...And Netanyahu's specific anxiety is not unreasonable: The White House position is that the U.S. will keep Iran from possessing a nuclear bomb. It is fair to ask, as Bibi is asking: Does that mean you will let them have a warhead design, sufficient enriched uranium, and a missile system capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, so long as they don't actually finish building the device and then mating it to a delivery system? In other words, what if Iran is only technically non-nuclear? What if it would only take Iran a month to put together a nuclear bomb from the moment the decision is made? What will you do then? And how will you know, for sure, that they are doing it? American officials have promised Israel and the Arab states that their intelligence is good enough that they will know when Iran is approaching the nuclear threshold. But obviously the record of the American intelligence community is not without its flaws (the same holds true, of course, for Israel, and the Europeans.) ...
Understanding why Bibi frustrates Obama, this sounds sensible to me. Trying to understand this matter logically confounds me. If the premise is, however unstated, "We'll never take military action against Iran to stop them from going nuclear," then I can see coherence in U.S. policy. Never state the premise, act as if the premise doesn't exist, make sounds like military options "are on he table," keep increasing all pressure short of military action, and hope for the best, understanding the key to this policy is prevention short of military action and that failing containment.
But if Obama can be taken at his word, that his policy truly is to stop Iran from going nuclear, even using force, then I don't understand the refusal to draw a properly worded, properly conceived red line. Reports from the disinterested international monitoring agency indicate Iranian refusal to cooperate with inspectors, increasing its enrichment of uranium, other technical signs I don't fully understand which, apparently, raise troubling inferences of Iranian nuclear intentions.
The refusal to formulate an appropriate red line seems to me to signal an ultimate unwillingness to take action. The best argument I can deduce coming from the administration is that, as put by Panetta, "drawing red lines will paint the U.S. into a corner." But to my admittedly layman's logic, I can't follow this line of reasoning. Surely the U.S. understands that which, if it really means to stop Iran including by military action, it will not tolerate Iran going beyond. If so why not state it, of course appropriately, sufficiently qualified for contingencies and its own flexibility? Then the U.S. will have, generally, specified what will trigger action and Iran will need to take that generally specific ultimatum into account in its forward movement and the U.S. will have put flesh on the bare bone of its public commitment.
I'd like to understand the reasoning that resolves my perplexity here. What am I missing?
Me:Well, my own analysis is that Israel shouldn't take military action against Iran and that Iran ultimately is a rational actor in these matters regardless of its nightmare, apocalyptic rhetoric and its utter internal and international perfidy.
In my view containment will be the inevitable policy.
On the other hand, what I think matters not. I'm not living in Israel surrounded by militants rhetorically committed to her destruction and the only country in the world, as I'm aware, whose existence is repeatedly existentially threatened merely by reason her existence, which is by the way a beacon of humane civilization compared to what surrounds her and is near to her. I'll leave her life and death decisions to Israel as she decides to make them through her unique-to-the-region democratic processes.
But all of this is beside my precise question: again, given Obama's public commitment to preventing Iran going nuclear including the use of force, and assuming Obama in this means what he says--"I don't bluff"--I, again, don't understand the reasoning for the U.S. refusal to formulate a red line.
I don't see the answer to that in any of the above commentary.
Neil: I think there is reason to worry that America may not be ready to go to war in the region (again) to protect an increasingly ugly Israeli state. Personally, I would be against such a war. Israel is an ally only in the sense that she would like very much to have our aid and protection, in return for which our concerns about settlements are set aside with contempt and our President is accused of throwing Israel under the bus? It is time to re-think our relationship with Israel, but it is not Obama who is to blame if this alliance has come to an end.
Just to be clear and to move this discussion down from a possible level of abstraction, the issue is not red lines as a general proposition, but rather a stated U.S. red line at this time concerning Iran’s nuclearization.
And, again, just for clarity, my assumption is that Obama means what he says when he says he won’t let Iran go nuclear his means including force. So for these purposes that sincere intention is a given. (Which in itself may be a kind of red line, it occurs to me.)
Your first point of your two part case is that a red line will signal a limit to diplomatic action. And then use a chess analogy, the end game, and liken a red to a hardened condition for war, an ultimatum, in your words, “making difficult negations more difficult.” The problem with this point is that” it ain’t necessarily so.” If it’s not necessarily so, then it’s your and others’ speculative judgment as to what might happen were a red line enunciated. But why is that judgment better than the judgment that a red line may be more efficacious here than not? Here let’s recall Goldberg’s sympathy for Bibi’s exasperation:
... And Netanyahu's specific anxiety is not unreasonable: The White House position is that the U.S. will keep Iran from possessing a nuclear bomb. It is fair to ask, as Bibi is asking: Does that mean you will let them have a warhead design, sufficient enriched uranium, and a missile system capable of delivering a nuclear warhead, so long as they don't actually finish building the device and then mating it to a delivery system? In other words, what if Iran is only technically non-nuclear? What if it would only take Iran a month to put together a nuclear bomb from the moment the decision is made? What will you do then? And how will you know, for sure, that they are doing it? American officials have promised Israel and the Arab states that their intelligence is good enough that they will know when Iran is approaching the nuclear threshold. But obviously the record of the American intelligence community is not without its flaws (the same holds true, of course, for Israel, and the Europeans.)...
