Gordon, I understand your concern regarding today’s New York Times report that the Bush administration prevented Israel from attacking Iranian nuclear sites. However, I respectfully disagree with your assertion that the administration has taken “the military option off the table.”
Rather, by denying Israel’s request for aid to attack Iran – and then leaking this information to the press – the Bush administration is signaling that Israel’s threat to use force against Iran is highly credible. The Bush administration is further signaling that only the United States – which Israel needs for acquiring bunker-busting bombs and permission to use Iraqi air space – can prevent Israel from acting on this threat.
In turn, the Bush administration is not, as you write, placing “great pressure” on Obama’s proposed diplomacy with Iran to succeed. To the contrary, the pressure is squarely on Tehran: if it fails to negotiate with Obama on its nuclear program in good faith, Obama always has the option of green-lighting an Israeli attack. As a result, Obama would actually enter talks with Tehran with relatively little at stake: if negotiations fail and Iran maintains its determination to achieve nuclear capabilities, Obama can deploy Israel well before he even has to consider risking American lives.
Just to be clear: I remain highly skeptical of direct talks with Tehran, and agree that Iran has demonstrated its total unwillingness to negotiate meaningfully on the nuclear issue (among others). However, by putting the brakes on an Israeli attack against Iranian nuclear sites, the Bush administration has actually strengthened the credibility of the military option, and kept it very much on the table. The big question is whether Obama – who peddled an all-talk approach to Iran on the campaign trail – knows how to use Israeli hawkishness vis-à-vis Iran to his strategic advantage.