Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Obama's Iran Policy and Leverage on Israel

In a speech before AIPAC, President Barack Obama laid out his seriousness about confronting Iran's continued progress toward acquiring a nuclear weapon. Obama's rhetoric, coupled with Leon Panetta's recent statement that the United States is willing to use a military option as a "last resort" create an interesting and difficult scenario for Israel's leadership. Indeed, Obama's stated willingness to exercise a last resort military option creates a dangerous scenario for Israel vis-a-vis its neighbors, not just Iran, in the event that Obama is reelected.

Despite it's history of military success and highly skilled military, Israel's armed forces are not comparable to the United States' in terms of military technology and in terms of quantity. As a result, from a purely operational standpoint, there will be a point in time at which Israel's military will no longer be able to strike at Iran's nuclear installations but at which the United States, given its superior technology, will be. If Israel waits for Iranian sanctions and international pressure to work and Iran advances and secures its nuclear program to a degree where Israel will not be able to launch a tactical strike like at Osirak in 1981 or in Syria in 2007. At that point, barring a catastrophic all out war scenario in which Israel must use its nuclear arsenal, Israel's defenses against the Iran's development of nuclear weaponry will rely on the United States military option.

While relying on the United States military umbrella might seem like not such a bad idea, it is a relatively untested and historically problematic concept. The United States most significant military intervention on Israel's behalf, during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, saw Henry Kissinger hold back aid from the Israelis in order to "let Israel bleed" so that Israel would give up more in post-war negotiations. Moreover, due to both implicit and explicit statements from the U.S., Golda Meir was unwilling to launch a pre-emptive strike against the Syrians and Egyptians even when Israel's military was caught by surprise but still had approximately 48 hours notice before the Egyptian/Syrian surprise attack. When Saddam Hussein launched SCUD missiles into Tel Aviv during the Coalition invasion of Iraq in 1991, President Bush applied extreme pressure on Yitzhak Shamir to ensure that Israeli airplanes did not attack Iraqi targets and risk alienating Arab members of the Coalition. Given this history of either non-involvement (in the Six Day War and War of Independence) and of mixed involvement (Yom Kippur War), President Obama is essentially telling Israel "trust me" to deal with Iran if push comes to shove.

Of course, there is a lot more to it than Obama's good will or belief that the U.S. can handle the situation better. Obama is creating a situation in which Israel sits under the Sword of Damocles and he controls when and if it will fall. By removing Israel's ability to unilaterally protect itself from Iran, Obama will hold significant leverage over Israel in its other affairs and relationship. Most likely, Obama will leverage his protection of Israel as a way to get Netanyahu or any subsequent Prime Minister to give greater concessions to the PLO so that Obama can become the president who brings "peace to the Middle East" and finally breaks Israel's intransigence in dealing with the Palestinians. By effectively removing Israel's control over its own security against Iran, the United States could force the Israelis to behave in a way that would enable Obama to promote his vision of the Middle East with far less regard to whether Israel thinks it best or not.

Now, considering the views of many in Obama's defense cabinet, there is no doubt that this will be a detriment to Israel. Robert Gates famously called Israel an "ungrateful ally" and Obama himself was caught calling Netanyahu a "liar" and a "headache to work with." Leon Panetta has repeatedly made public remarks that have undermined Israel's strategic position and has demanded that Israel make greater concessions in negotiations with the Palestinians. Of course, this raises a significant question of whether Israel should feel that it can trust the United States in general and the Obama Administration in particular.

There are, of course, factors that pull in both directions. While the United States vetoed the Palestinian attempt to get approval for statehood at the United Nations, Mahmoud Abbas' push for UN approval came about in large part because Obama's April 2010 statement to Mahmoud Abbas that he wanted to see a Palestinian state within 2 years. Emboldened by this, Abbas took the case to the UN, which caused Obama to backslide and demand renewed negotiations. Moreover, Obama's pressure on Israel to end Jewish residence in the West Bank as a precondition to negotiations with the Palestinians plays right into the Palestinian tactic of requiring Israel to concede everything the PLO wants as a condition to negotiating in the first place. While Obama has maintained a more balanced stance on certain other issues, a significant number of Obama's and his advisers' statements have either disparaged Israel or placed it at a strategic disadvantage.

