Not long ago, we were told by our intelligence services that Iran was not really building a bomb and that such rumors were the stuff of neo-con conspiracists and more cooked and partisan data. Iran, we rubes were additionally lectured, did not work with al-Qaeda, given that Sunnis and Shiites hated infidels more than each other. And the idea that it would conduct covert operations inside the U.S. was surely more Bush-Cheney scarifying. A new outreach/reset instead would lead to “face-to-face” negotiations, now that swaggering George Bush had left and laureate Barack Obama had reminded the Iranians of his Nobel Prize and non-traditional post-racial heritage. Popular unrest in the streets of Teheran in 2009 was either non-authentic and going nowhere, or at least not properly our right to encourage — given Obama’s careful reach-out to the theocracy, and his deep knowledge of the long and contorted history of U.S. interventions into Iranian internal affairs. Rather than worry about a supposed Iranian bomb, we might try instead to envision the Middle East from the Iranian perspective, hemmed in as it was by U.S. troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and aware that other potentially hostile states like Israel and Pakistan were nuclear. In any case, a sophisticated reach-out deal with Putin’s Russia would result in behind-the scenes help to stop Iranian nuclear ambitions. Barring that, there was no real reason to believe that a nuclear Iran was not subject to traditional laws of deterrence. And even if the crisis deepened, a new commitment to U.N. multilateralism would engage the U.N. Security Council in the sort of collective action so sorely lacking during the derelict Bush administration.
I think all that has gone the way of the new embassy in Damascus, the breakthrough with the Palestinians, the Putin reset, and our South American initiatives with Chávez, etc. and so we are left with a rather different U.S. policy: Iran is now a danger; we want the Gulf states to pump more oil and find alternative routes of delivery, building the sort of pipelines that we won’t in the U.S., where new federal oil leases are more likely cancelled than granted.
Where are we now? After computer viruses, assassinations, and sanctions, I think we are reduced to the Secretary of Defense not only unwisely publicly predicting an Israeli strike, but even more unwisely offering likely dates of such a mission. Substitute Cheney or Rumsfeld for Panetta, and there would be global outrage at these remarks. All this suggests that the Obama policy is more or less to be summed up by, let Israel do it on Monday, and then on Tuesday we will express “grave concern” and “deep regret” over such a “unilateral” escalation in tensions, as we breathe a sigh of relief and blame the troublesome Israelis once more for stirring up war in the region.