Obama’s Iran Dilemma: Threats of War As Means To Keep the Peace
Published on: March 5, 2012
show comments
  • WigWag

    “With its ally in Syria under attack, and a resurgence of sectarian polarization that unites Sunni Turks and Arabs against Persian Shiites, Iran faces the comprehensive collapse of its regional position. A humiliating climb-down in the face of Israeli and American pressure would complete the disaster, and there must be those in Tehran who wonder how long the regime could survive this kind of defeat.”(Via Meadia)

    How long ago was it that everyone was talking about an ascendant Shia crescent that would dominate the Middle East? Iran, the Shia controlled regime in Iraq, Hezbollah controlled Lebanon, Syria, Iran’s Sunni allies in Hamas, the majority population in Bahrain and the Shia who make up the majority in the Saudi oil patch were supposedly on the march.

    Well it looks like the Sunni Empire has struck back and has the Shia on the run. An American or Israeli attack on Iran would complete the job and would absolutely delight the Saudis, the Gulf States, Jordan and perhaps Fatah and Turkey.

    One point that I have rarely seen mentioned is the fact that it is in the decisive interest of both Israel and the United States to have the Shia and Sunni worlds at each other’s throats. Better to have these nations fighting each other than to have them directing their hatred and vitriol at the Middle East’s Jews, Kurds, Christians, Baha’i and other minority groups.

    Someone more astute than I am may be able to correct me about this, but it seems to me that it is better for Israel and the West if neither side in this intramural Muslim feud emerges victorious but that the battle between them goes on indefinitely. An intensifying feud between Shia and Sunni would be best of all. Perhaps there is no way to broker this outcome, but if there is, shouldn’t it be pursued?

    On a parenthetical note, it is really rich to hear President Obama talk about how effective his sanctions regime has been. The most recent sanctions legislation, the statute that penalizes companies that do business with Iran’s Central Bank, passed the Senate by a vote of 100-0 but the Obama Administration first demanded that the bill be watered down and then practically begged the Senate not to pass it.

    Obama may or may not fear an Iran with nuclear weapons. I think in his heart of hearts he hopes Iran gets nuclear weapons so he can push for negotiations to disarm Israel and make the Middle East a nuclear-free zone. The one thing he clearly fears is the possibility that conflict with Iran will push gasoline prices so high that his increasingly bright reelection prospects are imperiled.

    Personally I find Obama both transparent and pathetic.

  • Yahzooman

    “To be prepared for war is one of the most effectual means of preserving peace.” —
    George Washington

    “I have never advocated war except as a means of peace.” — U.S. Grant

    “Peace through strength.”
    — Ronald Reagan

    “I do not bluff.”
    — Barack Obama

    It’s not the current message that’s flawed. It’s the messenger.

    The other men were credible. The current president is not.

  • Pablo


    Help me understand this paragraph:

    “It is true that talk of war *raises the price of oil*, and Iran (and the President’s Republican opponents) get some benefit from this. But fear of war is what makes sanctions effective. Iran is selling less oil (and at *lower prices*) because people think it is an unreliable supplier.”

    So do sanctions and talk of war raise the price of oil or lower it?

  • Arkeygeezer

    President Obama is a nice man, has a good family, is educated, articulate, and his election proved to the world that the United States is not a racist country. However, he is also a Progressive Socialist ideologue.

    Whenever a Socialist head of state is dealing with a threatening nation, his instinct is to appease the aggressor at the expense of everyone else. We have seen this pattern develop for years in Europe, and in our own country with certain past progressive Presidents. Everytime it is tried, it ends in war.

    I do not expect any different outcome this time.

  • Sexypig

    Pablo, he’s saying that Iranian oil must be sold at a discount, probably due to the risk that it won’t be delivered.

    Not sure if that’s true or not.

  • LarryD

    Pablo, depends on whose oil. When the country selling has a high risk of being attacked, then its oil has a risk of not being delivered, which reduces its value. Countries not at risk have their oil become more valuable because the total safe supply shrinks.

    People worry about what will Israel do, but Saudi Arabia is far more worried about the Persian bomb than the Jewish one. What will they do?

  • SDN

    Is this the same person and party that were celebrating dissent undermining the country and national security (I’m looking at you, NYT, publishing classified details on terrorist money tracking) while a Republican was president?

    I thought so. [Shut up], you treasonous [vulgarity removed].

