Obama Slouching Towards an Iran War?

“The Obama Administration has given Israel a green light to attack Iran.” That was the takeaway reported by leading U.S. news outlets as well the major papers and broadcasters across the spectrum in the Middle East from Sunday’s comments on ABC by Vice President Joe Biden.

A careful read of the Biden interview transcript, of course, makes clear that while the Vice President kept reiterating that Israel was a sovereign state free to act as it deemed necessary in response to perceived threats, and to which the U.S. could not prescribe, he did also make clear — when asked about whether the U.S. would allow Israeli planes to overfly Iraqi airspace — that the U.S. would act in its own national interest on the Iran question. Given that he noted earlier in the same exchange that an attack on Iran was not in U.S. national interests — or Israel’s, for that matter — the media reporting of the exchange may have distorted his meaning. Indeed, the White House rushed to insist Monday that the U.S. position remained unchanged, and Obama himself underscored on Tuesday that he had NOT given Israel any such “green light”, and had instead told it to allow diplomacy to work. Biden, he said, had simply “stated a fact”, i.e. that Israel is a sovereign country that will make its own security decisions. (And the Israelis helpfully came out with reports suggesting that the Netanyahu government won’t ask permission — a frankly fanciful claim.)

Unfortunately, Obama’s “sovereignty” argument is not good enough. Unless the White House declares loudly and clearly not only that it opposes any attack on Iran by Israel, but also that it will do whatever is in its power to prevent such an attack, the Obama Administration will be read as having made a plausibly-deniable but nonetheless real threat that Iran faces military action. The Great Sage of Statecraft, Dennis Ross (wait, what exactly are his achievements, again?) may think such ambiguity is devilishly clever, but it’s more likely to bring closer a war Obama obviously doesn’t want, helping him bring about through act and omission a strategic catastrophe that would dwarf Bush’s Iraq misadventure.

Even if Biden was, in his signature foot-in-mouth way, trying to affirm U.S. opposition to a military strike on Iran, his comments were at best reckless — and disingenuous. The argument that Israel is a sovereign state over which Washington has no control when it comes to mounting an unprovoked and illegal attack on another country using U.S. weapons and transiting U.S. controlled air space is as absurd as it is dangerous. The very fact that his comments have been universally reported as a “green light” to Israel underscore the fact that nobody buys the fig leaf of Israeli “sovereignty” in this instance; Israel will not be in a position to initiate a disastrous war if the U.S. Administration firmly resists it. It’s an open secret that Israel alone lacks the technical capability to make a successful job of wrecking Iran’s nuclear program from the air. (A dubious enterprise, to be sure, because most assessments conclude the setbacks to Iran’s technical capabilities would be temporary, and would almost certainly leave behind a dramatically more dangerous situation.)

The idea that the U.S. can do nothing to stop Israel from attacking Iran, without provocation, in violation of international law and norms, on the basis of a perceived threat, is the equivalent of the U.S. saying that out of respect for Iran’s sovereignty, it couldn’t act to stop Tehran from attacking Israel should it deem such action necessary on the basis of a perceived threat. It’s precisely this absurdity that had most of the Middle East reading Biden’s “sovereignty” comments as a fig leaf for green-lighting an Israeli attack on Iran.

The fact that the Biden comments coincided with a report in Britain’s Sunday Times — subsequently denied by all sides — that the Saudis have given the go-ahead to an Israeli strike on Iran suggests a concerted campaign to make the Iranians believe an attack is coming.

Does the Obama Administration think an Israeli attack on Iran is a good idea? Obviously not, they’ve made clear many times that they are quite aware of the disastrous consequences that would follow such an event. But I have a suspicion, as does Aluf Benn, that these comments are calculated to make Iran, and others, think that an Israeli military attack is possible and even likely if Iran declines Obama’s negotiating terms. Dennis Ross, ostensibly now a more senior Obama adviser, makes absolutely clear in his book his view that a diplomatic solution requires the Iranians and others to believe that an Israeli attack is a real and imminent threat. Ross even advocates sending the Israelis around European capitals threatening to bomb Iran as a way of stampeding the Europeans into backing tougher sanctions.

If this is the playbook the Obama Administration is adopting, it’s going to blunder its way into war. Because the Iranians are unlikely to simply fold in the face of threats, and will instead more likely raise the ante.

