An Israeli Attack on Iran would reduce Barack Obama to a One-Term President

What should a poor warmongering Neoconservative do? This political grouping includes WASPS such as former CIA director James Woolsey and former UN ambassor John Bolton, but at its core is politically active and extremely wealthy Jewish former Democrats who broke with their party in the 1980s to become war hawks in Republican administrations, and most of whom are rooted in Rightwing Zionism as exemplified in the thought of prominent fascist theorist Vladimir Jabotinsky. (They are almost mirror images of the general American Jewish community, 79 percent of which voted for Barack Obama, which is skittish about foreign wars and liberal on social issues).
The Neoconservative faction is in the political wilderness in the United States. Eager to play the role in Iran that the enormous floods have played in Pakistan, of paralyzing and destroying much of a thriving country, eager to reduce the shining city of Isfahan to rubble and displace its population into massive tent cities, they find their path blocked at every turn.

Always much happier when the militant and aggressive Likud Party is in power in Israel, they are nevertheless impatient with what they see as the timidity of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, compared to the reckless warmongering of the previous Kadima Party and its Labor ally (who managed to set back the Lebanese economy a decade in 2006 and to reduce the large penal camp of Gaza to further misery and rubble).

Despite being willing to stop in at an occasional cocktail party, President Obama could not care less what the Neoconservatives say, want or do. Few have been appointed from their ranks to high and influential positions in the Obama administration, in contrast to W.’s, where they held the 8 key positions that allowed them to help push the US into a decade of rampaging wars. The American public, having been tricked by their fallacious arguments and cynical propaganda into the Iraq War, does not want to hear from them. They no longer get much television time. Their main project of today, an aggressive war on Iran, is a non-starter with the current White House, its generals, intelligence officials, and most importantly with a public already unemployed, beggared and indebted to the tune of $13 trillion, in part because of the Neocons earlier mad adventures– a public that has also lost over 4000 dead and tens of thousands wounded and permanently disabled warriors over a pack of Neocon lies.

But being a Neocon means never having to say you are sorry, or that you were wrong, and it means never giving up on the dressing up of illegal and aggressive wars as Necessary and Right and Bright Shining Cities on a Hill that will Make the World Safe for “Democracy” and more importantly for Apartheid Israel.

Thus, in 1998 at the height of their impotence, the Neocons got up a hawkish letter with the support of the Republicans in Congress, insisting that President Clinton go to war against Iraq. It was absurd and monstrous. Iraq had been reduced to a poor weak fourth-rate power, its economy devastated, its children dying in droves, by US and UN sanctions pushed by the Neocons and their allies. Only five years later, under a different administration, they got their wish.

The Neocons’ life experience, then, is that aggressive warfare is never really off the table. Even a liberal internationalist like Obama can be pressured, and if he will not yield, be weakened and wounded and the way paved for a leader more pliable to their plans. A war that they pine for the way a teenager pines for a first love, a mass grave they dream of the way a retiree dreams of a Hawaiian resort, an orgy of destruction visited on ancient wonders that they dream of the way a world-class architect dreams of constructing a new city– all these things are really at most just 5 years away if the right political moves are made.

They have more assets than is visible on the surface. They have perhaps half of America’s 400 billionaires on their side. They have the enormous military-industrial complex on their side. They have the Yahoo complex of besieged lower middle class White America on their side. They have the Israel lobbies on their side. They have important segments of the Oil and Gas lobbies on their side. They have the whole American tradition of permanent war on their side. They should not be underestimated.

It is not so hard to get up a war. You position the war as inevitable. As Right. As Necessary. You reimagine the poor weak ramshackle enemy as a science fictional superpower, months away from possession of a Neutron Bomb that could Destroy the Universe. It has to be done. We are in danger.

Although not exactly himself a Neocon (he says he is for a two-state solution and says he is on the fence about an Iran war), Cpl. Jeffrey Goldberg of the Israeli army, where he was a prison camp guard during the first Intifada or Palestinian uprising, and who masquerades as a journalist over at the Atlantic, has fired a shot in the building campaign for destroying Iran. This war propagandist deliberately spread the bald-faced lie that Saddam had close ties to al-Qaeda, and goes on insisting that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction capabilities in the face of mountains of evidence to the contrary. He is either dishonest or so blindered by ideology that it comes to the same thing. Goldberg says he is “ambivalent” about an “American” attack on Iran in “2010.” But these are weasel words. What would be different in 2011? In fact, this way of speaking puts a time limit on “ambivalence,” after which conviction presumably kicks in. His ambivalence, he says, extends to whether Israel should attack Iran unilaterally, though he is convinced by his ‘interviewing’ that it likely will. It reminds me of all the caveats and ambivalences in Ken Pollack’s book ‘Gathering Storm,’ which was used by warmongers nevertheless to help get up the Iraq War.

Goldberg knows that Obama is not actually going to war against Iran. Despite what he says, Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is for all his bluster far too personally indecisive to take such a major step (and certainly not without an American green light; Bibi thinks Clinton had him undermined and moved out of office for obstructing the Oslo accords, and does not want to risk the same fate for causing trouble for Obama in Iraq and Afghanistan). How Goldberg could miss this truism in Israeli politics is beyond me.

Goldberg is trying to make an Iran war seem highly likely if not inevitable, if not now then in the near future (say, within 5 years?).

But contrary to Goldberg’s conclusions, Gareth Porter finds that high Israeli intelligence and military figures entertain the severest doubts about a war on Iran. Could Goldberg really not find these voices that Porter dug up so effortlessly?

The Iran war hawks also almost certainly underestimate Iran’s conventional weapons capability of foiling any Israeli air strike.

There is no room for ‘ambivalence’ here, especially of the Pollack sort that actually leads straight to war. The stupidity of an air raid on Iran is easy for the clear-eyed to see. There is no evidence Iran has a nuclear weapons program as opposed to a civilian nuclear energy program. The centrifuge technology being used can be dispersed and an air strike is likely to be only a minor setback in the program. And, Iran is a major country of 70 million with extensive petroleum and gas resources. It has means of replying to any attack that can be subtle and effective. Mahan Abedin showed here recently how there can be no ‘limited war’ against Iran.

