Obama slams GOP for casual war talk re Iran, stresses Costs

President Barack Obama, in his Super Tuesday news conference, explained his thinking on Iran and tensions between it and Israel.

The most impressive thing he said was,

Now, what’s said on the campaign trail – those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Obama castigated the Republican presidential candidates for their often cavalier references to unilaterally striking Iran’s civilian nuclear enrichment plants at Natanz and at Fardow. He said that his opponents spoke about this prospect casually, not taking into account seem of the key ways in which a strike on Iran would have a profound influence on the US.

President Obama went on to assert that his massive sanctions on Iran are having a profound impact on that country, and that, essentially, it is too soon to tell whether they will cause Iran to change course.

Obama mentioned the impact a war with Iran would have on the lives of American soldiers.

Well, the war in Iraq killed nearly 5,000 of them, and wounded tens of thousands, about 30,000 of them fairly seriously. Many suffer from traumatic brain injuries. Others have lost limbs. They have faced large numbers of Improvised Explosive Devices or IEDs.

Of Vets treated at Veterans Administration hospitals, 2004-2009 :

21 percent were diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) but not traumatic brain injury (TBI),
2 percent were diagnosed with TBI but not PTSD,
An additional 5 percent had both PTSD and TBI.

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and co-author Linda Bilmes have concluded that their original estimate of $3 trillion as the cost of the Iraq War, including care for wounded Vets, was too low.

Treating brain injuries has been more expensive than they had estimated. They believe going to war contributed to our high price of petroleum today, because it discouraged investment in the oil countries of the Middle East. Likewise, they believe that the costs of the Iraq War contributed to the economic meltdown in 2008.

I will reiterate here that Iran is about 3 times as populous as Iraq and is a much bigger, more rugged country (Iran is as big as Germany, France and Spain rolled into one). So all those statistics can easily be tripled or more if there is a US-Iran war.

That is, its cost would not be ‘more than’ 3 trillion. It would be more than 9 trillion. And we’d likely see some 100,000 dead or severely wounded.

And gasoline surely would go to $7 or $8 a gallon, maybe $10, throwing millions back out of work.

It is the height of hypocrisy for Republican candidates to campaign on lower gasoline prices, on economic recovery, and on reducing government debt, but then to cavalierly pledge to strike Iran. While they may think they can do a hit and run, such a strike could easily spiral into war, and war has unexpected costs.

While Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich have spoken recklessly about striking Iran, Mitt Romney has hemmed and hawed, and basically has suggested exaction the steps President Obama is taking.

On the other hand, much of what Obama said about Iran is wrong. Iran is in compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory. It has the right to close the fuel cycle according to that document. Iran’s nuclear facilities are regularly inspected. While the NPT exempts military bases from being inspected (Russia and the US didn’t want their own bases under scrutiny), Iran has just agreed to an inspection of a military base where no experiments with uranium are being conducted.

Here is the transcript of the relevant passages:

Q Yes, sir. On the Middle East and as it relates to American politics, a little less than a year ago Moammar Qaddafi gave a speech, and he said he was going to send his forces to Benghazi, he was going to rout opponents from their bedrooms and he was going to shoot them. You frequently cited that speech as a justification for NATO, the no-fly zone and military action against Libya. In Syria, Bashar al Assad is killing people. There’s a massacre underway. And your critics here in the United States, including, most notably, John McCain, said you should start air strikes now.

And on Iran, Mitt Romney, on Sunday, went so far as to say that if you are re-elected, Iran will get a bomb and the world will change. How do you respond to those criticisms?

THE PRESIDENT: All right, Mike, you’ve asked a couple of questions there, so let me – let’s start with the Iran situation since that’s been the topic in the news for the last few days.

When I came into office, Iran was unified, on the move, had made substantial progress on its nuclear program, and the world was divided in terms of how to deal with it. What we’ve been able to do over the last three years is mobilize unprecedented, crippling sanctions on Iran. Iran is feeling the bite of these sanctions in a substantial way. The world is unified; Iran is politically isolated.

And what I have said is, is that we will not countenance Iran getting a nuclear weapon. My policy is not containment; my policy is to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon – because if they get a nuclear weapon that could trigger an arms race in the region, it would undermine our non-proliferation goals, it could potentially fall into the hands of terrorists. And we’ve been in close consultation with all our allies, including Israel, in moving this strategy forward.

