Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Biden, Panetta, Obama on Iran

by Elliott Abrams
August 1, 2012


Last May, Vice President Biden took an extremely hard line on Iran.  “We will prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon by whatever means we need,” he said.

This week Secretary of Defense Panetta said the same thing: “we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon,” he said on Sunday.  Today he followed that–in Jerusalem–with something even tougher: “I want to reassert again the position of the United States that with regards to Iran, we will not allow Iran to develop a nuclear weapon, period.  We will not allow them to develop a nuclear weapon, and we will exert all options in the effort to ensure that that does not happen.”

What’s missing is anything like these words from the president.  He has been far less specific. “As president of the United States, I don’t bluff,” he said in March. He continued: “I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that, when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.”

Speaking to AIPAC that month, he said this: “I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: a political effort aimed at isolating Iran, a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored, an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency. Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”

But saying “I do not bluff” or “I have a policy” is not the same as saying what Panetta did. That the president has never said words as tough as those of his subordinates must alarm the Israelis, for they know that the only view that counts is Mr. Obama’s. It is sometimes argued in his defense that he wants to leave options open and avoid specificity, but that’s just the problem. He should “advertise what our intentions are.” Why could he not say what Mr. Panetta just did? If the goal is to confront the ayatollahs with a stark choice, why not make it starker? That Mr. Obama fails to do so may produce in both Jerusalem and Tehran uncertainty as to whether, in the end, he will use force to prevent an Iranian nuclear weapon. If his diplomatic and economic efforts against Tehran are to have the slightest chance of success, and if his efforts to persuade Israel not to strike Iran are to succeed, that uncertainty must be eliminated. Only if Mr. Obama can fully persuade the Ayatollah Khamenei that Iran will never get a nuclear weapon, that all the effort and isolation and expense is wasted, and that the goal will never be achieved because the American military will block it, is there any chance that Iran will change course. The very clear statements by the secretary of defense today only underline the absence of equal clarity from the commander in chief.

Post a Comment 7 Comments

  • Posted by Mawloud Ould Daddah

    As long as Obama “diplomatic” administration remains in command,only Israel can stop iranian nuclear madness

  • Posted by Mawloud Ould Daddah

    Hope Romney will replace Obama and restore America leadership,a leadership which remains essential to defeat and erase extremism and terrorism

  • Posted by Mindy Robinson

    Know this all, America is under siege. Know, that for the first time in years, for the first time in many Americans adult lives this time we want to be there to defend. This time we are actually needed. Know, that the people of America want to come to your aid. Know, that we are under attack from within. Some will come if they can. I am so sorry, so sorry, So much tyranny, so much sorrow, but, now , we too suffer the same fate. God Bless, let us hope that we survive and if not , hope that whatever God there is , will have mercy on our souls and take us into into loving arms. My heart cries for us all, I am so helpless to stop any of it. At a time when Americans are actually needed, a time we are willing to fight, we are attacked from within, We have no power. The only thing we can offer is our thoughts, our hearts and to let you know we too are under attack. I suspect that those who prepare to attack you have already attacked us and he sits in the seat of the presidency of the US. I do not know what is about to fall upon this world. I will come if it becomes desperate, I will give my life to defend others. I’m not much, a tiny woman with a fierce heart that is all I have to offer. Mindy Robinson

  • Posted by Matt

    The problem is that Obama policy is not to launch action outside the UN security council. As is the case with Syria any action on Iran will be blocked.

    Now if Obama loses the election and Romney is elected the final time for a peaceful resolution to the Iranian matter is between November and January. If the current Administration and the P5+1 are going to secure a deal in will be with that period. As Romney will be perceived to have a harder line in relation to Israeli unilateral action. Same as Carter, Reagan and the hostages. I personally do not believe Iran will buckle this time around and do a deal. So if that scenario occurs after that sanctions, negotiations are really considered to be a policy of containment.

    The problem for the US military and intelligence community is Romney has gone to the UK, everyone heard MI6’s comments on Iran. So he has been briefed privately by MI6 and in Jerusalem by the Israeli’s on Iran. So if he becomes President and the intelligence assessments are presented to him, he will have a counter view, it will not be Gospel. That does not when Romney will launch an attack by the US.

    Either way whoever is President in the next term we are really not talking about launching US military action but the blow back caused by unilateral Israeli action and the impact on US interests.

    Obama may not be elected so if he can kick the can down the road to the next President re the blow back, he will and he has the time frame to do it. But over the next 4 years the President will find it very difficult to continue the policy on Iran that the previous 6 Presidencies have kicking the can down the road. Carter the hostages, Reagan Beirut, 43 Iranian involvement in Iraq. 44 or 45 a nuclear bomb in the hands of the Ayatollah.

