The Military Option

Interview with president of Council on Foreign Relations


The Military Option
by CFR

Interviewer: Bernard Gwertzman, Consulting Editor, Interviewee: Richard N. Hass, , President, Council on Foreign Relations.

Given that diplomacy to end Iran's nuclear program has "come up empty," Richard N. Haass, a veteran Middle East expert, says that he takes Israeli talk of a possible preventive attack "at face value." He says the United States has tried to calm the Israelis, but "one of the many unknowns is whether any degree of U.S. reassurance can persuade the Israelis, given what the Israelis see as the stakes." Overall, he says, this is a situation where there are no obvious or easy choices, and while a nuclear-armed Iran presents "a terrible outcome strategically," a U.S. or Israeli military attack carries unforeseeable risks.

Over the summer, there have been very strong statements from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak about the strong possibility of Israel launching a preemptive attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, since the diplomacy to stop Iran's nuclear program hasn't worked. What should be the U.S. reaction?

I take the Israelis at face value here. They are genuinely concerned, given that the Iranian nuclear program continues to progress both in terms of quantity and quality. The negotiations--or the "diplomacy," to use a better word--have so far come up empty. This is all done against a backdrop where, for the Israelis, it is extraordinarily difficult politically and psychologically to franchise out their foreign policy, be it to the United States or anyone else. So when you meet Israeli officials, one of the first questions on their minds is not simply who is likely to win the American elections, but, "Do you think either President Obama or a President Romney would ever be willing to undertake a preventive military strike against the Iranian nuclear program?"

Do you think the Israelis would like the United States to strike Iran?

My reading is the Israelis would prefer that the United States do it because they understand that we have a greater military capacity. They also understand the regional politics would be somewhat less hostile if the United States does it instead of Israel. But they have a degree of doubt. The best thing for the United States to do is try to reassure the Israelis. The administration has tried sending senior official after senior official, apparently sharing to a large degree U.S. planning, to impress the Israelis that the United States takes this threat seriously. At the end of the day, though, one of the many unknowns is whether any degree of U.S. reassurance can persuade the Israelis, given what the Israelis see as the stakes.

Some experts have suggested that despite the election campaign, President Obama should make a trip to Israel to reassure the Israelis, since he did not visit Israel during his term. What are your thoughts?

That sort of trip would be open to all sorts of interpretation and speculation. My own sense is it's unlikely to happen, and I'm not sure it should happen at this late date. It's always a risk to insert national security in the midst of a political campaign, and whether it was fair or not, it would be interpreted in political terms. If the president wants to send certain messages to the government of Israel or any other government, he has the means to do it. That's why envoys were invented, be they permanently stationed ambassadors or those who are dispatched. The bottom line here is that no one should dismiss the possibility that Israel would undertake a preventive strike sometime this fall before the American election. If that were not to happen, then the possibility of either an Israeli or an American action in 2013 is quite real.

How does the Non-Aligned Movement summit, which is taking place this week in Tehran, figure into the discussion on Iran?

Why there even is a Non-Aligned Movement anymore is high on my list of puzzling features of the foreign policy business I'm involved with. Strategic alignment ended a generation ago in 1989 when the Berlin Wall came down, so I'm not entirely sure who those who declare themselves non-aligned are non-aligned against. Or who are they non-aligned with? It's an anachronism. And secondly, when one looks at who's there, a lot of it is simply a collection of the people who are on the wrong side, if you will, of the international tracks, people like Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, and obviously the host government of Iran, Robert Mugabe from Zimbabwe, and so forth.

What's disappointing is you have people also like the Indian prime minister and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attending. No one should lend any legitimacy to a gathering convened in Tehran by this Iranian leadership in the name of non-alignment. It sends exactly the wrong message. We should be doing everything possible to isolate this Iranian leadership for its nuclear program, but also for what it's doing in Syria to facilitate the repression there.

Is there any possibility that the Secretary General can work out anything with the Iranians on this trip?

Diplomacy isn't always in the cards. Years ago I wrote a book (Conflicts Unending: The United States and Regional Disputes) about ripeness and about the need for certain preconditions to be in place in order for diplomacy to have a chance of prospering, and on either issue in the short run, I don't see much of a chance.

In Syria, the only chance for diplomacy will come when the regime is on its last legs, and then perhaps one could facilitate the exit of President Bashar al-Assad and his regime. With Iran and the nuclear program, I've not given up on diplomacy, and I still think there's a chance down the road that you could come up with an outcome that would be enough for the Iranian government to wrap themselves in, but would not be too much for the United States or Israel or the rest of the world to accept. But that would really be threading the needle. I would say it's a possibility, but it's going to be extraordinarily difficult to come up with that sort of a negotiated outcome.

