In an important article to be published in The Atlantic tomorrow, national correspondent Jeffrey Goldberg recounts something many people didn't realize at the time and still have a hard time believing. President George W. Bush knocked back Dick Cheney's wing of the foreign policy establishment—both inside and out of his administration—that wanted to launch a bombing campaign against Iran.
In a snippet I hadn’t seen before, Bush mockingly referred to bombing advocates Bill Kristol and Charles Krauthammer as ‘the bomber boys.’
Bush was showing his inner realist not allowing his own trigger-happy Curtis LeMays pile on to the national security messes the United States already owned in Iraq and Afghanistan.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
But that was several years ago. Today, there’s a new US President, more Iranian centrifuges, and a different Israeli Prime Minister—and Bibi Netanyahu seems closer to a Curtis LeMay, John Bolton or Frank Gaffney than he does to the more containment-oriented Eisenhowers and George Kennans who in their day forged a global equilibrium out of superpower rivalry and hatred.
Goldberg, after conducting dozens of interviews with senior members of Israel's national security establishment as well as many top personalities in the Obama White House, concludes in his must-read piece that the likelihood of Israel unilaterally bombing Iran to curtail a potential nuclear weapon breakout capacity is north of 50-50.
In short, Goldberg paints a picture that despite the likelihood of very high cost blowback from Iran in the wake of a unilateral strike by Israel, or a coordinated attack with the United States, there are numerous tilts toward bombing embedded in the current political orders in both Jerusalem and Washington.
Goldberg's slice of the pie—that he has taken in both places—is credible, though he’s careful to acknowledge that what may really drive Israel to strike is its lack of confidence in Obama's will to do so. Obama's team knows that the world sees Israel as a client state of the United States and simply won't believe that Israel acted alone, thus compelling the US to consider serious war options—even if, as Goldberg writes—Obama doesn't want the initiation of a third war in the Middle East to define his foreign policy legacy.
The quandary in trying to divine what Obama would and wouldn't really do to try and forestall Iran's nuclear pretensions is that while Obama is holding out an open hand and trying to encourage a constructive dialogue with Iran, he is also allowing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to play her ‘coercive diplomacy’ cards in high-pitched speeches that come close to John McCain's view of Iran. The White House wants the world, and Iran, and Jeffrey Goldberg to think it could bomb, and may bomb, if other options don't work—but Goldberg's interlocutors seem to be demanding a binary, all in or all out, deal from the White House and fundamentally don't trust the President's non-military track.