Nothing is permanent, everything changes, Buddha said. This seems particularly applicable to the frequent changes and unexpected surprises that have characterized U.S. foreign policy lately, at least to the outside observer.
A recent and embarrassing example of this fickleness could be spotted on the front page of The New York Times last week. The left side of the page featured U.S. President Barack Obama saying that Iraq had "turned into a sovereign, self-reliant, and democratic country that can serve as a model for other Middle Eastern nations striving to achieve democracy." The right side of the same page recounted how Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki was suppressing his country's budding democracy. Mere days later, that same Shiite al-Maliki began persecuting his own Sunni deputy and terror ran wild in the streets of Baghdad once again.
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As it turns out, matters concerning Israel are also subject to full throttle flip flops. Three weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta spoke out against a military strike in Iran. Speaking at the Saban Forum, he explained that such an attack would not only be impossible to carry out, it would also not be beneficial. Panetta's remarks drew severe criticism from some U.S. media outlets, and sparked concern among Israel's defense officials. Also concerned were, most likely, Saudi Arabia and the oil emirates (while Iran was probably more than a little pleased). It is safe to assume that the White House was equally annoyed with the remark, made during an election year, which Jewish constituents cannot accept.
When I disputed Panetta's comments in a conversation with one U.S. official in Washington recently, he made great efforts to convince me that the remarks did not reflect the official U.S. policy, and that they did not appear in the original speech Panetta had prepared for the Saban Forum.
Indeed, it was not long before the same secretary of defense, during a visit to the Middle East, declared the U.S. was aware of the severity of Iran's nuclear progress. The U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey echoed Panetta's sentiments telling CNN recently that "I am satisfied that the options that we are developing are evolving to a point that they would be executable if necessary."
It appears, therefore, that when Defense Minister Ehud Barak met with Obama last week, all he had to do was preach to the choir. It is not clear whether Panetta's initial remarks represented his personally held beliefs or perhaps certain ideals held by the Pentagon, even during the days of his predecessor Robert Gates, but either way, Israel can take pleasure in the shift: its stance on Iran is becoming accepted.
However, if we go back to Buddha's motto for a second, we should also pay attention to clarifications made by the Pentagon's press secretary, who played down the most recent remarks made by his "boss:" "We have no indication that the Iranians have made a decision to develop a nuclear weapon,” the press secretary said. Israel did not respond, and rightfully so. But as Buddha said, everything changes, for better or worse.
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