Friday, March 2, 2012

Obama to Both Israel and Iran: 'I Don't Bluff'

As the anticipation builds for Monday's meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Obama, the President has given a long interview to Jeffrey Goldberg of Atlantic Magazine just published on the Atlantic's website.  In the interview, the President states very clearly that both Israel and the Iran should understand that he is not bluffing when he says that the US considers it "unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons".  The President is clearly worried that Israel will strike Iran on its own, which would cause havoc in the region, by reassuring them implicitly that the US will strike itself if necessary.  The message to Iran meanwhile is very simple:  Do not take our threats lightly, we will not allow you to have nuclear weapons. 

What was also quite interesting about this interview was not only the content, but also the journalist to whom the White House gave the interview.  Mr. Goldberg is considered fairly pro-Israel overall, and it is possible that in choosing Mr. Goldberg to do the interview the White House is taking an extra symbolic step to send a message to Israel and its US supporters that the President is indeed prepared to order a strike on Iran if necessary.  While there has been quite extensive speculation that the US would be willing to live with a nuclear Iran and simply pursue a policy of "containment," Mr. Obama's interview seems designed to make clear that this is in fact not true, and that the US will not tolerate an Iran with nuclear weapons.

It is worth noting that in the past when Iran has felt sufficiently threatened by the Americans, it has retreated from its most hardline positions.  This happened most notably in 2003 after the US overthrew Saddam Hussein, and the Iranians began to fear that they were next.  Read this review by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof on the incipient steps Iran took to reach a grand bargain with the US.  As there have been some tentative feelers coming out of Iran indicating a willingness to compromise, perhaps it is time to review the possibility of a "grand bargain" with the Iranians.  George Washington University Professor Amitai Etzioni has an excellent piece in the magazine National Interest in which he reviews Iran's seeming willingness to compromise in 2003, and then outlines the parameters for what a diplomatic deal with the Iranians might look like today.  Do read Mr. Etzioni's article.

1 comment:

  1. I think that a "Grand Bargain" such as what was put on the table in 2003 by the Iranian reformers and never responded to, could again possibly come to fruition. I believe the right intention of Obama sits well within the Iranian regime. When negotiating with the Iranians, coming to the table as an equal with a mutual respect, such as what Obama seemingly portrays, may just be the intangible that changes the equation. Only time will tell. Be assured that this week we have seen gestures from both Obama, and in return in a speech from Khomenei. It could be nothing or it could be the humble beginnings of something momentous. The media seems to ignore these things so us people need to spread the word. When people across the world speak directly to one another peace can be achieved. Please give my blog about this topic a read at or follow us on twitter @SirMetropolis