Saturday, March 31, 2012

Pentagon: "Our warnings to Tel Aviv against military action have gone home!"

Foreign policy may be about to take a larger role in the presidential campaign, with Mitt Romney set to deliver a wide-ranging attack on President Obama’s handling of international affairs. This will take the familiar form of Republican charges of weakness against current threats, for example against North Korea, and inadequate assertion of US national interests, for example against Russia on missile defense. To counter this, Obama’s political advisers believe that the continued drone strikes and the killings of Osama bin-Laden and Anwar Al-Awlaki give him the cover he needs on national security “toughness.” Further, the weakening of public support for the Afghan war indicates that foreign policy is not a high priority for voters outside the community of those professional engaged in these matters. Nonetheless, we do expect to Obama to take some steps to remind voters of his international credentials. This will include high-profile events like the May NATO Summit in Chicago, but will also see some toughening of Obama’s positions in the run-up to November. Secretary of State is prominently engaged with regard to Syria. Additional measures will include restrictive trade measures against China together with new spending on cyber defenses against Russian and Chinese attacks. On Iran, the Administration must tread a delicate path. Its first objective is to gain time both for new oil sanctions to take effect and for EU-led negotiations starting on April 14th with Tehran to make progress. Proponents of a more urgent approach – which includes the whole Republican leadership other than Ron Paul – will try to exploit any temporizing by the Iranians to push Obama toward more decisive action, not excluding the military option.  In navigating between these two choices, the White House will also be mindful of the need to stay aligned with Israel. Opinion in Washington about Israeli intentions remains mixed. Intelligence differences about the status of the Iranian nuclear program have narrowed recently and Pentagon officials voice confidence that their warnings to Tel Aviv against military action have gone home. Privately, however, there are growing concerns in US military and intelligence circles that Israeli action is “only a matter of time.” To guard against any surprises, US intelligence agencies have recently expanded electronic and satellite coverage of Israeli military installations. US officials believe that this coverage might provide some forewarning of any imminent Israeli deployments.  

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