At this stage, it is my belief that we have a window of opportunity where this can still be resolved diplomatically. That’s not just my view. That’s the view of our top intelligence officials; it’s the view of top Israeli intelligence officials. And, as a consequence, we are going to continue to apply the pressure even as we provide a door for the Iranian regime to walk through where they could rejoin the community of nations by giving assurances to the international community that they’re meeting their obligations and they are not pursuing a nuclear weapon.

That’s my track record. Now, what’s said on the campaign trail – those folks don’t have a lot of responsibilities. They’re not Commander-in-Chief. And when I see the casualness with which some of these folks talk about war, I’m reminded of the costs involved in war. I’m reminded that the decision that I have to make in terms of sending our young men and women into battle, and the impacts that has on their lives, the impact it has on our national security, the impact it has on our economy.

This is not a game. There’s nothing casual about it. And when I see some of these folks who have a lot of bluster and a lot of big talk, but when you actually ask them specifically what they would do, it turns out they repeat the things that we’ve been doing over the last three years, it indicates to me that that’s more about politics than actually trying to solve a difficult problem.

Now, the one thing that we have not done is we haven’t launched a war. If some of these folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so. And they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be. Everything else is just talk.

Q That goes to Syria as well?

THE PRESIDENT: With respect to Syria, what’s happening in Syria is heartbreaking and outrageous, and what you’ve seen is the international community mobilize against the Assad regime. And it’s not a question of when Assad leaves – or if Assad leaves – it’s a question of when. He has lost the legitimacy of his people. And the actions that he’s now taking against his own people is inexcusable, and the world community has said so in a more or less unified voice.

On the other hand, for us to take military action unilaterally, as some have suggested, or to think that somehow there is some simple solution, I think is a mistake. What happened in Libya was we mobilized the international community, had a U.N. Security Council mandate, had the full cooperation of the region, Arab states, and we knew that we could execute very effectively in a relatively short period of time. This is a much more complicated situation.

So what we’ve done is to work with key Arab states, key international partners – Hillary Clinton was in Tunisia – to come together and to mobilize and plan how do we support the opposition; how do we provide humanitarian assistance; how do we continue the political isolation; how do we continue the economic isolation. And we are going to continue to work on this project with other countries. And it is my belief that, ultimately, this dictator will fall, as dictators in the past have fallen.

But the notion that the way to solve every one of these problems is to deploy our military, that hasn’t been true in the past and it won’t be true now. We’ve got to think through what we do through the lens of what’s going to be effective, but also what’s critical for U.S. security interests.

Jake Tapper.

Q Thank you, Mr. President. What kind of assurances did you give Prime Minister Netanyahu about the role that the U.S. would play if diplomacy and economic sanctions fail to work to convince Iran’s leaders to change their behavior, and Israel goes ahead and prepares to strike a nuclear facility? What kind of assurances did you tell him? And shouldn’t we – I recognize the difference between debate and bluster – but shouldn’t we be having in this country a vigorous debate about what could happen in the case of a Middle East war in a way that, sadly, we did not do before going into Iraq?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, I think there’s no doubt that those who are suggesting, or proposing, or beating the drums of war should explain clearly to the American people what they think the costs and benefits would be.

I’m not one of those people – because what I’ve said is, is that we have a window through which we can resolve this issue peacefully. We have put forward an international framework that is applying unprecedented pressure. The Iranians just stated that they are willing to return to the negotiating table. And we’ve got the opportunity, even as we maintain that pressure, to see how it plays out.

I’m not going to go into the details of my conversation with Prime Minister Netanyahu. But what I said publicly doesn’t differ greatly from what I said privately. Israel is a sovereign nation that has to make its own decisions about how best to preserve its security. And as I said over the last several days, I am deeply mindful of the historical precedents that weigh on any Prime Minister of Israel when they think about the potential threats to Israel and the Jewish homeland.

What I’ve also said is that because sanctions are starting to have significant effect inside of Iran – and that’s not just my assessment, that’s, I think, a uniform assessment – because the sanctions are going to be even tougher in the coming months, because they’re now starting to affect their oil industry, their central bank, and because we’re now seeing noises about them returning to the negotiating table, that it is deeply in everybody’s interests – the United States, Israel and the world’s – to see if this can be resolved in a peaceful fashion.