All of this wouldn't be a major problem if Obama was not now turning around and telling the Israelis that he has their interests in mind if and when he decides to act on Iran. To believe that Obama has the interests of Israel foremost in his mind, even if Iran is a far more direct threat to Israel than it is to the U.S., is simply inconceivable. Despite popular belief and rhetoric to the contrary, the United States does not, and would not, act with Israel's primary interests in mind if it were deciding how hard a stance to take on Iran based on Iran's nuclear program hitting certain thresholds. Yet, at the same time, the U.S. is essentially refusing to allow Israel to handle the situation themselves at a time when they can still do so because to do that would (a) potentially implicate U.S. security guarantees to Israel (an idea which the Obama defense establishment abhors) and (b) would tarnish Obama's image as a peaceful man who is reaching out to the Islamic world. In fact, if the U.S. does eventually strike Iran, it will far more likely because the vast majority of Arab states are scared to death at the prospect of Iran becoming a dominant hegemon in the region and taking revenge for centuries of anti-Shia violence and repression. The last thing that the Saudis want to see is an Iranian government that can impose its will on the region.

The Israeli government is faced with a very troubling choice. On the one hand, it faces a growing risk that its own military will no longer be capable of destroying the Iranian nuclear program in a manner sufficient to set it back a meaningful amount of time and to deter future plans. On the other hand, the United States is applying significant pressure on the Israeli government to hand over control of its anti-Iranian options exclusively to the United States military. The decision to do so carries broad repercussions and gives the U.S. significant leverage and influence over Israel. There will come a day when America's willingness to act against Iran is dependent, for example, on Israel's willingness to compromise its strategic depth by withdrawing from the West Bank, or allowing Hamas free reign in Gaza, or evicting Jews from the West Bank and east Jerusalem. In this case, America and its divergent foreign policy goals, coupled with Israel's reliance on American military support to stop the Iranians, may prove to be as dangerous to Israel's long term vitality as Iran's military itself.

As the Czechoslovakians watched in horror as the British and French sold them out to appease the Germans by ceding the Sudetenland to the Nazis while completely disregarding France's agreed upon defense obligations, is it so difficult to believe that the Americans would sell out Israeli interests for America's benefit and appease Iran while demanding that Israel withdraw from certain territories to bring about peace in the region, even at is own expense? Just as the Czechoslovakians paid dearly for their faith in their larger, more powerful protectors against an extremely militant and growing regional threat, so too are the Israelis gravely mistaken if they believe that the United States will act in Israel's best interest when the day of reckoning with Iran comes.

10 comments:

David said...

The following ideas have no basis in objective truth, but instead appear to be based on conspiracy theories bordering on paranoia:

1. The idea that Obama would sell out Israel if Iran got nuclear weapons, similar to the way Chamberlain sold out Czechoslovakia. (This requires reading what Obama says to mean the literal opposite of what he's saying. That does not reveal that Obama isn't trustworthy. It only demonstrates that you have so much contempt for Obama that you're unable to filter your emotional response and frustrations with his past actions with what he's saying now. That may be understandable, but it's not accurate.).

2. The idea that Obama was telling Israel that it should not be prepared to attack Iran itself if necessary. (How do you explain Obama's offer of bunker busters to Israel? Or this quote: "Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.")

3. The idea that Obama would ever risk Iran having nuclear weapons in order to pressure Israel to make concessions to the PLO. (The paranoia of this concept is revealed not only by how irrational such a negotiating tactic would be, but also by how fundamentally abhorrent the idea would be to Obama's view of non-proliferation generally. Also, Obama is a realist in foreign policy -- he wants Israel and Palestine conflict resolved first before statehood - he never backtracked from anything because that has always been his point).

