Continuing yesterday’s thread on the Bush Administration’s ‘No’ to Israel regarding an air attack on Iran’s nuclear program, let’s look at why the the US government made the decision they did. First off, how threatening does the Bush administration believe a nuclear-armed Iran is? I think there is no doubt that Bush and his advisers view the Islamic Republic of Iran as a serious threat to regional stability and US regional dominance. Though I am not quite as concerned about an Iranian bomb, I think they would likely be rather rational and cautious, though more powerful and influential overall, I think Bush fears them to a much greater degree.
So therefore I believe Bush very much wants to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear capability, but why would he therefore give the Israeli’s the stop sign? I think the main reason has to be that it might create a situation of great instability in Iraq, where the US is trying to organize a withdrawal and the continued progress of a stable and somewhat democratic Iraqi state. If Israel attacked the Iranian nuclear system, using Iraqi airspace, there is a likely chance that the Iraqi government would put even more pressure on the US military to leave the country, arguing that they were undermining Iraqi sovereignty. Iran’s retaliatory measures might also destabilize the fragile Iraqi society and government as Muqtada al-Sadr and his Mahdi militia have strong connections the Iranian government and could create havoc in Baghdad and countryside as well as remove their political parties in government, creating a crisis of legitimacy and stalemating further legislation. So I think Iraqi stability took precedence over militarily taking out/or slowing an Iranian Bomb in this case.
Another rather obvious reason for Bush’s ‘No’ was the lack of evidence that the Israelis could really halt the Iranian nuclear weapon project by more than a year or so. According to the New York Times, Israel was planning on hitting the Natanz site, the most well-known Iranian nuclear facility, and other targets were also chosen, but there was not much information about them. The Bush administration probably reasoned that the probability of the strike doing major damage to the Iranian program was not worth the risk of the attack’s retaliatory consequences.
Looking at the Israeli-led strike occurring in today’s strategic environment, with Israel knee-deep in Gaza, seems even less likely. Though I do not think Israel’s air force is tied down enough to make this impossible. Lastly, I think another reason for Bush’s ‘No’ to Israel and apparent ‘No’ to a US-led operation also has to do with a sense that the incoming Obama administration may be tougher on Iran than previously thought. As Hirsch and others have predicted, Bush would military act on Iran because he felt an incoming administration would not have his will or political protection to do so.
Why do you think Bush said ‘No’? And should he have said ‘Yes‘?