The White House wants us to know something important about Iran—but what is it? Today, the Obama administration leaked a major scoop to The Washington Post's David Ignatius, its favorite repository of previously unreported information. In his Friday column, Ignatius divulges that President Obama will allow Iran's civilian nuclear program to exist on one condition: "Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei [must] back up his recent public claim that his nation ‘will never pursue nuclear weapons.’” Ignatius writes that the bargain came straight from Obama and was transmitted to Iran via Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan who traveled to Iran last week.
For competitive national security writers, the scoreboard for strategically-leaked Ignatius scoops is now three since February. So it's clear the administration is content with the way Ignatius is conveying its message. Thus, as Politico's Austin Wright observes, this raises the question: "Why does the administration want us to know this?" Here are a few ideas:
- Obama is telling his base he's not jumping head first into war It's no secret that large swaths of the Democratic base (and the country for that matter) aren't thrilled about the prospect of engaging in another war in the Middle East. At a campaign event last month, the president witnessed the reluctance first-hand when he was interrupted by a woman calling for "no war in Iran." To reassure some members of his base (especially after his hawkish address to AIPAC last month), he may be conveying to voters that he's actively working to avoid a war.
- He's making this public because he wants Iranian citizens to know the ball's in their court Another possibility is this message isn't for Americans, it's a message for Iranians. People of Iran, the President of the United States says your civilian program is OK. Simply pressure your leader to fully-cooperate with the IAEA and this nightmare will be over. Of course, who knows if they're reading The Washington Post.
- He thinks war with Iran is inevitable and wants the record to show he gave the country one final chance As a war simulation demonstrated last month, as reported in The New York Times, many U.S. military officials believe that if Israel strikes Iran, the U.S. will inevitably get drawn into the war. Since Israeli officials have made it clear they don't have a whole lot of qualms about striking Iran, Obama may want to shape his image for posterity's sake. One would assume being compared with President George W. Bush for overseeing another American war in the Middle East would displease him.