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Obama Does Not Impose Red Lines But Does Reject Containment

Analysis: Barack Obama's UN speech was an attempt to rebut the latest Republican assault based on recent Mideast troubles.
By Dr. Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 9/27/2012, 2:18 PM

Obama at UN
Obama at UN
Reuters

Barack Obama's address at the UN clearly had November 6 in mind and particularly the Republican attempt to challenge Obama's reputation on national security as a result of recent events in the Middle East.

Obama defended free speech as a value enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, but also as a value that would serve Moslem countries as well, because it would help counteract tyranny.

While condemning insults to Islam such as the video that was cited in the recent round of violence, he demanded reciprocity from Muslims in terms of respect for Christianity and other faiths.

This was a point made way back by Newt Gingrich and now, belatedly, Barack Obama is embracing it.

For Israeli ears most important issue was Iran and the Israeli press noted that there was no mention of red lines requested by the Israeli government. It would have been surprising to see inclusion of the "red lines" in Obama's speech. Having rejected the notion, the administration would have lost credibility had they suddenly acceded on this issue.

This was not equivalent to the omission of Jerusalem from the Democratic platform that could be explained as an "oversight". It would have represented a total about-face.

Obama did take a step towards Israel by rejecting the idea of containment:

"Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained. It would threaten the elimination of Israel, the security of Gulf nations, and the stability of the global economy. It risks triggering a nuclear-arms race in the region, and the unraveling of the non-proliferation treaty. That is why a coalition of countries is holding the Iranian government accountable. And that is why the United States will do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

This is not all that Israel woul have wished, but the rejection of containment has importance. After the idea had been floated in Foreign Affairs and in the New York Times without arousing a rebuttal from the administration, Israel feared that the administration had for all practical purposes resigned itself to containment of Iran's nuclear arming.

Should one take the declaration at face value or not - that is another question. However, if one believes that an administration statement on red lines would have been a positive, then a rejection of containment by that same administration is also a positive.

In the most political part of the address, Barack Obama essentially recycled parts of his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, where he claimed that the American withdrawal from Iraq and the scheduled withdrawal from Afghanistan constituted progress.

"And it is because of the progress I've witnessed that after nearly four years as President, I am hopeful about the world we live in. The war in Iraq is over, and our troops have come home. We have begun a transition in Afghanistan, and America and our allies will end our war on schedule in 2014". 

To judge by recent events in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is difficult to see where Obama draws his confidence.

Iraq is threatening to blow apart, while the recent NATO decision to cut back on joint operations with Afghan forces also belies the confidence that following the American withdrawal, Afghanistan will not revert to Taliban rule.

The writer is a political scientist who serves as Arutz Sheva's global political analyst. He is featured regularly in the Hebrew and English Israeli press, lives in Tekoa