my two-cents worth. The article confirmed what has long been suspected (and reported elsewhere): that President Bush turned down a request from Israel for aid in carrying out a bombing campaign against the Iranian nuclear program. That provides further evidence-as I noted in this Foreign Policy article last week-of how far Bush has backed off of a central element of the Bush Doctrine: namely, preemption.
On his watch, North Korea has gone nuclear and Iran has come perilously close, while Pakistan has become a breeding ground of terrorism. American efforts to “preempt” these threats have been pretty small beer, amounting to a few Predator strikes in Pakistan and some covert action designed to sabotage the Iranian nuclear program.
Neither action is commensurate with the scale of the threat we face-or with Bush’s promises back in 2002 to preempt dangers in advance. Back then Bush said:
If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.
We have obviously waited too long when it came to North Korea, and, I fear, as well as with regard to Iran and quite possibly Pakistan.
To say that Bush has failed to preempt or to warn us of the price we may have to pay for his inaction is not necessarily to argue that he should have taken decisive military action against any of these threats. In all cases there were (and still are) several disadvantages to action which may outweigh the respective benefits.
The case for military action is strongest against Iran but even there I am not sure whether a US military-strike would be a good idea. Much depends on what kind of intelligence we have and how much damage our military and intelligence experts think we can do. There is not much point in risking an Iranian backlash if there is not a good likelihood that our strikes will disable their nuclear program for a substantial period to come. In this regard Sanger’s story offers an interesting detail:
Admiral Mullen, traveling to Israel in early July on a previously scheduled trip, questioned Israeli officials about their intentions. His Israeli counterpart, Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, argued that an aerial attack could set Iran’s program back by two or three years, according to officials familiar with the exchange. The American estimates at the time were far more conservative.
If it is, indeed, the case that American air strikes will set the Iranian nuclear program back by a lot less than two years, then the case for such strikes is certainly weakened. On the other hand, I wonder if our intelligence community can be trusted to soberly reach such conclusions given their well-known antipathy to a strike, which led to one of the worst National Intelligence Estimates ever published–one that claimed, unconvincingly, that Iran had stopped its nuclear-weapons work. Moreover, no matter how limited its tangible benefits, an air strike is likely to prove more of an obstacle to Iran going nuclear than are the endless negotiations which Bush and the Europeans have engaged in, and which Obama promises to emphasize even more.
I honestly am not sure whether an attack on the Iranian nuclear program is a good idea. No one without possession of the most classified material can reach a good judgment. But I am pretty sure that, no matter how much he may deny it, Bush has effectively abandoned most of the foreign policy precepts he laid out in his first term-preemption foremost among them. Perhaps he has done so for good reason, but if so, he would have been better advised to explain his changing reasoning rather than pretending to have remained unwavering.