  • Some Sock Puppet

    Interesting analysis. That’s a new perspective for me to keep an eye on. I appreciate that Professor Mead.

    @WigWag: If the whole middle east is at each others throats, doesn’t that mean more trouble for the US economy? We have a lot of resources tied up in that area.

    I think it’s in THIS president’s interests to have that kind of chaos sown since his entire policy is to pit one against the other in all things.

    Not America’s.

    I don’t understand why we didn’t have a massive mobilization and a campaign throughout the entire middle east ala Europe in WW2. Take on one problem, then the next then the next. You overwhelm your enemy and destroy their ability to fight. That is the optimal end result of all conflicts.



    First term W. Bush you could predict. He did what he said more often that not. Not second term, when he started bailing out everything under the sun and compromising with the loons on the left. (Who now claim dissent is not patriotic but racist. – I’m looking at you Ms. Clinton.)

    With Obama? Whatever he says, you know is the opposite of what he’s going to do. Just reflexively oppose him and you know it’ll be the side of the angels.

  • jay

    As acknowledged by most observers, pre-emptive attack on Iran may slow its acquisition of nuclear arms, but is not likely to stop it. However, as noted by Meade, the clear message of such an attack will be “that nuclear weapons and only nuclear weapons can ensure the regime survives”.

    In the long run, the calculus of politics indicates that an unprovoked attack on Iran will promote a nuclear arms race.

  • James

    Check out new documentary on the last three years of Obama’s Israel policy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0wbH5KVPrPo

  • Fred

    I still say O doesn’t have the stones to bomb Iran. I just pray Bibi does have the stones to do it despite O’s cowardice.

  • Eurydice

    I’m puzzled by the President’s statement because because a good deal of that “loose talk” has come from him. And to me, the question isn’t which Middle Eastern country can deliver oil more reliably than Iran, but whether any Middle Eastern country can be a reliable supplier if there’s a war in Iran.

  • WigWag

    “But Via Meadia thinks there is something more going on, something that points to the way in which President Obama is slowly losing his battle against war with Iran.” (Walter Russell Mead)

    Barry Rubin agrees with Professor Mead but he takes it a step further. Rubin believes that Obama’s speech to AIPAC makes a war between Israel and Iran and probably the United States and Iran virtually inevitable; possibly two or three years down the line.

    Rubin’s views are worth a look,


  • jkl

    “He, therefore, who desires peace, should prepare for war”
    Flavius Vegetius Renatus

  • Anthony

    “ViaMedia doesn’t see that the President had many alternatives to the road he has taken….” Have conditions reached point that conflict (war) is more or less likely WRM?

    Also, reading essay brings to mine a related thought: “with balancing a great power assumes direct responsibility for preventing an aggressor (Iran) from upsetting the balance of power…the balancing state will fight the ensuring war. Threatened states take…measures to make balancing work. First , they can sen clear signals to the aggressor that they are firmly committed to maintaining the balance of power, even if it means going to war.”

    So, President Obama appears to be using great power strategy of “Balancing” as U.S. checks Iran’s regional behavior – by the way, just today Shimon Peres says Israel’s security arrangement with U.S. is best ever (his words).

  • Jim.

    My two cents–

    Agree to sell the necessary arms to the Saudis and Emirates to beat Iran into submission. (Not the cutting edge stuff of course; previous gener=ion arms, just lots of them.

    The US can’t afford direct participation in another war in the Middle East, but if we can use a war there to recoup the dollars we spend oil. If the Saudis and Emirs sent a couple hundred billion our way each year (and they can afford it) in exchange for arms, that would help the US economy nicely.

  • PTL

    I don’t bluff. I mean it this time. Don’t you mess with me. Truthfully. It’s not the money.

  • martinra

    @Jim. The Saudis and Emirates have neither the population, training, veteran military cadre, nor social cohesion to go toe to toe with the Iranians in high-intensity warfare. No quantity of surplus platforms and munitions we were to sell or give them would make up for their deficiencies in personnel. The rulers are not widely loved, so any army they could raise would be mostly made up of conscripts. The IRGC would cut such to ribbons. Also, the Shiite minority population in the South Persian Gulf and East Arabia is significant and already restless, and open war would likely have Iran activating all sorts of sleeper cells among them.