And so this notion that somehow we have a choice to make in the next week or two weeks, or month or two months, is not borne out by the facts. And the argument that we’ve made to the Israelis is that we have made an unprecedented commitment to their security. There is an unbreakable bond between our two countries, but one of the functions of friends is to make sure that we provide honest and unvarnished advice in terms of what is the best approach to achieve a common goal – particularly one in which we have a stake. This is not just an issue of Israeli interest; this is an issue of U.S. interests. It’s also not just an issue of consequences for Israel if action is taken prematurely. There are consequences to the United States as well.

And so I do think that any time we consider military action that the American people understand there’s going to be a price to pay. Sometimes it’s necessary. But we don’t do it casually.

When I visit Walter Reed, when I sign letters to families that haven’t – whose loved ones have not come home, I am reminded that there is a cost. Sometimes we bear that cost. But we think it through. We don’t play politics with it. When we have in the past – when we haven’t thought it through and it gets wrapped up in politics, we make mistakes. And typically, it’s not the folks who are popping off who pay the price. It’s these incredible men and women in uniform and their families who pay the price.

And as a consequence, I think it’s very important for us to take a careful, thoughtful, sober approach to what is a real problem. And that’s what we’ve been doing over the last three years. That’s what I intend to keep doing.

Q Sir, I’m sorry, if I could just quickly follow up – you didn’t –

THE PRESIDENT: Jake –

Q You might not be beating the drums of war, but you did very publicly say, we’ve got Israel’s back. What does that mean?

THE PRESIDENT: What it means is, is that, historically, we have always cooperated with Israel with respect to the defense of Israel, just like we do with a whole range of other allies – just like we do with Great Britain, just like we do with Japan. And that broad statement I think is confirmed when you look at what we’ve done over the last three years on things like Iron Dome that prevents missiles from raining down on their small towns along border regions of Israel, that potentially land on schools or children or families. And we’re going to continue that unprecedented security – security commitment.

It was not a military doctrine that we were laying out for any particular military action. It was a restatement of our consistent position that the security of Israel is something I deeply care about, and that the deeds of my administration over the last three years confirms how deeply we care about it. That’s a commitment we’ve made.

Jackie. Where’s Jackie? There you are.

Q With the news this morning that the U.S. and its allies are returning to the table, are taking up Iran’s offer to talk again, more than a year after those talks broke up in frustration, is this Israel’s – Iran’s last chance to negotiate an end to this nuclear question?

And you said three years ago – nearly three years ago, in a similar one-on-one meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu, that the time for talk – by the end of that year, 2009, you would be considering whether Iran was negotiating in good faith. And you said at that time that “we’re not going to have talks forever.” So here we are nearly three years later. Is this it? And did you think you would be here three years after those first talks?

THE PRESIDENT: You know, there is no doubt that over the last three years when Iran has engaged in negotiations there has been hemming and hawing and stalling and avoiding the issues in ways that the international community has concluded were not serious. And my expectations, given the consequences of inaction for them, the severe sanctions that are now being applied, the huge toll it’s taking on their economy, the degree of isolation that they’re feeling right now – which is unprecedented – they understand that the world community means business.

To resolve this issue will require Iran to come to the table and discuss in a clear and forthright way how to prove to the international community that the intentions of their nuclear program are peaceful. They know how to do that. This is not a mystery. And so it’s going to be very important to make sure that, on an issue like this – there are complexities; it obviously has to be methodical. I don’t expect a breakthrough in a first meeting, but I think we will have a pretty good sense fairly quickly as to how serious they are about resolving the issue.

And there are steps that they can take that would send a signal to the international community and that are verifiable, that would allow them to be in compliance with international norms, in compliance with international mandates, abiding by the non-proliferation treaty, and provide the world an assurance that they’re not pursuing a nuclear weapon. They know how to do it, and the question is going to be whether in these discussions they show themselves moving clearly in that direction.

