Obama dismisses Iran War Prospects, overrules Clinton

The Obama administration is clearly trying to send signals to Iran during the General Assembly session of the United Nations that Washington is open to engagement and just wants Iran to be more transparent about its nuclear power research program. Reuters reports:

‘ “The door is open to them [Iran] having a better relationship with the United States and with the international community,” White House deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes said.

“However, in order to walk through that door, Iran is going to have to demonstrate its commitment to show its peaceful intent around its nuclear program, and meet its obligations to the international community,” he told reporters in a briefing.’

President Obama addressed the Iran issue on CNBC Monday, saying:

‘ “Iran having a nuclear weapon would be a real problem. We passed the toughest sanctions against Iran, ever. They are having an effect. We continue to be open to diplomatic solutions to resolve this, we don’t think that a war between Israel and Iran, or military options, would be the ideal way to solve this problem. But we are keeping all our options on the table. “

That is about as categorical as a president can get with regard to a thorny, evolving problem. Those so critical now of Obama should remember that John McCain actually sang a ditty about bombing Iran, and that it was entirely possible that had he won, he and Mama Grizzly would have recklessly opened a third front, further destroying our economy and what is left of our civil liberties.

The only one in the administration who doesn’t seem to be on the engagement page at the moment is Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. She told ABC News on Sunday,

“And I can only hope that there will be some effort inside Iran, by responsible civil and religious leaders, to take hold of the apparatus of the state . . . When you empower a military as much as they have to rely on them to put down legitimate protests and demonstrations, you create a momentum and unleash forces that you do not know where they will end up.”

Clinton sounded an awfully lot like she was calling for regime change. In fact, the comment reminded me of George H.W. Bush’s call for responsible Iraqis to remove Saddam Hussein, made during the Gulf War in 1991. Iraqis, emboldened, staged a revolution in 16 of Iraq’s 18 provinces, with the Shiite Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, then based in Iran, leading the charge in the south, and Kurds rebelling in the north. Bush senior then stood by and allowed Saddam to viciously suppress this rebellion, which he had seemed to call for, with, allegedly, 60,000 killed by the Baath army.

That is, if Clinton is going to say things like that, she should be prepared for them to have significant consequences in Iran, and should be prepared to stand by any “responsible leaders” who answer her call.

Perhaps aware of the gravity of the comment, she had her press secretary retract it the next day :

Philip Crowley, a State Department spokesman, asked if she intended to call for regime change, replied, “No.”

“She was simply questioning the relationship between some elements of the regime and the growing importance of the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) and military elements within the Iranian hierarchy … The military elements, security elements have taken a more prominent role in terms of the suppression of people’s ability to assemble, to demonstrate, to engage in political activity . . .”

In other words, Crowley interprets her as wanting to see Iran’s civilian leadership push back against what she characterizes as a creeping soft coup by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps. But since the IRGC is among the main pillars of the presidency of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it is a little disingenuous to suggest that Clinton wasn’t calling for him to be unseated.

I am suspicious of the trope of Iran as a military dictatorship, since demonization of a country on those grounds is typical of American war propaganda. Iran has been hard to depict in that light, given that it is ruled by civilian ayatollahs and an elected president and legislature. While it may be that the IRGC has grown in power in recent years, I think it is certainly the case that Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei could dismiss the present Revolutionary Guards commander, Mohammad Ali Jafari, and install someone else at the top, and the other officers and the rank and file would acquiesce in it. Ergo, no military coup has taken place.

Obama’s careful statement at the CNBC town hall on Monday may have been intended to do damage control, as administration members prepare to try to open a back channel to Tehran at the UN.

Obama’s statement came a day after this exchange on NBC’s “Meet the Press” with former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who seems determined to redeem himself for helping launch the Iraq War on false intelligence by haunting the Republican Party with his keen sense of conscience, a specter party leaders thought they had long since banished to the netherworld.

‘ MR. GREGORY: In Iran, a path toward confrontation is possible, and I wonder what you think is worse — an Iran with a nuclear weapon, or the fallout of an attack on Iran by either the U.S. or Israel to prevent it having a nuclear weapon?