    All the KSA and UAE armed forces could hope to do against a determined Iranian assault would be to try to slow them down and protect the major cities and the oil facilities for a couple of days. They’d use that time screaming for US help and promising whatever sums of money would get the USN and USAF to obliterate the Iranian air and naval arms. Their practical ability to project military force is nil.

  • Rich K

    Always remember and never forget that every word out of this presidents mouth comes with an expiration date.Threaten war,,,,wait a few days/weeks/months,,,and its all forgotten or reworded with the skill of Alinsky. Everything said between now and November third is geared for one thing. Four More Years, Everything.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: Your argument was supposedly made by “Administration sources” today: If Israel attacks Iran to prevent it from getting nuclear weapons, that will encourage Saudi Arabia and Turkey to go nuclear. That will encourage them, as opposed to Iran itself going nuclear. The politest way I can respond is to say I find this argument baffling.

    The logical conclusion from your argument is that the best way to combat nuclear proliferation is that we should wait until Iran actually develops nuclear weapons and only then attack it. That will show that nuclear weapons are no guarantee of invulnerability!

  • WigWag

    The Emergency Committee for Israel has an interesting 30 minute video out giving their views about Obama’s take on Israel, Iran, Turkey and the Middle East. Naturally it’s not flattering and perhaps it is somewhat exaggerated. On the other hand it does tend to cast serious doubt that Obama “has Israel’s back” as the President claimed.

    If the video is to be believed, Obama must have meant he’s ready to stab a knife in Israel’s back.

    It’s worth a look,


  • Kris

    [email protected]: If Saudi Arabia is not taking on Iran itself, it’s not for lack of weapons. They have already spent heavily on military procurement, primarily from the US.

  • So once again we are going to exchange American, post-Enlightenment lives for the lives of Dark Ages barbarians in infantry fights on the battlefield?

    Who have been American political and military allies for decades? Those we destroyed utterly (Imperial Japan, NAZI Germany), or Vietnamese and future Afghans, Kosovars, Iraqis? Destroy the enemy and quit fooling around getting Americans killed.

    Nuclear weapons were invented to destroy the enemy at no cost to ourselves. Use them.

    How many Mozarts, Hemingways, Faulkners and Warhols are we sacrificing in our willingness to allow Americans to die to fix something on the other side of the world?

    It is time to re-set our priorities. American lives ARE more important than those of our enemies. It is time to act on that knowledge.

  • Anthony

    A very, if only slightly off subject, interesting and related article (An Existential Threat Within Israel Endangers Its Democracy – The New Yorker, David Remnick) provides additional historicism to today’s essay.

  • Jim.


    Has their spending been sufficient to offset a) our spending on their oil, and b) our trade deficit with China (at least the portion that gets China the dollars to buy their oil)? Otherwise, we’re not driving trade the way we should.

    @martinra- point taken about their population. Unfortunately, my points above still stand; our arms industry is one of the bright spots of our economy, from a competitive point of view. Finding a way to make that work for us, when we shouldn’t be spending another hundred billion a year on a new war, should be a priority. Supplying the arms to someone else with deep pockets and similar geopolitical interests would fit the bill there.

  • Kris

    From [email protected]’s link: “Netanyahu, who visits Washington this week, has shown imperious disdain for Barack Obama.” Hmm, it certainly seems to me that Remnick is characterizing Netanyahu as an uppity … Zionist who doesn’t know his place. I am shocked, shocked at this blatant racism!


  • WigWag

    Netanyahu gave a tremedous speech about the Iran problem to the 2012 AIPAC Conference last night. Having been there I can say it was quite an experience.

    What kept going through my mind is that it’s too bad he’s not running for President of the United States. Netanyahu is a far better leader than anyone we have on either side of the aisle in this country.

    In case anyone is interested, here’s the speech.

  • richard40

    An even bigger problem is that Obamas credibility on Iran and Israel is so bad, that when he threatens war, nobody beleives him.

  • martinra

    @Jim.25, It would be nice if all we needed to do to prevail was to sell our surplus arms to our allies and let them do the fighting and dying for us. Regrettably, most lack either the will or the ability to do so. Wars are still decided by the will to fight. Technology is a force multiplier, but any such multiplier cannot make zero into positive value.

  • Otis McWrong

    Great idea WigWag – Netanyahu for President. Then we could finally be rid of the notion that US and Israel interests are not one and the same.

