Want to buy a ticket to the Obama administration's semi-satirical Iran Nuclear Kabuki Theater show entitled "All Options are on the Table!"?
If ALL options are on the table (aka as a last resort the U.S. would use military force to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon) then why is the Pentagon's senior brass trotting out in public to undercut the White House... thus undermining the threat's credibility even if the U.S. just won't use force to deny Iran the pleasure of a nuclear device.
It seems that every few days another senior U.S. military official seeks out a handy dandy journalist or just blurts out that attacking Iran is not in the cards, not justified, too dangerous, etc. etc. and, for good measure, darkly warning Israel it had better get with the U.S. program. Let me assert categorically that the uniformed naysayers have many a valid reason not to want to be drawn into a preemptive war with Iran. But the spectacle of all this public hand-wringing is certainly not sending shivers down the Ayatollahs' spines.
For an issue that rises to the highest considerations of national security one would think the president would sit his military leadership down and remind them of the old adage that "loose lips sink ships."
Our commander-in-chief deserves wise counsel from his commanders, but they are not doing the president or the nation any good by trying to force his hand in the court of public opinion, just as others on the Republican side are trying to box him in, as well. Obama knows the stakes, and generals are not the final arbiters of American national security interests. Just ask Generals McClellan and MacArthur. There have been plenty of times in U.S. history, and it is still uncertain where this is heading, that national security and foreign policy stakes are simply greater than a general's own views.
The Obama administration has done a masterful job ratcheting up economic sanctions on Iran. Moreover, and cynically to some, the president's political operatives -- focused only on campaigns and not on national interests -- are desperately trying to kick the can past 2012, but Iran shows no signs, yet, of backing down its doomsday ladder. That tug-of-war is only adding to this public spectacle of diminishing U.S. credibility.
So as tensions rise with Iran, does the Obama administration really truly believe (and thus want Tehran to believe) that Iran + bomb = a major national threat to the U.S, or is this just political pabulum?
"All options are on the table" has been uttered so many times by Obama administration officials that it has taken on the air of holy scripture.
Act I: January 24, 2012 President Obama in State of the Union: "all options, including diplomacy... are on the table."
Act II: Super Bowl Sunday: President Obama's pre-Super Bowl interview with Matt Lauer: "But we're not going to take any options off the table, and I've been very clear that we're going to do everything we can to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon."
Act III: February 11, 2012 SecDef Leon Panetta warns that "all options are on the table" if Iran "... goes nuclear."
But just when the president had his team's message synchronized, along came Joint Chiefs Chair Gen. Dempsey, who on Feb 19, 2012 strayed off the reservation on CNN's Farid Zakaria and blurted out that Iran is a "rational actor in the international arena" and that "we know" that Iran does not intend to build a nuclear weapon." Really?
Does the good general know something his Secretary of Defense or president doesn't know? What is one to make of Gen. Dempsey's statements? Are his views merely personal opinions or reflective of administration policy? One can only conclude that the seemingly out-of-step Dempsey was firing a warning shot at his political superiors that the senior brass doesn't buy into the much hawked "all options are on the table" Iran policy.
Memo to Gen. Dempsey: you just pulled the rug out President Obama's efforts to convince an increasingly worried Israel that the U.S. will not abandon it if Iran goes for the bomb, and in the meantime Jerusalem should keep its powder dry.
For the Israelis, l'affaire Dempsey is the latest example that throughout their respective histories Israel and the U.S. have rarely seen eye to eye on each nation's vital national security threats. As John Foster Dulles -- one of Israel's most pernicious American adversaries -- is purported to have said: "nations have interests, not friends."
In the 1956 Suez Crisis, Israel buckled under Dulles' warnings to withdraw from the Suez Canal despite Nasser's terrorist attacks against Israel.
In the eve of the 1967 Six Day War, Lyndon Johnson opposed Israel's preemptive strike. "Israel will not be alone unless it acts alone," Johnson warned Israeli Foreign Minister Eban just weeks before Israel's strike.
In 1973, Henry Kissinger imprudently dissuaded Golda Meir from preemptively attacking massed Egyptian and Syrian forces on the eve of the Yom Kippur War.
And in 1981 when Israel bombed Saddam's nuclear reactor at Osirak, even President Reagan delayed delivery of jet fighters to Israel and had his UN envoy Jeanne Kirkpatrick collude with her Iraqi counterpart to draft a resolution condemning the Israeli raid.
So what is the "real clear" assessment of Iran's nuclear program from the IAEA and other public intelligence reports? This is what we know today of Iran's nuclear program:
1. Iran has accelerated production of uranium in excess of what it would need for merely peaceful purposes at secret underground sites outside Qom in two sites known as Fordo and a military site known as Parchin.
2. There is nothing in the public domain indicating that Iran has exceeded the 20% "peaceful program" enrichment level; however, the most recent IAEA report states that Iran's secret enrichment sites exist to exceed the 20% enrichment levels.
3. The Iranians sent its invited IAEA inspectors packing last week stonewalling on publicly reported IAEA fears that Tehran's nuclear program has military dimensions to it.
4. The IAEA has found evidence that Iran has begun work on nuclear warhead designs in violation of its international treaty obligations.
5. U.S. intelligence is unconvinced that Iran has made a decision to actually build a bomb; although Israeli and British intelligence disagree with the CIA's assumption. Washington is basing its assessment on thin reeds of intel; its analysis is more speculative than factual; but neither does Israel have proof that Iran has flipped that coin yet.
6. Israeli and EU officials believe that Iran will cross the proverbial "red line" when it is able to enrich sufficient uranium to the 90% weapons grade material.
7. Washington's red line is different than Israel's and the EU: right now the U.S. red line will only be crossed when the U.S. has sufficient intel to prove that Iran is actually constructing a bomb.
Whether or not Iran decides to build an actual bomb, President Obama should get his campaign staff and his generals in the same room and read them the riot act. The best way to convince Israel to defer a preemptive attack on Iran and recalibrate itself to Washington's assessment is for Obama to convincingly reassure Israeli PM Netanyahu (and concurrently keep Tehran off balance) that "all options are on the table... Really!"