Supporters of President Barack Obama may take comfort from his newfound push for tighter United Nations sanctions against Iran. And surely American Jews should support any and all pressure against the nuclear weapons program -- finally acknowledged by the International Atomic Energy Agency -- of the messianic regime in Tehran that loudly proclaims its intention to destroy the State of Israel, not to mention the United States.
But we should ask ourselves whether this new initiative of Mr. Obama's is really expected to prevent Iran's development and deployment of nuclear weapons. Or is the president's shift toward renewed diplomatic pressure on the Iranian regime merely a political fig leaf -- or, as most likely, too little, too late?
Let's recall that the president campaigned upon and entered office with a posture of engagement toward the Islamic republic. His stance of engaging Iran "without pre-conditions" was part of his declared "reset" of U.S. relations with the Muslim world. Not long after Mr. Obama extended the hand of American friendship to the world's Muslims -- in his meeting with the Saudi king and his speech in Cairo -- he then kept silent for weeks as millions of Iranians took to the streets to protest an election stolen by their fanatic of a president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Many Americans, including longtime Democratic loyalists, were appalled by the reluctance of Mr. Obama to give even rhetorical support to Iran's pro-American democracy movement, a failure that persists until today.
Unfortunately, it is no longer clear that any amount of non-military pressure will deter Iran from obtaining the bomb. But if sanctions have any chance to succeed, they must come now, and be drastic enough to shut down the regime's banking system and domestic oil industry. Virtually the entire U.S. Senate believes this is at least worth a try.
"In August," veteran defense and foreign affairs analyst Josh Rogin wrote recently in Foreign Policy magazine, "more than 90 senators signed a letter to President Barack Obama." He noted that the letter, written by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), stated, "The time has come to impose crippling sanctions on Iran's financial system by cutting off the Central Bank of Iran."
But in the three months since the letter was written, according to Rogin, and after "Kirk introduced an amendment to the defense authorization bill, which is on the floor now, which would force the administration to cut off from the U.S. financial system any bank that does business" with Iran's Central Bank, "the administration, led by Treasury Undersecretary David Cohen, has been lobbying against the Kirk amendment because they believe it could risk harm to the U.S. economy."
Though the administration fears that sanctioning Iran's Central Bank -- which facilitates that country's sale of oil to the world -- will raise the price of gas, it is fair to ask what they think will happen to the global economy if Iran's ayatollahs get nuclear weapons that will give them hegemony over the Persian Gulf.
Economic explanations also came from Obama's defense secretary, Leon Panetta, who stated twice in the past weeks that the United States opposed using force against Iran's nuclear program. He also made the questionable claim that because a military attack would presumably only delay Iran's nuclear capabilities, it should be removed from consideration entirely.
All of this means that President Obama has actually slowed the pace of U.S. diplomatic pressure on Iran, won't support the democracy movement there, is lobbying against stringent U.S. economic sanctions and has tabled the military option.
These failures on Iran underscore that Obama cannot be trusted. The president believed the force of his personality could solve the problem but the ayatollahs have merely laughed at him and his attempt at engagement. Even after admitting the failure of his feeble attempt, the president hasn't been able to mobilize international support for sanctions and, more importantly, also hasn't summoned the will to enforce existing measures. He and his administration have seemed more intent on stopping Israel from acting to remove this existential threat than on restraining Iran.
America's allies in the Middle East -- both Israel and its neighbors -- understand that this administration's opposition to Iranian nukes is not serious, and are considering their own measures in response. But this menace isn't Israel's problem alone. If the United States were to enact and enforce the "crippling" sanctions that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has espoused -- and there is no reason to believe they will -- America would at least enhance its position to thwart Iran's nuclear threat. Rather than meekly applauding Obama's policy of inaction, American Jews need to be speaking out in favor of a change of course.
Gary Erlbaum is a member of the board of governors of the Jewish Agency for Israel, a trustee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia and a past chairman of the Jewish Exponent. Benyamin Korn is a former executive editor of the Exponent.