    One problem though is it would make it tougher (though not impossible) to shrilly accuse anybody thinking that US foreign policy should primarily (exclusively?) pursue US interests of being “anti-semitic” or “nazi”.

  • elisa

    WigWag, thanks for the link.

    And I agree with you regarding Israel’s good fortune to have a leader like Netanyahu.

    We should be so lucky.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: You reminded me of this picture of two young men. (The one on the left, besides being a captain in the Israeli special forces, also has a MS from MIT.)

  • Kris

    [email protected]: What do you think about Netanyahu’s discourses on American exceptionalism, as compared to any American president since Reagan?

  • Toni

    Prof. Mead still doesn’t understand how ill-prepared Obama was and is to be Leader of the Free World.

    Not long after Obama insulted Brits by returning the bust of Churchill that they’d loaned in sympathy for 9/11, he paid Netanyahu the ultimate diplomatic insult. Heads of state are usually accorded a joint press conference/photo op after a state visit. Netanyahu got none.

    WSJ describes Obama’s many other faux pas concerning Iran and Israel: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203986604577257191372525750.html

  • Otis McWrong

    Well, seeing as Netanyahu came to Washington seeking something – to have America smight Israel’s foes real and imagined – it should occur to you that his “discourses on American exceptionalism” could, cynicism alert, be an attempt at manipulation.

    Douglas Feith co-authored an extensive white paper for Netanyahu on Middle East strategy, which included whole sections on how to manipulate, err…strengthen the “alliance” with the United States. Play up “mutual values”, make frequent appeals “American exceptionalism”…but I guess noting any of this makes one anti-semitic. Or a Nazi, I can’t remember which.

    Speaking of anti-semitic : [Ha’aretz columnist Akiva Eldar warned that Feith and Perle ‘are walking a fine line between their loyalty to American governments … and Israeli interests’.”] Nothing to see here folks, just American Exceptionalism.

  • John Barker

    Iran may or may not get nuclear weapon, but I think that the West or Israel will be hit with dirty bombs in the event of an attack on Iran. This eventuality may lead to such public outrage that full scale war with Iran is likely, with unknowable consequences.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: Is it your contention that there is no benefit to American presidents of talking up American exceptionalism? And are you truly claiming that Iran is but an imaginary foe of Israel? Really?

  • Frank Arden

    Wig Wag (how on earth did you come up with that name?),

    Thank you for posting Bibi’s speech. I kept the TV on later than usual for the sole purpose to hear this great man’s words at AIPAC. I loved it. Netanyayu gave a speech worthy of the best statesman of our times, or of any time.

    While I listened to it, I was saddened and ashamed that our own president is incapable of being a hard core defender of American interests with the same eloquence.

    As I am a Christian, I am a Jew. As an American, I am a defender Israel. I hope I might visit the place someday.

    Bibi’s family’s blood flows beneath his country’s flag. His brother was in command of the raid on Entebbe, Uganda when the African President Edi Amin held over a hundred Jews, hijacked by terrorists, and forced to fly to to the airport and kept as hostages.

    Amin boasted about drinking the blood of his enemies. He was an African pig and a godless cannibal wannabe, a ruthless, blood-thirsty killer of innocent human beings.

    Bibi’s older brother, Lt. Colonel Jonathan (Yoni) Netanyahu, the commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal (Israeli Special Forces), was the only man killed in the rescue (at age thirty) and became a national hero.

    All the hostages were rescued except for an elderly woman, a grandmother with heart problems, who was murdered in her hospital bed by Idi Amin’s savage Ugandan thugs after the embarrassing rescue mission.

    Bibi and his younger brother, Iddo, were also members of Sayeret Matkal.

    I honestly believe Benjamin Netanyahu is the greatest leader of Israel since David Ben-Gurion. Both are found in good company with George Washington.

    He is a defender of freedom.

  • Frank Arden

    Otis McWrong,

    Forgive me, but your comment rings somewhat cynical. Winston Churchill also came to America “to have America smight {sic} [Britain’s] foes real and imagined.”

    We know from history what were Britain’s “real” foes: but I’m inclined to ask you, exactly, who or what were the imagined ones?

    Netanyahu is a statesman who stands on the parapets of Israel’s very existence. He defends liberty. His family has shed its blood in that nation’s defense. Iran is a real foe of Israel. Do you think not?

    Just who do you think are the “imaginary” ones?