Obama’s plans for a decisive and timely withdrawal from Iraq would be completely ruined by an attack on Iran, which would reactivate the Shiite militias at a time when the US military is weak and open to attack. Obama would not have that achievement to run on in 2012. The Iranians can behind the scenes be major spoilers for the Afghanistan War, which already is not going well for Obama.

A Netanyahu attack on Iran would reduce Barack Obama to a one-term president, which may be what Goldberg and his fellow conspirators are really aiming for. That success would after all allow them to keep to the 5-year timetable for another Asian land war.

Posted in Uncategorized | 65 Responses | Print |

65 Responses

  1. Excellent piece professor. One minor issue, your link (Iran’s conventional weapons capability of foiling any Israeli air strike) does not seem to work.

  2. This is the best reponse to the Goldberg article I have read. Thank you Prof Cole for this clear-headed, yet passionate post.

  3. They have more assets than is visible on the surface. They have perhaps half of America’s 400 billionaires on their side. They have the enormous military-industrial complex on their side. They have the Yahoo complex of besieged lower middle class White America on their side. They have the Israel lobbies on their side. They have important segments of the Oil and Gas lobbies on their side. They have the whole American tradition of permanent war on their side. They should not be underestimated.
    This paragraph has not made my day. All at once you see the network and it’s power structure.

    • And it is quite likely they will have the House of Representatives on their side after the November election.

  4. Dear Professor Cole,
    On 13 August Trita Parsi posted one of the most enlightening (and for me educational) critiques of Goldberg’s article I’ve seen so far, which also highlights the domestic political dimension of the campaign for an Israeli attack on Iran.

    His article covers lots of territory, amongst which the long history of strategic cooperation between Israel and Iran enduring even years of “death to Israel” rhetoric from Iran, how the real threats Iran poses to Israel – even only with a nuclear-capability (without actual weapons) – are not existential and many Israeli officials have admitted the same, and that the aim of this unfolding campaign launched by Goldberg’s article may not even be to pressure Obama into military action but to portray Obama as weak and indecisive on national security issues and give the Republicans valuable ammunition for the November congressional elections as well as for the 2012 presidential race.

    A campaign for war with Iran begins
    If neocons can’t get Obama to attack Iran, they are creating a narrative so the next Republican president will
    link to

  5. I copied this message below, from US Dept of State, out of our email inbox. We have been getting more than the usual number of messages like this in the past month. We are American and live in a Gulf country. I think one effect of these messages might be to ‘scare’ Americans to stay at home AND to exonerate the US Dept of State from blame/litigation in case some American runs into trouble (as I suspect Dept of State did not warn passengers on Pan Am 103).
    When I note the recent “flurry” of these messages we have been receiving, I often think: what are the neo cons, et. al. planning now?

    copied material follows below here \/ \/ \/ \/

    Travel Warning – Israel, The West Bank, and Gaza
    August 11, 2010

    1. The Department of State warns U.S. citizens of the risks of
    traveling to Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip, and about
    threats to themselves and to U.S. interests in those locations. The
    Department of State urges U.S. citizens to remain mindful of security
    factors when planning travel to Israel and the West Bank and to avoid
    all travel to the Gaza Strip. This replaces the Travel Warning issued
    August 5, 2010, to update information on the general security
    environment in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip.

    The Gaza Strip and Southern Israel

    2. The State Department strongly urges that U.S. citizens refrain from
    all travel to the Gaza Strip. This recommendation applies to all U.S.
    citizens, including journalists and aid workers. U.S. citizens should
    be aware that as a consequence of a longstanding prohibition on travel
    by U.S. government employees into the Gaza Strip, the ability of
    consular staff to offer timely assistance to U.S. citizens there is
    extremely limited.

    3. The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) strictly controls the crossing
    points between Israel and the Gaza Strip, and has essentially sealed the
    border. The security environment within Gaza and along its borders,
    including its border with Egypt and its seacoast, is dangerous and
    volatile. U.S. citizens are advised against traveling to Gaza by any
    means, including via sea. Previous attempts to enter Gaza by sea have
    been stopped by Israeli naval vessels and resulted in the injury, death,
    arrest, and deportation of U.S. citizens. From December 27, 2008,
    through January 17, 2009, the IDF conducted a major military operation
    in Gaza. Israel and Hamas, a State Department-designated foreign
    terrorist organization that violently seized power in Gaza in June 2007,
    declared separate truces to end the fighting.
    Occasional small clashes continue to occur along the border. Rockets
    and mortars are still occasionally fired into Israel from Gaza, and the
    IDF continues to conduct military operations inside Gaza, including
    airstrikes. The IDF has also declared an exclusion zone inside Gaza
    along the border with Israel and has taken lethal measures against
    individuals who enter it.

    4. In the past, some rockets have travelled more than 40 km (24 miles)
    from Gaza and landed as far north as Yavne and Gadera and as far east as
    Beersheva. As a result of possible IDF military operations in Gaza and
    the ever-present risk of rocket and mortar attacks into Israel from
    Gaza, U.S. government personnel travelling in the vicinity of the Gaza
    Strip border, to include the city of Sderot, require approval from the
    Embassy’s Regional Security Office. U.S. citizens in the area should be
    aware of the risks and should follow the advice of the Government of
    Israel’s office of Homefront
    Command, at: link to

    The West Bank

    5. The Department of State urges U.S. citizens to exercise caution when
    traveling to the West Bank. Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces
    are now deployed throughout the West Bank, including all major cities.
    As a result, violence in recent years has decreased markedly throughout
    the West Bank. Nonetheless, demonstrations and violent incidents can
    occur without warning. Vehicles have also been the target of rocks,
    Molotov cocktails and gunfire on West Bank roads. The IDF continues to
    carry out security operations in the West Bank. Israeli security
    operations, including incursions into Palestinian population centers,
    can occur at any time and lead to disturbances and violence. U.S.
    citizens can be caught in the middle of potentially dangerous
    situations. Some U.S. citizens involved in demonstrations in the West
    Bank have sustained serious injuries in confrontations with Israeli
    settlers and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). The State Department
    recommends that U.S. citizens, for their own safety, avoid

    6. During periods of unrest, the Israeli government sometimes closes
    off access to the West Bank and those areas may be placed under curfew.
    All persons in areas under curfew should remain indoors to avoid risking
    arrest or injury. U.S. citizens have been killed, seriously injured, or
    detained and deported as a result of encounters with IDF operations in
    Gaza and the West Bank. Travel restrictions may be imposed by Israel
    with little or no warning. Strict measures have frequently been imposed
    following terrorist actions, and the movement of Palestinian Americans,
    both those with residency status in the West Bank or Gaza as well as
    foreign passport holders, has been severely impeded. Current
    security-related restrictions on travel by U.S. government employees to
    the West Bank hinder the ability of consular staff to offer timely
    assistance to U.S. citizens.


