The Magazine

Appeasing the Mullahs

How the Obama administration learned to love the Iranian bomb.

Apr 5, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 28 • By STEPHEN F. HAYES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

But even as Obama extends the deadlines, he talks tough. “It’s one of our highest priorities to make sure that Iran doesn’t possess a nuclear weapon,” he said on March 17, in an interview with Bret Baier of Fox News. The problem is that if keeping Iran from getting a nuclear weapon is one of the highest priorities, the very highest priority seems to be avoiding military conflict at all cost.

“The last thing the Middle East needs now is another war,” Secretary of Defense Robert Gates told the New York Times back in the spring of 2008. Gates noted that he had worked on a policy paper on Iran with Zbigniew Brzezinski at the Council on Foreign Relations in 2004. Gates added: “Based on what I heard from every expert, then and now, I think there’s a risk that an attack would strengthen Ahmadinejad and solidify the Iranian people’s support for their regime.” (Brzezinski is one of those arguing strenuously for containment today.)

In a recent interview with al Arabiya, Hillary Clinton was twice asked directly whether “a military strike is off the table.” Clinton did not offer the standard everything-is-on-the-table caveat—a pointed omission—and went to great lengths to emphasize that military action is “not what the United States was planning to do.”

Gates and Clinton are the administration’s hawks.

The manufactured dispute with Israel may well be additional evidence of the president’s determination to avoid a military confrontation. The Obama administration took what was a minor misunderstanding about Jerusalem housing and made it a serious test of a longstanding alliance. This was no accident.

Senior officials in the Israeli government are perplexed. Some have speculated that Obama wants to weaken Israel before any serious Middle East peace talks. That’s possible. A more likely explanation is that the shabby treatment of Netanyahu grows out of Obama’s eagerness for a “new beginning” to America’s relationship with Muslims around the world.

But there is a third possibility. In private, the Obama administration has repeatedly warned Israel against a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. Isolating Israel in this way sends the same message publicly; it says, in effect, “You think we overreacted to a housing spat in Jerusalem? Try bombing Iran.”

Obama officials are loath to talk about Israel, Iran, and the bomb in public. They offer platitudes, and they focus obsessively on diplomacy that virtually no one thinks will prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power.

Ultimately, of course, it doesn’t matter whether China participates in a conference call about weak U.N. sanctions that will have a negligible effect on Iran’s behavior. And containment, the de facto policy on Iran today, will become the acknowledged Obama administration approach to Iran.

Which means, of course, that Iran will have the bomb.


Stephen F. Hayes is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.



Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 19 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers