Quirk: Will Obama be successful in convincing Netanyahu not to strike Iran?

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March 5, 2012
Phil Lind Chair in US Politics and Representation, Department of Political Science, University of British Columbia

In the circumstances, it is difficult for Obama to be very persuasive because he needs to worry about three different audiences for his public positions. He wants Israel to believe that the US would not back up an Israeli attack. But he wants Iran to fear that Israel would have American support and is prepared to attack. In addition, Obama would incur serious domestic political costs in an election year if he made a strong public commitment to withhold support for an attack, to reduce other aid to Israel, or the like. Moreover, in the absence of such a prior public commitment, these actions would be even harder to take in the actual event. The best chance for Obama to be persuasive against an Israeli attack, therefore, is to provide hard evidence that economic sanctions are working and can succeed; that the deadline for military action is not immediately impending; or that a military attack would only increase the Iranian nuclear threat within a few years. In other words, the persuasion will not depend on how vigorously Obama argues or pleads or on the promises or threats he makes, but on what evidence he can present about these strategic issues.