    7. The State Department urges U.S. citizens to remain vigilant while
    traveling throughout Jerusalem, especially within the commercial and
    downtown areas of West Jerusalem and the city center. Spontaneous or
    planned protests within the Old City are possible, especially after
    Friday prayers. Some of these protests have led to violent clashes.
    Travelers should exercise caution at religious sites on holy days,
    Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. Isolated street protests and
    demonstrations can also occur in areas of East
    Jerusalem, including around Salah Ed-Din Street, Damascus Gate, Silwan
    and the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. U.S. government employees are
    authorized to visit the Old City during daylight hours only except
    between the hours of 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. on Fridays. The area of
    the ramparts on the city wall between Herod’s Gate and Lion’s Gate is
    off-limits to U.S. Government personnel at all times. The Sherover or
    Haas Promenade (scenic overlook) located in Armon Hanatziv is open to
    U.S. government personnel during daylight hours only.

    Travel Restrictions for U.S. Government Personnel

    8. Personal travel in the West Bank for U.S. government personnel and
    their families is allowed for limited mission-approved purposes in the
    areas described below. They may travel to Jericho, or to transit through
    the West Bank using Routes 1 and 90 to reach the Allenby/King Hussein
    Bridge, or the Dead Sea coast near Ein Gedi and Masada. They may also
    travel north on Route 90 from the Allenby/King Hussein Bridge to the Sea
    of Galilee. Use of these routes is approved for transit purposes during
    daylight hours, with stops permitted only at Qumran National Park off
    Route 90 by the Dead Sea. Each transit requires prior notification to
    the Consulate General’s security office. U.S. Government personnel and
    family members are permitted both official and personal travel on Route
    443 between Modi’in and Jerusalem without prior notification, during
    daylight hours only. All other personal travel in the West Bank, unless
    specifically authorized for mission-approved purposes, is prohibited.

    General Safety and Security

    9. Israeli authorities remain concerned about the continuing threat of
    terrorist attacks. U.S. citizens are cautioned that a greater danger
    may exist around restaurants, businesses, and other places associated
    with U.S. interests and/or located near U.S. official buildings, such as
    the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and the U.S. Consulate General in
    Jerusalem. U.S. citizens are also urged to exercise a high degree of
    caution and to use common sense when patronizing restaurants,
    nightclubs, cafes, malls, places of worship, and theaters, especially
    during peak hours. Large crowds and public gatherings have been
    targeted by terrorists in the past and should be avoided to the extent
    practicable. U.S. citizens should take into consideration that public
    buses, and their respective terminals are “off-limits” to U.S.
    government personnel. U.S. government personnel have been directed to
    avoid protests and demonstrations. Personnel have also been urged to
    maintain a high level of vigilance and situational awareness at all

    10. In the Golan Heights, there are live landmines in many areas and
    visitors should walk only on established roads or trails.

    Entry/Exit Difficulties

    11. U.S. citizens planning to travel to Israel or the West Bank should
    read carefully the detailed information concerning entry and exit
    difficulties in the Country Specific Information sheet at:
    link to

    . U.S. citizens in Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip are
    strongly encouraged to register with the Consular Sections of the U.S.
    Embassy in Tel Aviv or the U.S. Consulate General in Jerusalem through
    the State Department’s travel registration website, Occasional warden messages issued
    by the Embassy and the Consulate General are e-mailed to registered U.S.
    citizens and are posted on State Department websites to highlight
    time-sensitive security concerns.

    13. U.S. citizens who require emergency services may telephone the
    Consulate General in Jerusalem at (972) (2) 628-7137, after hours (for
    emergencies): (972) (2) 622-7250, or the Embassy in Tel Aviv at (972)
    (3) 519-7575, after hours (for emergencies): (972) (3) 519-7551.

    14. Current information on travel and security in Israel, the West
    Bank, and the Gaza Strip may be obtained from the Department of State by
    calling 1-888-407-4747 within the United States and Canada, or, from
    overseas, 1-202-501-4444. For additional and more in-depth information
    about specific aspects of travel to these areas, U.S. citizens should
    consult: the Country Specific Information for Israel, the West Bank and
    Gaza; and the Worldwide Caution. These along with other Travel
    Warnings, Travel Alerts and Country Specific Information are available
    on the Department’s Internet website at
    Up-to-date information on security conditions can also be accessed at or

    15. Additionally, U.S. citizens are encouraged to sign up to receive
    security-related information from the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv via email
    at the following link:
    link to

  6. i think you should start naming names … not just those who have access to oped column inches, but the politically active and extremely wealthy.

  7. Iraq was destroyed in the 90’s “by US and UN sanctions pushed by the Neocons and their allies.”

    Allies such as Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright?

  8. I was under the impression that O gave Bibi a green light during his visit. O’s words to the effect of: Israel has to do what is in its national interest. Coupled with Bibi’s mockery of U.S. foreign policy being in Israel’s pocket. Near as I can tell, O never met a war he didn’t like, having expanded the GWOT to new geographic areas beyond W. (Despite the 25 terror related deaths in the U.S. last year and the 4 in Israel. Yep, those devastating numbers truly required expanding wars, you betcha.)