GEN. POWELL: I don’t think the stars are lining up for an attack on Iran, either by Israel alone or Israel in concert with the United States or the United States alone. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I’ve heard nothing to suggest that we would be interested in doing that or think it will be useful, even though the option is always on the table.

I think eventually we will have to deal with the reality that sanctions may not change the views of the Iranians on these issues and, therefore, let’s see if we can find a way to see if Iran can have a nuclear program that is fixed on power production — low level enrichment of their materiel so that is not on a track to become a weapon.

Now, people will say that’s naive. Once you know how to do that, you can then enrich up to weapons capability. But I think if you take them at their word, “trust but verify,” Reagan’s old sign — if you take them at their word, and they say they are not interested in the weapon, just power.

Then put in place a set of sanctions that would be devastating to them if they violate that agreement and then put in place an IAEA inspection regime and the National Atomic Energy Administration inspection regime that will keep them below that. And get Russia and China and everybody else to agree to it, then you might have to live with an Iran, and you might be able to live with an Iran that has a nuclear power capability but rigid enforcement constraints have been put in so they can’t move up to a weapons-grade program and the production of a nuclear weapon.

Now at the same time, what can they do with a nuclear weapon compared to what we could do in return? I don’t think it is — you know, they are interested in remaining in power. The easiest way for them to lose power is to seriously threaten or use such a weapon.’

Powell, as former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, has numerous contacts among serving officers in the Pentagon and at CENTCOM HQ in Tampa, and when he says he’s “heard nothing” it likely means that the generals don’t want a war with Iran and haven’t been instructed to prepare for one (hint: Obama would do the instructing). If Powell is acting as a spokesman for significant elements in the officer corps, they could be trying to signal through him that they are prepared to live with a nuclear Iran, just as they had lived with a nuclear Soviet Union– in preference to opening yet another front with a military that is already over-stretched.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, contrary to what The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Golberg recently attempted to imply, likely doesn’t have the cojones to attack Iran on his own, without a green light from Washington. He thinks Bill Clinton eased him out of power the last time he was prime minister, for obstructing the Oslo peace process and for trying to poison Khaled Mashaal to death. Moreover, Israel does not have the technical ability to strike Iran and get its pilots back.

The Neocons will just have to wait a few years for their war, if they get it at all. If they get it, the rest of us won’t like what it does to our country and our lives.

28 Responses

  1. Just one objection on an otherwise excellent post: the assumption that retired officers still have access to top secret information from the Pentagon and that serving officers talk out of school to their former buddies no matter what rank they may have is, I think erroneous. Powell does not have access to any secret information although he obviously can read the press and guess what’s going on.

    • .
      In general, Lennart, I agree that retired officers do not get access to TOP SECRET stuff through their buddies.

      In particular, I don’t know Powell’s situation. But it is my take that any retired 4-star general or admiral who wants a consulting gig working for OSD, USMA, or a 3-letter agency or command where he or she served on active duty, gets it.
      They are ideal mentors.

      Most of these folks don’t want any employment so close to the active force, because ethics regs limit their compensation to about $500 a day. Most go into the other side of the Military-Industrial Complex, and make far more moola, without having to file an OGE 450 Disclosure Form. And if they end up as a Director on the Board of Megaton, Inc., they still have access to all that classified stuff.
      .

  2. And you would listen to a thing that man uttered this time round because he “seems determined to redeem himself” – hes’ either a liar or an idiot – maybe even both.

  3. Engagement and dismisses Iran War Prospects, overrules Clinton… Hmmm not convinced.

    “However, in order to walk through that door, Iran is going to have to demonstrate its commitment to show its peaceful intent around its nuclear program, and meet its obligations to the international community,”

    Beside the how you demonstrate a commitment when you are doing nothing wrong. This is a copy and paste from Bush/Rumsfeld on Iraq and we know how it ended…

  4. Alas, Secretary Clinton has been a “problem” on Iran policy ever since April of last year, when less than a month after Obama’s extraordinary Nowruz speech, she was testifying hawkishly before Congress, almost like she was the Secretary of State for the Bush Administration. (along the lines of, we don’t know if engagement will work, but because we are trying we will have a better support internationally for sanctions, etc. )

  5. I often wonder what the effect of the very public American right wing lunacy is on countries like Iran. I would imagine that you consider the possibility of confronting President Sarah Palin, you look at the Koran book burning and Ground Zero mosque hysteria and much else, and decide to accelerate nuclear weapons development as an insurance policy.

