Good propagandists must have good answers for the questions they field; they must be articulate. But they also have to hop from one stage to the next, from studio to studio and grab every available microphone. They have to speak as if they truly believe what they are saying -- as if it was the first time making their case.
In that sense, U.S. President Barack Obama is a very effective propagandist. When he attended the Saban Forum last week, he cleverly used his home-court advantage by talking directly to the Israeli people. He knew well ahead of time what, and how much, he was going to say.
He was probably told in advance that New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's recent attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would come up. The zinger Obama sent toward Netanyahu was probably pre-planned, as was the praise he heaped on him. The Obama Saban debut consisted of no improvisation; there are no impromptu comments in such events.
Rehashing his previous comments on the interim agreement with Tehran, Obama waxed lyrical about the hindering effect it would have on Iran's nuclear program, even as he dodged various other issues (uranium enrichment, for example). There are good arguments for and against the agreement, even though there is no way to fully evaluate all of them. President Hassan Rouhani's election was a very important development as far as Obama is concerned; for Netanyahu, not so much. If Obama's assessment is correct, that would be good. But if Netanyahu is right, are there any tweaks that could be introduced to the agreement? The president did make one comparison. He said the agreement with Iran was different from the one former President Bill Clinton struck with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in the 1990s: The communist regime had already obtained a nuclear bomb by the time the two sides finalized the agreement; this is not the case with Iran.
While that may be true, what if Iran develops a nuclear weapon in some underground facility well below the surface of some mountain range? He was not asked; and he has no answer.
Obama's conduct on Iran resembles his approach to the peace process with the Palestinians.
When he was asked about the talks, he chose to focus on Israel's security needs. Considering the institution that was hosting him, this made sense. He is not Secretary of State John Kerry's spokesman, he said, smiling. That said, they both sound like the biblical prophets who envisioned peaceful coexistence. They have repeatedly said that reaching a deal with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is easier than it looks. Assuming the talks have reached an impasse, this is a smart tactic that could save the peace process.
Obama actually provided interesting details on this matter. He said the talks' deadline was supposed to produce a framework agreement, not a permanent accord that would be implemented on the spot. But the fact that he has been pressuring Netanyahu and Abbas to make painful decisions suggests that the Americans have some kind of plan -- perhaps an interim or framework agreement. The U.S. also wants to compensate Israel with military technology to defend itself with even after it hands over areas that provide a strategic advantage. In that sense, they are focused on what is feasible.
There are pessimists on both sides (Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, for example). But that does not mean there is gridlock; similarly, their statements don't imply that the talks are over. If the Palestinians were to accept the U.S.-proposed security arrangements, they would insist, as always, that this compromise be accompanied by moans and cries of sorrow.
The likelihood of an agreement (including an interim deal) remains very slim. That said, Obama's comments show that the talks are not dead.