  9. Dear Juan Cole,

    For all the respect I have for you, I think in this piece you seem overly optimistic about avoiding war with Iran. Actually, I think such a war might even guarantee that Obama would be re-elected. Or re-appointed. Look what happened with Bush. On the other hand, I have always believed that Obama only signed on for one term, and will probably choose not to run again. That is the only thing that gives me hope the war might be delayed until after he leaves office In that time anything can happen.

    Also, I do not agree that the neocon faction is in the political wilderness. They may have gone underground, and are not as publicly obvious as they once were, but they still have great influence, as you yourself point out in your eighth paragraph. In any event, I do not think Obama is in control of events He merely carries out orders from the “powers-that-be.”

    For all of Jeffrey Goldberg’s propaganda for the inevitability of war he is hardly a reliable source of information. Nevertheless, and in spite of Gareth Porter’s “voices” of opposition to the war, I have to agree with Goldberg. There will be a war. Both the U.S. and Israel are determined to overthrow the Iranian theocratic regime and install their own puppet in order to consolidate their own hegemony in the region.

    • After repeating all of the unsubstantiated claims about Iran over the last seven or more years…50% of the American public believe Iran has a nuclear weapons program. The repetition of these false claims has worked again.

      I don’t think the “next stop Iran” warmongers are down and out at all

    • Thank You again Dr. Cole. Your clear eyed analysis is an island in a sea of lies and deceit… I think a land invasion of Iran is a sure way to wreck the rotten hulk of America…. The U.S. cannot add enough zeros to their fictitious fiat money accounts to pay for three wars but for a short period… They will also drive energy prices sky high as the dollar plunges to hates… and cause an enormous backlash. It is asking too much of America….

  10. Why is one tempted to say, “Oh, heck, Professor, leave it alone. There ain’t no way to deflect the Juggernaut from its acolytes’ impassioned pull-me-push-you, world-crushing path.”?

    Not enough of the right people, the ones who have enough strength of purpose and power to actually do anything about the grand enthusiastic “religious” procession toward an Apocalypse that I bet will be a real downer and disappointment for the leaderfolks who live long enough to experience it, to leave us a chance of escaping the war of all against all and descent into warlordism and armed and hostile bands that is the handwriting on the wall.

    All the players mouth the words that “democracy is the Highest Ideal” and the goal, the summum bonum of all their efforts to “free us.” Well, if demos (δημος, or “the people”) and kratos (κρατος, with all their ineluctable “force” or “power”) want to plow ahead to Kill The Enemy, whoever that is this week, why, in the higher order of things, who’s to deny them?

    (By the way, it sure does not look to me like the “Coalition” and mercenary forces are actually going to “withdraw” from the fractionated humanspace we shorthand as “Iraq,” let alone eschew some kind of attack on the place we so conveniently personify, reify and enemy-ize as “Iran.” But thank you for trying to keep the players and their game at least on the top of the table — not that most folks give a rip about their real roles as little markers in a game of RISK! ™ Too much FUN to just let the whirlygig neurons of their own personal limbic systems grab the controls and take the rest of the Thinking Mammal for a wild ride. Kind of like what has been given to us through recorded history as the “berserker rage,” which sounds a bit like Rushbo on a roll, except he is a complete personal coward:

    This fury, which was called berserkergang, occurred not only in the heat of battle, but also during laborious work. Men who were thus seized performed things which otherwise seemed impossible for human power. This condition is said to have begun with shivering, chattering of the teeth, and chill in the body, and then the face swelled and changed its colour. With this was connected a great hot-headedness, which at last gave over into a great rage, under which they howled as wild animals, bit the edge of their shields, and cut down everything they met without discriminating between friend or foe. When this condition ceased, a great dulling of the mind and feebleness followed, which could last for one or several days.

    (Read more about what we are capable of at link to . Kind of makes you proud to be a Human, right?)

  11. I would hope you are right, but the Obama administration has not veered from the “permanent war” footing thus far, and has not done better than going from one policy mis-step to the next.

  12. I hear the fomenting that Israel could attack Iran, but I have a hard time figuring out the logistics – they have to fly over a lot of Arab territory to do it. I can’t imagine Iraq will let them fly over their air space, Turkey (I know, not Arab) has withdrawn the codes that would allow them to fly over their air space. The logistics seem to stymie the Israelis.

    • The logistics seem to stymie the Israelis?

      The logistics pose a problem only if one imagines border lines on maps to be impenetrable obstacles. But in fact neither Jordan nor Saudi Arabia have the military might or the political will to stop Israeli planes from crossing their airspace on their way to and from an attack on Iran. That would be sufficient.

      The Americans remain in de facto control of Iraqi airspace and presumably would have something to say about any Israeli overflight. The use of Iraqi airspace would not be essential to an Israeli attack on Iran.

      But whatever the route chosen, Israel could not proceed with an attack on Iran without first getting a nod from Washington.

  13. Juan

    Jews do account for about half of America’s billionaires, but your implication that all of these support the neo-cons and a war with Iran goes too far IMHO. Although many of them undoubtedly are pushing for such a war, George Soros (and probably a number of others) do not support such an approach.

    • I did not say anything about Jews. I said half of the 400 billionaires would support a war on Iran.

    • Sir Bedevere: There are ways of telling whether she is a witch.
      Peasant 1: Are there? Oh well, tell us.
      Sir Bedevere: Tell me. What do you do with witches?
      Peasant 1: Burn them.
      Sir Bedevere: And what do you burn, apart from witches?
      Peasant 1: More witches.
      Peasant 2: Wood.
      Sir Bedevere: Good. Now, why do witches burn?
      Peasant 3: …because they’re made of… wood?
      Sir Bedevere: Good. So how do you tell whether she is made of wood?
      Peasant 1: Build a bridge out of her.
      Sir Bedevere: But can you not also build bridges out of stone?
      Peasant 1: Oh yeah.
      Sir Bedevere: Does wood sink in water?
      Peasant 1: No, no, it floats!… It floats! Throw her into the pond!
      Sir Bedevere: No, no. What else floats in water?
      Peasant 1: Bread.
      Peasant 2: Apples.
      Peasant 3: Very small rocks.
      Peasant 1: Cider.
      Peasant 2: Gravy.
      Peasant 3: Cherries.
      Peasant 1: Mud.
      Peasant 2: Churches.
      Peasant 3: Lead! Lead!
      King Arthur: A Duck.
      Sir Bedevere: …Exactly. So, logically…
      Peasant 1: If she weighed the same as a duck… she’s made of wood.
      Sir Bedevere: And therefore…
      Peasant 2: …A witch!

