President Obama came out swinging and took his Republican presidential rivals to task on Tuesday for talking “casually” about going to war with Iran.
“What is said on the campaign trail — those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities,” Obama told reporters on Tuesday. “They are not commander in chief. When I see the casualness with which those folks talk about war, I am reminded of the costs involved in war.”
“When we have [made decisions to go to war] in the past, when we haven’t thought it through, and it gets caught up in politics, we make mistakes,” Obama said. “And it’s not usually the people popping off who pay the price. It’s these incredible men and women in uniform who pay the price.”
Speaking hours after GOP candidates put his Iran policy in the crosshairs at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, Obama said, “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.”
“It’s also not just a question of interests to Israel if Israel acts prematurely,” he said. “Any time we consider military action — the American people understand — there’s going to be a price to pay. Sometimes it’s necessary. But we don’t do it casually.”
Analysts say Obama’s first White House news conference since October was aimed at ensuring he was not eclipsed by the GOP on Iran as the Democratic National Committee worries over Obama's poor Israel record and the Jewish vote.
Jewish voters are traditionally strongly pro-Israel and, while only constituting a small percentage of America's popular vote, are concentrated in key electoral states where previous elections have been contested, or won by mere thousands of votes.
The president's other press conference topics — immigration, women’s health, and housing — were eclipsed by by questions over his management of Israel, Iran, and the daunting prospect of a Middle East war.
The press conference followed Obama's weekend address to AIPAC, and an Oval Office meeting Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who asserted Israel's sovereign right to self defense in the face of Obama's attempts to dissuade an Israeli attack.
Obama's comments on Iran likely underscored his own concerns that an Israeli strike on Iran could trigger a chain of events in the Middle East that could cost him his bid for reelection.