Did Obama postpone war only to make it inevitable?

Robert Malley says that even if President Obama won this week’s argument in his ongoing struggle with Benjamin Netanyahu over how to confront Iran (a struggle that has already stymied any serious diplomacy), Obama appears to have narrowed his options so much that war may eventually be unavoidable.

For now at least, most commentators in the United States and in Israel have handed this round to Obama. He had two overriding objectives: to deflect Israeli pressure to conduct, or acquiesce in, a premature war; and to neutralize Republican criticism that he is too soft on Iran and too hard on Israel. On those fronts, one might say, mission accomplished.

But victory came at a price. In the longer run, Obama’s nuanced view and the arguments he marshaled on behalf of diplomacy may be less significant than the broader narrative in which, in order to prevail, he felt compelled to embed them. More openly than in the past, he took containment of a nuclear-armed Iran off the table — even before any serious discussion of this option has taken place and just as influential U.S. voices had begun making the case for it. More clearly than previously, he recognized Israel’s right to its own decisions; Netanyahu took the bait — or rather, grabbed it with enthusiasm, turning a banal acknowledgment of reality into an implicit license for Israel to unilaterally initiate action that will have broad and possibly dire consequences for all. And, more forcefully than before, Obama committed America to military action to halt Iran if other means fail to do so.

That day of reckoning may have been delayed. But short of a fundamental shift in U.S.-Iranian relations, it looks as though it will yet come. Israelis, not for the first time, likely are exaggerating the Iranian threat and its imminence. Yet they almost certainly are right in one respect: that sanctions could work and nonetheless fail, inflicting harsh economic pain yet incapable of producing a genuine change in Tehran’s calculus. There is no evidence that Iran’s leadership will yield to economic hardship; the outlook of its Supreme Leader rests on the core principle that the only thing more dangerous than experiencing pressure is surrendering to it. Seen through the regime’s eyes, such stubbornness is easy to understand. From its perspective, measures taken by its foes, including attacks on its territory, bolstering the arsenal of its Gulf enemies, and economic warfare, have a single purpose: namely, to topple the Islamic Republic. Under such conditions, why would the regime volunteer a concession that arguably would leave it weaker in a hostile environment? Even as he fought off the prospect of an imminent confrontation, Obama might therefore have bought himself — or his eventual successor — one down the road. For if and when sanctions fail, what alternative will there be to turn to?

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3 thoughts on “Did Obama postpone war only to make it inevitable?

  1. Tom Hall

    While threats and sanctions will quicken the resolve of the Iranian rulers to resist US/Israeli demands, over time those sanctions will serve to weaken the country and by extension the regime. The degree of effect will be difficult to calculate, however, since Iran appears to enjoy greater regional support than was the case for Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. The Russian and Chinese governments seem willing to offer their diplomatic support and certainly are in a position to thwart American ambitions for the time being. Both powers are capable of supplying the Iranians with reinforced means of defense and in the case of China, long-term purchase contracts for domestic oil production.

    Nevertheless, that an attack is coming (if not imminent) seems incontrovertible. Too many historically identifiable factors have come into play. The familiar pattern of US military buildup in the region, bellicose propaganda from Washington, Tel Aviv, and London, Congressional demands and media consensus that Iran must be prevented from reaching nuclear parity with Israel- these and other statements of aggressive intent mirror developments that preceded numerous other imperial adventures, most recently the invasion of neighboring Iraq. Plainly, there is a long-term program of encirclement leading to the slow strangulation of the target economy prior to the actual onset of hostilities. As in the case of Iraq, the day will eventually arrive when the war party- pretty much the entire American establishment- will loudly and solemnly conclude that sanctions have failed (when in fact they will have reached their maximum effect) and that no option remains to ensure peace in the region but to launch another bloody, catastrophic conflagration.

  2. dickerson3870

    RE: “Israelis, not for the first time, likely are exaggerating the Iranian threat and its imminence.” ~ Malley

    SEE: Israel’s Defense Chief OK’s Hundreds of Israeli Deaths, By Ira Chernus, CommonDreams.org, 11/11/11

    (excerpt). . . An essential motive of Zionism from its beginning was a fierce desire to end the centuries of Jewish weakness, to show the world that Jews would no longer be pushed around, that they’d fight back and prove themselves tougher than their enemies. There was more to Zionism than that. But the “pride through strength” piece came to dominate the whole project. Hence the massive Israeli military machine with its nuclear arsenal.
    But you can’t prove that you’re stronger than your enemies unless you’ve also got enemies — or at least believe you’ve got enemies — to fight against. So there has to be a myth of Israel’s insecurity, fueled by an image of vicious anti-semites lurking somewhere out there, for Zionism to work. Since the 1979 Iranian revolution, Iran has gradually risen to the top of Israel oh-so-necessary enemies list. Iranophobia is rampant in Israel, as one Israeli scholar writes, because “Israel needs an existential threat.”
    Anyone who has grown up in Israel, or in the U.S. Jewish community (as I did), and paid attention knows all this…

    ENTIRE COMMENTARY – http://www.commondreams.org/view/2011/11/11-2

    ALSO SEE – Iranophobia: The Panic of the Hegemons, by Ira Chernus, Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2010
    LINK – http://www.tikkun.org/nextgen/iranophobia-the-panic-of-the-hegemons-3
    P.S. INTRODUCING MY NEW AVATAR, “NuttyYahoo” by ‘DonkeyHotey’ (JPEG) – http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=3322612500777

  3. delia ruhe

    The ultimate goal of controlling the flow of oil from Middle East sources has to be the larger context into which all the above evidence must be placed. The only way that the US has of preventing China from overtaking the US economy is for the US to cut off as much of the energy supply to China as it can, at the right moment. That involves, first, securing regime changes in all the oil producing countries in the Mideast. That, together with the fact that the US holds long grudges (think Cuba), means that the Iranian regime is doomed.

    Iraq didn’t turn out quite the way Bush-Cheney and fellow PNAC neocons thought it would. So I would assume that another attempt will be made on Iraq, but that can wait until all the other Middle East countries have been brought in line.

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