  14. Great post. However I can see Obama turning to war as his poll ratings continue to decline. If unemployment does not go down, then I see little chance of Obama being re-elected. So I think he will get desperate and go the war route. He is a man of little character in my opinion, and seems to go where the wind blows him.
    One question. After Iraq and now Aghanistan, it would seem to me that any logical person would conclude that continued warfare is not the best course of action. You listed all of the groups/people behind the neo-con movement. What exactly is it that has them so blinded that they go forward even in the face of such glaring evidence that there course of action has failed? Is it power? Money for the elites? I just wonder.

  15. […] Juan Cole has a piece up about how the possibility of the United States or Israel bombing Iran. He concludes that it is very unlikely to happen, that Israel (and in particular Netanyahu) would never do it without getting the green-light from the United States, and that Israeli intelligence is deeply skeptical about how effective such an action would be. […]

  16. Brilliant piece Juan, indeed they are so blinded by their own war lust that they fail to see that a war would signal a total withdrawal of the US from the Middle East and possibly hasten the collapse of Israel.

  17. I cannot see President Obama falling for this line, especially after the last administration’s strategic failures. He has to know he will have no base if he does something like this. So unless Iran does something stupid–and that is not impossible–I don’t see real room for US action here. I’m not so sure Bibi won’t go there though. Since Iran’s response to threats of attack seem to be to get more belligerent, that is were I think the real possibilities exist. If the neocon cabal’s wank-fest causes Iran to act more belligerent, the public will be more in favor of attacking them–thats a vicious circle with bad outcomes all around.

  18. Your final line tells the tale:

    A Netanyahu attack on Iran would reduce Barack Obama to a one-term president, which may be what Goldberg and his fellow conspirators are really aiming for. That success would after all allow them to keep to the 5-year timetable for another Asian land war.

    Context, as always, is everything. Thus, the neocon agenda would be advanced, and with all due respect, your sense that Bibi doesn’t have the cojones doesn’t pass. Its a different political scenario, with the Kadima driving things far harder, and it isn’t as though Bibi was a total wimp at the Wye River finesse/gutting of Oslo anyway.

    In these matters its always best to back up to the 40,000 foot perspective. Its like when Israel smoked the USS Liberty so they won’t be reported as they repositioning the IDF to take the Golan Heights under cover of truce. Even in the near past, I can tick-off a half dozen provocations from which Israel MUST have learned that those silly goyam in Washington will either just take it or get use to it. If they attack Iran, Obama will get really…..and I mean really mad….but hey, he’ll get over it.

    It makes more sense when you realize all this posing accomplishes what is needed without firing a shot. And what Israel REALLY is angling for with all this BS, is to keep its regional hegemony, which an ambiguously nuclear Iran would deny them, and with it their (relative, but declining) freedom of action, against Hezbollah and the squatters remaining on the West Bank. The real issue all along is what to do about Palestine, and these sorts of recurring broohahas kicks up a lot of dust as the settlements continue their relentless expansion.

    Like any good magician, they draw you to watch one hand while the other does its dirty work.

  19. well, only one minor comment–Pakistan is not a “thriving” country, rather teetering dangerously close to failed state status. I agree with pretty much everything else you said.

  20. Juan Cole ” They no longer get much television time.”

    Bill Kristol on Fox, Reuel Marc Gerecht on the Diane Rehm show numerous times, John Bolton on Talk of the Nation quite a few times, McCain on Face the Nation , Chris Matthews pushing for more aggressive actions towards Iran. Hell over the last seven years I have heard many of the Iraq warmongers on MSM outlets repeat the unsubstantiated claims about and alleged nuclear weapons program. I have not only heard many host of both T.V. and national radio programs allow guest to repeat these unsubstantiated claims about Iran I have heard NPR’s Terry Gross repeat them many times herself. I have heard Rachel Maddow repeat the debunked “Iran wants to wipe Israel off the map” hogwash. Rachel covered the protest in Iran so much I started to think the single payer supporters should start holding rallies in Iran so that Rachel would cover them.

    As a soccer mom living in southeastern Ohio Ikept thinking there was no way the Bush warmongers would pull off the invasion of Iraq after El Baradei came out in early march of 2003 and confirmed that the Niger Documents were forgeries. I kept thinking that after Scott Ritter, Ray McGovern etc were questioning the validity of the pre war intelligence that the push for that war had been seriously shifted. But the facts did not get in the way.

    These warmongers want to take out Iran real bad. I would not put anything past them. Hundreds of thousands dead, injured and millions displaced in Iraq mean nothing to them.

  21. Thanks for a great article. Obama could STILL tell Israel, and mean it, that if it attacks Iran it is on its own. There is no conceivable reason USA is in any danger from Iran, which anyway has never threatened to attack anyone UNLESS attacked, which seems normal to normal humans.

  22. Is Jeffrey Goldberg a stand-in for “Dr. Strangelove”. If so, then President Barack Obama must be playing an updated version of said film’s President Merkin Muffley.

  23. The conversation about an Israeli attack would benefit from considering it as a probability, not as just a binary yes and no. If your thesis is true, the probability is low, but the outcomes of an Israeli attack are so terrible that we must take even a low probability as a red alert. As you know, other serious observers believe the probability is higher.

