NOW with Alex Wagner | March 20, 2013
>>> joining me today, author and radio host of studio 360 , curt anderson . professor at the lbj school of public policy , and msnbc contributor, victor use defrancesca soto, and michael steele , and washington bureau chief of huffington post ryan grim.
>> today president obama began his first state visit to israel . after their meeting, the two leaders will hold a joint news conference this afternoon. the day began with president obama 's early morning arrival where he was met by netanyahu and simon perez.
>> thank you for what you are, thank you for what you do. thank you for the hopes you carry with you.
>> i come here today with a simple message for you and the-mile-an-hour people. thank you. thank you for strengthening the unbreakable alliance between our two nations during your presidency.
>> despite the positive juju, president obama still has considerable work ahead of had imto shore up israeli support. ben pith writes, the trip's symbolism is clearly focused on rye 'sure the israeli public that the president and the united states , calling into question, rather than push for specific policies, it would seem this visit is about winning israeli hearts and minds . ahead of the president's trip. politico ran the headline -- president obama in israel , symbolism over substance. and so essentially it seems this is exactly the kind of visit the president claimed last fall he would not make.
>> why not visit israel as president?
>> well, the truth of the matter is that there are a number of countries i didn't visit. i visited israel a couple months before i was president. given how important i think the situation in the middle east is and our partnership with israel , which is stronger than it's ever been, when i go to israel , i want to make sure we're moving something forward.
>> while there may be little to no progress on peace talks between israeli and palestinians , the two leaders will have much to discussing, syria , and ahn iran intent on developing nuclear weapons . joins us from washington is the president of j street , jeremy , great to have you on the program.
>> it's great to be here.
>> let's talk about things that may get done or see some progress. president obama said to israeli tv last week, we think it could take over a year or so for iran to actually develop a nuclear weapon , but obviously we don't want to cut it too close. that would seem to be something worth discussing, the president is setting out a time frame in which iran may have nuclear capabilities. one would think that would go over with the israelis who have long been ringing the alarmt bells. what is your assessment?
>> both countries' intelligence is actually pretty much in line. there's not a lot of disagreement around where the iranian program is at. i think the question that has come up is what's the best strategy, what's the best timeline for implementing that strategy for preventing iran from getting a nuclear weapon . i think it's a good opportunity for the president and the prime minister to make sure they touch base, are on the same page, sanctions and diplomacy are the president's chosen route and there are others who look to see more concrete steps sooner rather than later, and the president is saying we still have more than a year, let the sanctions work, let's keep an avenue open for diplomacy.
>> let's talk about syria . if you're talking about regional instability, the news there may be chemical weapons involved that seemed to change the calculation to some degree, there's pressure coming from some members of the right in congress as far as the white house needing to take more action or greater action or some action. john mccain and lindsey graham wrote a letter saling if today's reports are accurate, we would urge immediate action to encourage the consequences he has promised. to what degree do you think that would be a point of discussion?
>> well, absolutely. i think again this is another place where the interests of both countries really line up. there is no one who has an interest in watching the syrian situation continue to deteriorate to the point where it's a sectarian 1i68 war and some of these weapons get out of control and into actual use. this is clearly a red line for the international community , but the question is what is the strategies available, what are the actual options for, you know, for action, the president and much of his team thus far has drawn a line at providing civilian and medical and other humanitarian assistance . can you actually intervene militarily in an effective marine without the assistance going into the wrong hands? who are the good guys? who ared bad guys ? it's a difficult situation, but the interests of both parties are the same. it's the tools that aren't so clear.
>> curt, this is coming on the anniversary of the selling of the lies regarding the iraq war to the american public. it is notable insofar as i think that's been an animating factor in the president's reticence in terms of getting involved in a number of conflicts or changing situations in the middle east . the question is, what can you do on syria ? you look at the tally at 70,000 people are estimated to have been killed. mccabe and graham are obviously more hawkish when it comes to interventi intervention. what kind of support would the president have for more boots on the ground or getting involve in another conflagration of the middle east .
>> i think we have to say that it's not simply the president's reticence. i would say it is the american public's reticence, having learned its various lessons over the last 12 years from afghanistan and iraq. i agree that the chemical weapons use, and certainly proven to be true by the assad regime changes the calculation significantly in terms of sort of laying the setting the table for more aggressive and explicit and direct u.s. military involvement.
>> being a washington pooh-bah as you are, two pooh-bahs, you know, is there political capital for the president to take a stronger line on syria ? i mean, would he have bipartisan support on that?
>> no, becauseexhausted so much of their energy on iraq and afternoon. now, whether or not you can, you know, persuade bipartisan elites in washington to eventually go along with the president if he really wanted to is a different question. these folks do tend to fold pretty quickly on matters of narc security.
>> and -- roughly the same number of people have died in the conflict in mexico, of 0,000 or so, so if people dying violently is for the u.s. army a reason to go into the country to do thing, think why aren't we in mexico, occupying that country?
>> i think, as curt says, it's an inflection point, if you will, when it's the government using weapons on its own people, right? i'm not trying to say one is better than the other, but i think the is line is that much starker. jeremy , i want to go back to you in terms of u.s./israeli relations, and ehud barack has an op-ed in the " wall street journal " today, and he says basically that the middle east would be in turmoil whether there was peace . he writing the root cause of the problems is not the off-cited failure to solve the conflict, the muslim brotherhood would still have come to power in egypt. syria would still by mired in a bloody civil war , and, so does that basically give these two leaders a pass to punt on peace negotiations?
>> you know, i don't think so. i don't think ehud barack would give you a pass to punt. what he's saying is don't blame all of the troubles in the region on the lack of peace between the palestinians and -- but he -- achieve a two-state resolution is of fundamental interest of both the united states and its national security , but also of the state of israel . if israel doesn't get a two-state solution in the near future , it's going to lose its its jewish or its democratic nature, and ehud is one of those sounding the alarm. i don't think by any stretch that's saying don't make serious moves toward peace in the coming months. it's just saying don't expect the rest of these troubles to be solved by peace between the palestinians and israelis.
>>> the president is going to the people who are making a big address to thousands of israeli students. peter rhineheart writes in "the daily beast " he needs to tell them by subsidizing settlement growth, their leaders are imperiling israel 's future as a democratic jewish state . that seems to be a tricky proposition.
>> well, there's a choice here between inspiring people with hope or pushing them with fear. i think that the agenda for the president needs to be to say to the israeli public that there is a fork in the road staring the people and the state of israel in the face, and it is a choice between making the terribly hard sacrifices and compromises for peace and ensuring your long-term security and acceptance by the world, or avoiding those sacrifices, continuing to build settlements, developing essentially one state between the mediterranean and the jordan, and losing the democratic and jewish nature of israel . the question is, where is the hope? the hope is by making peace and ensure israel 's future that's a shared interest with the united states and shared values as well.
>> one more question before you go, jeremy . a lot was made of the tone when -- he says peace basised on illulgzs with crash eventual oy rot rocks -- and sort of lecturing the president. he was sort of a supporter of mitt romney . how do you think he feels cowed by that and will overcompensate for that in these meetings.
>> i think there's been a lot of water under the bridge since those meetings that goes back a couple years. there was an israeli election as well as an american election. so i think the dynamics between the two leaders are in a did i place than before, but the bottom line for both of them is they are leaders of their nation. they have to pursue not a personal agenda, and it's not just about how they get along personally. the issue is what's best for both of those countries, and the path ahead is clear, it's better for the u.s. and for israel to head down the path towards a two-state solution.
>> putting personal politicians is a lesson we could probably learn here in the united states . thank you.
>> thank you very much, alex.