OPINION & EDITOR’S COMMENT: The options table

Will wou attack Iran?

In the last few weeks, the Democratic field has settled on an attack against the frontrunner: Doublespeak. “I believe Senator Clinton should be held to the same standard that every one of us should be held to,” says John Edwards. “Tell the truth, no more double-talk.” Indeed, the Edwards camp even asked the Clinton campaign five simple question on Iraq, questions, “that every candidate should have to answer.”

The questions the Edwards camp asks are good ones. I too would like the various Democrats to go on the record as to whether they’ll leave permanent bases in Iraq. But here’s another question every campaign should have to answer, and that none of them have: Will you attack Iran in order to prevent their construction of a nuclear weapon?

That is, after all, the defining foreign policy question of the race. Iraq is a more acute concern, but so much of the damage there has already been done, and we are so hostage to the facts on the ground, that the differences and distinctions between the candidates are, in some ways, of relatively uncertain importance. Once in office, their actions on Iraq will be governed by the realities of the war and the domestic polls.

Not so with a nuclear Iran, where the executive really will be allowed to make the decision as to whether we launch air strikes, or whether we seek a policy of deterrence, negotiation, and engagement. Yet till now, the candidates have largely been allowed to divert such questions, and all have done so in the same way. Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, John Edwards said that, “to ensure that Iran never gets nuclear weapons, we need to keep all options on the table.” Asked by 60 Minutes where he would use military force to disrupt the Iranian weapon program, Barack Obama said, “I think we should keep all options on the table.” And Hillary Clinton, speaking to AIPAC, said, “We cannot, we should not, we must not, permit Iran to build or acquire nuclear weapons, and in dealing with this threat, as I have said for a very long time, no option can be taken off the table.” [complete article]

Editor’s Comment — It’s strange how a piece of gibberish — “no options can be taken off the table” — can so easily be elevated to the status of unassailable truth. Implicit in the assertion that options can’t be taken off the table is the idea that all possible options are cluttered there, in their abundance, all within easy reach. If this were not implied then we would perforce have to engage in as many debates about what can be put on the table as there are about what cannot be removed.

Consider then one option — on the table in as much as it is possible — that the Iranian conundrum be dealt with, with a finality that no one could dispute: a strategic nuclear strike. In as literal a sense as the expression can be used, Iran could be wiped off the map. The United States (and Israel) have the physical means to do this, but we all know it’s not going to happen because, fortunately, this is an option that is well and truly off the table. Neither Dick Cheney, nor Norman Podhoretz, nor Rudy Guiliani are going to say that incinerating 70 million Iranians is an option that must stay on the table.

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