29 Responses

  1. These are some of President Obama’s most forthright, thoughtful and courageous statements on the issue of war with Iran that I have ever read. I am confident that when all the consequences of a war with Iran, or what some people in a cavalier tone refer to as “a strike on Iran”, are driven home the majority of Americans will see the irresponsibility and the idiocy of the warmongers. Unfortunately, given the number of platforms that the warmongers have at their disposal, there is need for much greater effort to bring home to the American public the forces that are at play and the cost of being led into another war based on lies, as was done in the case of Iraq. Watching a non-stop lineup of some very influential former officials and the usual pundits not only on the deplorable FOX News but sadly even on most of the more responsible media that should know better after the Iraqi debacle, one can see what a hill one has to climb to provide a small measure of balance to the debate. This is why web sites like this are not just useful, they are indispensable.

    President Obama is surrounded by irresponsible hawks, not only among the Republicans, but among the Democrats too. He needs the assistance of all right-thinking people to bring his message to the public and to reveal the real motives of those who are pushing America to a disastrous war. We could not stop the Iraq war, but this is the time to put all minor squabbles aside, and unite for the rule of law in the international community, a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East, justice for the Palestinians and to return America to its noble calling, namely to be a force for peace and a beacon of light to the rest of the world. This is a goal well worth fighting for.

    • “a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East”

      Much as that would be desirable, it’s likelihood is doubtful to say the least.

      Why not consider letting Iran go ahead and develop a nuclear bomb. Why, because in the sixties we were always told that it was only by the West and Russia both having nuclear weapons that the threat of mutual destruction would ensure the West and Russia would NOT go to war just as is predicted in the Pakistan / India situation.

  2. You know, he didn’t say, “No, the USA will not go to war to support an Israeli assault on Iran.”

    Now, there are political reasons not to say that: AIPAC would be up in arms. Wealthy radical-right pro-Israeli hawk Sheldon Adelson is the reason Gingrich is still a Republican candidate, though a runner-up. And who knows what Netanyahu would do?

    Still, it does look very much like Obama is preparing to be backed into a war that would make Iraq War II look minor.

    • I think that ambiguity is one of the key principles of diplomacy. By leaving interpretations open, you reduce the likelihood of “being backed into a corner.” For this reason, I suspect that your pessimistic assertion about Iran is very unlikely.

      Yes, the President did not say “No, the USA will not go to war to support an Israeli assault on Iran.” He also refused to be drawn into the trap of clearly defining the exact conditions – if any – which would cause the US to take military action on behalf of Israel.

      This leaves the Israelis on the hook, not having what amounts to a clear cut “contract” from the US, and it leaves the Iranians to contemplate the possibility of the United States getting involved. Brakes on Israel, the stick to Iran. I don’t understand your complaints.

    • Nor did Obama say, “Yes, the United States will go to war alongside Israel if they strike Iran.”

      By your reasoning, this refusal to make an absolute statement “looks like” Obama is refusing to fight that war.

      But, of course, this is all silly. The absence of a clear Statement X in diplomacy is not evidence that the opposite of X will be our policy.

  3. My guess is that military action against Iran will be to rubblelize it, like Desert Storm did to Iraq in 1991. Bomb it back to the stone age. Why risk traumatic brain injuries, when an endless supply of cruise missiles and smart/dumb bombs can satisfy our blood lust. Our responsibilities as civilians will be to shop, pay down mortgages, and curl up with Facebook on our Ipads.

    Obama is so proud of his “crippling sanctions”. He wants to convince Americans that he is not inhibited when it comes to inflicting severe pain on a nation of 75 million people.

    And with all his wordiness Obama won’t tell us specifically how Iran has to prove it won’t do something in the future that it’s not doing now. The final conclusion about Iraq’s WMD program was that it terminated in 1991 – prior to eleven years of “crippling sanctions” and no fly zones, and an eight year military occupation.

    Our passion for hurting Iran is skillfully developed and manipulated by Israel along with its political forces in the US. What Israel wants is a neutered, helpless Iran, not just an absence of nuclear weapons. It can’t attain that goal without our help – make is seem macho enough, and we’re in.

    • In days gone by, the playground bully would be satisfied giving you a black eye, a bloody lip and pinning you down until you said “Uncle.” How can the Iranian leadership do the equivalent, even if they are seemingly the smart kids on the playground? Especially when there’s so much clear recent evidence that the bully can eventually be battered down so effectively by a combination of tenacity and terrain?

