NY Times 'fact checker' needs his 'facts' checked

Leo Rennert
After the second presidential debate, the New York Times put several assertions by the candidates under its "fact-checking" microscope, including a Mitt Romney statement that President Obama favored putting "daylight between us and Israel."

However, in parsing Romney's remark, the Times' Richard A. Oppel, Jr., does some fact-stretching and fact-mangling of his own.

Oppel starts by acknowledging that, according to a Washington Post article, Obama did in fact tell Jewish leaders in 2009 that "when there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states."

You'd think this would be sufficient evidence to validate Romney's remark about Obama's inclination to put  distance between Jerusalem and Washington.

But Oppel is just getting started, with an obvious attempt to protect Obama from charges that, under this president, the U.S.-Israeli alliance is often considerably frayed.

First, Oppel argues that Obama didn't explicitly state that "his goal" was to put distance between the United States and Israel.  A distinction without a difference.

Second, Oppel then opines that Obama's statement could be construed as seeking to have "his administration to be seen as less of a rubber stamp for Israel than the Bush administration was."

Still not satisfied with leaving Obama exposed, Oppel then simply concludes that "Obama administration officials have said that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel on the issue of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."

Thus, after exhausting his bag of semantic tricks, Oppel assures Times readers that there is no daylight between Washington and Jerusalem on the most salient and sensitive foreign policy issue for both sides - Iran's nuclear drive.

But this is plain wrong.   There is, in fact, plenty of daylight between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Obama when it comes to dealing with Iran's nuclear threat.

Here's the overriding "fact" missing from Oppel's "fact checking":  In his address to the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu - waving a sketch of a bomb for emphasis - declared that his "red line" to halt Tehran's nuclear drive is when Iran reaches a capacity to develop nuclear weapons, when Iran's enrichment of uranium reaches weapons-grade levels.  Because at that point, it's a short and easy jump to assemble and weaponize a bomb.  In sharp contrast. Obama's "red line" defers a decision on resort to military force to a later point when Iran is on the threshold of actually having a bomb. Obama vows to prevent Iran from having a bomb.   Netanyahu wants to deny Iran a "capacity" to assemble a nuclear bomb.

In plain English:  A pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities might come sooner under Bibi than under Obama.

Such starkly different "red lines" provide ample evidence that, in fact, there is "daylight" between Israel and the United States - notwithstanding Oppel's convoluted attempts to wish it away, to find fault with Romney where non exists, and to make Jewish voters less nervous about Obama.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers

After the second presidential debate, the New York Times put several assertions by the candidates under its "fact-checking" microscope, including a Mitt Romney statement that President Obama favored putting "daylight between us and Israel."

However, in parsing Romney's remark, the Times' Richard A. Oppel, Jr., does some fact-stretching and fact-mangling of his own.

Oppel starts by acknowledging that, according to a Washington Post article, Obama did in fact tell Jewish leaders in 2009 that "when there is no daylight, Israel just sits on the sidelines, and that erodes our credibility with the Arab states."

You'd think this would be sufficient evidence to validate Romney's remark about Obama's inclination to put  distance between Jerusalem and Washington.

But Oppel is just getting started, with an obvious attempt to protect Obama from charges that, under this president, the U.S.-Israeli alliance is often considerably frayed.

First, Oppel argues that Obama didn't explicitly state that "his goal" was to put distance between the United States and Israel.  A distinction without a difference.

Second, Oppel then opines that Obama's statement could be construed as seeking to have "his administration to be seen as less of a rubber stamp for Israel than the Bush administration was."

Still not satisfied with leaving Obama exposed, Oppel then simply concludes that "Obama administration officials have said that there is no daylight between the United States and Israel on the issue of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons."

Thus, after exhausting his bag of semantic tricks, Oppel assures Times readers that there is no daylight between Washington and Jerusalem on the most salient and sensitive foreign policy issue for both sides - Iran's nuclear drive.

But this is plain wrong.   There is, in fact, plenty of daylight between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Obama when it comes to dealing with Iran's nuclear threat.

Here's the overriding "fact" missing from Oppel's "fact checking":  In his address to the UN General Assembly, Netanyahu - waving a sketch of a bomb for emphasis - declared that his "red line" to halt Tehran's nuclear drive is when Iran reaches a capacity to develop nuclear weapons, when Iran's enrichment of uranium reaches weapons-grade levels.  Because at that point, it's a short and easy jump to assemble and weaponize a bomb.  In sharp contrast. Obama's "red line" defers a decision on resort to military force to a later point when Iran is on the threshold of actually having a bomb. Obama vows to prevent Iran from having a bomb.   Netanyahu wants to deny Iran a "capacity" to assemble a nuclear bomb.

In plain English:  A pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities might come sooner under Bibi than under Obama.

Such starkly different "red lines" provide ample evidence that, in fact, there is "daylight" between Israel and the United States - notwithstanding Oppel's convoluted attempts to wish it away, to find fault with Romney where non exists, and to make Jewish voters less nervous about Obama.

Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers