Fox News contributor and former Bush administration official John Bolton took to the pages of The Washington Times today to attack the Obama administration for negotiating with Iran in order to put pressure on Israel not to pre-emptively strike Iran's nuclear facilities. However, in dismissing the Obama administration's diplomatic efforts with Iran, Bolton failed to note the dangers of war with Iran and that there are significant questions about whether Iran is planning to build nuclear weapons at all.
U.S. negotiators rushed to Israel, as anonymous sources breathlessly leaked, to provide reassurances that Mr. Obama still had Israel's back. More likely, our diplomats argued that Baghdad had gone so well that Israel shouldn't even think about pre-emptively striking Iran's nuclear weapons program. Undoubtedly, the Israelis smiled politely while deciding silently to ratchet up planning to do just that. This is a fine irony because both Mr. Obama and Iran surely intended the talks to produce precisely the opposite pressure on Israel to stand idle as more diplomatic "progress" unfolded.
The real issue here is physics, not political or diplomatic hype, notwithstanding the endless pop psychology of media commentators and administration spin artists. They could save themselves time and trouble by focusing instead on Iran's spinning centrifuges and the ever-closer danger it actually will possess nuclear weapons.
That reality should govern U.S. policy. While, unfortunately, it does not, it is decidedly the driving factor for Israel, as past Israeli strikes against hostile nuclear programs demonstrate. We can opine endlessly on the consequences for our upcoming elections, but Jerusalem will be guided by physical realities, not by political or diplomatic shadow-boxing.
But Bolton at no point mentions the potential consequences of a strike on Iran. Meir Dagan, the former director of Israel's national intelligence agency, the Mossad, has said that an Israeli strike on Iran would likely lead to a regional war.
As The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg has explained, were Israel to attack, "regardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran's centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran's nuclear program -- they stand a good chance of," among others things, "changing the Middle East forever," "sparking lethal reprisals," "rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel's only meaningful ally," and "of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973."
Moreover, Secretary of Defense and former CIA director Leon Panetta, speaking at a November 2011 press briefing, warned that a strike against Iran might have a serious impact on U.S. troops in the Middle East.
Experts also warn that an attack on Iran would all but guarantee that Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, the very thing Bolton is advocating against. Michael Hayden, the last CIA director under Bush, has warned that an attack on Iran would "guarantee that which we are trying to prevent -- an Iran that will spare nothing to build a nuclear weapon and that would build it in secret." Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates cautioned in testimony before the Senate Appropriations committee in 2009 that "[e]ven a military attack will only buy us time and send the programme deeper and more covert."
Bolton also ignores that there are questions about whether Iran is even planning to acquire nuclear weapons. 2007 and 2011 National Intelligence Estimates found no conclusive evidence that Iran is even trying to build a bomb. And in January 31 testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reiterated the fact that the U.S. intelligence community does not know whether Iran will try to build a bomb.