      Obama indicates he understands the power of “legitimacy” (though that doesn’t have any apparent effect on expanding the Imperial Presidency.) The Ayatollahs we currently are ministry-of-truthed into hating are sure getting a nice boost in the “legitimacy” department, thanks to those sanctions we are squeezing the great mass of Iranians with.

  4. Juan Cole, what you see as impressive I, as a non-American, see as downright scary. Obama talks about the cost to USA, in lives and dollars, but he never mentions the consequences for Iran, he never mentions international laws against wars of aggression. This is an empire speaking, an empire that thinks it has the right to attack other countries when convenient, and the only thing stopping it from war against Iran is the cost. Weaker countries find themselves target of US missile strikes.

    • Thomas, it’s called “the Doctrine of Limited Sovereignty”. While the USA has total absolute sovereignty, the sovereignty of other nations is not absolute, especially if our “national interest” is in harms way(an ad hock determination made by the President, in conjunction with the Greek Chorus, I mean Congress). Exceptionalism has its perks.

    • This is a U.S. president address U.S. residents. So of course he is going to focus on the countrymen’s own losses. When Khamenei or Ahmadinejad discuss the danger of war in their own speeches, no one expects them to focus on any U.S. loss of life.

    • It is not like they care is it? People die of hunger because of embargos and sanctions that has no reason I exist from the beginning! Take Gaza stripe for example, you know that don’t have enough food water electricity!

  5. It’s incredible to me that Obama can talk about Iran potentially getting a nuclear weapon as a significant event that would then make other Middle East countries want nuclear weapons. Anyone who knows anything about the Middle East knows that it is Israel and their stockpile of nuclear weapons that makes other countries in that area seek nuclear weapons. In fact, it is rational for those countries to do so. Furthermore, they see what happens when they don’t have a deterrence to US/Israel aggression (see Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya). If Iran is seeking nuclear weapons, and there is no evidence it is, US intelligence reports say it would be for defensive purposes only.

    Now one solution to this conundrum is not to bomb Iran, but to negotiate through diplomacy a nuclear free zone in the Middle East, including at the the US bases in the area and a promise to remove the nuclear subs from the area. Why is this never talked about? Why did Tom Friedman praise Obama’s phrasing of the situation, completely ignoring how Israel’s huge stockpile of nukes is one major factor in countries like Iran seeking nukes (if they are).

    Why is Israel being the local hegemon in the area the starting position of any talks? It comes down to the US and Israel wants these countries to do their bidding, and they’ll use military force if necessary to force them to do as they say. We could live with a nuclear Iran, and we’d likely bankrupt our country if we started a war with them, but our imperial instincts are so strong that we are willing to attack just to continue to dictate to Iran what they should do and to ensure that Israel remains the super power in the area.

  6. Obama hit on a good line when he said there’s no mystery about how Iran might assure the world that it is not developing nuclear weapons. It is good that we stop pretending something is a mystery when it is no mystery at all. There is also no mystery about how Saddam Hussein found it impossible to assure the US that he did not have weapons of mass destruction, and that the US never found any after a lot of searching. Bush & Co didn’t want and repeatedly rejected all such assurances not only from Hussein, but from the IAEA. Assurances are a two way street: the offer, and the acceptance. Iran has every reason to be suspicious of the US, and of Israel which has a rock-hard policy of not accepting any assurances except dollars.

    There is also no mystery about another aspect of any coherent contemplation of an attack on Iran that Obama did not mention. Every ten cent increase in the price of gasoline will cost Americans an estimated additional $14B, $14B that will come out of the pockets of Americans people and American business and go directly into the pockets of oil speculators, oil companies, and the country of origin. That $14B will just as surely be subtracted from any other American use such as food, health care, and every other need and use of American families, and from American economic recovery, investment in jobs or a non-oil energy future, and every other American need for the present and the future. The total 2011 budget for the US Energy Department is, for example, only $3B, or about 21% of the $14B that one dime’s increase in gas prices represents. From a different perspective, if America could reinvest the savings from avoiding a ten cent increase in the price of gas, it could increase the total budget of the US Energy Department by a factor of five.

