General Dempsey sends a message of U.S. weakness to Tehran.

February 22, 2012 – Containing Israel on Iran: Is the Obama Administration more concerned that Iran may get a nuclear weapon, or that Israel may use military force to prevent Iran from doing so? The answer is the latter, judging from comments on Sunday by Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey.

Appearing on CNN, General Dempsey (pictured below) sent precisely the wrong message if the main U.S. strategic goal is convincing Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. He said the U.S. is urging Israel not to attack Iran—because Iran hasn’t decided to build a bomb, because an Israeli attack probably wouldn’t set back Iran by more than a couple of years, and because it would invite retaliation and be “destabilizing” throughout the Middle East.

“That’s the question with which we all wrestle. And the reason we think that it’s not prudent at this point to decide to attack Iran,” the General said, referring to a possible Iranian response to an attack. “That’s been our counsel to our allies, the Israelis. And we also know or believe we know that the Iranian regime has not decided that they will embark on the capability—or the effort to weaponize their nuclear capability.”

In a single sound bite, General Dempsey managed to tell the Iranians they can breathe easier because Israel’s main ally is opposed to an attack on Iran, such attack isn’t likely to work in any case, and the U.S. fears Iran’s retaliation. It’s as if General Dempsey wanted to ratify Iran’s rhetoric that the regime is a fearsome global military threat.

If the U.S. really wanted its diplomacy to work in lieu of force, it would say and do whatever it can to increase Iran’s fear of an attack. It would say publicly that Israel must be able to protect itself and that it has the means to do so. America’s top military officer in particular should say that if Iran escalates in response to an Israeli attack, the U.S. would have no choice but to intervene on behalf of its ally. The point of coercive diplomacy is to make an adversary understand that the costs of its bad behavior will be very, very high.

The general is not a free-lancer, so his message was almost certainly guided by the White House. His remarks only make strategic sense if President Obama’s real priority is to contain Israel first—especially before the November election.

This might also explain General Dempsey’s comments that the U.S. doesn’t believe Iran’s regime has decided to build an atomic bomb and that it is a “rational” actor, like, say, the Dutch. This would be the same rational Iran that refuses to compromise on its nuclear plans despite increasingly damaging global sanctions, and the same prudent actor that has sent agents around the world to bomb Israeli and Saudi targets, allegedly including in a Washington, D.C. restaurant.

Iran doesn’t need to explode a bomb, or even declare that it has one, to win its nuclear standoff. All it needs to do is get to the brink and make everyone believe it can build a bomb when it wants to. Then the costs of deterring Iran go up exponentially, and the regime’s leverage multiplies in the Middle East and against American interests. General Dempsey’s assurances obscure that military and political reality.

Like most of Mr. Obama’s Iran policy, General Dempsey’s comments will have the effect of making war more likely, not less. They will increase Israel’s anxiety about U.S. support, especially if Mr. Obama is re-elected and he has a freer political hand. This may drive Israel’s leadership to strike sooner. Weakness invites war, and General Dempsey has helped the Administration send a message of weakness to Israel and Iran. (Credits: Photo – Getty Images, Narrative – The Wall Street Journal)

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1 Response to General Dempsey sends a message of U.S. weakness to Tehran.

  1. Concerning a possible preemptive attack by Israel, I agree with the way the Obama administration is approaching the crisis for several reasons. First, according to earlier CIA and French intelligence sources, Iran has probably not yet developed a nuclear weapon. Second, the economic sanctions are working. Third, as concerns U.S. military intervention, it is against conventional military wisdom to start a war in Iran, while we still have military personnel in Iraq. Fourth, I will even go out on a limb and suggest that both Israel and Iran are playing a game of bluff. Fifth, an attack by Israel would destabilize the region, revitalize Iranian nationalism, and cause a setback of any hope of promoting democracy in Iran in the near future. Sixth, there are the lessons we ought to have learned from the war in Iraq. Seventh, and assuming Israel launches an attack, it will not be a walk in the park, because from what I understand it would take a coordinated attack involving at least 100 aircraft, with the odds against the attack actually being a complete success (i.e., taking out all suspected nuclear facilities).

    Eight, and more importantly, there is another viable option to war that the news sources are ignoring, which may be due to the politics of challenging Israel. A few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled, “Why not a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone?”, which directly relates to the “The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons” (NPT) (See

    Quoting from the article, “the Action Plan [NPT] is also intended to serve as an initiative to convene an international conference in 2012 on the implementation of the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East, which concerns the establishment of a zone free of weapons of mass destruction in that region. In other words, what now refers to a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone (MENWFZ)?” The responsibility of organizing this conference was given to the UN by the NPT States Parties, and in 2012, Finland will host the NPT-conference. It is also important to realize that the 1995 Resolution on the Middle East was part of a “package deal,” which led to the indefinite extension of the Treaty (NPT).

    All of the Middle East countries, except for Israel, are a State Party to the NPT. Israel, pursuant to its policy of opacity, is the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East region. Iran may or may not possess a nuclear weapon, and it is more probably than not that Iran has yet to develop a nuclear weapons. In 2011, Saudi Arabia was also even talking about possibility acquiring nuclear weapons.

    Moreover, it is Iran that actually suggested a Middle East nuclear weapon free zone (MENWFZ), and it is Iran that is pushing for this to occur at the NPT-conference in Finland this year.

    My point is this, and quoting from the article, “In the interim, the world stands poised for a deadly confrontation, while the possibility of a MENWFZ presents a viable alternative to war with Iran, especially if Israel can be induced to become a signatory NPT state-party and shed its policy of nuclear opacity.”

    For all of these reasons, in my opinion, a preemptive attack by Israel on Iran will ultimately do more harm than good.

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