Joe Biden was on Target on Israel & Iran

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biden candidate.jpgMy colleague Jon Weinberg has posted a provocative piece about Vice President Joe Biden’s comments about Israel and Iran. Weinberg debates how much of a faux-pas Biden’s comments were — and I think that this general line of attack against Biden’s statement is off the mark.
I am in rural Italy and may have missed much of the color of Biden’s statement and the after the fact handicapping of these remarks, but to refresh, here is the exchange with George Stephanopoulos on Israel’s and America’s interests.
There is a lot of hyperventilation in American civil society about the prospect of Israel bombing Iran. I get a two dozen emails a day — for the last few years — from people absolutely convinced that Israel will take matters into its own hands with regard to Iran and deploy an aerial bombing raid.
I myself was the person who outed one of Vice President Cheney’s then national security staff for making a similar suggestion and for asserting that such a move would “tie the President’s hands.” In that case, then, the President was George W. Bush.
President Bush and his team made very clear — crystal clear — to the Israeli government that it had not only NO green light to bomb Iran but that any such gesture would create a serious rupture in US-Israel relations and would probably suspend defense cooperation on all key levels.
There is no way that the Obama administration is telling Israel anything less stern than the George W. Bush administration did.
Joe Biden’s comments demystified Israel’s public hyperventilation about Iran and finally put the onus on Israel in a symbolic way. He states clearly that Israel is a sovereign nation that needs to make choices about its interests that depend on its own assessments, not those of the United States.
House Foreign Relations Chairman Howard Berman, a strong supporter and friend of AIPAC, has indeed told groups privately that Israel bombing Iran under current circumstances would bust a massive hole in US-Israel relations and that Israel cannot be in the business of choosing America’s strategic choices.
Biden is saying precisely the same thing — but in a more nuanced fashion.
That raises the question of why there is so much talk in Israel and elsewhere about the prospects of Israel bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities — or those that it can find.
The answer seems obvious to me. Israel’s leaders are creating the illusion that every day the country does not launch an attack against Iran, that is another day in which Israel has made a “concession” to American demands, another day in which Israel has been nudged to do something with which it is not comfortable.
This image of false concessions thus makes it more difficult, in the calculations of Netanyahu and Lieberman, for America to push Israel on other concessions that would be part of a credible Israel-Palestine peace process.
Joe Biden was stating the obvious. If Israel attacks Iran, Israel is on its own — and must carry the consequences for those actions. The implication was that the US would not be there with them — at least not at this point.
There was no green light for a bombing run. There was more of a great big spotlight on the costs and consequences of Israel’s potential actions. Given the costs, Israel will not attack Iran — and got that message from both Biden and Obama.
Talking about bombing Iran is a serious distraction from real issues in the region. It is a fake issue designed to distract.
— Steve Clemons

Comments

46 comments on “Joe Biden was on Target on Israel & Iran

  1. RealPhil says:

    Steve’s analysis is right on the money.

    Reply

  2. David says:

    Nadine,
    Your description of Iran pretty much encapsulates the foreign policies of all the more advanced, more powerful nations for about two or three millenia, and always for “national interests.”
    Terrorism takes many forms, some of it state-sponsored, some of it non-state. The favorite strategy of the major powers during the Cold War was, of course, to use proxies, and even wage proxy wars. Wars are the ultimate acts of homicidal terrorism and utterly inhumane infliction of one’s will on another. What was our war cry going into Iraq, shock-and-awe. Targetted homicidal terrorism is still homicidal terrorism, no matter who engages in it.
    I understand that when the world finds itself reduced to one group running roughshod militarily over another group, as the Axis set out to do in WWII in that millenias-old exercise in conquest and control, the group set upon must fight back (and, in the case of WWII, win). Doesn’t make war any nobler, just means killers had to be stopped. But then we chose to do interesting things like overthrow the governments of Guatemala and Iran, and engage in all sorts of proxy wars, culminating in the Viet Nam crime.
    But simply put, nations + national war machines is a dead end street. Likud and Hamas are playing a game with no winners, as are Ahmadenijad and Netanyahu. We played that game in Iraq, and everyone lost. Something will arise from the ashes, but the game resulted in ashes, and nothing can ennoble that.

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  3. PissedOffAmericasn says:

    Well, you racist buffoon, thats the exact treaty I was speaking of. Care to tell us EXACTLY what terms of the treaty Iran is violating?
    BTW, you ignorant twit, El Baradei is no longer “of the IAEA”. And the new head off the IAEA just came our publically and stated he can find no documented evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapoons program.
    And, uh, just for the sake of clarity, do you mind if I call you a liar? Please show this blog where the IAEA, or El Baradei, claim that Iran is violating the terms of the NPT.
    You might wanna take this up with Wig-wag. I’m sure he’ll supply you with an uncaptioned photograph to prove your point.