What are the options? Some people have suggested a deal could be struck if we made an explicit offer to guarantee Iran's peaceful use of nuclear material.

There's lots of things you could do: You could guarantee certain types of access, not to the ingredients, if you will, or the material, but assurance, as you put it, about access to nuclear power. You could promise certain types of sanctions relief. But essentially, Iran would have to get out of the enrichment business or the business of the storage of enriched material. I don't know if that is something they would be prepared to accept.

The goal here should not be to humiliate Iran. The goal here should be to make sure that Iran is not allowed to keep in place the prerequisites of a nuclear weapon that could be assembled in short order. Whether you could square this circle, come up with something that the Iranians believe is not humiliating, but also come up with something that the rest of the world would feel is reassuring, I don't know.

Do you think that the Israelis also feel a bit under pressure because of the change in the leadership in Egypt in particular?

Well, strategically, the last year and a half has been an extraordinarily worrisome set of events for Israel. You not only have the Iranian threat, but on Israel's borders you've had the obvious deterioration in Egypt and in Syria; Lebanon was already bad, and Jordan's future is a source of recurring uncertainty and concern for the Israelis. And all of this is in addition to the absence of progress on the Palestinian front. So quite honestly, the Israeli strategic situation, I would say, has deteriorated over the last eighteen or so months because some of the positive features of the post-1967 strategic map can no longer be assured.

And of course, Mohamed Morsi, the new president of Egypt, is about to visit Tehran for the NAM meeting.

The mere fact that he may visit Iran is a worrisome development. But even more worrisome is the consolidation of his domestic political power at home and the fact that he might be in a position to dominate or at least heavily influence those who would be in a position to write the new Egyptian constitution. Constitutions, in some ways, form the foundation stones of a democratic system, and that is an issue of real concern: the potential for majoritarianism, where minority and individual rights become vulnerable to the majority, the potential absence of meaningful checks and balances. These are all legitimate concerns.

Let me just come back to where we started. If Israel did attack Iran on its own, what would be the repercussions?

So much depends, if that were to happen, on how the Iranians would choose to retaliate, and that's where the United States comes in. If Israel were to undertake a preventive strike, then I believe the United States very quickly should signal to the Iranians that they do not have in any way whatsoever a free hand in retaliation--that Iran should understand that by what it does, it risks bringing in the United States directly, and that it risks escalating the conflict in ways that would bring a much broader range of Iranian targets and interests into play. So again, if Israel makes the decision to act, I would argue the United States then needs to position itself so it could try to influence the trajectory of the crisis moving forward.

Several Arab states, including Saudi Arabia, have been urging the United States for some years now to attack Iran, but of course they would be compelled to criticize the Israelis if they attacked Iran.

One of the reasons I think even the Israelis would say that it's preferable that if an attack were undertaken it be done by the United States is that they would face less regional repercussions. The question is not so much what governments say beforehand, it's what they say and do afterward, and we'd have to see, particularly in this new political environment, what would be the reaction of people in these countries.

One of the enduring results of the upheavals in the Arab world is the political mobilization of the Arab people. Governments now have to contend much more with their own people and their political voice than ever before, so even if governments for strategic reasons would like to see Iran attacked, it's not necessarily clear to me that that stance is shared by their broader public. It's one of the many unknowns. You begin not only with the unknown of whether something will happen, but what would be the immediate results, in terms of what was actually destroyed. And then there's the question of the direct and indirect repercussions. This is one of those situations where there are no obvious or easy choices.

Living with an Iran that had nuclear weapons or got close to them, I believe, would be a terrible outcome strategically, but using military force, be it by Israel or the United States--we shouldn't kid ourselves--sets in motion a chain of events that we don't know necessarily where it takes us. It's why everybody, or at least why most people, are hoping that this combination of threat and economic sanctions and diplomacy can succeed. But so far, at least, there's not great grounds for optimism.


Divest from War pledge campaign

It is up to us to stop this madness.

by Divest from War pledge ca... on

Here is something that the article left out:

 Obama could just announce to the world that US arms cannot be used for an illegal war, otherwise all military aid to Israel will stop.

Oops, I forgot that he will be impeached if he tries to pull that off, because the US Congre$$, bless their hearts, are in the back pocket of AIPAC.

I guess we citizens are on our own, since our so-called "leaders" are bought and paid for. One way that we as individual citizens can make our voices heard (forget writing to your member of Congre$$ on this issue) is for all of us to pledge to BOYCOTT ISRAEL IF IT ATTACKS IRAN. Please sign the pledge at


and spread the world. Let us (nonviolently) increase the cost to Israel of starting Middle East War III. Maybe we can help to avert one this time, instead of just protesting it after the fact.