To this need be added the fact that it appears from the IAEA August 2102 reporting that, as I have read, Iran’s nuclear program is performing faster and better than in any prior period, despite tough sanctions and cyber warfare. Iran continues to produce, in the midst of the latest ratcheted up sanctions, 3.5 percent enriched uranium at the fastest rate ever – 62 percent faster than the end of 2011—and is using more centrifuges than ever before. Iran continues to accelerate its production of 20 percent enriched uranium; the production rate has more than tripled since the end of last year. Iran’s stockpile of 3.5 percent and 20 percent enriched uranium could already yield, with further enrichment, enough highly enriched uranium (HEU), uranium enriched above 90 percent, for several nuclear devices. To the content of this latest report needs further to be added, so we remind ourselves, that negotiations over years and including in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Moscow have failed. It’s a reasonable inference that the Iranians are playing time, not negotiating in good faith and hell bent on completing their project.
Commenting on the latter portion of the question first, the U.S has in broad terms, it may be argued, and as above suggested set a red line in the sense of its public position that, as Panetta, said at one point in one interview with CBS, as I have read, “If... we get intelligence that they are proceeding with developing a nuclear weapon the we will take whatever necessary steps to stop it.” And we have of course Obama’s already noted public commitment on the issue. The problem with these statements is they are vague and somewhat all over the place and Iran, as it proceeds according to the IAEA reporting, is not much deterred by them, signaling to my mind lack of clear resolve. So the argument flowing from this point, it strikes me, that this is an opportune time to set more clear, coherent, consistent and understandable marker. As well, let’s not confuse deadlines with red lines. While the former may obstruct negotiations and make war a certainty, the latter need not do so. Proscribed conduct, something functional and unacceptable, will be a trigger not an artificial deadline.
The second point in my just asked question is why does setting such a red line stifle negotiation? Iran is given to know where it stands and must take inot account the consequences of its actions within that set framework. For, there are times when the best way to prevent the need to use force is to communicate clearly its possibility. If the U.S really means it has a military option and will act on it, it needs to be unambiguous about that as a general matter. Iran will know there are real limits to how long talks can go on and how long it can stall while it proceeds apace with its project in the meantime. I’d argue, as my premise has it, if the U.S. is serious then Iran must understand there is no middle ground or choice between negotiations and preventative strikes. At some point, when the line is crossed, the former gives way to the latter.
There is a further problem with the antimony between a red line and diplomacy: if the U.S.’s commitment is serious then likely an action, following what Panetta said, showing a clear move toward getting a bomb -- such as throwing out the IAEA inspectors, revelations about other secret nuclear facilities, clear and sustained evidence of enrichment above 20 percent, or further weaponization -- would be expected trigger a U.S. military response. As you say yourself, “A red line is something useful for the President to define for himself, among his closest advisers...”
But, for example, the NATO treaty sets red lines as do many existing security agreements which America has been party to for decades after the WW 11. And WW 11 is instructive because its lesson is the consequences by the ongoing and consistent refusal of European leaders in the 1930s to establish clear lines for German action. The NATO red line affirmed over the decades by successive presidents contributed to collapse of the Soviet Union. Article 5 of the NATO treaty says:
“The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defence recognised by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.”
In the result, I’m unpersuaded by the first point in your two part case.
Your second point is even more unpersuasive. The argument is it promotes war, for BIbi can yell “breach”and then perforce war, even if U.S. experts are at odds about a breach. As if, Israel will make the U.S. do something it doesn’t want to do. As if, there couldn’t be that same disagreement about a breach even if the red line was kept, as say it should it be, private. My interpretation of a sub text of your comment, and particularly, your second point is that you resist the foundation set up by the premise: that Obama means what he says. A red line makes force—and I distinguish between the tailored use of force and war, for precision, clearer thinking, and to avoid the emotive power of the latter term—more discernible, its possibility more transparent, not more likely. You I think tend to conflate the two out of rearing back from force’s possibility, the transparency of that possibility clearly not to your liking.
Me: You have shifted the ground you're polemically standing on. Your first argument rested on stated red lines hobbling diplomacy and making war more likely, though you "conceded" the efficacy, (is "need"too strong?) of internal red lines, known to the commander and his advisors. Now you're arguing that a precipitous going to war in Iraq, which is a matter of some argument, means what: no stated red line or do away entirely with the concept of red lines? The latter means incoherence, no real policy whatsoever. The former as the basis of defining a causus belli is functionally indistinguishable from the latter. Bush was hell bent on going to war, Cheney who held then powerful sway even more so, not even wanting to go to the U.N., (the resulting S.C. Resolution being what by the way? Nothing other than a RED LINE.) The haste in Iraq isn't attributable to red lines, private or public. It's attributable to precisely what it was--haste.