As I recently argued elsewhere, the post-election situation in Iran makes it unlikely that the Iranians will be ready to engage with the U.S. any time soon. There’s a high probability that the regime believes its own propaganda about the election debacle having been orchestrated by Western forces, and it is circling the wagons — whatever political compromise may be in the works, its narrative will likely be national unity against foreign designs. Now, it could be that Ahmadinejad had always planned to be the one to “deliver” an honorable accord with the U.S. — which his opponents would not want to block — but it’s equally, or perhaps more likely that the political turmoil rules out any short term engagement with Washington.

Yet Obama is now talking about waiting only weeks or months to see whether Iran is willing to engage, before moving on to escalate sanctions. Already, his Congress (at Ross’ behest) is passing legislation designed to create a blockade on Iran importing petroleum (it imports as much as half of its need, despite being an oil producing country – it’s refining capacity is very limited). And Ross’s people in Washington are putting out the spin that Obama is going to be seeking intensified UN sanctions this fall.

Even Obama says “the clock is ticking” on Iran’s nuclear program. But frankly, this is also somewhat misleading and dangerous. There were some wry smiles around the world last week when the new head of the IAEA — and remember, the U.S. worked so hard to get rid of Mohammed ElBaradei because he declined to chant the catechisms of alarmism over Iran’s nuclear program — declared that the IAEA had no evidence that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. Of course he hasn’t, because there isn’t any; there are only suspicions of Iran’s motives. My own view, oft stated, is that Iran is building a civilian nuclear infrastructure that puts the option to build weapons closer to hand, i.e. a “breakout” capacity like Japan has. But let’s be clear, no matter how much low-enriched uranium gas Iran creates in its centrifuges, until it reconfigures those centrifuges (a process that would take at least six months) and then reprocesses that gas to higher levels of enrichment (at least another six months), it won’t have nuclear weapons materiel. And in order to even begin that process, Iran would have to withdraw from the NPT and kick out IAEA inspectors — an unambiguous signal of its intent to build weapons. And even once it had the weapons grade materiel, turning it into serviceable nuclear warheads could take another three years or more. Indeed, even the Mossad has publicly declared its assessment that the earliest date at which Iran could have a nuclear weapon would be 2014.

So, in fact, the urgency proclaimed by those who would escalate things along the road to confrontation this fall is hugely overstated. Combining efforts to engage Iran with escalating sanctions is unlikely to draw a positive response from Iran — although those sanctions are unlikely to happen via the UN, because Russia has no more interest in supporting the Obama Administration on Iran than it had in supporting the Bush Administration on Iran. Dangling the threat of Israeli military action over Iran is more likely to trigger nasty unintended consequences than to help stabilize the Middle East. And when it comes to the question of an Israeli air strike, Obama can profess neither neutrality nor powerlessness.

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31 Responses to Obama Slouching Towards an Iran War?

  1. hass says:

    There’s good reason to beleive that the election “debacle” was orchestrated or at least exploited by foreign forces. For one thing, why would the regime resort to election fraud to keep Mousavi out of office, when he was specifically vetted and cleared to run for office? It makes no sense. There’s still no actual evidence of election fraud in Iran — see IranAffairs.com for the compiled list of claims and counter-claims.

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  4. not an Obamanista says:

    i like Karon approach here.

    The Mossad assessment about 2014, and how it reached intl public, is news to me.

  5. Thanks Tony; I am also very disturbed by VP Biden’s careless remark this past Sunday. Though I worked very hard to get Obama/Biden elected, I’m quite disappointed thus far. Organic gardens and J. Crew outfits is NOT what I expected, nor care about.