    That Iran would want such weapons to fend off what could be an increasingly hostile and irrational superpower with 10,000 of them seems quite understandable.

  6. I have to say the notion that Obama has “dismissed” an Iran war is not only totally wrong, it is a complete and dangerous misrepresentation.

    Once again, people are allowing their cognitive dissonance over the consequences of an Iran war to blind themselves to the probability of its occurrence – if not under Obama, then under the next President.

    A ranking Republican, Lindsay Graham, has just EXPLICITLY called for the US to prepare for a military attack on Iran, not just to stop the non-existent nuclear weapons program, but for regime change.

    And Obama’s mealy-mouthed “all options are on the table” is a completely meaningless statement. Why doesn’t someone ask him explicitly what he is going to DO when it becomes CLEAR that sanctions are having NO effect on Iran’s enrichment? What can his answer be THEN? “All options are on the table” is just a code for either “war” or “I’m not going to admit I’m talking about war.”

    This post is very irritating to me. The headline is completely wrong.’

  7. Well the “Israel-firster” Jeffrey Feltman is her AS for the Near East, isn’t he ? and guess where the loyalties lie !!!!!!!!

  8. What is outrageous about the accusation that Iran is a dictatorship is that the U.S. is in bed with some of the worst dictatorships in the world. Efforts at independence by the developing world are opposed by America. The U.S. was opposed to Chavez, Nasser, the Arab League, Lumumba, Allende, Sukarno, Mosaddegh and on and on.

  9. “Personnel is policy” and “Never hire someone you can’t fire.”

    We’re stuck with Ms. “Totally Obliterate Iran”* until 2013 at least.

    (Remember that one from the primaries?)

  10. Yes, Obama does not seem to have the stomach for yet another war. But he is just kicking the can down the road to the next Republican.

    If Obama were serious about engaging Iran, he would be more specific about how Iran can show “peaceful intent.” Certainly Iran will regard these as nothing more than weasel words after the US spurned the deal brokered by Lula and Erdogan. And especially since the nuclear issue is only the latest expression of US antipathy towards Iran since 1979.

    Why should Iran expect a change in US attitude no matter what Iran does? IMHO it’s the US that needs to make a good faith effort to diffuse tensions.

  11. comment attributed to General Abizaid:

    “There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran,” Abizaid said “Let’s face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we’ve lived with a nuclear China, and we’re living with (other) nuclear powers as well.”

  12. Sounds like Clinton was walking the I lobbies line.

    Powell sure gave those of us who do not want the U.s. or Israel to attack Iran based on unsubstantiated claims or at all.

    But read what warmongering Israeli ambassador Micheal Oren had to say yesterday/ Monday

    The Washington Jewish Week

    A warning from Israeli ambassador?

    Debra Rubin

    Was Israel’s ambassador warning the Jewish community on Kol Nidre that Israel has decided to take a preemptive strike in Iran?

    Some congregants at Adas Israel Congregation in D.C. thought so following Ambassador Michael Oren’s remarks there on Friday night.

    In a 15-minute speech (delivered at three services, including the one I attended; Oren delivered the same remarks twice more on Yom Kippur day — during Shacharit at Washington Hebrew Congregation and during Mincha/Nei’la at Kesher Israel) focused on the quandaries of leadership, Oren urged congregants to support Israel’s democratic leadership in whatever choices it makes.

    “Back us in our efforts to defend ourselves from terrorist rockets. Uphold us if we have to make painful sacrifices for peace or if we decide that the terms of the proposed treaty fail to justify those sacrifices. Stand with us as we resist Iran’s efforts to acquire nuclear weapons. Respect the decisions we take through our democratic system and respect the risks that we, more than any other nation, take.”

