Obama's AIPAC speech: what he didn't say
President Obama pulled out all the stops in his AIPAC address to assure his audience that, as he put it, "when the chips are down, I have Israel's back."
The president unfurled a lengthy list of his administration's Israel-supported moves -- politically, diplomatically, and security-wise.
On the most important issue, Iran's nuclear program, he pledged to use all elements of American power, including a military component, to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He warned that this wasn't just in Israel's interest, but also very much in America's interest and in the interest of the entire world. A nuclear-armed Iran, he declared, could funnel nuclear weapons to terrorist groups and trigger a nuclear arms race in the world's most volatile region.
All well said. And yet, Obama's speech still left one wondering about his far-from-smooth relations with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu. If the U.S. and Israel are on the same strategic path in countering Iran, as Obama claims, why did he fail to say anything nice about Netanyahu? Not one single laudatory word -- only he looked forward to welcoming Bibi to the White House and that he also understood the weight of Iran's nuclear threat on the shoulders of the prime minister and other Israeli leaders.
The absence of any laudatory words about Netanyahu conspicuously contrasted with Obama's lengthy, fulsome praise of Israeli President Shimon Peres, who has turned his traditional ceremonial office into a one-man political and policy-making base that often is not exactly in sync with Netanyahu's agenda. In Israeli politics, Peres carries a more dovish banner than the prime minister.
Thus, when Obama spent a good part of his speech in effusive admiration of Peres's lifetime of public service and capping it with an announcement that Peres soon will return to the White House to receive America's highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, one was left to wonder whether Obama ultimately prefers Peres' views to Bibi's.
Peres fully deserved Obama's hearty praise. But since Netanyahu is set to meet with Obama at the White House on Monday -- their ninth such encounter -- one would have expected that the president would use the AIPAC podium to say at least one nice world, even a routing compliment, about Bibi. He didn't.