4. The idea that Obama would risk a nuclearized Iran just to protect his "image" of himself as a "peaceful man." (If this were true, he would not be taking hard line positions on Gitmo, drones, Afghanistan - not to mention a very risky attack on Osama across borders).

At the end of the day, who cares if Obama has Israel's interests in mind or Saudi Arabia's interests in mind if the exact same decision is reached: Iran cannot have nuclear weapons. Do you really think that Obama would stomach a nuclear Iran? Really? I get that you may disagree with Obama on how best to prevent a nuclear Iran. But I think you have zero evidence to suggest that Obama doesn't think a nuclear Iran is a big enough deal to necessitate immediate military action once he thinks Iran is about to acquire a nuke. And that's because there's no way Obama would ever let Iran get a nuclear weapon. Non-prolif is simply too important an issue for him, and despite rhetoric, his foreign policies have been rooted in hard-nosed realism. (This is why what he calls "diplomacy" is never just words, but always material power, e.g. sanctions).

Here's how Israeli leaders are actually interpreting it:

“We’ve never heard such a supportive speech in Israel,” Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom told Israel Radio Monday, adding that U.S.-Israel coordination was now “almost perfect.”

Netanyahu: “more than everything, I value his statement that Israel must be able to protect itself from all threats.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres, who had a meeting with Obama Sunday, said he “came out with the feeling that the man is determined to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.”


At the end of the day, your view of Obama is that he is a sly, lying, deceitful man who would like to neuter Israel's ability to defend itself with the express purpose of forcing Israel to give concessions to Palestinians -- the same Palestinians against whom Obama has led a massive campaign to prevent their attaining statehood (apparently all in service of a grand master plan to get them statehood while being able to pretend he doesn't support it). I think you should reconsider just how much of your ability to evaluate Obama's policies here are colored by an emotional disgust with him rather than objective facts.

JabotinskyJr said...

Will get to the rest of your comment soon, but on the bunker buster issue:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/u-s-denies-obama-promised-bunker-busters-to-netanyahu-1.417390

JabotinskyJr said...

I'm sure the Czechoslovakians never believed that they were going to be sold down the river either. Whatever honeyed words Obama has used, the opinions of many influential members of his defense cabinet view Israel as a liability, an "ungrateful ally" and petulant country that is harmful to U.S. interests. Obama's responsibility is to advance U.S. interests, not Israel's. It is simply not in U.S. interests to engage in military conflict with Iran, as Obama has shown both by word and by deed. The British and French sold out Czechoslovakia because they thought it would be strategic and appease the Germans, why wouldn't one believe that neutering Israel a bit might be helpful to promote Middle East peace? This doctrine was EXPRESSLY ADOPTED by Henry Kissinger during the Yom Kippur War with the idea that Israel needed to "bleed" so that it would compromise with its neighbors. Whatever the validity of that idea, Kissinger's idea demonstrated that divergence between US and Israel interest need not require America to abandon Israel, just to put it into an inferior strategic position to improve America's image in the Muslim world. Sorry if I am not convinced that this couldn't happen again in a time when the U.S. is extremely reliant on Muslim allies like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

Whether Obama would theoretically "stomach" a nuclear Iran or not is irrelevant. He can say that he is not OK with it, as Clinton opposed North Korean nuclear weapons. The fantasy world of weapons inspectors and sanctions is ridiculous, if nothing else it encourages weapons development to create leverage against sanctions. I see nothing that would convince me that Obama is more anti-proliferation than any other President on whose watch a country acquired nukes.

As to my favorite part, I absolutely believe that Obama could be convinced, easily, that Iran is a sufficiently rational nuclear actor that he would strongly press Israel not to attack. Even at the point where Iran did not yet possess a full nuclear program, at the point when Israel could no longer strike, there would be significant implicit leverage that the U.S. could hold over. No one is going to make public pronouncements, but Obama taking functional control of Israel's defense by waiting around for sanctions to work would place Israel into a very precarious position vis-a-vis the U.S. Moreover, if Obama was convinced that there needed to be a peaceful resolution first, then why did he make time specific pronouncements "there should be a Palestinian state within 2 years" and thus spearhead unilateral PLO action at the UN. While the US vetoed, it created a very bizarre situation as Obama was essentially vetoing the results of his own statements.