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  4. nadine says:

    Speaking of treaties, pissedoff, what about the NPT that Iran signed? Even El Baradei of IAEA says that they are violating it in pursuit nuclear weapons, and when the IAEA says that, you ain’t fooling nobody.
    But Iran is a rogue regime. It exports terror all around the world, it kidnaps diplomats, it sends terrorists into Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
    Egypt and Saudi Arabia are very frightened of an Iranian bomb. Ironically, Obama’s weakness is driving them into the arms of the Israelis as the only regional power that could prevent it.

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  5. Daivid says:

    It was the worst campaign promise Obama had to make, and now the US is trapped in it. Sanctions are not going to force Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. Pressure is only going to make them more determined, and it strengthens Ahmadenijad’s hand as the champion of Iran’s sovereign right to develop nuclear weapons, especially since Israel is already a formidable nuclear power.
    Obama had better figure a smart way out of this dead-end street. I realize, of course, that political leaders are forbidden to make u-turns, regardless of the facts. What is the poem with the line, “Terence, this is stupid stuff,” or something to that effect?

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  6. arthurdecco says:

    What is this? On line political commentary or Tag-team wrestling – Wig Wag’s worn out from serial-lying so Nadine steps in without missing a beat?

    Reply

  7. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “The words will be supportive but the message will be “you’re on your own”. This administration doesn’t care much for Israel, hadn’t you noticed?”
    Does that mean we can ask for our money back, you ungrateful twit?

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  8. nadine says:

    “Does anyone honestly believe that if Israel attacks Iran on its own initiative and Iran retaliates that Washington will tell Netanyahu, “Sorry pal, you’re on your own”?”
    The words will be supportive but the message will be “you’re on your own”. This administration doesn’t care much for Israel, hadn’t you noticed? In fact, judging by the way it deals delicately and respectfully with Iran but jumps with two feet into bossing Israel and Honduras, this administration is not all that fond of any small democratic allies.
    As for there being “no credible argument” that Israel will bomb Iran, what part of the phrase “existential threat” do you not understand? Ahmedinejad is a religious fanatic, a apocalyptic Twelver, who denies the Holocaust and calls Israel a “cancer” and says it must be “wiped from the map.” How many bombs would you trust him with, if you were Israel? Especially now that he has for all practical purposes, taken the reins at the head of a Revolutionary Guards junta in Iran?
    I think one day we will wake up and find that Israel has bombed Iran. As in 1981, Israel will be condemned by every country in the world – in public. In private, it will be thanked.

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  9. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that stopping Iran’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons” remained a top policy priority in Washington, Agence France Presse reported. “We would ask the world to join us in imposing even stricter sanctions on Iran to try to change the behavior of the regime,” Clinton said”
    But uh, gee golly hey, we would NEVER attempt to “dictate the actions of a sovereign nation”, doncha know?
    If we aren’t going to respect the terms of treaties we sign, than why the hell do we sign them? Just to show the rest of the world what blazing hypocrites and untrustworthy liars we are?
    Tell me, would you buy a used car from Uncle Sam?

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  10. MNPundit says:

    If Israel attacks Iran, they are on their own?
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
    Perhaps you would prefer a more nuanced post? Never the less your point got the response it deserved.

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  11. PissedOffAmerican says:

    From the AIPAC website….
    “Clinton Calls for “Even Stricter” Iran Sanctions”
    “Secretary Clinton said Iran was seeking nuclear weapons”
    “Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Tuesday that stopping Iran’s “pursuit of nuclear weapons” remained a top policy priority in Washington, Agence France Presse reported. “We would ask the world to join us in imposing even stricter sanctions on Iran to try to change the behavior of the regime,” Clinton said”
    continues……..
    http://www.aipac.org/
    See what I mean? These people have abandoned any pretense of honesty in the face of no evidence to support their rhetoric. Hillary might as well say “Screw the IAEA, I’m going with the AIPAC script”.
    What a way for our Secretary of State to begin “diplomatic engagement” with Iran, eh??
    Yeah, we’ll talk to ya, Iran; between reamings.
    Bend over, lets talk.

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  12. Dan Kervick says:

    I have to second the remark of Curious Observer above that it is very unlikely that the United States could stay out of the hostilities following an Israeli attack on Iran, even if that were Obama’s sincere intention, which in any case is open to doubt.
    An attack by Israel would certainly be followed by Iranian retaliation of some form or other, since that’s what countries tend to do when their homelands are attacked. Consider all the the recent domestic caterwauling for Obama to engage the US more directly in Iran in the aftermath of the disputed election. If Israel were in any kind of shooting war with Iran, the intensity of the outcry would be what we just saw, times twenty.
    The attack would probably also be accompanied by covert actions to provoke US engagement, such as some revived “green revolution” activity in Iran or some false flag proxy attack on US forces in Iraq or Afghanistan.

