Read Obama’s body language

Published in Israel Hayom, March 5, 2012


This US President is not going to order a military strike on Iran. No amount of rhetoric can cloak his true feelings.

Liberal commentators are already bemoaning the fact that “diehard Obama skeptics” aren’t giving the US President due credit for his “pro-Israel” speech at AIPAC yesterday. “There are many people in both America and Israel who wouldn’t believe Barack Obama’s commitment to Israel’s security even if he sang Hatikvah, enlisted in the IDF and did reserve duty guarding an isolated West Bank outpost,” writes Chemi Shalev in Haaretz today.

“(Yet) Obama’s speech was as solid and supportive as could be expected from any US president,” continues Shalev. “Obama reiterated his unequivocal pledge to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. He dismissed any notion that he might accept a nuclear Iran as a fait accompli and adopt a policy of ‘containment’. He acknowledged Israel’s sovereign right to serve its own national security interests and to act in its own self-defense. He pleaded for more time for diplomacy and sanctions to work, but for the very first time explicitly listed the military among those proverbial options that are always on the table.”

Yes, but read Obama’s body language – not just his words. Obama’s body language tells a different story.

Few politicians are as physically graphic as US President Barack Obama. His intonation and inflection, pace of speaking, facial gestures and body movements are sensual, emotional, instinctive and distinctive. I have long taught executives whom I instruct in public speaking to observe and appreciate Obama’s speaking style. He is a pleasure to watch and actually quite easy to read.

When Obama is miffed or annoyed this comes through quite clearly (“If during this political season you hear some question my administration’s support for Israel, remember that it is not backed up by the facts”). When he is rueful and pained, he cannot hide it (“As president and commander-in-chief, I have a deeply-held preference for peace over war.… As part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I only use force when the time and circumstances demand it”). In both these instances, his inflection changes noticeably and his body language stiffens, almost involuntarily. You can tell that he is speaking from the heart.

Similarly, when Obama feels adamant about something, when conviction comes from somewhere deep and ideological, his speaking style becomes clipped and insistent, and his facial expressions grow cold and defiant. He often introduces such comments with statement of insistence, like “let me say this” or “make no mistake.”

Sure enough, when Obama came to speaking about his confrontations with Netanyahu on the Palestinian issue, he said: “So let me say this: I make no apologies for pursuing peace.” Practically spitting out his words, Obama continued defiantly: “I believe that peace is profoundly in Israel’s security interest,” and you could hear him thinking the second part of the (unstated) sentence: ‘even if Israel’s leaders don’t realize this and I have ram it down their throats.’ “The reality that Israel faces,” continued Obama, “demands a resolution of the issue.” Note the word ‘demands.’ There no doubting that Obama is truly committed with every fiber of his soul to advancing the peace agenda between Israel and the Palestinians, as he sees it.

I picked up on this, by the way, in Obama’s speech to AIPAC in 2008 when he was a candidate for President. Obama’s speech back then contained all the de rigueur pro-Israel boilerplate text one expects from an American candidate at a pro-Israel lobby convention, including a moving tribute to the Zionist movement. But I sensed that Obama delivered the speech with a bare modicum of enthusiasm, except when it came to speaking about Israeli-Palestinian relations.

When it came to the peace process, Obama’s voice rose, his jaw tightened and he signaled his passion by opening with his signature “let me make this clear” phrase. “Let me make this clear,” he said. “As president, I won’t wait until the waning days of my presidency. I will take an active role, and make a personal commitment to do all I can to advance the cause of peace from the start of my administration.” There was no mistaking his determination and ideological commitment on this issue.

Unfortunately, the section of Obama’s speech yesterday relating to the need to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons drive was marked by none of this enthusiasm, defiance or determination. Obama cruised though this section of the speech as if he were parroting lines that had been forced upon him. Go back and listen to or watch the speech, and you’ll see what I mean.

Obama said “I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests” but his heart wasn’t in it and his tone was crestfallen. He said “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say,” but note the passive voice (“I have said…”) and the sadness in his voice. Obama said “I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon,” but said it like he was sleepwalking or under duress.

Obama didn’t say: “make no mistake,” or “let me be clear” and then proceed with a sentence of active warning. He did not declare: ‘I say to Iranian leaders: Back away from building a nuclear bomb, or face the fury of America.’ Why not? Because it is clear that Obama doesn’t mean what he said. He does not intend to confront Iran militarily. Alas, politics just forces him to hint that he might, and it pains him to do so, but that is as far as he intends to go.

It is interesting to note that Obama’s speech to AIPAC in 2008 (delivered the day after he secured enough delegates to clinch the Democratic nomination) contained far more forceful language about Iran. “The danger from Iran is grave, it is real, and my goal will be to eliminate this threat,” said candidate Obama. (Note the word eliminate.) “Sometimes there are no alternatives to confrontation,” warned candidate Obama.

But candidate Obama has become President Obama, and President Obama feels that he is going to be reelected and can thumb his nose at Republican and Likud critics. Perhaps he truly believes that his superior intellect and Herculean diplomatic skills will dissuade the Iranians. Or perhaps not. But he is not going to order a military strike on Iran. No amount of rhetoric can cloak his true feelings.

David M. Weinberg is a think tank director, columnist and lobbyist who is a sharp critic of Israel’s detractors and of post-Zionist trends in Israel. Read more »
A passionate speaker, David M. Weinberg lectures widely in Israel, the U.S. and Canada to Jewish and non-Jewish audiences. He speaks on international politics and Middle East strategic affairs, Israeli diplomacy and defense strategy, intelligence matters and more. Click here to book David Weinberg as a speaker

Accessibility Toolbar