    It is hard to buy your statement that the Neocons are currently in the wilderness. As Barbara Slavin wrote, on July 27, “A number of players with more skeptical views about the prospect of rapprochement with Tehran — such as White House aide Dennis Ross and nonproliferation experts like Robert Einhorn and Gary Samore — appear to be driving U.S. policy now..”. Ross and to a degree Einhorn have been associated with the neoconservative Washington Institute for Near East Policy, and Samore, prior to becoming WMD chief, made statements consistent with those of the Institute. In addition, if you look at the steps Obama has taken — getting Russia and China on board for UN Sanctions, ratcheting up US and encouraging EU sanctions, getting the Saudis to pressure China and also warning the Chinese that Israel might attack if they didn’t join up with the sanctions, increasing shows of “credible” force in the Persian Gulf and Diego Garcia — these all fit neatly with the Dennis Ross approved “Bipartisan” recommendations of 2008, with his 2009 book (Myths, Illusions & Peace)and with the Washington Institute 2009 “Preventing a Cascade…” report. So if it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck, etc. it would seem that indeed neocons are calling the shots, or at least that Obama does not have any divergence of viewpoint (John Limbert’s resignation eliminated perhaps the last knowledgable voice on Iran in higher echelons).

  24. August 15, 2010

    Professor, your post today on an Israeli attack on Iran is an excellent piece, as usual. It quickly summarizes a complex issue and is both reassuring and frightening. The array of powerful forces that want Israel and American to attack are formidable and are not to be underestimated.
    Mahan Abedin’s article on the “Illusion of a ‘limited war’ against Iran” is also excellent and should be given wide publicity, especially to those followers of the American right who keep advocating a preemptive strike on Iran. Listening to and speaking to some of these people it is clear they have not thought about the consequences of an attack and clearly underestimate Iran’s response, not to mention how the Arab and Muslim people will react. Have we not learned anything about “preemptive attacks”? The fuzzy reality of this thinking must be exposed before it gains increasing backing.

  25. The Neocons and Israel Lobby are functioning essentially as a mafia – their current interest being to gin up any way possible to push the US into a war with Iran that will yield strategic benefits and payoff for Israel. has a good article describing this current Neocon tactic being used by Goldberg as nothing short of blackmail

    Israel and her Israel Lobby including Goldberg, are trying to blackmail us into this crazy confrontation with Iran.

    Israel is blackmailing the US into a strategic disaster that will eclipse the strategic disaster Goldberg and the rest Israel’s neocons and lobby manipulated us into with the war in Iraq

    Is it a friend or enemy that would push America into a meaningless fight that will destroy the crippled US economy and constitute a warcrime? Is that a friend or enemy that would do that?

    The answer is that the Neocons and the Lobby are enemies of the US, not friends. That we are being controlled by an enemy state, thru the Neocon/Lobby coup that has seized control of our politics, media, and Congress, is a disaster beyond all reckoning for the US. That we have not overthrown this coup but rather accept and carry out it’s demands and blackmail is a catastrophe

    There is no reason on earth for the US to attack Iran to assauge or benefit the Israelis, this Israeli Lobby Mafia who controls the Congress, or for America

  26. Brilliant essay, Prof. Cole. Thank you. Your statement that “It is not so hard to get up a war. You position the war as inevitable. As Right. As Necessary. You reimagine the poor weak ramshackle enemy as a science fictional superpower, months away from possession of a Neutron Bomb that could Destroy the Universe. It has to be done. We are in danger” reminded me of the following quote from Hermann Göring in his prison cell after WWII: “Naturally the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of a country who determine the policy, and it’s always a simple matter to drag people along whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice,the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. This is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger. It works the same in every country.”

    Mark Marshall
    Toronto, Canada

  27. Juan: “Goldberg knows that Obama is not actually going to war against Iran. Despite what he says, Bibi Netanyahu, the prime minister of Israel, is for all his bluster far too personally indecisive to take such a major step (and certainly not without an American green light…”

    I think you’re entirely wrong about all that. I think Obama is as much under the control of the military-industrial complex (first) and the Israel Lobby (second) as Bush was. And I think Netanyahu knows it.

    Oh, sure, Dick Cheney wanted Israel to attack Iran to avoid Bush being blamed for launching yet another Mid-East war; so much so that the US offered Israel another $30 billion in arms sales. But Israel balked and wanted the US to start the war.

    And maybe Obama would like to kick the can down the road like Bush did and let someone else start the war.

    But that doesn’t mean Obama can’t be pushed into it, regardless of any worries he has about the domestic political consequences. When push comes to shove, every US President has voted for war. And they will continue to do so.

    And Netanyahu knows that even if Israel gets blamed for starting the next war, the US Congress and the US President has his back.

    Do you really think Obama is going to tell Netanyahu, “Hey, attack Iran without my say-so, and we’ll cut off foreign aid to Israel, support UN resolutions against Israel, and not support Israel militarily in its war against Iran.”?

    You really believe that? Trust me – never happen. If Israel attacks Iran, Obama will re-affirm US support of Israel, and will attack Iran if Iran retaliates against Israel.

  28. Juan: I’ll add to the above.

    The problem for the Iran war deniers is simply one of cognitive dissonance. People who know the war will be a disaster for everyone (except the military-industrial complex, the oil companies, Israel and the neocons) simply refuse to believe it can happen.

    The problem is very simple: WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

    You say Obama will not attack Iran. SO WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

    Basically there are only TWO possible outcomes:

    1) The US AND Israel blinks and accepts Iran’s enrichment of uranium.

    2) War.

    Do you or anyone really expect after ten years of rhetoric, moving military assets around the world in preparation for the war, and the pressure of the above four forces that the US will simply say, “Oh, gee, guess we have to accept a nuclear Iran” and shift to a “containment” strategy?

    And do you think ISRAEL is going to accept that?

    People are really naive about the depth of corruption in the US government and economy.

    You WILL see a war with Iran. And when it starts, I will be here to say, “I told you so.”

  29. The S-300 missiles you link to would certainly make a difference. But we should keep in mind, esp. considering the sources, that Russia also makes inflatable dummy S-300’s: link to

    Maybe the Persia House video is shot up close enough to make clear they are real; not being a subscriber, I couldn’t access it.

  30. Obama is already a one-term President, and it will probably have NOTHING to do with Iran, and very little to do with foreign policy. In case you haven’t noticed, some of his approval ratings are right down there with Nixon on the day he resigned, and if anyone is waiting for a genuine recovery and improved unemployment figures before November 2012, you need to learn some real basics about economics. The general public will not shake off the feeling of being betrayed and sold-out by Obama because they will continue to be reminded of it everyday in the most personal ways, even if he’s able to conger up a couple of happy days now and then. If there’s a Democrat in the White House in 2013, it most likely will be Hillary Clinton, elected to give Obama the boot.