    Do you not think that liberty must always be defended? Or, do you think the defense of liberty should be abandoned in the pursuit of temporary safety?

    The foes of Israel are well documented by the last sixty-five years of its brief history. Harry Truman understood this. History bore the wisdom of his recognition of this fledgling nation. The democratic spirit of Israel made it a major ally of the United States in a dry and arid land.

    Not one American soldier has lost his life in defense of Israel.

    What’s the difference between Churchill’s plea to America in 1940 and Netanyahu’s message to America today?

    Is Netanyahu’s Israel less threatened today by its enemies than Churchill’s England was threatened in 1940?

    If America abandons its defense of liberty in this awful world, when our friends exist no more, when a Bart Simpson becomes the role model, and president even; what do you think will be the greatest thing this country stands for and what do you imagine it will sacrifice its blood and treasure for to defend?

  • Otis McWrong

    Wig-Wag, Frank: I concede Iran may pose a threat to Israel. I never argued otherwise. My point was (and continues to be) that Israel is not, as far as I know, part of the United States. This is a rather simple point and but apparently a tough one to grasp.

    As for the rest of the blather, this is not Europe in 1939/40; Iran is not Germany, Saddam/Kaddafy/Mubarak/Assad/whoever is not Hitler. You guys really need to come up with a better argument than “Churchill…Hitler.. 1940…blah blah”

    Further to the Iranian situation – Iran has only been strengthened and emboldened by the castrating of Iraq. As such, until I hear about the existential threat of Iran from somebody other than the same childish, wild-eyed, and cowardly halfwits that make up the neocon base, I’m not buying it.

    Regarding Israel as an “ally”. The proper term is “client state” or “vassal”. You should be more precise with your words. Israel does not and can not provide anything for US defense. An “Ally” would be a country like South Korea – trade goes both directions, they sent troops to help us in Vietnam, we exchange intelligence with them regarding China. Why are you not as concerned with N. Korea as with Israel? Why are there not above-the-fold articles daily in the NYT/WSJ about South Korea?

    Frank: regarding Americans killed in defense of Israel: Assuming you’re not counting the sailors killed on the U.S.S. Liberty BY Israel, you are correct. Please don’t embarrass yourself by arguing that attack was accidental.

    Regarding what America should “sacrifice its blood and treasure for to defend” I’m going to go out on a limb and say…drum roll…THE UNITED STATES!! Crazy concept, I know. While we’re on that, identify when and in what branch of the US Military you served.

  • Kris

    [email protected]: “Netanyahu came to Washington seeking something – to have America smight Israel’s foes real and imagined”

    [email protected]: “I concede Iran may pose a threat to Israel. I never argued otherwise.”

    Just who is this “imagined” foe Netanyahu wants America to smight [sic]?

    “As for the rest of the blather, …”

    Churchill was brought up for one reason: He is often cited as a great friend of America. Frank was pointing out that his friendship was no less self-interested than Netanyahu’s. In addition, while Iran is obviously not the global threat Germany 1939 was, is it less of a threat to Israel that Germany was to Great Britain?

    I am … interested by your contention that Israel has not provided anything for US defense. And comparing the relative “defense deficits” of US-SK vs US-Israel seems like one of the worst own-goals ever.

    “Please don’t embarrass yourself by arguing that attack [U.S.S. Liberty] was accidental.”

    As opposed to embarrassing one’s self by arguing that a “client vassal state” deliberately attacked its liege lord.

    In general, for someone who repeatedly obsesses, in this thread and elsewhere, about being labeled anti-Semitic, you seem remarkably insistent on picking fights with straw men which you shower with personal attacks and abuse.

  • Kris

    Free advice for the aptly named McWrong:
    Arguing that the US should reduce its foreign involvement and that its policies are too closely aligned with Israel’s? Not anti-Semitic at all.
    Responding to a suggestion that the US would be better off with a president as substantially and stylistically impressive as Netanyahu with a hyperventilating attack on straw men? One might start wondering.

  • kachal

    well i live here in Iran and im enjoying my life and I assure you things arent as bad as they show you on TV here. I dont like my government but I dont want to be bombed. we have a saying in farsi “always put yourself in someone else’s place to understand him”. All you who talk of war how would u like to get your houses bombed? just travel to Iran and see for your self before waging war on the internet. peace from Tehran

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2017 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service
We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.