The public words of Israeli politicians mean little. They are not stupid enough to publicly insult Obama. But rest assured that every one of them is concerned about his willingness to take action. The fact is, a military strike on Iran would be very unpopular in America and would be perceived as "Israel's war." Obama would not want to engage in something like that this year, when it would put his re-election at risk.

To the extent that action on Iranian nuclear locations is delayed because of Obama's desire to avoid military confrontation and that delay reduces or removes Israel's ability to effectively attack Iran's nuclear sites, that self interested decision causes significant problems for Israel and, in the interest of other policy goals, could be used as leverage. The U.S. does not perceive Iran as the same kind of threat that Israel does, just as the U.S. doesn't perceive North Korea as the same kind of threat as South Korea or Japan does. This is not unique to Obama, this is a concern that Israel must have against every U.S. leader and that relationship. If the U.S. has proven anything in the last 30 years, it's a ruthless willingness to backstab or stop supporting its allies when those allies are no longer useful.

David said...

You're right about bunker busters. But no other part of what you've said about Obama actually has evidence to support it. I believe you made similar predictions before the last election that Obama would withdraw all support for Israel and cut off all aid.

The fact is, there is no official in the Obama administration who thinks that a nuclear weapon in Iran's control isn't a national security threat that necessitates military action. Everything else you're saying is fluff.

Israel's interest is in seeing a non-nuclear Iran, not in being the one who attacks Iran. Maybe you're right that it's easier to strike now. But you have no evidence to support the idea that if Iran does get very close to nukes or gets nukes, that the U.S. wouldn't immediately take Iran's capability out with military force. All you've really said is that Israel loses the ability to do it itself, but you haven't established that the U.S. won't do it later.

Yes, Obama will use his influence to pressure Israel not to attack now. But to give up concessions to Palestinians? That's absurd. And it requires thinking of Obama as having a form of ethics that is just outright disgusting. To call Obama's words "honeyed" as if he's some kind of flytrap illustrates how emotional you feel about this -- which may be reasonable, but is clouding your judgment.

Your Korea analogy is perfect. Sure, Japan and North Korea care a lot more than the U.S. about North Korea in many ways. But NO ONE thinks that the U.S. wouldn't go to full scale war to defend them. That should illustrate to you that the U.S. will defend the interests of its allies from existential threats EVEN THOUGH the interests of its allies may not be as directly important to the U.S. as to the ally.

At least consider the possibility that your frustration -- which itself may very well be legitimate -- with Obama on a range of issues could be coloring your predictions. I'm not saying that having that perspective is unreasonable. But it doesn't make it accurate, either.

JabotinskyJr said...

David, while it may have been the case that U.S. was willing to defend Japan and Korea, they certainly were not willing to take military action to stop Korea from becoming a nuclear state. The U.S. did not take military action to stop Iraq from developing nuclear weapons back in the 1980s, in fact strongly admonishing Israel for its strike on Osirak in 1981. Similarly, the U.S. backed inspectors, sanctions but not the air strike that destroyed Syria's reactor in 2007. Those were different administrations and Presidents, but even you can acknowledge that simply has NO HISTORY of military action to stop nuclear weapons programs except for the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, which we all know really wasn't about nuclear weapons to begin with.

Again, you are assuming that Obama's would not decide to use a disadvantageous situation for Israel to extract concessions from the Israeli government. This has already happened, as I described, in 1973. The U.S. was fine allowing Egypt and Syria to advance on Israeli positions and allow Israeli soldiers and civilians to die for the sake of ensuring that Israel had to give concessions on the subsequent negotiations.

