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Bomb Scare

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
September 8, 2013
New York Times


President Obama is drifting toward an unwarranted and ultimately unwinnable war with Iran, according to the well-known Mideast expert Kenneth M. Pollack. With "Unthinkable," he hopes to persuade the administration to reverse course.

As Pollack hammers home, Obama has explicitly pledged to prevent Tehran from becoming a nuclear power. And he has flat-out rejected a policy of living with a nuclear-­armed Iran. In short, he is threatening preventive war.

Some don't take Obama's words seriously because he most notably delivered them before the 2012 presidential election to an audience yearning for just such a threat: those gathered for the annual convention of the intensely pro-Israel American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Nothing terrifies this group, and neoconservatives, more than nuclear weapons in the hands of Israeli-hating Iranians.

But was Obama's commitment mere campaign catering? Since the election, he has repeated his pledge on several occasions. Administration officials like former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former Secretary of Defense Leon E. Panetta have made equally tough remarks. Some commentators scoffed at the pledge as simply another phony Obama "red line," pointing to his warning last year to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria against using chemical weapons. After Assad crossed that line this spring, Obama's response consisted of nothing more than a small-arms package to Syrian rebels, slowly delivered — though additional military options were said to be under consideration as this review went to press.

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