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  13. David says:

    At the risk of repeating myself, the nations of the world had better get on with finding, supporting, and advancing the common interests of humanity. That is now the prime directive to which the nations of the world had damned well better commit themselves. Anything else, long term, is a form of slow suicide. The old models are broken beyond repair, and trying to resurrect them makes about as much sense as trying to use ’58 Buick Roadmasters as the standard for modern and future transportation, as we tried to do with SUVs, the most garish of which being Hummers, which was going to be GM’s big moneymaker in China, and I guess some Chinese company now has pigheaded visions of same. Stupid is stupid, and knows no national borders.

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  14. arthurdecco says:

    “In fact, our national interests are best served by having all nations of the world aligned with us and doing our bidding.” questions
    No, they’re not.

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  15. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “POA suggests that the picture of the submarine in the Ricks blog post wasn’t an Israeli sub going through the Suez Canal. Well the only reason he knows about the photo is because I referred him (and other readers of the Washington Note) to it. It is a photo without a caption of a sub under Rick’s post about his amazement that Egypt let Israeli naval vessels traverse the Suez Canal. The logical conclusion about a picture of a submarine adorning a blog post about a particular submarine in a particular location is that it is a photograph of the submarine in question. About the only person left in the world who doesn’t think Egypt permitted Israeli submarines into the Suez is POA.”
    And only a dissingenous jackass would still claim that Ricks posted a picture of an Israeli sub on the Suez without positive evidence to that fact. If such a photo existed, it would be plastered all over the internet, captioned, with credit to the photograqher. Even Reuters, as I previously pointed out, had to use file photos in their article. For you to continue to insist that that was an Israeli sub on the Suez Canal only underscores your tenacious efforts to go to any length, including using pure bullshit, to cast Israel, and your POV, in a favorable light.
    Equally as dissingenuous was your gloating about the Bahrainian “delegation” first diplomatic mission to Israel, as if it was something other than what it was. The Bahrainians were there to take their FreeGaza activists home, after they were hijacked off the high seas by the Israeli jackboots.
    Bottom line, Wig-wag? Your posting was dishonest, no more than simple bullshit. Like I said Wig-wag, we aren’t idiots here. Perhaps you might do better trying to cast your crap at Limbaugh or Hannity’s fans. They are apparently ignorant enough to buy into your brand of bullshit.
    “If you can’t be modestly civil, you should leave. Your verbal abuse towards me and others is not a laughing matter”
    “It needs to stop”
    Who’s laughing? You’re nothing more than a propagandist, and I have nothing but disdain for you. Now you’ve got a corncob up your rear because I caught you trying to feed us yet one more load of crap.
    Too bad.

    Reply

  16. arthurdecco says:

    “Joe Biden was stating the obvious. If Israel attacks Iran, Israel is on its own — and must carry the consequences for those actions. The implication was that the US would not be there with them — at least not at this point.” Steve Clemons
    I was prepared to jump all over you after reading your headline.
    But then I read your post and ended up unconditionally agreeing with you.
    I guess that’s why you’re getting paid the big bucks – because sometimes you really nail it and when you do, no one remembers the faux pas that preceeded your brilliance.

    Reply

  17. Dan Kervick says:

    As I said in my comment to Weinberg’s post, I don’t think Biden intended to say anything that was either provocative, interesting or a new departure form existing policy.
    But Biden has to do a better job with these things! Yes, Stephanopoulos was trying to tease provocative answers out of him. But it’s Biden’s job not to get drawn into complying. Every seasoned politician knows that his job is not just to say things that are defensible when taken in their entire context, when you read all the fine print, but that he also has to avoid statements that can be turned into provocative sound bites.
    Surely the United States has views about whether an Israeli attack on Iran would be advisable, or wise, or constructive, or acceptable under the current circumstances. Surely it has such views about all sorts of potential actions by all sorts of sovereign countries. Biden’s answer should have more clearly alluded to those views in some way. The Vice President of the United States can’t just go on the air and say “they can do whatever they want” when asked about the potential military assault by one country on another, even if he follows it up with “but we’re going to do what we want.”
    The issue isn’t just whether Israel can or will push or draw the US into assisting it in an attack on Iran. The issue is whether the US does or doesn’t want to see such an attack. And if it *doesn’t* want to see such an attack, it should make its position politely but publicly clear.
    As for whether the US position is annoying to some Israelis, who might feel their precious freedom of action constrained by the publicly expressed preferences of the President of the United States and his representatives, well they can join the rather large club. And it is actually easier for the Israeli leadership to resist domestic pressure and refrain from an attack if they can blame their need to refrain on that big, bad, non-white president of the United States and all that purportedly nasty and unfair pressure he is applying to them to abide by international law and suspend the further colonization of the West Bank.
    And at the very least, Biden’s answer incorporated a a bizarre understanding of “sovereign”, because unless the US now means to throw international law completely over the side, the claim that a state is sovereign is by no means synonymous with the claim that it can “do whatever it wants”. Sovereign nations in our era are bound by all sorts of international rules and laws. And for an internationalist president who has made it a point to include frequent statements in his public diplomacy about the international “responsibilities” of other sovereign countries, it is odd for his VP to start passing the buck and causally throwing around absolutist notions of sovereignty. This kind of talk can only lead others to suspect that the US harbors a laissez faire attitude toward an Israeli military strike on Iran. Has Israel no responsibilities?
    I know Steve has a long-standing respect for Biden and some of his people. But there is no way that this was a “nuanced” statement. And Biden has a track record of this sort of thing. His defenders should stop blaming the media for his chronic slips and clumsiness.