  31. Will there or will there not be a US/Israeli atack on Iran?

    The bottom linr is quite simple IMHO.

    If th warmongers believe they can acheive an easy low-cost win, war is a virtual certainty.

    But if the Iranians can make them a pay a heavy price (and this applies especially to Israelis whose tolerance for casualties is very low) the odds of a war shrink to near zero IMHO.

  32. This country is heading down the dark path toward a dystopian state, as they cannot see the trap that they’ve caught themselves in. This uptopian ideal of Israel, just does not coincide with the reality, which is why they no have strong alliances in the region.

  33. “They have more assets than is visible on the surface. They have perhaps half of America’s 400 billionaires on their side. They have the enormous military-industrial complex on their side. They have the Yahoo complex of besieged lower middle class White America on their side. They have the Israel lobbies on their side. They have important segments of the Oil and Gas lobbies on their side. They have the whole American tradition of permanent war on their side. They should not be underestimated.”

    The new world order, one-global rule cabal, (the Gordon Brown-Tony Blair-Clinton-Obama type) are also itching for a war with Iran. They’re not as gung-ho as the neocons, and they seem mild mannered, but deep down, they know that a major war would be the perfect opportunity to forever alter American and global society according to their vision.

    Anyways, fantastic article.

  34. An excellent piece indeed. However, in all the articles I have read about a possible or prospective Israeli/American strike on Iran, none has an observation to make on, how such a strike would impact Pakistan, and what the Pakistani reaction would be to such an event.
    When I was serving in the Pakistan Army, my guess is that about 20 percent of the army was shia, which is roughly about the same percentage as the shia percentage in the country as a whole, though probably, shia representation in the senior ranks was slightly higher. It is impossible for me to imagine that an attack on Iran would not have an effect on Pakistan in general, and on the Pakistani shias in particular.
    It is not possible that the Pentagon and various think tanks have not considered this aspect in their various analyses, none of which, to the best of my knowledge has been aired for the benefit of the public at large.
    However, given that the neocons and the right wing think tanks managed to take America to war in Iraq, on the basis of totally fabricated intelligence, it would not be too difficult to predict what the conclusions of these ideologues would be on the issue that I have agitated here. Their main conclusion would likely be that Pakistan being a largely sunni country, and the shia-sunni divide being what it is, a strike against Iran will not elicit too negative a reaction from Pakistan.
    This would be exactly the wrong conclusion to come to, for the following reasons:
    a. Prevalent anti-Americanism in all sections of Pakistani society, including the army, will easily trump any anti-shia sentiment in this country. An attack on Iran will be seen by the the population as a whole as just one more instance of the U.S attacking yet one more Muslim country at the goading of Israel. No doubt, paid U.S intelligence assets among sunni religious groups will downplay the the relevance on Pakistan, of any attack on Iran, but they are likely to get nowhere, and their only achievement would be to expose themselves. Thus, the least that should be expected at the level of the people is unrest, if not agitation which could go anywhere, given how discredited the government of Pakistan already is.
    b. The Pakistan Army is already overstretched fighting, as it has been, an anti-insurgency war for a good six years. Fighting against ones own people, no matter how bad the ‘bad guys’ they may be, always takes a moral toll on any army, and our army is no different. An attack on Iran may just be enough to confirm that the real aim of the U.S has all along been to destroy any emerging Muslim power. This in turn might be enough to push just one infantry battalion over the edge, to mutiny. And this could easily lead to a mess which at present may seem unthinkable.
    And if this ‘unthinkable’ happens in Pakistan, it will eventuate in logistics to NATO forces in Afghanistan being cut, and potentially in another ‘Saigon Moment’ moment for the U.S in Kabul.

  35. Professor Juan, I am sure you’ve addressed it in the past, but can you shed more light on the following topics because of the urgency and timeliness of the subject matter:

    1. We are being bombarded with the idea that Iran should not develop a nuclear bomb (even though Iran never admitted to develop one) while Israel, the US and many other countries have them in their procession? What exactly are the reasons for Iran not to have the device? We all know that it is not to hit Isreal or the US because the consequence for Iran devastating, but it is only for deterrence, and what exactly is wrong with that?
    2. If the US wants to play fair politics in the region, wouldn’t it be wise to convince Israel to disarm its nuclear arsenal rather than insist on pressuring Iran not to develop one? (Well, I am assuming that the US wants to play a fair game).
    3. Mahan Abedin pointed the disastrous military consequences of attacking Iran, but I think what is equally worrisome is the economic disaster that would follow and cost the world and particularly the US dearly if one materializes. It is a no-brainer that the price of oil and everything that is related to it will sky rocket and I am afraid, this will bring down the already frail world economy to its knees. Are we not suffering enough because of the last depression and, who, in his right mind is willing and ready to cause more misery for the average citizen?
    4. Does not the US have enough national debt (13 trillion and counting) and wars that have sapped our economy dry to entertain another conflict? Sometimes, I really believe those who are saber rattling for a new war are just doing their best for the downfall of this nation.

    Professor Cole, I just pointed out some of the obvious ramifications if we let ourselves into conflicts that can be avoided if the chance for better alternatives is given enough power, but I hope you elaborate more on the points so that we have clarity based on knowledge.

  36. GOOD NEWS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    The most recent Neocon push for World War IV has failed. Obama has called it off as this New York Times story shows: link to

    Even the war mongers at Fox News have given up: link to

    And link to

    The neocons can crawl back into their holes at the Weekly Standard and AEI and come up with their next push for war.

  37. If Israel could attack Iran solo, they would have already done so.

    The Israelis have never been hesitant to take the offensive, all by themselves, whenever and wherever they may see fit. The Israelis usually keep quiet about their intentions, and then attack without any warning, like they did a short time ago in Syria.

    So these recent years of nonstop whingeing about Iran are rather uncharacteristic of Israel.

    It suggests to me that there might be significant military difficulties about an attack on Iran that makes a solo offensive too costly or too dangerous for Israel.