  6. CJ Harwood says:

    Tony, my moden disconnected in the middle of posting this, so if this is a duplicate then please delete the first one (if it got through). Cheers, -CJ
        You don’t quite have your arms around it, Tony.
        Obama, Ross, Biden, this is Mark Antony talking (“I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him”), like Michael Ledeen, giving all the reasons why Bush should bomb Iran (a place he’s never stepped foot in), while claiming he was not urging it (inciting murder/arson), claiming he opposed it.
        In a criminal prosecution of Obama, Ross, and others, for mass murder, arson, and war crimes, the prosecution will argue, that they knew the U.S. has veto power over an Israeli attack on Iran’s IAEA safeguarded nuclear facilities. The war crime aspect of it: http://homepage.ntlworld.com/jksonc/docs/hjc-iran-iaea-targets.html
        When they decided to not veto the attack, they thereby committed an overt act in their criminal conspiracy, and an act of inciting, aiding and abetting, and facilitating the criminal attack.
        They knew how to exercise their veto, viz, to announce this:
        If Israel attacks Iran, without U.S. consent, the U.S. will freeze all bank accounts belonging to Israel, and to all its governmental and commercial organs, and to all Israeli leaders, cancel all contracts, including military deliveries, expel every Israeli, prohibit every Israeli, from entering the premises of any U.S. government facility, or that of any contractor to the U.S. government, issue orders to all U.S. military commanders to attack and destroy any Israeli aircraft entering Iraqi airspace without permission, emerging into international airspace from Saudi Arabia, without U.S. permission, and finally — a leaf from JFK, his book of diplomacy — announce publicly, that the U.S. will consider an attack on Iran, by Israel, as an attack on the United States, and will respond, by attacking Israel, with the war aim of destroying the whole of Israel’s military, and its infrastructure, and killing its commanders, including the Israeli cabinet, which is part of the Israeli military command and control.
        If Israel then attacks anyway, and if the Obama does what he claims, or much of it, then there would be no such criminal prosecution of Obama, Ross, and others.
        The immense power the U.S. has over Israeli conduct is represented by the U.S. veto in the U.N. Security Council (the U.S. thereby enables Israel to loot the 1967 oPt, its land, and to transfer 500,000 Israelis to live there, that’s two separate war crimes), the $3 billion annual cash deposit by U.S. taxpayers into Israel’s bank account with the N.Y.Fed, a secret political slush fund U.S. taxpayers give Israel each year, no accounting required (presumably funding the Israel lobby, which also self-funds via DoD consulting contracts they direct to themselves and their think tank talkers), an equal amount of military aid each year, a gift disguised as a sale (the debt later routinely forgiven), the private sector relationships (millions of Jewish people going back and forth), and such. -CJ Harwood (Warlaw)

  7. Andrew P says:

    If Israel is to attack, they should do it right. That means no conventional attack. Iran’s facilities are too scattered and well buried, and Iran is too far away. Israel needs to do MTB – Massive Thermonuclear Bombardment. Just incinerate Iran and send them back to the 7th Century – if you can.

    Of course Israel’s “nuclear arsenal” could be part bluff also. How do we know how many nukes Israel has, how big (or small) they really are, and whether they will even work when fired? They have never been used or even tested….

  8. CJ Harwood says:

    I forgot to mention, the god they worship — Dennis Ross, Michael Ledeen, Patrick Clawson, et al., apparently Obama, Biden, are true believers too — Josef Göbbels, here, saying the terror flyers should be handed over to the proper authorities, where they can be properly treated, as prisoners of war, and how wrong it is, but yet how understandable, that the German public is driven into temporary insanity, and sometimes kill them instead, in the natural rage they feel, on account of the war crimes of U.S./U.K. commanders, ordering their bombers to target civilian objects (e.g., worker’s homes, July 27-28 1943, the Hamburg firestorm), and escorting U.S. fighter pilots, on their return legs home, machine-gunning targets-of-opportunity, including school children. “A Word on the Enemy Air Terror, by Reich Minister Dr. Goebbels,” Minister of Information and Propaganda (Völkischer Beobachter, Nazi party newspaper, Berlin May 27 1944, Munich May 28-29 1944), U.S./U.K. prosecution document no. 1676-PS, translated, Nazi Conspiracy and Aggression, volume IV, pages 186-189, reprinted, The High Command Case, 11 N.M.T. 166-169 (U.S. Military Tribunal 5, Nurnberg Germany, October 28 1948). -CJ Harwood (Warlaw)

  9. Ethan says:

    The U.S. did try to overthrow the current Iranian government,just like they did in 1953. They failed because the world is getting wise to us.

  10. Matthew says:

    Andrew P: You advocate a genocide. And I’m sure you’re nice to your kids and dog.

    Rot in hell.

  11. Norman says:

    A few points to add to Tony Karon’s excellent piece:
    1. How can Obama talk about a date when negotiations would be subject to review if they haven’t even begun?
    2. Although Joint Chiefs Mullen talks vaguely about unintended consequences of an Israeli attack on Iran, someone needs to emphasize that the US will be a major loser even if we don’t participate: our soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan will be at great risk, wars in both those places will extend on and on if Iran chooses to stress us, even temporary closing of or mere threats to gulf oil shipments will send oil prices soaring and wreck economic recovery, the peace process in Israel-Palestine will be set back 10 years, etc. etc. Why aren’t our leaders pointing out that IT IS AGAINST U.S. interests for Israel to attack?
    3. I personally heard Michael Oren, around Feb. 27, 2009, say in Cleveland that an Israeli attack would render Iranian nuclear sites “uninhabitable” (his word). Imagine what that means. That was before he was made Ambassador to the US but he had been an IDF insider for years.
    4. Those following the thoughtful proposals of people like Thirmann and Pickering for resolving the nuclear impasse with Iran, know they involve intrusive snap inspections to verify Iran’s peaceful nuclear program. But if there is a standing threat of a US or Israel attack, there is no way that Iran would allow such inspections of potentially sensitive military sites. Result: Israel’s threats torpedo the most hopeful negotiating terms.