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  18. Elizabeth Miller says:

    I sure hope this gets posted at Huffington Post – VP Biden’s big news page could use a boost!

    Reply

  19. Carroll says:

    Obama is not going to have the US attack Iran.
    The zios and neos and Israelis can screech, monkey chatter and stir side show shit all day long…it isn’t going to happen.
    Diplomacy and the Israeli settlements are still on the front burner.
    *In case no one noticed there was a news blip about Obama going thru the UN for talks with Iran since the Iran election fracas.
    If true, that is good. He could also rout the Israeli settlements issue thru UN…since the UN created Israel to begin with.

    Reply

  20. Zathras says:

    Having seen the Biden interview on This Week, I agree with Paul Woodward upthread that this was a media-driven story. Specifically, the stories about the interview in the American press, led by one in Monday’s New York Times, picked up more on the questions asked by Stephanopoulus than on the answers given by Vice President Biden.
    That’s not a criticism of Stephanopoulus, exactly, though he did seem to be trying to elicit different answers from Biden by asking the same question three or four times in slightly different ways. He also focused like a laser beam on the most dramatic scenario, an Israeli attack on Iran, choosing not to query Biden on more likely though less exciting possibilities. I wouldn’t have pursued the line of questioning he did, but people listening to Biden’s responses by themselves would have gotten the impression that Biden was restating Obama administration policy on this subject, unless they had a good reason for wanting to get a different impression.
    Steve Clemons, in the main post here, alludes to the likelihood that many outside the United States do have reasons for wanting a different impression. The Israelis would rather talk about anything than the settlements issue, and a good time to want attention focused on Iran is when the regime in Tehran is even less popular in the United States than usual. The Iranian regime for its part has lately seen its very legitimacy challenged at home; it has always sought in the past to rally Iranian nationalist sentiments by railing against foreign threats, and is doing so again now. Even the Arab states face an uncomfortable dilemma, in that they are committed to supporting a Palestinian community unable to agree among itself on much of anything against hostility to Israel. They can’t blame the Palestinians in public, which makes some other story about Israel — in this case, the increasingly unlikely event of an Israeli attack on Iran — an attractive topic of conversation.
    The story itself will fade away, but the reasons so many in the region have for wanting to dwell on it now probably won’t. That’s our problem: in six months, the Israelis will still want to deflect American pressure to confront the pro-settlement crowd, the Iranians will still want to blame the West for everything, and the Palestinians still won’t have a government.

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  21. David says:

    There simply is no credible argument that Iran would attack Israel. There is a credible argument that Israel would attack Iran if it could get away with it. But it seems unlikely that Israel could get away with it, since even the Bush administration, to Cheney’s great distress, would not give it an American green light.
    This is much ado about other than the real issues, the real threats, the real crimes, and the real culprits and their actual actions. Sheesh.
    It works for Ahmadenijad, it works for Netanyahu, and it does great harm to every other aspect of the possibility of justice and peace in the Middle East, a possibility the United States dealt a pretty severe but apparently not totally irrevisible blow when it invaded Iraq.
    I do not see, however, how Iraq can ever be what it might have become if the Iraqis had been allowed to change their government, not be the object of a devastating nation and national infrastructure destroying criminal invasion, destruction that all of America’s horses and all of America’s men, regardless of how well intentioned some might be, can ever put back together again.
    All we can do is step back and let the Iraqis do whatever they are going to do now, which likely will include teaming with Iran to become a petro supercoalition, if they can cohere as a nation.
    The first thing I would expect them to do is drive out the private contractors, or else say you work for us at our pay scale, in which case they would leave.
    American soldiers are far more trustworthy than private contractors, although they are utterly dependent on the policies under which they are sent to war, and they are just as subject as anyone else to the psychological derangements that things like the invasion and occupation of a foreign country can produce.

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  22. questions says:

    DonS,
    I’ve always been supremely uncomfortable with deterrence theory, and I long ago thought the moral thing to do is to escape its terms. I do not know if moral and possible go together on this issue, however.
    The sad fact is that MAD is relatively stable under a number of circumstances. It is unstable in terms of proxy wars, overspending on defense, the shifting of allies, insane or suicidal national leaders.
    Barring those circumstances (which I think we cannot really do), MAD logic works. Because it works so well, it is crazier to think Iran would NOT seek out nukes. Iran is safer with nukes than without, but other nations are safer if Iran doesn’t have nukes.
    Since we haven’t yet escaped from MAD logic, and since the game theoretic moves are pretty well laid out, we will play all sorts of ambiguous games under a thick cloud of uncertainty. And given that these games are dictated by the logic of the situation, screaming is probably less helpful than would be some creative soft power negotiation so that the whole logic of the game could be altered.