Again, this isn't necessarily about Obama. It is perfectly rational to believe that the U.S. may perceive that its strategic interest is not to allow Israel to continue building "settlements" in the West Bank. You don't think that Israeli reliance on U.S. military power to strike Iran wouldn't bring pressure to bear on Israel to act in the way that the U.S. thinks is best rather than the way Israel thinks is best? You don't think that increasing that pressure would likely cause Israel to have to make greater concessions? The point is not that this is being thought of as a quid pro quo, but you cannot disagree with me that many in the U.S. Defense establishment see Israel as a liability because of its international intelligence operations, the situation in the West Bank and Gaza, and a variety of other behaviors.

My point is very simply that Israel's decision to wait creates a scenario where the U.S. will acquire significant leverage over it in order to stay in America's good graces. You don't think that the U.S. used the air lifts of goods and military supply during the Yom Kippur War to convince the Israeli government to give the Sinai back to Egypt? Consider how differently things worked during the Six Day War, where the U.S. provided no significant aid to the Israelis, where no one pressured the Israelis into making peace.

I don't believe that Obama would take military action on Iran, especially before the election. Even then, I do not have confidence, not just because it's Obama, but because it would be an INCREDIBLY unpopular action and would be seen as serving Israeli interests, not American interests. I do not perceive that Americans think Iran is an American issue, but is a Middle East issue. We are a war-weary nation, and I do not believe that the Obama administration would take military action to stop Iran, assuming that the U.S. even knew when that moment came.

David said...

You're absolutely right about American perception of Iran. But that's why I think Obama's speech was, in many ways, an attempt to sell to the American public that a nuclear Iran is a threat to U.S. interests. Obama is laying out in clear detail that this isn't just about Israel. That's a critical distinction between a nuclear Iran and the past wars with Egypt, Syria, etc.

I don't think that the U.S. will ever even imply to Israel that its willingness to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons would ever waver or change one iota based on what Israel decides to do to Palestinians. Again, this is because I think Obama genuinely (and correctly) believes that a nuclear Iran would be a serious national security threat to the United States. Frankly, if he only thought Iran was a threat to Israel, you might very well be right that Israel would be in a much more difficult position. Maybe that's really the main point of our disagreement. I think Obama is 100% convinced that Iran is a national security threat that justifies the use of military force to prevent nuclearization.

As an aside, I disagree that "many" in the U.S. defense establishment (what exactly do you mean by that? Can we at least limit this to people with actual power in the Obama administration?) think of Israel as a net liability. Maybe they've said things that are critical, or complained about risks from our alliance. But I certainly don't think that any significant number of people in positions of power in the Obama administration would suggest that the alliance provides NET more costs, and I especially don't think those people are the ones given any weight when it comes to our foreign policy decision to either Israel or Iran. But I'm willing to stand corrected if you can provide contrary evidence.

Re: North Korea, I'm no expert, but my understanding is that we lacked the capacity to take out North Korea's facilities without causing the destruction of all of South Korea. NK has so much artillery that it can blanket South Korea's largest population centers within minutes, and there's no way for the U.S. to stop that short of all out nuclear assault. Before NK had nuclear weapons, it essentially already had the power to wipe SK of the face of the map. And that's a key distinction from Iran.

JabotinskyJr said...

I guess this really comes down to a question of trust. I do not trust the U.S. government to defend Israel when push comes to shove. Obama may rhetorically be opposed to Iran's development of nuclear weapons, but I think he would be extremely resistant to take military action because of the boondoggles in Iraq and Afghanistan. The strike would cause oil prices to skyrocket and would be perceived as "Israel's war" and would bring about a lot of detractors. Obama may be trying to sell Iran as a threat to the U.S., but most Americans don't believe it for a second, and Obama is smart enough to know how damaging it would be.

I don't believe that Obama perceives that Iran is a sufficient threat with nuclear weapons to justify a large scale military strike. Just as in the past, the U.S. did not take military action against pariah states who acquired nuclear weapons such as South Africa and North Korea, this is an arena with big talk and little action when it comes down to it. Obama may himself perceive that Iran presents some threat to the U.S., but that threat is small compared to the threat to Israel. The scenario to play out is that the danger calculus is very different and Israel will understandably be on much more of a hairtrigger than the U.S. would be, but Israel might lack the ability to act.