    (Among those in the congregation to hear Oren speak was Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.)

    The ambassador’s complete prepared text appears below:
    link to washingtonjewishweek.com

  13. Micheal Oren…a madman
    “You know that to create that neighboring state that you’re going to have to give up some land, but not just any land, but land regarded as sacred by the majority of the Jewish people for more than three thousand years. You know that a great many of your countrymen have made their homes in these areas and that numerous Israelis have given their lives in their defense. You know that Israel has in the past withdrawn from territories in an effort to generate peace but that it received no peace but rather war. And, lastly, you know that many Arabs view the two-state solution as a two stage solution in which the ultimate stage is Israel’s dissolution.

    What, then, Mr. or Ms. Prime Minister, do you do?

    You could opt for maintaining the status quo, with the risk of deepening Israel’s international isolation or you could specify a vision of peace that significantly reduces its perils. You could, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has done, insist that the future Palestinian State be effectively demilitarized, without an army that could bombard Israeli cities or an air force that could shoot down planes landing at Ben-Gurion Airport. You could insist that the Palestinian State reciprocally recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and so put an end to all future claims and conflicts.

    Even then, of course, Israel will be running incalculable risks, for what if the Palestinian state implodes and becomes another Gaza or Lebanon? What do you do if, a week after the peace treaty is signed, a rocket falls on Tel Aviv?

    More than Gaza, more than peace, the ultimate quandary of statecraft centers on Iran.

    This is the radical, genocidal Iran whose leaders regularly call for Israel’s annihilation and provides terrorists with the means for accomplishing that goal. This is the Iran that undermines governments throughout the Middle East and even South America, and an Iran that shoots its own people protesting for freedom.

    Iran does all this without nuclear weapons—imagine what it would do with the nuclear arms it is assiduously developing. And imagine what you, awakening once again as the Israeli Prime Minister, will decide. Do you remain passive while Iran provides nuclear weaponry to terrorist groups, targets Tel Aviv with nuclear-tipped missiles, and triggers a nuclear arms race throughout the region? Or do you act, as Israel has now, joining with the United States and other like-minded nations in imposing sanctions on Iran, hoping to dissuade its rulers from nuclearizing? And, if that fails, do you keep all options on the table, with the potentially far-reaching risks those options entail?”

  14. Sounds like a simple reiteration of the United States’ position.
    Allow me to translate:
    Meet its International Obligations =
    UN Security Council Resolution 1696 =
    Iran is forbidden to enrich uranium.

    The question is why did the Security Council Members vote for a resolution that would inevitably, if they had given it some thought, lead to a conflict?
    Why did the Security Council Members vote for a resolution that clearly required a full UN vote to carry any legitimacy?
    Were they fooled by talk that it would encourage openness?
    Do they not know the difference between a carrot and a stick?
    I am particularly concerned that China and Russia were so easily manipulated.
    It makes Security Council reform even more urgent.

  15. Lennart has good observations in general. However, a guy like Powell does circulate, and people in DC cannot help but want to impress a guy like him at parties with their access and inside dope, if only given in nods and winks. In other words, he may not get any briefings, but he’s the sort of person who can tell if there is a drift in the system toward war preparations.

    Also, Hillary may want to be team player, but she has been thoroughtly socialized by the domestic powers that be to respect the need for Israel to do whatever it takes blah blah blah. So, her straying from the company line is understandable. I’m also not sure I’d interpret Obama’s words to be a repudiation of an “option on the table”, although I think he’s entirely too sane, and in his case those words would more likely be designed as a sop.

    As to Clinton easing Netanyahoo out…..huh, this is Israel’s lawyer we’re talking about! Were this so in any practical sense, we should recognize the PM reflects the Israeli polity and does its bidding. Barak has always been a more moderate face, I’ll give you that, but when it comes to his actions I see little difference. Camp David II was, IMHO, handled with far more finesse than Netanyahoo would’ve been able to muster, but it served a definate Israel purpose/goal, and what we’re talking about here is the wishes of the Israel elites running things: the PM is not some sort of ruler.