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  23. rich says:

    If Joe Biden was on target on Israel and Iran, surely he would have extended his “we don’t interfere in the decisions of sovereign nations” line to Iran.
    I agree with Steve, and disagree with wigwag, in that Biden is distancing himself from Israel, explicitly refusing the assumption that Israel is our proxy (whether reality or myth), and letting folks know Israel can bear the full brunt of any blowback for general policies, whether possible bombing runs or some other action.
    But was Biden honest about the American view of the national sovereignty of other countries? Uh, no. Surely Biden and Obama — if Biden was on target — would have rescinded Bush’s covert ops, and halted Congressionally-funded disinformation campaigns and related destabilizations efforts in Iran. These actions are merely a coup short of bombing and amount to barely more subtle acts of war. As I recall, it was reported that they let all of those go foward.

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  24. DonS says:

    hass, since when have the points of international law been considered significant with regard to Israel outside of the small group those who are not swayed by emotion and who see international alw as applying to all equally? If Biden deals in generalities like the right of sovereign nations of self defense well, by God, who really cares about the finer points behind that rubric. Hence my point above about nailing Obama down on his generous “we” being committed to the security of Israel.

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  25. DonS says:

    Questions, I don’t see MAD as a rational strategy. An irrational one, yes, but anyone with even rudimentary reason could not make such a choice. Perhaps this is what you are saying.

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  26. hass says:

    In EFFECT, Biden DID give the green light, by mischaracterizing this as a “sovereign right” of Israel. That’s all that counts.
    It is in fact NOT a sovereign right of one nation to attack another. Such an attack by Israel does NOT meet the definition of “preemptive” attacks. IranAffairs.com has explained this in detail.

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  27. questions says:

    DonS, I’d generally agree with you, but MAD is a rational game theoretic situation. It depends on rationality. And there isn’t a guarantee of rationality on either side.
    And even when there is rationality, there is plenty of room for mistakes. The IR scene is fraught with complexity, double dealing, attempts to cheat or game the system, and the costs of mistakes are pretty ultimate. So diplomatic rhetoric is odd, to say the least.

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  28. DonS says:

    All this BS about the threat of a nuclear Iran when the certainly of massive retaliation trumps the logic of any potential Iranian attack, even if the possibility existed. It’s all hype based on someone’s overactive imagination, and the media’s obsession with boogeymen regardless of whether the threat asserted is based on fact or not. Especially since Obama said that the US is committed to the security of Israel — whatever that means in the absence of treaty obligations. After what we’ve seen of president’s taking military action for all sorts of trumped up reasons, who knows. After all, Obama is all about mincing the US Constitution, even to allow detention of accused after court acquittal. Small leap to committing US military without a Senate ratified treaty. Actually, it might be a good idea for one of the courageous media types to question Obama as to what exactly he does mean with that utterance, and to specifically question whether military commitment is intended.

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  29. questions says:

    POA,
    The issue in dealing with Iran on nuclear threats is the lack of trust/trustworthiness, the huge cost of being wrong in one’s analysis, and the brute fact of power relations.
    If you had a neighbor you suspected of wanting to murder your family — you couldn’t prove it, but the neighbor was collecting, umm, hunting weapons and had a bunch of hammers and knives around that could be adapted to become murder weapons, you’d be really watchful and not really trusting. And if the police said, “Don’t worry. We’ve been through the house and there aren’t any weapons designed specifically to murder you and your family” you might still be distrustful.
    The US needs to work all angles, not just the most likely ones, and if the US guesses wrong in either direction, we have a disaster. We overplayed the Iraq threat and had a disaster. If we underplay Iran we have a different disaster. Of course, if we overplay, we’re in trouble too.
    Figuring out intentions is an uneasy business and the analysts know this. Because it’s basically impossible to know mental states, we use physical actions as a proxy. How quickly can nuclear power be converted to weapons, can weapons work be hidden, what are the chances of any real disaster, how rational is the leadership, how stable, unstable, aligned, unaligned is the country. Who are their scientists, do we have any spies in their labs, have any spouses posted pictures of nuclear weapons on their Facebook pages(!)….
    I’m happy for you that you have all of the answers and you know how to evaluate everything. I don’t feel myself to be in that position. The IAEA may well be right — for now. But the job of the US government is to be ready for a lot more than “now” and we probably need to entertain the unpleasant thought that maybe the IAEA is wrong, or that Iran’s leadership is politically or mentally unstable. This kind of analysis is both necessary and crazy-making because it’s all about doubting one’s senses and sources of information. (Read up on Rene Descartes’ doubts to see where madness lies.)
    I think bombing Iran is crazy and won’t happen, but I think the saber rattling may well be a necessary game, and I don’t think it’s out of the US’s NATIONAL INTERESTS to work for regime change. In fact, our national interests are best served by having all nations of the world aligned with us and doing our bidding.
    The “avoid foreign entanglements” meme is simply foolish. (Though I’m not sure of your position on this one — it’s more Carroll who’s into Geo. Washington.) And your utter self-certainty is really the wrong quality to bring to IR. Ambiguity, uncertainty, wiggle room — there are good reasons for all of this.

