In the first two weeks of October, the American news media focused on one major story -- the government shutdown, and the threat of a default by the U.S. government if the debt ceiling was not raised by Congress.
When a continuing resolution was finally passed in mid-October that funded the federal government for a few more months and lifted the debt ceiling for a slightly longer period, attention shifted rapidly to the colossal failure of the government website, healthcare.gov, designed to handle applications for health insurance for the new Obamacare program. The site had failed since it went online on Oct. 1, but that story was overwhelmed by the coverage of the government shutdown and debt-ceiling battle between the two parties. Foreign policy stories, such as the status of the new American and European talks with Iran over its nuclear program, hardly surfaced.
Now the Obamacare debacle has become a broader story, with lots of media coverage of the millions of Americans who currently have individual health insurance policies but have received notices from their insurers that they will be dropped at year's end, since their current policies are inconsistent with Obamacare mandates. My wife is among this large class of people. For four years, the president had argued that if a person liked their doctor, he or she could continue to see their physician of choice, and that if a person liked their insurance plan, they would not have to change insurers or plans.
These assurances turned out to be false. We now know that Obama administration officials and Health and Human Services Department people knew the assurances were false when they made them, but the lies were crucial to getting the legislation passed, and then battling to improve its acceptance by the public.
The administration, which has been unusually thin-skinned about criticism from the beginning of the president's first term, has reacted with denials and twists of logic, rather than face the music that they have a real management problem with the website (not a glitch or a kink), and that they misled the public (committed fraud?) by selling what they knew was untrue.
The administration has argued that those who have been dropped had weak coverage, and now they can get better coverage through Obamacare. This too was false. The reality is that 60-year-olds have been dropped by their insurance carriers because their plans did not cover maternity or pediatric dental services, coverage not needed by a 60-year-old. Other administration shills in the media have argued that even the deception is not a problem, since it was all for a good cause -- to subsidize coverage of low-income people and those who could not get coverage before Obamacare. Of course, the new coverage on the Obamacare exchanges offered by insurers to those whose policies have been discontinued are in almost all cases far more expensive than their old policies, and with fewer doctors and hospitals in the networks than in the old plans.
While the war over the Obamacare rollout is now front and center among major news stories, another story about American politics is playing out in the Israeli media, and has so far been largely ignored by the American media. This story involves the pressure the administration has applied to members of the U.S. Senate, which was set to consider a new sanctions bill, already passed overwhelmingly by the House, which would put much greater financial strain on Iran's oil exports.
The administration pressure has also been applied to leaders of some of the major pro-Israel advocacy groups, in an attempt to derail their efforts to lobby members of the Senate to move the sanctions bill through. In essence, most members of the Senate, like their House colleagues, believe that now is not the time to relax pressure on Iran, when there is no evidence whatsoever that Iran has offered any meaningful concessions in the negotiations that have taken place so far, and when it is clear that the sanctions already in place have taken an economic toll on Iran, which may be why Iran is even at the table with the U.S. and its Western allies. The administration, on the other hand, seems to have been disarmed by Iran's new charm offensive and willingness to meet (as they have with Europeans and others for years, with no agreement ever reached) and does not want anything to spoil the new mood, such as new, tougher sanctions.
While the talks have gone on, Iran appears to have had an internal debate with the decision made to continue with its "death to America" campaign. This was accompanied by even more virulent statements about Israel by Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had not been seen in public for a few weeks, and made clear that the U.S. is still the enemy.
"All the better if the negotiations bear fruit but if there are no results, the country should rely on itself," said Khamenei, while criticizing the U.S. policy of approaching the talks on two fronts of sanctions and diplomacy. "The Americans smile and express desire for negotiation; on the other hand, they immediately say that all options are on the table. We should not trust an enemy that smiles at us."
It seems that Khamenei is not as concerned as U.S. President Barack Obama about spoiling the atmosphere of the talks over its nuclear program and is publicly signaling that there is no new Iran on the horizon. And even worse, it appears that Obama has taken the Supreme leader's directives to heart, by trying to remove the threat of new sanctions while the diplomatic effort continues.
The Israeli newspaper controversy began last week when Haaretz reported that as a result of the meeting between administration officials and representatives of the Conference of Presidents, the AJC, the ADL, and AIPAC, the leaders of the groups had agreed to a 60-day moratorium on their lobbying efforts to get Senate approval for the new sanctions bill. Long time Anti-Defamation League Director Abe Foxman confirmed the report while suggesting that the moratorium period might be shorter.
On the other hand, AIPAC, the powerhouse among pro-Israel lobbying groups, denied the report. The leaders of the Senate effort to get the new sanctions legislation adopted, Senators Mark Kirk of Illinois and Robert Menendez of New Jersey, were also adamant that there would be no slowdown in their effort. Clearly, someone is not telling the truth, and someone leaked the news to Haaretz, as an assist to the Obama administration's efforts to stop the sanctions push. Speculation about the identity of the leaker focused on the one attendee at the White House meeting who no longer was in a leadership position at any of the four groups represented, an individual who has been a strong supporter and fundraiser for Obama for two decades.
For AIPAC, which was damaged by its immediate willingness to do the administration's bidding over Syria, supposedly because supporting a strike against Syria for its chemical weapons use would show the U.S. resolve needed to later deal with Iran, a second climb-down, this time over sanctions against Iran, would be a serious body blow to its prestige, and worse, do damage to the effort to stop Iran's nuclear program from reaching its successful conclusion.
Of course, it is possible that the sheer mechanics of getting the resolution through the Senate, will take enough time so that the administration can claim victory, with no sanctions passed while the next round or two of talks with Iran continue, while those who want to see the sanctions resolution adopted can continue their efforts. In any case, the leak to Haaretz was designed to embarrass those who opposed any delay in the Senate's consideration of the new sanctions bill, and to create exactly the divisive finger pointing which has followed -- a divide-and-conquer strategy by the administration and its loyal tools in the Jewish community. The action by the alleged leaker suggests that the effort by major Jewish organizations to place friends of the president in leadership roles, has worked for him, but not for the organizations and their agenda.
The president, besieged by his Obamacare problems, wants a foreign policy victory. A deal with Iran that leaves that country's nuclear fuel in place for weapons development in short order after talks have concluded, but appears to represent a bit of movement by Iran on other issues, will be seized on by the White House as evidence that its "hot streak" in the Middle East continues (the chemical weapons deal with Russia over Syria the first victory).
The administration may be comfortable at this point with Iran achieving nuclear power status. It likes equality, and why shouldn't Muslim Iran have nuclear weapons if Israel does? Obama may believe that a nuclear Iran is a better outcome than the alternative of preventing this from happening with a military strike, with its potential for a wider conflict to follow. But since the president has for several years said that Iran must not obtain nuclear weapons, he cannot just come out and say he accepts nuclear bombs for the mullahs. That would be like saying that if you like your doctor and your insurance plan, you can keep them under Obamacare.