    There is also no mystery that the US is not in the same condition as it was in 2001. We no longer see stories about the depletion of men and materiel of the National Guard by its leaders, and American media is skittish to the point of ignoring the degradation by way of deployment and combat of the rest of America’s military. We don’t see stories tallying the military equipment the US left in Iraq when it withdrew, or of estimates of repair and replacement to achieve simply the level of military readiness of 2002. But that equipment has not magically replaced itself, and is still either missing in action, or its replacement cost is dispersed in the military budget that the military itself admits it cannot count.

    America of 2012 is a hollowed-out, more internally vulnerable version of what it was a decade ago, with much of the damage hidden in countless documents recording loss of family homes, loss of jobs and income, jobs and fortunes exported offshore, loss of manufacturing of basic goods, degradation of equipment and infrastructure, and colossal debt.

    As Dr. Cole points out again, Iran is no Iraq, being much larger geographically, and with a larger population which will, if attacked, act like any population confronted by an attack from without, defending Iran in any way possible from the invaders. Nor is the Mid East region the same as that of a decade ago. It is more nervous, more fractionated, less stable, and more prone to unpredictable outcomes from desperate decisions made under time constraints that are too small, which are exactly the intended result of open military action.

    A dime today is inconsequential, unless it is attached, one after the other in a string stretching from Earth toward Mars, to each gallon of gasoline Americans buy. No one can accurately predict the cost of oil or gas should Iran be attacked. But with Iran representing a target roughly three times the size of Iraq, in a nervous, destabilized region, a doubling of gas prices, not to mention the specter of 1974’s gas lines, certainly is in the realm of a conservative estimate. The US military has assured that Iran will not stop oil transiting Hormuz, but military assurances have historically been proven to be over-optimistic in the extreme. And history has shown that the idea of supply and demand regarding oil prices is fading myth.

    If you personally find these figures discomfiting, insert your own. But there is no mystery that this exact scenario resulted from Bush & Co’s attack and subsequent disastrous occupation, dismantlement, and abandonment of what was, even after a decade of sanctions and military attacks, a comparatively stable, middle class, terrorist-free Iraq in 2001. Gasoline more than doubled in price during that time period. Granted, the increase took five years and was not instantaneous, but then isn’t now.

    A mere doubling of gas price is not one dime, but roughly forty dimes, with an attached price tag of over half a trillion dollars. Increase the range of probability of oil price increases to the relative sizes of Iraq to Iran—a factor of three—and you have more than three quarters of a trillion dollars. And a larger multiplier is not outside of probability. Such a bill addressed to Americans would be nearly instantaneous and might last a week, a month, a year, or more. No one knows. But the risk it represents to America’s present and America’s future begins to approach the risk assessment rationales we all clearly agree must apply to nuclear plant design and operation. The absolute need for safety regarding nuclear power is not questioned. The safety of war, a much more dangerous and unpredictable undertaking, should be a much greater concern. We would be irresponsible to consider the risk of war with Iran to be anything less than some multiple of a nuclear catastrophe.

    The above are only dollar costs, negative economic potentials for America present and future. They do not begin to account for lives lost—American, Iranian, and anyone else who gets caught in the crossfire or fallout–and the dark, expanding societal ripples of lives and families obliterated, altered, debilitated, disempowered, made destitute, separated from a better future, burdened with pain and grief, and degraded in unimaginable ways: the moral and utterly certain costs of war. A war with Iran where the US is a clear initiator, or even perceived as a supporter, will result in a moral accounting assigned to the reputation of America. The international repercussions of a diminished reputation are loss of trust, an increase in suspicion, and a hidden drive to re-align with nations that represent the best probability for safety and stability. These costs are incalculable.

    Any coherent perspective on a future conflict with Iran must note these changes in the American reality of 2012, and the real damage potentials for America. Gasbag Republican election blather, not to omit the similar passing of wind by many Democrats, ignores it all and is regularly incoherent in the extreme. If Republicans, or Democrats, or Obama, or Israel, wished to realistically assess the costs of a conflict with Iran on the public stage, they would address these numbers and considerations. The fact that they don’t, and in fact avoid them like the plague, suggest that they want Americans to forget about the great potentials for harm and simply acquiesce to the wisdom of pols or ideologues.