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  30. Nick Calluzzo says:

    Having now actually read the exchange – which I probably should have done in the first place – I don’t really see anything particularly new or interesting here. Of course the US can’t dictate national interests or actions to a sovereign state. And yes, if you take Biden’s statement at face-value, it would appear that he’s saying the US won’t stand in the way of Israel, or any country, from reacting to something it deems as an existential threat. But it would be pretty naive to interprete his statement as the death of US coercive diplomacy. Biden’s choice of words is telling. We won’t “dictate” interests or actions – parents dictate to their children – but that doesn’t mean for a second that the US can’t coerce Israel, or any sovereign state, into choosing a specific course of action. Of course, Biden didn’t come out and say that. Coercive diplomacy doesn’t make for good PR.
    Of course, Biden never addressed the issue of whether or not Iran does represent an existential threat to Israel, or whether Israel could consequently exercise a right to self-defense – something that Jon Weinberg appeared to support. That wouldn’t really leave much to the imagination though.

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  31. WigWag says:

    POA suggests that the picture of the submarine in the Ricks blog post wasn’t an Israeli sub going through the Suez Canal. Well the only reason he knows about the photo is because I referred him (and other readers of the Washington Note) to it. It is a photo without a caption of a sub under Rick’s post about his amazement that Egypt let Israeli naval vessels traverse the Suez Canal. The logical conclusion about a picture of a submarine adorning a blog post about a particular submarine in a particular location is that it is a photograph of the submarine in question. About the only person left in the world who doesn’t think Egypt permitted Israeli submarines into the Suez is POA.
    It would be interesting to get Steve’s take on Egypt, the Suez Canal and their cooperation with the Israeli Navy. We’ve gotten Ricks opinion, Steve’s opinion would be welcome too.
    It would also be interesting to get Steve’s take on the report on Saudi Arabia opening its airspace to Israeli fighter jets. The Saudis have denied the report in the Times of London. But regardless of whether Saudi Arabia would or would not permit Israeli jets to traverse its territory, the question is who leaked the story in the first place, and why. Was it the Israelis? The Saudis? The Americans? Some combination of the three? If so, was the purpose to rattle the mullahs in Iran?
    Andrew Sullivan recommends a policy that he calls “benign neglect” towards Iran. Roger Cohen is in favor of giving up engagement for the foreseeable future. Obama said last month that significant progress towards a deal with Iran would have to be made by the end of the year or he would entertain sanctions or other measures.
    It’s about time that somebody recommended a coherent strategy. Are the “crack cocaine” realists right or is there some other approach no one has thought of?
    Should Obama make a deal with the Mullahs and sell the Iranian people down the river essentially forever? Is that what Steve Clemons recommends? Or does he have a better proposal?
    POA, your hyperventilating, your rudeness, your unpleasant language and your strange demeanor is very tiresome. You appear to be suffering from testosterone poisoning. Your attempts to verbally harass and intimidate people who disagree with you are not flattering and demean this blog. Men like you who behave in a verbally or physically abusive manner are usually sublimating some other neurosis.
    If you can’t be modestly civil, you should leave. Your verbal abuse towards me and others is not a laughing matter.
    It needs to stop.

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  32. PissedOffAmerican says:

    From the AIPAC website…….
    “As Iran forges ahead with its quest for a nuclear weapons capability, it is vital for American leaders to speak out forcefully about the urgent need to deal with the looming threat of a nuclear-armed Iran”
    Perhaps, if one is going to responsibly seek to inform the public about political “hype” in regards to Iran, underscoring the pure unmmittigated bullshit that is the common fare at the AIPAC website would be a good place to start.
    Perhaps someone here will explain to us how these Israeli propagandists and foreign agents at the AIPAC website can use words like “forges ahead with its quest for a nuclear weapons capability” when the evidence of such “forging ahead with its quest for a nuclear weapons capability” is virtually non-existent.
    The AIPAC website is guilty of spewing this kind of incendiary exageration on a daily basis. And the obscene internet gloating over which Washington politicians it has in its pocket is a sad commentary on Washington. The who’s-who list of power in DC can be found by merely clicking on the AIPAC website, where the Washington whore de jour can be found promising A-1 service to his favorite trick.
    I note Kerry is this week’s featured Israel honoring factotum.
    Perhaps its time to bring the debate back to earth, and stop framing the debate around a “threat” that has been so heavily propagandized that it is now presented as fact rather than the fantasy Israel has so skillfully created.

