapable of seeing the big picture’, which is again the case. Same for supposed BB attitude to Obama and his admin: naive progressives turned indignant by their own failures and misconceptions. So far, no news.

    What is news is the willingness and the motivation of airing it out. That’s a source of concern. Moreover, it might signify another phase in turning Israel into a partisan issue within USA politics, which is bad for both countries. And it might also be a sign of another stage of mental regress among the American elites, who might be slowly becoming more like their European counterparts. Unable to deal with the realities of power and opposing existential interests, they revert to psychologization and personalization. The problem is not the particular qualities of one Israeli leader, so don’t reduce it to that. If you are reducing it, then something is wrong with the way you see things.

    • Thirdsyphon

      It’s not just the vehemence that troubles me; this person’s substantive views are incoherent enough to make me wonder, in all sincerity, whether Goldberg’s source might not be emotionally disturbed. Since we’re talking about a highly-placed national security adviser to the President of the United States, to my mind, that’s the most alarming notion of all.

  • qet

    The beyond-irony of anyone in the present Administration calling anyone a chickenshit is staggering. Every single person in this country who voted for this President should be deeply and permanently ashamed of himself, not so much because the man himself is so ineffective as because he has allowed a host of utter incompetents to form his Administration, incompetents who believe themselves to be the smartest people in any and every room. It will take years–decades–to undo the damage to this nation that this Administration has done, if it can be undone at all.

  • demboj

    Just imagine Bismarck calling Disraeli “chickenshit” for not helping the French in 1870. What amateurishness! It’s just what you would expect from a schoolyard bully who has been spanked once too often by his former victim. Obama and his administration appear to be desperately looking for a scapegoat anticipating the imminent failure of their own Iran policy. This was a pre-emotive attack on their own critics. Readers of this column should not be distracted from the main point. It has always been Israel’s policy not t attack Iran while there was any prospect the Obama-European negotiations had any chance of success.

  • Gene

    So … is this anonymous (and therefore cowardly in his/her own right) US official stating that if BN had guts Israel would have bombed Iran? Isn’t that logically the same as saying that any Israeli leader with guts would have done so? And doesn’t that imply that bombing Iran might have been, in this official’s opinion, the right thing to do? Doesn’t all this suggest that the US lacks guts too because it hasn’t bombed Iran? And isn’t this coming from an administration that is famously going to great lengths to avoid bombing Iran, and in fact is going to great lengths to find any way possible to take even the discussion of it out of the realm of possibility?

    Unbelievable and bizarre. I’m not sure what exactly this official is trying to say or accomplish with these statements, or how this attitude can exist among the same people who would happily give you 1,000 reasons why bombing Iran is the worst idea ever.

    • Thirdsyphon

      Bizarre is exactly the right word for it. I’m wondering who in the Administration (or U.S. politics in general) could be so vehemently in favor of a two-state solution for Israel and an Israeli strike against Iran. Between the policy incoherence and the vehement language, Goldberg’s source sounds more like an individual in the throes of a nervous breakdown than a sober, thoughtful advisor on national security.

      Since I don’t doubt the accuracy of Goldberg’s account, I’m left to hope that this source is an outlier and not a reflection of a consensus view in the White House. (I also hope that that Goldberg’s source gets psychiatric help as soon as possible, preferably as an inpatient far away from the Oval).

      • Gene

        Yes, and if you read the quotes in the 2nd Goldberg paragraph above, a US official is apparently disgusted with the cowardice of BN, while at the same time stating that BN did exactly what the US wanted him to do, i.e., refrain from hitting Iran. Seems to me that if your “ally” — and Israel still is that, right?? — exercises the restraint that you want him to exercise, you could throw a few compliments his way, no?

        The whole thing gets more bizarre the farther down you drill.

        • Thirdsyphon

          That too. If the source really believes that the U.S. “put one over” on Israel by keeping them from bombing the Iranian nuclear program until now, when it’s too late (a deeply flawed bit of reasoning in its own right), why on earth would they brag to a reporter about that scheme?

          Literally everything about this source is unsettling.

  • Kevin

    It’s almost like they want the Isrealis to bomb Iran. Saying their leader is a chickenshit who lacks the guts to use force might back the Isrealis into a corner where they gave to use force just to restore their deterrent credibility.

    • f1b0nacc1

      You might have a point here. After all, it would solve Obama’s problem with Iran, and leave his hands clean when talking to his peacenik base. He could blame the Israelis and accept no responsibility, which is (after all) his default mode….
      The only problem with this analysis is that I honestly believe that Obama sides with the Iranians. Whether it is his own ideological bent (anti-American, anti-West, anti-Israel) or simply the toxic influence of Valarie Jarrett, I cannot say, but I suspect that it is the simpler explanation.
      Either way, how utterly depressing….

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