There is, of course, another issue. All of this assumes that the U.S. could effectively determine when Iran would acquire a nuclear weapon. The world was "surprised" when Israel, Pakistan, South Africa and North Korea went from "building weapons" to "holy crap they have a nuclear weapon." Some people theorize that the recent nuclear test in North Korea was actually of an Iranian weapon: http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4198453,00.html.

Leon Panetta, the Secretary of Defense, has made numerous public statements rebuking Israel and blaming it for Middle East instability, saying that they "need to get to the damn table" to reach out to the Palestinians. Panetta has also made numerous public statements giving timeframes on potential Israeli strikes, which, whether actually classified or not, are strongly against Israel's interests. Robert Gates, the previous Secretary of Defense, called Israel "an ungrateful ally" and said that the U.S. was "getting nothing in return" for aiding Israel. Sorry if I don't think the relationship is all sunshine and rainbows.

David said...

You make a good point about uncertainty when Iran will finally have nuclear weapons. But I'll defer to the intelligence experts here.

Obama has made clear he will take aggressive military action even when there is some uncertainty either about outcomes or quality of intelligence. If Iraq gave him pause, he would not have escalated the war in Afghanistan. He would not have escalated drone strikes. He would not have authorized the strike on Osama. I fundamentally disagree with you on Obama's willingness to use military force.

I understand the trust issue you raised. It's reasonable to feel that way. That said, I wouldn't ask you to trust that Obama cares about Israel. I'd ask you to trust that Obama cares about Iran.

Iran is different. South Africa (correct me if I'm wrong) was never a strategic security concern on par with Iran. With respect to North Korea, we lacked the capacity to take out their nuclear weapons facilities without causing the destruction of South Korea.

I believe Obama thinks a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. His speeches aren't just rhetoric. He has now tied himself down firmly to this policy. If it's just a bluff, and if Iran calls his bluff, he'd either be forced to act or risk losing all credibility as President. All other priorities on his agenda would be swamped by his failure to back up his statements in face of a nuclear Iran. Even in the most cynical view, he has committed himself in a very material way to a hardline stance against Iran nuclearization. You're right that the threat to the U.S. will never be the same as the threat to Israel. But I believe that Obama perceives the threat of a nuclear Iran to rise far above the minimum threshold for U.S. military intervention.

I don't think it's fair to criticize Obama in particular by citing U.S. actions in general. Or former officials appointed by the Israel-friendly Bush administration.

Regardless, Panetta's comment was directed to Israel on the isolated issue of Palestine peace process. Nothing to do with Iran. Nothing to do with security guarantees. Even if you think Panetta was hard core anti-Israel on Palestine issues, that just shows he treats the peace process as separate from Iran. In the same speech in which he said Israel needs to get to the table, he also "No greater threat exists to the security and prosperity of the Middle East than a nuclear-armed Iran" and that Iran's "continued drive to develop nuclear capabilities . . . make clear that [it is] a very grave threat to all of us." He also said: "I want to be clear that Israel can count on three enduring pillars in U.S. policy in the region, all of which contribute directly to the safety and prosperity of the Israeli people. First, our unshakable commitment to Israel’s security. Second, our broader commitment to regional stability. And third, our determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons." You cannot possibly say that Panetta has made a statement that suggests that Israel is a net liability for the U.S.

On Gates, the same article that is the original source for those quotes (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-09-06/robert-gates-says-israel-is-an-ungrateful-ally-jeffrey-goldberg.html) also acknowledged that Gates "not considered hostile to Israel." The Obama administration immediately commented that Israel has a strong relationship with the U.S., etc. The fact that statements such as these can ignite a firestorm and immediate backtracking/clarification undermines your point that many people in the Obama administration hate Israel and think it's a net liability.

JabotinskyJr said...