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  33. amir says:

    Unfortunately, recent election and events that occurred after that increases the possibility of an attack 🙁

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  34. Paul Woodward says:

    Steve – As far as I’m concerned this is a classic example of a media-driven story. The only way to report this story as being about Biden giving Israel a green light to attack Iran was by ignoring the bulk of what he had to say about the administration’s continued commitment to engagement with Iran.
    Stephanopoulus pushed hard to get Biden to say that in light of recent events the administration must now be reluctant to talk to the regime. Biden held fast. He insisted the door is still open. So Stephanopoulus then changed tack and focused on what Israel might do. This then became THE story and everything else got ignored. I think a combination of cynicism and half-assed reporting led to reams being written about ‘green lights’ and virtually nothing about engagement.
    In a situation like this the missing link in news analysis is that the media resolutely refuses to cover itself — or maybe I should say it insists on covering only part of itself: its ass!

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  35. PissedOffAmerican says:

    Unbelievable. Notice Wig-wag, these last couple of days, is guilty of the very hype that Steve underscores. Wig-wag delivers a sensational two days of Israeli subs in the Suez, Saudi permission for flyovers, cheering Iranians in the streets as the Israeli bombers take out the Red Guard and Iran’s nuclear energy facilities….
    Now? Oh no, Steve is right, its just all a big ruse, according to Wig-Wag.
    Why anyone finds this guy Wig-wag credible is beyond me. Considering Wig-wag’s latest attempt to foist a file photo of a Dolphin sub off on us as evidence of the Egyptians allowing an Israeli sub in the Suez, I’m suprized the Wiggie hasn’t dug out an old file photo of the Hiroshima bombing, and proclaimed it was a photo of an Iranian nuclear bomb test.
    Its interesting too that every time I see a rationale offered by Washington, (politicians AND think tankers), for NOT bombing Iran the rationale completely skirts the issue of whether or not there is truly a REASON to attack Iran, in terms of whether or not an actual threat exists. Even here, comments about the consistent conclusions of the IAEA; that there is no evidence of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, are ignored. The argument against bombing Iran always seems to boil down to a political one, arguing that such an action, by Israel, would drive a wedge between the US and Israel. But the truth is, the “threat” is hyped, exagerated, and contrived. We, or Israel, shouldn’t bomb Iran BECAUSE IT IS FLAT WRONG. NO THREAT HAS BEEN PROVEN. IRAN IS WELL WITHIN ITS RIGHTS TO PURSUE NUCLEAR ENERGY.
    In my humble opinion, should Israel choose to bomb Iran, the only GOOD THING that would come of it is to drive a wedge between US/Israel relations. We’ve needed such a wedge for a long time now. Its just a shame that wedge wasn’t inserted a hundred billion dollars ago.
    But the “Bomb Bomb Bomb, Bomb Iran” jingle isn’t dead yet. Israel can always exercise the “trifecta option”. And history tells us they are perfectly capable of such a deed. Just ask the survivors of the Liberty.

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  36. questions says:

    DonS,
    I would hope that diplomats aren’t just putting the horse before the cart, but are counting all of the carts on the road, all of the horses, doing combinatorics calculations to see how many ways horses and carts can be paired, how many carts can carry the horses, how many horses can carry carts, what happens if two or three horses are attached to one cart….
    WigWag is running through some of the many many possibilities that have to be thought through. The analysis might be wrong, but then that’s where you would need to argue against the post. Something along the lines of, “Of course Sunni Arab nations won’t have this problem, because look at….”
    My browser crashed earlier, oh well. I was going to post something along the lines of:
    Nice reading. How much of Netanyahu’s posturing is aimed at a domestic Israeli audience? Make the red meat crowd swoon with joy over an attack, and frighten the center/left people with dread of Iran, and yet miraculously hold off the attack to make the peaceniks feel relief while simultaneously legitimating the rough talk. Imagine Bush had pulled this off — threatening war perpetually but not quite getting there. Might have kept the Repubs in the race. And then again, maybe not.

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  37. DonS says:

    Wigwag, your hand wringing about the contours of the negotiations involved in a potential two state solution seems like putting the horse way before the cart. In any case, it could be the US role, should it choose to accept it, to facilitate parties perhaps. It is not the US role to control outcomes and conditions, and avoiding that role seems crucial. Arab states may have their wants, and Israel may have its wants. That’s what negotiations are for. But what you propose as stumbling blocks — involving reducing Iranian influence — is not a role the US should sign on for.
    Further, the US is so far from being an honest broker in this situation, that it is unlikely it can do much more that provide a procedural framework, not impose substantive requirements of any sort. This is truly a case where the parties themselves must see their own self interest in a peace in itself and not a leverage for addressing Iran. Maybe you are just projecting here? But just because John Bolton continues to stir the animus towards Iran, doesn’t make it a legitimate US view.

