Does Publicly Discussing The Consequences Of Iran Attack Undermine The U.S. And Help Iran?

Jeffrey Goldberg

Jeffrey Goldberg, a correspondent for the Atlantic and a Bloomberg News columnist, today criticized the Obama administration for publicly discussing the consequences of war with Iran.

Goldberg emailed Mitt Romney wondering if his Iran policy had changed given his relatively moderate tone during last week’s foreign policy debate and published Romney’s response in a Bloomberg piece published today. Romney replied with some of his standard boilerplate answers on Iran but criticized “the president’s top advisers and cabinet secretaries broadcasting the risks of the military option, therefore conveying to Iran’s leadership that the threat is simply not real.”

Goldberg agreed with this latter assessment, writing, “it doesn’t help the American negotiating position to publicly telegraph to the Iranians these sorts of doubts” (although he didn’t say how exactly discussing the consequences of war with Iran would undermine the U.S. negotiating position). But in a follow-up article for the Atlantic, Goldberg went a bit further, saying that having a public discussion of the repercussions of attacking Iran is a “relief” for Iran’s leaders:

President Obama has been undermined from time to time by his own team on the Iran question — whenever a senior official of his administration analyzes publicly the dangers of a military confrontation to the U.S., we should assume the Iranian leaders breathe a sigh of relief, and make the calculations that Obama is bluffing on military action.

Again, Goldberg doesn’t explain how having an open and public discussion about the consequences of war with Iran harms the U.S. negotiating position or how exactly it means President Obama is not sincere that “no options are off the table” when dealing with Iran’s nuclear program. We asked Goldberg on Twitter but he has yet to respond.

Joel Rubin, Director of Policy and Government Affairs at the Ploughshares Fund, pushed back on Goldberg’s assertion. “Does this mean that the administration, if it disagrees with Congress or other critics, has to be silent?” Rubin asked. “Are we not a democracy? Is the only voice that’s allowed the one that calls for military action?” Rubin said, adding, “This implies that there’s only one correct policy towards Iran, and that any debate about it is counterproductive.”

And in a twist to Goldberg’s comments, Iran’s leaders might actually “breathe a sigh of relief” if the U.S. or Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities. From the Green Movement protests in 2009 to the strains on Iranians caused by tough international sanctions, Iranian society is currently deeply divided. An attack could end all that and cause ordinary Iranians to rally around the regime. We know this precisely because this administration has fostered a public discussion of the consequences of war with Iran. But it’s not just the Obama administration saying this. Meir Dagan, the former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, said an attack “would galvanize Iranian society behind the leadership and create unity around the nuclear issue.”

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has echoed Dagan. “There are those who are saying, ‘The best thing that could happen to [Iran] is be attacked by somebody. Just bring it on because that would unify us. It would legitimize the regime,'” she said in July. And how else would an attack help Iran’s leaders? The international coalition President Obama helped build on Iran would be all but shattered. Again, here’s Dagan: “In case of an attack, political pressure on the regime will disappear.”

And it’s not just the Israelis and Obama administration officials talking about the ramifications of war. Mitt Romney’s own foreign policy adviser, former CIA director Michael Hayden, said just last month that an attack would only delay, not eliminate, Iran’s nuclear program and could “push them to do that which it is supposed to prevent, getting nuclear weapons.”

Aside from an attack actually being beneficial to the Iranian regime, numerous experts and various former and current American and Israeli government and military officials have talked about other troublesome consequences of attacking Iran, including the possibility of an “all out regional war.”

But having a thorough, thoughtful, honest and open discussion about the consequences of going to war with Iran only helps us and our allies. Democracies debate policy openly and freely, which actually could serve as a model for those Iranians looking for change. Openly discussing and knowing the consequences of attacking Iran doesn’t mean that President Obama won’t follow through with his policy of using all options available, including military force, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It means that he, his administration and the American people will be more informed about what the aftermath of a military attack would look like.

“If we’ve learned anything from the past decade of war in the Middle East, it’s that debates over our national security strengthen our policy and our democracy. Doing the opposite weakens it,” Rubin said.

Indeed, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators” didn’t work out so well in 2003.


The Daily Beast’s Ali Gharib adds:

Were the administration not willing to publicly discuss the potential consequences with its public, then the threats better be a bluff—because to launch this war without a national dialogue would be a monumental disservice to American democracy, not to mention irresponsible.

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