For the pundits, there are only two questions about U.S.-Iran relations that are of any importance: (1) Will Israel and/or the United States attack Iran? and (2) will the new sanctions have enough bite to persuade Iran to change its nuclear policy? Despite all the printers ink spilled on these two issues, the answers are an easy no and no.
Neither the United States nor Israel will take the military option off the table, thereby giving the pundits (and the crowd that is dying to repeat Iraq) latitude to keep the distant prospect of military action on the front pages, where it has been for years. As a lede, it sells columns and newspapers, so it will not go away. But as analysis it is either blinded by the momentary hype or else is simple wish fulfillment.
Uber-neocon John Bolton had it right. If any such attack were to occur, it would have been at the end of the Bush administration when there was nothing left to lose. Bolton thought it was so inevitable that he predicted it unequivocally in a Wall Street Journal column in 2008. Dick Cheney apparently agreed, judging from his subsequent statements of regret. So it is fair to say that George W. Bush, after looking the potential consequences, resisted the advice of his neocon advisers, his previously dominant vice president, and the reported direct request from the government of Israel — and rejected a strike. What is the likelihood that Barack Obama, with the same catastrophic scenario before him, will approve? Forget it.
One of the more enlightening parts of Jeffrey Goldberg’s “The Point of No Return,” conveyed the same point:
“We all watched his speech in Cairo,” a senior Israeli official told me, referring to the June 2009 speech in which Obama attempted to reset relations with Muslims by stressing American cooperativeness and respect for Islam. “We don’t believe that he is the sort of person who would launch a daring strike on Iran. We are afraid he would see a policy of containing a nuclear Iran rather than attacking it.”
This official noted that even Bush balked at attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities, and discouraged the Israelis from carrying out the attack on their own. (Bush would sometimes mock those aides and commentators who advocated an attack on Iran, even referring to the conservative columnists Charles Krauthammer and William Kristol as “the bomber boys,” according to two people I spoke with who overheard this.)
“Bush was two years ago, but the Iranian program was the same and the intent was the same,” the Israeli official told me. “So I don’t personally expect Obama to be more Bush than Bush.”