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  38. Curious observer says:

    I’m open to being convinced otherwise, but part of Steve’s thesis seems too clever by half.
    Does anyone honestly believe that if Israel attacks Iran on its own initiative and Iran retaliates that Washington will tell Netanyahu, “Sorry pal, you’re on your own”?
    But all of this may indeed be moot; Adm. Mullen put the Israelis on notice last year that they’d better not pull a false-flag attack to drag Washington into a war; he even invoked the USS Liberty, according to the Jerusalem Post.
    So in the end, Steve’s probably correct that this is a case of Israel saber-rattling so it won’t have to give up settlements.

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  39. WigWag says:

    Steve is right; Israel won’t bomb Iran and all their talk about it is bluster to unnerve the Iranian government (which is already unnerved by the recent turmoil they’ve experienced). Steve doesn’t address the point of whether he thinks the U.S. government is being deliberately ambiguous about how it views an Israeli attack as a negotiating ploy designed to make the mullahs more malleable. I don’t know if that’s Obama’s strategy or not, but if it is, it’s a perfectly logical one.
    Nor does Steve address the far more salient point of what happens now? Should the U.S. government adopt the Flynt Leverett strategy of pretending nothing’s happened? Should it adopt the Roger Cohen strategy of putting of engagement for the foreseeable future? Should the Obama Administration stick to its original time frame of insisting on progress by the end of the year and barring success impose crippling sanctions? If Obama chooses to move forward with the approach he was planning on all along, this will require rapid engagement. Is Obama willing to slap the Iranian people in the face, by legitimizing the coup-meisters by making a deal with them? Steve’s friend, Andrew Sullivan, said this would be repeating the mistake of Mossedeigh all over again. Does Steve think he’s right?
    And what happens when the Sunni Arab nations who are going to have to extend Israel full diplomatic relations as part of a deal for a two state solution tell Obama that they won’t sign on unless he eliminates Iran’s nuclear capabilities and knocks them down a peg or two to eliminated their aspirations for regional hegemony? What happens when Israel informs Obama that its security after a two state solution can’t be guaranteed by U.S. or NATO peacekeepers alone but insists on the elimination of Iran’s ability to provide weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah? To get his two state solution, does Obama neuter Iran militarily or does he give up on his ambitions?
    Does Steve have an opinion about all of this or doesn’t he have a clue (like just about everyone else)?
    These questions are far more pertinent than whether Israel will bomb Iran; that’s an easy one. They won’t!
    Steve is right about that.

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  40. David says:

    This makes sense to me.

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  41. DonS says:

    Steve’s analysis seems plausible. But the question remains — diplomatize aside — why it is not possible to speak straight. Saying, or implying, that there is no ‘green light”, that ‘sovereign nations’ make there own decisions, etc., etc., is not the same as forcefully denouncing such a potential action. At least in my mind. Could we say that the entire world, except Israel perhaps, reads a lukewarm US disclaimer as more of the same?
    I have to ask, also, exactly what serious consequences for the Israel-US relationship might ensue should Israel do more than just bluff to establish the presumption of phony restraint? And if such consequences are indeed so potentially dire, does it not set up the inference that the US has had the possibility of controlling Israeli behavior all along? Whether this is true or not, again, the rest of the world seems to think so, or at least that the US has pulled its punches in influencing Israel away from the cruel policies it has followed.

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  42. samuelburke says:

    Seeking to end speculation about whether his administration had eased its
    opposition to an Israeli military strike against Iran’s nuclear facilities,
    U.S. President Barack Obama Tuesday insisted that Washington’s position remained
    unchanged.
    http://news.antiwar.com/2009/07/07/obama-denies-green-light-for-israeli-attack-on-iran-2/
    When asked in an interview from Moscow, where he has been meeting with top
    Russian leaders, Obama strongly denied that his administration had given a
    “green light” to Israel to carry out such an attack.
    “Absolutely not,” Obama replied. “And I think it’s very important
    that I’m as clear as I can be, and our administration is as consistent as we
    can be on this issue.”
    His denial came amid growing confusion since Sunday when Vice President Joe
    Biden told a Sunday news show that Israel, as a “sovereign nation,”
    could determine for itself how to deal with the threats allegedly posed by
    Iran’s nuclear program.

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  43. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    By any diplomatic yardstick, the loosed and emotionally- tuned statement coming from the US administration( as has been coming from the vice- US President Biden) regarding the Israel-Iran relations can by no means produce healthy/positive implications in such a situation wherein the volatile Mideastern region already seems to have been experiencing the toughest conflict-management challenges.

    Reply

  44. James says:

    AIPAC associated Dennis Ross moves over to the NSC to undercut NSA General James Jones who is against war with Iran (seems like the Mearsheimer/Walt ‘The Israel Lobby and US Foreign Policy’ book is validated yet again!):
    http://america-hijacked.com/2009/07/01/the-aipac-propagandist-dennis-ross-moves-over-to-the-national-security-council/

    Reply

  45. James says:

    Obama steps in to correct Biden on allowing Israel to attack Iran:
    http://tinyurl.com/kl2bjo

    Reply

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