    For one thing, the Israelis might lack the sort of detailed intelligence necessary to make an effective attack quickly with limited means. e.g. In the Osirak raid, the Israelis had prior access to the site plans, and spies in situ to assist targeting and confirm success.

    But without good intelligence in Iran, aerial attack cannot be so efficient. Instead, a long series of bombardments using a much larger air force would be necessary–a slow and highly destructive strategy, with considerable slaughter.

    In the world today, only the Americans can make war like that. Only Americans can print enough dollars to fund a war like that. Only Americans can easily escape punishment for making war like that.

  38. Good questions by Sarkis. Without going into too much detail, I believe the following are the answers:

    “What exactly are the reasons for Iran not to have the device?”

    Iran having a nuclear bomb would mean nuclear parity with Israel. It could ramp up support to anti-Israeli elements without worrying overmuch about a formal military response. That is unacceptable to Israel.

    “If the US wants to play fair politics in the region”

    Ha ha ha ha! Chortle. That was a good one! ;)

    “It is a no-brainer that the price of oil and everything that is related to it will sky rocket”

    Good point. Somebody somewhere else has already written about the potential windfall RUSSIA would make from such a war, since its energy supply to Europe circumvents the Straits of Hormuz. It is possible that Russia might even try to prolong any potential Iran-US war by supporting Iran, another factor to be considered.

    “Does not the US have enough national debt ”

    Too much. But the powers that be are not as affected by National Debt as the common person. Furthermore, they may see war and conquest of spoils as a means of redressing the imbalance.

  39. Great article, Juan, but please, you or anyone else please explain to me why the oil and gas industry is always included in the list of usual suspects. They have absolutely nothing to gain by sanctions and wars. I have a feeling that it is merely a knee-jeck reaction by progressives against all things smacking of ‘capitalism’.

  40. You forget Fidel Castro´s warning. The recent sanctions give the US the right to inspect Iranian ships come September. Castro warned that the Iranian response will be to sink the entire US fleet in the Persian Gulf and the US will go (still more) mad and use nuclear weapons. Castro asked the US to not do inspections to avoid war. But then we can just wait for US inspections of Iranian ships in September and the war is on with the first US inspection. How on earth did the war mongers manage to get this text into the resolution ? And why didn´t Russia and China object to this text ? Maybe they would like to see the US commit suicide out of stupidity ?

  41. “What should a poor warmongering Neoconservative do? This political grouping includes WASPS such as former CIA director James Woolsey and former UN ambassador John Bolton…”

    Woolsey is a Presbyterian from Tulsa, and Bolton is a Lutheran from Baltimore. If it is their Christian orientation you wish to emphasize with the hate characterization “WASP,” then there are easier ways to do in that to use an insect name invented, not by that old fraud, the late E. Digby Baltzell, but by the still living and still self-loathing Andrew Hacker back in 1957.

    “WASP” is no more an appropriate category for discourse than “WEJ” which, as you know, simply means White European Jew. Let’s drop these disordered categories from our geopolitical vocabularies.

  42. Prof. Cole,

    Land war in Asia…yikes. Well, there is certainly is a lot of military stuff going on out there now. Can you tell us why you perceive an agenda for a land war in Asia?

  43. “it means never giving up on the dressing up of illegal and aggressive wars as Necessary and Right and Bright Shining Cities on a Hill that will Make the World Safe for “Democracy”

    Um, how do the neocons differ from anyone else in that regard? Isn’t the second part Bacevich described as the American credo?

  44. Juan, Really stupid conflicts do happen – Salamis for example. Somehow I doubt that their lordships in Iran have forgotten that little matter, even as I suspect that it may be dawning on their counterparts in ahmurka and the various servile satrapies that an attack, however inevitable, might not create the outcome they desire. Harking back to Salamis – not the history channel version but the way the battle was created by the Greeks – (yes, the Persians fell for a trap) through double agents and deception – the present-day strategists in Iran, like their long dead Greek antagonists, need to force a critical event. Similarly, if the Empire fails to bring Iran to heel it will, in the fullness of time, result in the decline of Empire and the ascendancy of Iran as the dominant regional power. In this matter conflict of one sort or another, and probably violent conflict, is, absent a bolt from the blue, certain. Withal, empires fall, particularly lawless, corrupt, empires driven by greed and internal political maneuvering, as their decision-making is limited to a narrow array of smashing things, ie by a lack of options. Like the Persians so long ago, to-day the Empire has but one option and everybody knows what that is, including the Iranians. Barky-the-sock-puppet? Vox et praeterea nihil… One term or two, empire transends the icon. And yes, it probably will be one term. Good job, Juan!

  45. The neocons may get their chance sooner than Professor Cole expects. The Professor believes that the neocons want Barack Obama to be a one-term president. But given Obama’s massive domestic failures and doubts about his birth certificate, a one-term presidency is already a done deal. There is no question that there will be a new president in 2013. The only question is who it will be.

  46. The notion of an Iran as some sort of “dominant regional power” is quite absurd, even if they did succeed in building a small nuclear arsenal.

    For one thing, Saudi Arabia alone has ample money and manpower to offset Iranian strength, even without the benefit of direct US help. And if KSA built its own small nukeforce, that would certainly put paid to any Iranian pretensions to regional dominance.

    Israel has its own nuclear deterrent and can look after itself without any problems. Israel’s safety is actually not very relevant to the Iran issue, despite their over-protesting. What Iranian nukes would mean, of course, is that Israel wouldn’t be able to romp around very much, esp. in places like Lebanon, because they would no longer enjoy clear-cut escalation dominance.

    So there is plenty of strength to curb Iran even by other countries there, without any need for outside help.

    As for the USA, it’s in the happy position that it doesn’t need an empire to remain very rich and powerful–in this regard the USA is rather unlike many empires of the past.

  47. great article by proffesor cole,the attack on iran,will be an absolute catasrophy for america and the pro west democreatic green movement in iran,us will loose the campaigne for winning the hearts and minds of the moderate iranians inside and outside .us will loose its credibility for pushing any democratic agenda in the middle will also be a catasrophic economicly for a very dire economic situation that we are in.lets not let few individuals push this agenda.

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