    Americans don’t like to enumerate their limitations. It makes them feel uncomfortable and less than invulnerable. But any attack on Iran carries a very high probability of being self defeating. Iran is not a threat to the US. A comprehensive, realistic accounting of an attack on Iran clearly reveals that Israeli promotion of war with Iran, and US acquiescence to the idea of war with Iran, are much greater threats to the security and future of the US than is Iran.

    • And what this all really leads one to conclude is that Israel’s evident influence over US policy itself represents a national security threat, at least more than Iran.

  7. Why can’t Iran and is real sin a treatment that both will stay out of each others’ way and each others’ allies ways as well! I just don’t understand why are they making a big deal put of every little miscommunication, plus Iranian culture has that way of communicatin indirectly.. Both Iran and Israel must play their peace cards now!

  8. Obama was indeed, impressive, and all that stands between us and getting into (another) bad, bad deal. But I wouldn’t be too optimistic about matters: Israel has entirely too much power. Obama clearly is leaning to the US best interests, and good for him, but there is a very fine game he must play to do so in the months leading up to the election, when Israeli power will diminish somewhat. What bothers me now is how the dogs have stopped barking.

    Going into these latest meetings with Barak and Netanyahu, pressure and events seemed to be building to some sort of climax, but things seemingly relaxed with assurances that the US “had Israel’s back,” and that “a nuclear armed Iran will not be tolerated.” What is interesting is how the two parties glossed over the distinction between Israel’s intolerance of Iran with a nuclear capacity that could be implemented, and the US waiting for evidence of an actual weapon or intention to build one. It would take months or years of visible and distinctive weapons construction activities before there could be a first successful explosion, and months or years more before Iran had a deliverable warhead, so that’s not really what is at stake for Israel.

    Charlie Rose had a great segment with Goldberg and Ross, link to charlierose.com
    which is illuminating if you listen carefully, especially as it developed the distinction between nuclear weapons possession and capability. There was also the outright acknowledgement of Israel’s strategy of making Iran out to be a threat to the World and not just Israel. Perhaps most important, however, was simply how satisfied these guys were, as two of the strongest pro-Israel advocates around. Ross is especially slick and subtle, and it is interesting how he works to back-peddle from that distinction between US and Israeli redlines, allowing for a scenario where Israel had to do what they had to do, with Obama “having their back” (perhaps just diplomatically, unless Iran is dumb enough to take a shot at the 5th fleet).

    Israel has already backed themselves into a corner with Iran, and its ability to “do something” with the backing of Obama will dissipate after the elections, so they are in a use it or loose it situation. What Israel cannot tolerate is having its regional hegemony and freedom of action constrained, and in this regard a nuclear capable Iran would be the same as an already armed one, aside from how it would empower Iran’s power regionally. A neighbor having an effective air defense system is also a stated Israeli redline, evidently since it would similarly constrain their ability to intimate and threaten the way of doing business that has always defined them.

    Sure, an attack would only give Iranian ambitions validity in terms of self-defense, but Israel’s way of doing business has never been anything other than coercive. Their attack now would serve as evidence of willingnesses to do whatever it takes if they need to in the future. And that should be enough said, if they say it loudly enough, at least for awhile. Hey, security with the biggest stick will always be more reliable than soft good-feelings and treatiess that can be withdrawn within a matter of months (think Egypt).

    Accepting the conventional wisdom that Israel cannot do an “adequate job” conventionally, I’d point out they’ve had plenty of time to study the problem, and the reality their neighbors will need to be slapped down from time-to-time is implicit in Israel’s historic way of doing business.

    Here’s a scenario for some more informed commentators to comment on:

    Israel apparently has long-range ballistic missiles (developed ostensibly for satellites) that might be used on intermediate range targets. Carrying a big (biggish?) conventional warhead, the additional kinetic energy of traveling at a much higher speed would hugely magnify their power, delivered within minutes of launch and with great precision. Any radiation could be blamed on Iran and the drama involved would illustrate forcefully Israel’s commitment do whatever it takes to maintain its regional power—and THAT is all its ever been about for Israel.

    • “Obama clearly is leaning to the US best interests, and good for him, but there is a very fine game he must play to do so in the months leading up to the election, when Israeli power will diminish somewhat.”