I don't know why you believe Iran and North Korea are different. Do you really not believe that Iran will retaliate against Israel and American-allied Arab states if either Israel or the U.S. attacks its nuclear sites? If you don't think Iran has significant conventional weapons to do damage to (a) Israel (b) Gulf States and (c) American troops in Afghanistan, then I think you grossly underestimate them. Iran is certainly no more of a regional danger than North Korea is/was, especially because Iran's greatest military counterbalance, Saddam Hussein's Iraq, is now gone. And Iraq provides another good example, in that it launched SCUDs into Israel when Operation Desert Storm began. Obviously there is risk, but the fact is that the further along the program goes, the less likely that a strike will be worthwhile given the likelihood of significant retaliation.

Iran could cause oil prices to soar by, for example, launching missiles into Saudi Arabia, a nation with whom Iran has a bitter rivalry and long standing hatred.

The point here is quite simple. I have heard lots of tough talk about anti-nuclear proliferation before, but countries that either we did not want to see get nuclear weapons (South Africa, Pakistan) or countries that we REALLY didn't want to see get nuclear weapons (North Korea) have managed to do so despite a lot of saber rattling and tough talk. I don't see Obama launching the military force necessary to prevent the Iranian nuclear program because there would be little political will to plunge the region into a potentially explosive conflict involving Iran and its proxies against some combination of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and possibly even some Central Asian nations. As the U.S. defense establishment starts to think that the Iranian government is no more irrational with its nuclear weapons than Kim Jong Il's North Korea, there will be little desire to risk American lives and tax dollars to fight a war that looks to primarily be for Israel's benefit, especially when many in the defense establishment think Israel is overstating the issue.

Sorry, but I just don't believe that the Obama Administration would take action. This isn't sending SEALs into kill Bin Laden or killing terrorists in Yemen or Afghanistan. Iran's regime is almost hoping for a fight to prop itself up domestically and entrench itself, like it did in the Iran-Iraq War.

David said...

You're right that it would be a tough call. But I disagree with you about Obama. He had nothing to do with decisions over North Korea, South Africa or Pakistan. The US also didn't say in those instances that we would prevent them from nuclearizing with all options on the table. I don't think you have a shred of evidence about Obama specifically being unwilling to go hardline in foreign policy, or that he doesn't care about Iranian nuclear weapons. Despite your article's focus on Obama, you have presented zero evidence specific to him. Instead, you've painted with very broad brushstrokes based on what other administrations have done (or failed to do) in different circumstances, when they did not make the explicit commitments Obama has already made. I'm not saying there's no risk of your position -- I just think you're inflating it. I'm also not saying your fear is unreasonable, because I get where you're coming from. And I get the frustration of feeling like you're being told to just trust Obama.

I completely disagree about Iran vs. North Korea. I'm not an expert on this. Correct me if I'm wrong. But my understanding is that no serious military expert thinks that North Korea and Iranian military capabilities are equivalent. Iraq's SCUDS are nothing compared to North Korea's artillery, which is the largest in the world and 35 miles from South Korea's capital. It is capable of firing 500,000 per hour directly into key South Korean military and civilian targets. When the US military was considering a strike against North Korea to take out its nuclear capabilities, most experts agreed (I believe) that, even if the strike were successful, between 300,000-500,000 soldiers would die in the first 90 days of fighting alone. And that's not counting civilian casualties. (http://cns.miis.edu/north_korea/dprkmil.htm). Iran has no similar conventional capability. That's precisely why it's so important to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. It's exactly why a military option is feasible. I can assure you that Bibi wouldn't want to strike Iran's facilities if Iran could completely level Jerusalem in a couple hours even after a successful strike against Iranian facilities.

Last, you assert again that "many in the defense establishment think Israel is overstating the issue." Again, you've presented zero evidence on this. What is "defense establishment"? Anyone outside the Obama administration is irrelevant. And everyone with any relevant power in the Obama administration thinks a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. The only "overstating" is the belief that an immediate strike is unnecessary. But that's not because a nuclear Iran isn't a threat; it's because they think there's better ways to deal with the threat in the short-term before a military option because necessary.