What Does "Having Israel's Back" Mean? - Today's Q's for O - 3/6/2012

TAPPER: Thank you, Mr. President. What kind of assurances did you give Prime Minister Netanyahu about the role that the U.S. would play if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to work to convince Iran's leaders to change their behavior and Israel goes ahead and prepares to strike their nuclear facilities? What kind of assurances did you tell him?

And shouldn't we - I recognize the difference between debate and bluster, but shouldn't we be having, in this country, a vigorous debate about what could happen in the case of a Middle East war, in a way that, sadly, we did not do before going into Iraq?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I think there's no doubt that those who are suggesting or proposing or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be. I'm not one of those people because what I've said is, is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully.

We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table, and we've got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.

I'm not going to go into details of my conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But what I've said publicly doesn't differ greatly from what I've said privately.

Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security. And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any prime minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to - to Israel and the Jewish homeland.

What I have also said is that because sanctions are starting to have significant effect inside of Iran - and that's not just my assessment; that's, I think, a uniform assessment - because the sanctions are going to be even tougher in the coming months, because they're now starting to affect their oil industry, their central bank and because we're now seeing noises about them returning to the negotiating table, that it is deeply in everybody's interests - the United States, Israel and the world's - to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion.

And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks or month or two months is not borne out by the facts. And the argument that we've made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries.

But one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal, particularly one in which we have a stake. This is not just an issue of Israeli interests; this is an issue of U.S. interests. It's also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences for the United States as well.

And so I - I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there is going to be a price to say. Sometimes it's necessary. But we don't do it casually. You know, when I - when I visit Walter Reed, when I've signed letters to families that haven't - whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost.

Sometimes we bear that cost, but we think it through. We don't play politics with it. When we have in the past, when we haven't thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes.

And typically it's not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It's these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price. And - and as a consequence, I think it's very important for us to take a careful, thoughtful, sober approach to what is a real problem.

And that's what we've been doing over the last three years. That's what I intend to keep doing.

TAPPER: Sir, if I could just quickly follow up, you didn't -


TAPPER: You might not be beating the drums of war, but you did very publicly say, we've got Israel's back. What does that mean?

PRESIDENT OBAMA: What it means is is that historically we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies, just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan. And that broad statement, I think, is confirmed when you look at what we've done over the last three years on things like Iron Dome that prevents missiles from raining down on their small towns along border regions of Israel that potentially land on schools or children or families. And we're going to continue that unprecedented security - security commitment.

It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action. It was a restatement of our consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about and that the deeds of my administration over the last three years confirms how deeply we care about it. That's a commitment we've made.

-Jake Tapper