Self-contradictory statements!

by Arj on

What seems to be more interesting than the CFR (which seems to be yet another Washington-based shady "think tank") interviewing itself(!), is that the statements which appear to be in response to the infomercial-type, softball questions are self-contradictory, e.g.:

"...for the Israelis, it is extraordinarily difficult politically and psychologically to franchise out their foreign policy, be it to the United States or anyone else."

And yet in the very next paragraph, when it comes to bombing Iran:

"They also understand the regional politics would be somewhat less hostile if the United States does it instead of Israel."



Dismantle the CFR

by sumwoman on

We ought to dismantle the Council on Foreign Relations... it's nothing but a warmongering outfit with a bunch of pretty faces out front.

While we're at it... we ought to dismantle the United Nations and all related agencies... nothing but a bunch of university graduates plotting mayhem, destruction, perpetual war, killer vaccines, etc,.

Sure do like the sound of NAM... and maybe only because the technocrats hate it. LOL!

PS: How many Nukes does Israel have? How many Nukes does America have?

PS PS: Stop spraying us with aluminium and barium...quit with the geo-engineering! I figure, before the decade is through, I along with millions of other OUTRAGED people will catch at least one b*stard CEO, General, think tank flunky or whoever else is responsible for the constant aerosol spraying in the atmosphere and put the wretch in jail. EXPECT IT!

If I have my way... we will hang the b*stard by the balls from a tall bridge.

: )


What if ?

by Akbarmashti on

Today, Syria seems to be the front line in a war between west and East.

What if, Russia and China armed Syria to the teeth including long range missiles reaching Europe and got them ready for a major war? In fact, some countries have already started a war against Syria. What if, Syria retaliated by taking out Saudis major oil production industries, oil field and pipelines? That will cripple Saudis for a long time and that would reduce the crude supply and increase the value of crude oil to at least $250 per barrel and demand for Iran's oil will increase a lot and who would be blamed for it? Countries started the war against Syria. Saudis will also blame their government for the disaster and rise to topple and replace it with an independent democratic government. If this happen, not only Iran will not be threatened by any country, but Iran will be protected to avoid more disaster that could push crude prices much higher.

What if, Syria did the same to Qatar?

Mohammad Alireza

There is no military option

by Mohammad Alireza on

Essentially what Hass and Gwertzman are saying is threading a needle is very hard so lets drop bombs.

The brute force and ignorance approach.

This bland interview leaves out so much that it is not saying anything.

What is really going on and how will Iran retaliate is the real issue.

Though it is extremely unlikey Hass or Gwertzman are reading ... but in case you are ... I invite you both to get a dose of hard reality by reading "How Will Iran Retailate?" at the link below:



One cannot have peace by raping, murdering and looting ….

by Bavafa on

The only long-term solution to the nightmare of  (TMOI) The Messianic Occupying Israel, is for TMOI to accept a nuclear free Middle East and to live by the rule of law, implementing the so many UN Security resolution and ending the occupation and Ghettoization of Palestine. 

One does not need to read far before seeing the depth of arrogance and imperialistic mindset of the interviewee.  Where he openly and rather proudly dismiss the 120 nations of this world:

Why there even is a Non-Aligned Movement anymore is high on my list of puzzling features of the foreign policy business I'm involved with


Furthermore, betting the lives of Americans on behalf of TMOI to providing them cover in their hit-and-run.


on how the Iranians would choose to retaliate, and that's where the United States comes in


Well, I would say Iran would have a full moral and legal right to retaliate if TMOI were feeling adventurous in their misdeeds.

But I will hope and wish for rational to prevail for the sake of so many Iranians and Israel citizens lives and livelihood.


'Hambastegi' is the main key to victory 




Iranians around the world are wide awake

by MaryamJoon on

Delirium the Movie: "Iranian Satanism," the Israeli Lobby, Democracy, & Defamation

CFR, Nobody really cares about CFR.  All of these types of organizations in the US have delegitimized themselves.   Iran is a tough country ... much tougher than Israel. 

Barry Manilow has more supporters than CFR; let's get his views on Iran too while we're at it. 


Regime change for sake of peace

by Fred on

The only long-term solution to the nightmare of Messianic Islamist Rapists, "reformers" and all, getting nuke is regime change.

There is still time to avoid the war the warmongering Islamist Rapists want. Recalibrate the sane world’s policy and make the goal regime change and not stopping nuke.

Backbreaking airtight sanctions plus air/naval quarantine in addition to logistical help to the Iranian people to overthrow the Islamist Rapists is a must.