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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What Must They Think in Tehran?

by Elliott Abrams
November 9, 2012

On November 1, Iranian warplanes attacked a US drone over international waters in the Persian Gulf. CNN had the story, which has been confirmed. In a separate CNN story, a Pentagon spokesman said this:

The reality is that we have a wide range of options, as I said before, to protect our assets and our forces in the region, and we’ll do so when necessary. The United States has communicated to the Iranians that we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters, over the Arabian Gulf, consistent with longstanding practices and our commitment to the security of the region.

Three comments seem appropriate today.

First, the Obama administration withheld this information–hid it, if one wishes to use a tougher term–in the days before the presidential election. That alone must suggest to the government of Iran that politics, not national security, comes first in Washington.

Second, what in fact has been the American response to what we are calling an unprovoked attack in international air space? Nothing. We sent a message. The Pentagon spokesman said we have lots of options, and among them it seems we have selected none. Because this attack is only the latest in decades of Iranian attacks on Americans and American assets, and has elicited the usual non-response, the government of Iran must conclude that we will go to extreme lengths to avoid any confrontation and to protect our rights. And what if the drone had been shot down? Would we have reacted? Does the protection of our rights depend on Iranian marksmanship? Next time will we send a more strongly-worded message? If we are trying to persuade Iran that it must negotiate on its nuclear weapons program or face possible military action, the U.S. government’s handling of this incident is counter-productive–to say the least.

Third, what do the Iranians make of the apparent fact that the President’s chosen negotiator for new, secret talks is Valerie Jarrett. Ms. Jarrett’s background in foreign policy is this: “Jarrett has held positions in both the public and private sector, including the chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Board, Chicago’s commissioner of planning and development and deputy chief of staff for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. She also practiced law with two private law firms.” She is a political adviser to Mr. Obama, and it is reported that she opposed the strike that killed Osama bin Laden. What must they think in Tehran? Again, that politics dominates national security policy and that we seek to avoid a confrontation at all costs.

All of this will make a negotiated solution more difficult, and a bad outcome–either caving into accept an Iranian nuclear weapons program, or having to bomb Iran to avoid this–far more likely. In fact, if Mr. Obama really means it when he says that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable, these erroneous moves are bringing a military confrontation steadily closer.

 

 

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by Dean Smallwood

    This is just one more of many examples of the Obama administration’s thoroughly inept and pusillanimous dithering . The very idea that national security and foreign policy should be steered by cheap political hacks like Valerie Jarret and Thomas Donilon is completely outrageous .

  • Posted by Steve

    The last administration relied on experts. Complete failure – idiotic war in Iraq for no purpose, except to turn the place over to Iran. Of course, Jarrett is a poseur, an amateur, a Chicago pol with corruption allegations surrounding who will do damage. But unfortunately, the “experts” have zero credibility with the American people and really, why should they?

  • Posted by Kir Komrik

    Thanks for the insight even though the chasm of opinion between us runs deep.

    Is this article serious?

    In another CFR blog post we saw that,

    “The Predator was conducting a “routine surveillance” mission 16 nautical miles off the coast of Iran when two Iranian Su-25 Frogfoot attack jets, which usually shoot at targets on the ground, “intercepted” the drone.”

    And the shocker:

    “… At all times, Little emphasized, the drone was over international waters and never entered Iranian airspace.”

    What? USG’s tired, decades old modus operandi of foisting false choices on undesirable regimes continues … by use of fraud.

    And across the pond we have,

    “Given the magnitude of these kinds of accusations – their obvious ability, if not intent, to bolster animosity on the part of the US public toward Iran and heighten tensions between the two nations – shouldn’t CNN at least pretend to be a bit more skeptical and even-handed about how it is reporting these claims?”

    wrote Glenn Greenwald for the Guardian.

    And now in this article we get,

    “The United States has communicated to the Iranians that we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters, over the Arabian Gulf, consistent with longstanding practices and our commitment to the security of the region.”

    Are you kidding me? USG will do what? Violate International law which, if the same were done over Boston, MA by the IRI we’d already be at war over? This is NUTS.

    “Second, what in fact has been the American response to what we are calling an unprovoked attack in international air space? Nothing.”

    Double-take. What? And it gets even better,

    “We sent a message. The Pentagon spokesman said we have lots of options, and among them it seems we have selected none. Because this attack is only the latest in decades of Iranian attacks on Americans and American assets, and has elicited the usual non-response, the government of Iran must conclude that we will go to extreme lengths to avoid any confrontation and to protect our rights.”

    Does that include the Iranian civilian airliner carrying women and children that attacked a U.S. Navy warhip in the Persian Gulf and got shot down for it? Oh, wait. It didn’t attack did it? Of course, if the IRI had an “accident” like that we’d already be at war by now.

    The growing gap between the world-view of the public and some in USG is widening dangerously. I have a news flash for anyone interested: 16 Nautical miles off the coast of Iran is *not* international waters. Like I said, Boston, MA.

    - kk

  • Posted by Jay

    Jarrett was also a dubious choice as the President’s liaison to the business community, given her background in real estate, but she was born in Tehran and lived her first five years in Iran.
    The Iranians must think a strike is inevitable, given Ahmadinejad’s recent warning to his people. They must think about two years of economic woe as they pick up the pieces and consider whether to rebuild their program. Yes, politics are driving this, but everything is connected and this process, assuming that it ends with an attack, is playing out as it should.

  • Posted by Common Sense

    “What must they think in Tehran? Again, that politics dominates national security policy and that we seek to avoid a confrontation at all costs.”

    I found the above quote particularly disgusting. It implies that seeking to avoid a confrontation is wrong. If you are a regular reader of this magazine, I assume your world view is already set. Militarism is good. Confrontation is good. Supporting autocratic governments is good, no matter what the humanitarian cost. But if you have a moment of doubt – if in your endless drive for power you for one second think to yourself, “What’s it all for?” – I urge you to think about the lives that are being destroyed overseas by this militaristic tint. Avoiding confrontation is not weakness – it’s humane.

  • Posted by Jay

    (An American attack)

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