    Finally, I don’t see where Israel cannot attack Iran and get their pilots back. Their raid on Tunisia (what, 20+ yrs ago?) was the same distance, with Vietnam era aircraft. Israel has plenty of strike aircraft, has had the time to do the immense planning, and to convert/acquire whatever additional planes are needed for aerial refueling. Solving complex logistical problems and acting bolding is what Israel is all about, and they have demostrated a absolute fondness for this sort of thing in the past. They’d need the tacit cooperation of the Saudi’s, but I suspect they’d get that approval for a single strike (how dare they overfly us? the Saudi’s could say….once). But to do “the job” properly would take multiple strikes, re-assessments, revisits, etc. All they’d be able to do is cause a HUGE mess and totally screw themselves in politically significant ways on issues that are more genuinely important. That said, once a country (or person) repeatedly lays down a marker that something is “unacceptable”, and relies hugely on their reputation for not bluffing, they pretty much have to make good on their words. Its a very basic law of the jungle, and my own observation of the likudniks that run things is that are very much in tune with it.

  16. I don’t know if I share the optimism of Obamas comments on this. If Obama “just wanted Iran to be more transparent” Why then did he reject the Iran-Turkey-Brazil proposal that would have ensured civilian fuel rods were used?

    As for the statement Obama made I would say nothing much is new. He still insists that sanctions are working. This despite reporting from yourself and Hillary Mann and Stephen Walt showing that clearly Iraq-Turkey-Russia-China are not only increasing trade but than Iran is not really suffering much Economic damage from them.

    Obama does appear to be knocking down any talk of war but his statement is not very forceful. He merely states war with Iran “wouldn’t be ideal”. Not really an impassioned stand against a war. He also ends with the common Bush cliche “All options are on the table”.

    So basically that is where he stands: “Sanctions are having an effect”. War with Iran “wouldn’t be ideal”. And “All Options are on the Table”. In this regard he appears to be speaking merely more Diplomatically than Bush spoke. The policy doesn’t appear to have changed from Bushes policy vis-a-vis Iran.

    Also obviously Clinton’s comments are completely unacceptable. She is meddling in the internal affairs of a foreign state.
    As a non-American I wonder how the US would react if European leaders were publicly calling for armed militias in the US to rise up against the US Government. Chances are the US President wouldn’t consider it an olive branch by Europeans.

    • I reckon you dont understand US politics and the pull of Jewish lobby.

      1) The sanctions are all about sedating the Israelis and the Jewish lobby (who continue to clamour that if nothing is done they will attack Iran themselves).
      2) What is reality, the US has already accepted Iran as a defacto nuclear power, and as evidence of this we can already see the US arming Saudi Arabia with 60 billion worth of weapons (as part of a “containment strategy”).

  17. Cole “If Powell is acting as a spokesman for significant elements in the officer corps, they could be trying to signal through him that they are prepared to live with a nuclear Iran, just as they had lived with a nuclear Soviet Union– in preference to opening yet another front with a military that is already over-stretched.”

    So hope and pray this is the case.

    Cole”Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, contrary to what The Atlantic’s Jeffrey Golberg recently attempted to imply, likely doesn’t have the cojones to attack Iran on his own, without a green light from Washington.”

    Do you think that House Resolution 1553 could be used the way the Iraq war resolution was used in the 2002 mid term election. Vote yes on this. “the you are either with us or against us” hooey
    link to govtrack.us

    House Resolution 1553
    111th CONGRESS

    2d Session

    H. RES. 1553

    Expressing support for the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty, to protect the lives and safety of the Israeli people, and to use all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.

    IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES

    July 22, 2010

    Mr. GOHMERT (for himself, Mr. AKIN, Mrs. BACHMANN, Mr. BARTLETT, Mr. BISHOP of Utah, Mrs. BLACKBURN, Mr. BONNER, Mr. BROUN of Georgia, Mr. BURTON of Indiana, Mr. CAMPBELL, Mr. CHAFFETZ, Mr. CONAWAY, Mr. CULBERSON, Ms. FALLIN, Mr. FLEMING, Mr. FRANKS of Arizona, Mr. GINGREY of Georgia, Ms. GRANGER, Mr. GRIFFITH, Mr. HENSARLING, Mr. HERGER, Mr. KING of Iowa, Mr. LAMBORN, Mr. LATTA, Mr. LOBIONDO, Mrs. LUMMIS, Mr. MARCHANT, Mr. NEUGEBAUER, Mr. PENCE, Mr. PITTS, Mr. POSEY, Mr. PRICE of Georgia, Mr. OLSON, Mr. ROONEY, Mrs. SCHMIDT, Mr. SHADEGG, Mr. SMITH of Texas, Mr. WESTMORELAND, Mr. ROSKAM, Mr. MCCOTTER, Mr. BROWN of South Carolina, Mr. RYAN of Wisconsin, Mr. MCCLINTOCK, Mr. JORDAN of Ohio, Mr. BARTON of Texas, Mr. KINGSTON, and Mr. CARTER) submitted the following resolution; which was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs

    ————————————————————
    Do you think an aggressive push for a vote on this could still come in Oct?

  18. “show its peaceful intent” = euphemism for giving up enrichment.

    So, Obama is not sending any signals to anyone. Just more of the same old, same old.

  19. “The Obama administration is clearly trying to send signals to Iran during the General Assembly session of the United Nations that Washington is open to engagement and just wants Iran to be more transparent about its nuclear power research program. ”

    I think that is misleading. US policy is now and always has been to stop Iran from enriching any uranium at all. Zero. The policy is not and never has been, “Iran can enrich as long as it is transparent. The statement makes it seem like the US/EU/Israeli position is perfectly reasonable when in fact it is not.

  20. What part of “But we are keeping all our options on the table” don’t you understand? Besides, are you seriously suggesting that your standard of success is being slightly better than John McCain, a vicious, extremist war-monger who cheered on each and every war of aggression, each and every atrocity that the US committed in his lifetime?

  21. My understanding of articles I’ve read previously suggested that the bulk of the reservations which the IAEA had revolved around irregularities which occurred decades ago rather than abour current practices. They also indicated that the relevant authority was satisfied that all of Iran’s nuclear material was being monitored, and that diverting it to other purposes would be easily detectable.

    Based on the decisions he’s made, and on the policies he’s chosen to pursue as the President his statement still seems very “do what I say… or else” which is all the more troubling since what he seems to be demanding appears to be so vaguely defined. As other’s have previously noted, the deal negotiated by Turkey and Brazil earlier this year seemed remarkably similar to one that the White House had seemed to support earlier; and the current administration ensured that the UN Security Council voted in harder sanctions the very next day, Ms Clinton explicitly commented that aside from serving U.S. policy interests generally they also served sent a message about what the U.S. thought of that deal.

    If Obama’s administration were serious about engaging with Iran, or anyone else for that matter, it would do so without preconditions. Negotiations are rarely genuine if they only begin after one side has given up what the other side wants.

    What does Iran get for caving to U.S. demands? Maybe the U.S. will talk to them, or maybe the U.S. will decide that they still have to give up more. There were sanctions and embargoes and proxy wars against Iran before the WMD hysteria, there’s no reason to believe they’ll end just because Iran stops doing something it we can’t prove it’s doing in the first place.

  22. Petraeus is slowly and slyly staging his own effort to expand the military’s influence on foreign affairs. Gareth Porter’s article can be found here:
    link to counterpunch.org

    …and this just in with regard to putting “…down legitimate protests and demonstrations”:

    link to nytimes.com

    …though they changed the headline today from “F.B.I. Gave Wrong Information on Surveillance” to “F.B.I. Spying Not Fueled by Politics, Report Says”.

  23. What about the USD 60 bn of Saudi money that seems to be going to build a war plan? With tensions raised in the Gulf, and Israel getting more F-35s, things look pretty scary, it seems a lot of blood and treasure is going to be wasted on war soon.

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