      Prof Cole outlined where Obama is wrong about Iran’s rights, and that outline shows the “lean” is more aptly described as a holding action at best.

      • Agreed. The elections are key, after which the pressure on him abates: the precise reason Israel is pushing things. Open question about whether Obama is dumb or oblivious: either way its not a bad tactic.

  9. Wasn’t he trying to keep troops in Iraq? NO more immunity for warcrimes which were costs for Iraqis (who are they?) it’s always u.s. Troops & their families, never including the other country which is just labeled as “animals & tribes & militants” OH so sorry they don’t want to be Colonized by the west and given “democracy” (which is usually a u.s. Placed dictator or strongman)

  10. If Iran is fully in compliance with the NPT, what exactly are the grounds for US and European sanctions? Are no other countries (which don’t already have nuclear weapons) pursuing uranium enrichment? What does the NPT say specifically about enrichment? Is the NPT just symbolic, not spelling out these things? I ask out of ignorance.

    • The United Nations Security Council does not want Iran enriching even for civilian purposes, and it has in Iran’s case ex post facto amended the NPT.

      In international law, the UNSC can pretty much do as it pleases on these matters.

      But Iran is not known to be doing anything that the NPT forbids, and this has been the case since 2003.

  11. I would like to see Obama mandate that Joe Lieberman, McCain,Cantor and Lindsey Graham be passengers in the first bombers entering Iranian airspace.

  12. There’s a lot of fiction (and unfortunately nonfiction too) grounded in the hubristic and seemingly suicidal idiocy of our various warlords, who have kicked the sachems and Solons to the curb and ramped up the pounding of the human-skin drums and skull rattles to get the natives all restless and angry.

    One example: “Sense of Obligation,” by Henry Maxwell Dempsey link to freefictionbooks.org

    Maybe it’s just a disease state?

    It’s not like there’s no science behind the theme, either:

    link to scientificamerican.com

    and link to livescience.com

    Maybe it’s time to biopsy our “leaders'” noggins, to see if there’s maybe something biological, obviously pathological, and maybe even treatable, going on in there?

    Have Bibi or Avi or any of those folks ever spent much time in the company of cats? I would ask about rats too, but that’s a given…

  13. Hasn’t the GOP already caused enough damage by launchhing Iraq war that they now want to launch a war on Iran? Where are the WMDs? I am sure same will be the outcome from agression on Iran, there will be no nukes, then what? American has been bankrupted by these neocons and it needs to be saved from them.

  14. Nuclear Puff n Blow in the media
    So is it all just about “The Business Agenda”? Defense, Oil? (=Land Grab?)
    US Defense spend is really big, Oil Gas is huge business:-
    link to rickety.us
    Defense Spending From Top 30 Countries in 2010
    $ Rank Country $ Bin %GDP $/Capita
    1 United States 698.3 4.7 2,260
    2 China 119.4 2.2 88
    3 United Kingdom 59.6 2.7 963
    4 France 59.3 2.5 915
    5 Russia 58.7 4.3 419
    6 Japan 54.5 1 429
    7 Saudi Arabia 45.2 11.2 1,727
    16 UAE 16.1 7.3 3,410
    14 Israel 18 6.3 1,929

    link to petrostrategies.org

    Worldwide Reserves, Oil Million Bls Nat Gas Bln Cu Ft

    1 National Iranian Oil Company 137,010 1,045,670
    2 Saudi Arabian Oil Company 260,100 275,200
    3 Petroleos de Venezuela.S.A. 211,170 178,860
    4 Qatar General Petroleum Corporation 25,380 895,800
    5 Iraq National Oil Company 115,000 119,940
    6 Abu Dhabi National Oil Company 92,200 212,000
    7 Kuwait Petroleum Corporation 101,500 63,000

  15. “Since 2008, Iraq has awarded 15 oil and gas deals to international energy companies, the first major investments in the country’s energy industry in more than three decades.

    Baghdad aims to raise daily output to 12 million barrels by 2017, a level that would put it nearly on par with Saudi Arabia’s current production capacity.”

    “energy giant ExxonMobil, under pressure from the Iraqi government for signing a deal with the northern Kurdish region, will make a “final decision” in days, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.”

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