    The problem is that in 2005 if the US had not been bogged down Iran would have been the same as OP Orchard or Opera, simple. All the covert operations were never going to stop the nuclear program but would allow the US to decamp Iraq and create another window of opportunity to strike. But during that period Iran has used the time to harden their capabilities. The leaks about the merchant ships Israel used, the wikileaks which many believe was a DOD operation which out the Arabs position on Iran, putting the Saudi fields in the firing line. You even had unnamed officials say Israel would strike on the new moon. Azerbaijan, etc.

    So what was a limited conflict is now a regional or possible global conflict which the US has placed itself in the middle. If the US increases the cost of an Israeli strike and can delay that action until the window of opportunity closes that removes Israel from the picture.

    In many ways that is true and in many ways it is not, once the merchant ships for laying limpet mines on the IRGC, Iranian navy so they cannot close the Straits of Hormuz, or harm the 5th Fleet. The fourth flight path over the Nefud desert was specifically for that purpose, because the nuclear sites are not in the southern sector. To use that and keep the cover of the Arabs, Israel would need F- series hulks from the bone yard painted in Israeli colors dumped in the Nefud desert so it appeared the Saudi’s shot them down.

    The leaks allowed Israel to drop that module from their plans, it was very complex and pushed the IDF capabilities to the limit. It was achievable, dropping the module makes a strike more likely not less likely.

    Iran are like the Third Reich they have two command structures for everything, two navies, two air forces, two command structures, it is chaotic. The objective was to exploit chaos, limpet mines sinking the navies, in coordination with air strikes and special forces, naval assets into the southern sector would have achieved that. What in Allahu name was that, that was Israel.

    It was not cost free for the Israeli’s diverting assets into the southern sector which is divided into three quadrants western, central and eastern to protect US interests Means there are less assets to counter the Shabah missile strikes on Tel Aviv. So to protect US interests the home front would face a larger attack by Iran, which meant a higher death toll of civilians. People forget that, sacrifice. When they threaten no access to the X band or Aegis in relation to the home front.

  • Posted by Matt

    The whole southern sector module and three quadrants, the increase destruction on the home front and increased KIA Israeli civilians is for one thing and one thing only. That is what it comes down too finding the balance of how many increase number of civilians will die or be wounded on the home front, what is acceptable level of dead civilians. In exchange to secure US interests. Let’s be clear what the term actually means.

    It is so US citizens can drive SUV’s, eat fast food and live unaffected, boring lives. Cheap OIL.

    Those additional Israeli civilians are not dying for their country, a certain percentage are but there was a number on top of that, the additional toll, which are dying the term US interests.

    I am not complaining about it that is just the way things are. Such decision are tough and hard for a Government to make. And that is what occurred and would have occurred, had there not been the leaks.

    So withholding the X band and Aegis the KIA rate works out around the same as adopting the Southern Sector module.

  • Posted by Ali kimiai

    There is no need for war, carter did not change the good old Iranian regime by resorting to war, he spent 200 million dollars and BBC did the legwork.
    At the same token , israel can not afford not having an enemy, how else would they receive American financial and military aid if no enemy?
    Most Iranians are anti-war and the very thought of it will turn them against any administration, they are under this assumption that any war will unite the populous with the regime thus prolonging the regime’s life.

  • Posted by tracey

    Iran once Persia was a great Empire, they seem headed in that dire.ction again. Over 2500 years of history, of a nation with Christians, Zoroastrians, Muslims and a few Jews. A small middle class and some freedoms, sounds stable. A country rich in oil and natural gas. As well as coal, iron ore, copper. lead and zinc. Do we really think sanctions are working and will work? How? They have enough oil and money to be shut out or shut others out. Fact, Iran wants to see the destruction of Israel and its Jews. Their Koran, as well as the Holy Bible as well as the Jews no the final outcome on their agenda. Its written as a prophecy. A country such as Iran who lives their lives based on religion, Allah, oil and now gaining power can’t be bargained. If anyone in their right mind thinks that the USA or any other country can come to an agreement with this country they are assine. The are one step away from gaining great power and destroying thier enemy. All they are doing is buying time and our diplomats who represent the USA and who want so much to be the “problem solvers” are buying into crap. No one, no country, no President, can change Iran. They have an agenda that is pre destined by their faith. That can not be bought, sold, exchanged, bartered, or sanctioned it is what it is. They will never be a peace with the Jews, and it dates back over 1000 years. Abraham, ten tribes and two sons. I know how to solve the issue with Iran and Israel. It would appear by now we as a country and our leaders would stop tip toeing around with Iran. Have we learned nothing from our mistakes?

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