J Street welcomes President Obama’s powerful case for diplomacy

August 5, 2015

President Obama’s historic address today at American University was one of the most powerful of his presidency, and we welcome his forceful case for the power of American diplomacy and against another costly war in the Middle East. 

Building on the legacies of Presidents Kennedy and Reagan, the President argued that one of America’s greatest strengths has always been its pursuit of diplomacy, which successfully averted “nuclear catastrophe” and won the Cold War “without firing a shot at the Soviets.” In that tradition, President Obama defended the nuclear agreement with Iran as “the strongest nonproliferation agreement ever negotiated” and a good deal for America, Israel and the world.

In making his case, the President once again demonstrated a mastery of the technical details of the accord and meticulously debunked the main charges against it, proving that they simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

But what made his speech extraordinary was the degree to which he challenged critics of the deal to present a viable alternative, and he laid out the very real consequences of rejecting the agreement: a nuclear-armed Iran and a path to war.

Rightly noting that many of the deal’s critics “are the same people who argued for the war in Iraq,” he reminded his audience, “Those who say we can just walk away from this deal and maintain sanctions are selling a fantasy.”

Barely a decade since the US invaded Iraq, there is widespread recognition among the American public of the limits and unintended consequences of military force. That is precisely why many of the deal’s critics no longer publicly advocate for military action and instead claim to want an unattainable “better deal.” But the President made clear that whether the critics admit it or even realize it, “The choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy or some form of war.”

In his speech, the President also demonstrated his sincere commitment to Israel and its security, and made an important distinction between those who would oppose any agreement with Iran, and those within the pro-Israel community who have specific concerns about the agreement and are listening closely to the objections from the Israeli government.

“When the Israeli government is opposed to something, people in the United States take notice; and they should,” he said. “I do not doubt [Prime Minister Netanyahu’s] sincerity, but I believe he is wrong. I believe the facts support this deal.”

We echo the President’s sentiment–that one can support Israel without supporting every position of its government. And we agree with his assessment and that of many within Israel’s security establishment: that by preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, this agreement will make Israel safer than it is today.

With Israel’s security and American credibility on the line, we urge Members of Congress to heed the President’s important words, consider the stakes, “worry less about being labeled weak” and “more about getting it right.”