  12. hass says:

    Pat S: apparently you didn’t read the comments to the fivethirtyeight.com link you provided. It is not evidence of fraud. Sorry.

  13. President Obama is left with no choice, now that the mollahcracy has shown no mercy for Iranian people who have been deceived and brutalized and gunned down on streets as well as having been murdered under false allegations, other than supporting the Iranians who opened the window of opportunity for “regime change” as of June 12th 2009.
    President Obama has to know that, that “clenched fist” was soaked in blood of Iranians and now it is even bloodier, so it makes no sense to shake hand with that bloodied fist and at the same time shake hands with others.
    If the west and the U.S. in particular is really serious putting an end to terrorism and nuclear threat from the mollahs, you have to throw your full-fledged support behaind the Iranian people who have been on the Iranian streets since June 12th 2009 and help us to overthrow the nasty criminal regime of the few un-elected mollahs.
    The west and the United States in particular has never tried to bring the Iranian people whose even the very basics right has been trampled and violated for the past 30 years into the equations. The west and the United States’ concern in particular has been (1) nuclear threat from Iran (2) kmollahs support for international terrorism (3) meddling in peace between Isreal and it’s Arab neighbors.
    Like I said stop your support for the nasty criminal regime in Iran and throw your full-fledged support behind the Iranian people who are protesting on the Iranian streets, paying with thie bloods for “regime change” all your concerns will come to an end.

  14. empty says:

    So Mohammad, how exactly were you envisioning regime change? Regime change in Iraq by the US has cost a million Iraqi lives and counting. How many million Iranians do you want the US to slaughter with their full-fledged support?

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  16. Ken says:

    Cui Bono? Only Israel benefits from these endless Middle East wars fought by American soldiers. As the U.S. commits war-crimes abroad, that same gov’t commits treason at home by eliminating habeas corpus, using the judiciary to steal private lands, banning books like “America Deceived” from Amazon, Facebook and Wikipedia, conducting warrantless wiretaps and engaging in illegal wars on behalf of Israel. Soon, another false-flag operation will occur (sinking of an Aircraft Carrier by Mossad) and the US will invade Iran. Then we’ll invade Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, then ….
    Final link (before Google Books bends to gov’t demands and censors the title):

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  18. JD Pendry says:

    I am a retired marine. I have served my country. The other talkbakers have not

    ‘The Axis of Idiots”

    Jimmy Carter, you are the father of the Islamic Nazi movement. You threw the Shah under the bus, welcomed the Ayatollah home, and then lacked the spine to confront the terrorists when they took our embassy and our people hostage. You’re the runner-in-chief.

    Bill Clinton, you played ring around the Lewinsky while the terrorists were at war with us. You got us into a fight with them in Somaliaand then you ran from it. Your weak-willed responses to the USS Cole and the First Trade Center Bombing and Our Embassy Bombings emboldened the killers. Each time you failed to respond adequately, they grew bolder, until 9-11, 2001.

    John Kerry, dishonesty is your most prominent attribute. You lied about American Soldiers in Vietnam . Your military service, like your life, is more fiction than fact. You’ve accused our military of terrorizing women and children in Iraq . You called Iraq the wrong war, wrong place, wrong time, the same words you used to describe Vietnam. You’re a fake.. You want to run from Iraq and abandon the Iraqis to murderers just as you did to the Vietnamese. Iraq, like Vietnam, is another war that you were for, before you were against it.

    John Murtha, you said our military was broken. You said we can’t win militarily in Iraq. You accused United States Marines of cold-blooded murder without proof and said we should redeploy to Okinawa. Okinawa, John? And the Democrats call you their military expert! Are you sure you didn’t suffer a traumatic brain injury while you were off building your war hero resume? You’re a sad, pitiable, corrupt and washed up politician. You’re not a Marine, sir. You wouldn’t amount to a good pimple on a real Marine’s butt.
    You’re a phony and a disgrace. Run away, John.

    Dick Durbin, you accused our Soldiers at Guantanamo of being Nazis, tenders of Soviet style gulags and as bad as the regime of Pol Pot, who murdered two million of his own people after your party abandoned Southeast Asia to the Communists. Now you want to abandon the Iraqis to the same fate. History was not a good teacher for you, was it? Lord help us! See Dick run.

    Ted Kennedy, for days on end you held poster-sized pictures from Abu Ghraib in front of any available television camera. Al Jazeera quoted you saying that Iraqi’s torture chambers were open under new management. Did you see the news, Teddy? The Islamic Nazis demonstrated another beheading for you. If you truly supported our troops, you’d show the world poster-sized pictures of that atrocity and demand the annihilation of it. Your legislation stripping support from the South Vietnamese led to a communist victory there. You’re a bloated, drunken fool bent on repeating the same historical blunder that turned freedom-seeking people over to homicidal, genocidal maniacs. To paraphrase John Murtha, all while sitting on your wide, gin-soaked rear-end in Washington.

    Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Carl Levine, Barbara Boxer, Diane Feinstein, Russ Feingold, Hillary Clinton, Pat Leahy, Barack Obama, Chuck Schumer, the Hollywood Leftist morons, et al, ad nauseam: Every time you stand in front of television cameras and broadcast to the Islamic Nazis that we went to war because our President lied, that the war is wrong and our Soldiers are torturers, that we should leave Iraq, you give the Islamic butchers – the same ones that tortured and mutilated American Soldiers – cause to think that we’ll run away again, and all they have to do is hang on a little longer.

    It is inevitable that we, the infidels, will have to defeat the Islamic jihadists. Better to do it now on their turf, than later on ours after they have gained both strength and momentum.

    American news media, the New York Times particularly: Each time you publish stories about national defense secrets and our intelligence gathering methods, you become one united with the sub-human pieces of camel dung that torture and mutilate the bodies of American Soldiers. You can’t strike up the courage to publish cartoons, but you can help Al Qaeda destroy my country. Actually, you are more dangerous to us than Al Qaeda is. Think about that each time you face Mecca to admire your Pulitzer.

    You are America ‘s ‘AXIS OF IDIOTS.’ Your Collective Stupidity will destroy us. Self-serving politics and terrorist-abetting news scoops are more important to you than our national security or the lives of innocent civilians and Soldiers. It bothers you that defending ourselves gets in the way of your elitist sport of politics and your ignorant editorializing. There is as much blood on your hands as is on the hands of murdering terrorists. Don’t ever doubt that. Your frolics will only serve to extend this war as they extended Vietnam . If you want our Soldiers home as you claim, knock off the crap and try supporting your country ahead of supporting your silly political aims and aiding our enemies.

    Yes, I’m questioning your patriotism. Your loyalty ends with self. I’m also questioning why you’re stealing air that decent Americans could be breathing. You don’t deserve the protection of our men and women in uniform. You need to run away from this war, this country. Leave the war to the people who have the will to see it through and the country to people who are willing to defend it.

    Our country has two enemies: Those who want to destroy us from the outside and those who attempt it from within.

  19. Pingback: Attack the System » Blog Archive » Updated News Digest July 12, 2009

  20. Copeland says:

    JD Pedantic,

    I notice that only Democrats are on your political shit list. You seem to have ignored our rarer Republican monsters, who have sent hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians to their deaths. Republicans who have brutalized our Republic, and who lately ran roughshod over our laws. You have a lot of nerve talking about our domestic enemies with an omission as glaring and partisan as that.

    Every decent person who saw those Abu Ghraib photos, felt horror;– and phony republicans even,– like G. W. Bush, who at least had to feign a sense of horror, for political reasons. All of them were at least unanimous in declaring the perversions and torture at Abu Ghraib to be something which shamed our country and offended all of us.

    But no, not you Sir Pedantic, O ex Marine, jingoist-first class. No you revel in its horror; you seem to celebrate such; and no doubt wish you had been there to make our prisoners of war get naked, and hang from cell doors shackled by their wrists.

    You reveal who you are with every word you write; so its unnecessary for me to tell you what I think you are, using any of those pithy, Anglo-Saxon words.

  21. eheuristic says:

    This nice i like what ever obama do so i just like it so thank you.

  22. Military Bible and Obamas Inauguration!
    1. Iranwar!
    2. Obama, black George W. Bush!
    3. Change? For stupid people!!!
    4. AIPAC=Obama!
    5. MOSSAD=Obama!
    6. NeoCon=Obama!
    7. NATO=Obama!
    8. Israel=Obama!
    9. I wait on Iranwar! Ex.15:3.
    Psalm 144.1.


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