Will Obama bomb Iran?


A still shot of US President Obama speaking to troops at Camp Pendleton on August 7, 2013.

Article Highlights

  • The president is clearly loath to engage in "another" military intervention in the Middle East.

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  • The likelihood of President Obama attacking Iran is between zero and nil.

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Editor's Note: RealClearWorld quizzed several Mideast experts about the likelihood that President Obama would be willing to reach for the option of last resort and order military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. AEI's Danielle Pletka and Michael Rubin were among the experts who weighed in.

Danielle Pletka: I believe there's little to no chance President Obama will order a military strike on Iran's nuclear weapons facilities before the end of his term. First, the president is clearly loath to engage in "another" military intervention in the Middle East. Second, it is clear that the administration is waiting until it is completely certain Iran has an actual weapon (rather than simply the means to assemble one in short order), and once Iran has an actual weapon, the calculus and danger of a strike grow substantially. In my view, Barack Obama wishes to leave office as the man who dramatically altered the domestic economic landscape, not as the man who bombed Iran.

Michael Rubin: The likelihood of President Obama attacking Iran is between zero and nil. Unfortunately, the Iranians understand that. Wars in the Middle East are not caused by oil or water, but rather by overconfidence. As the Obama administration -- and, to be fair, the Bush and Clinton administrations before that -- demonstrated, American redlines tend in fact to be pink and quite wide. The Iranians concluded that the Americans were paper tigers.

When Undersecretary of State Bill Burns -- now deputy secretary -- broke the taboo and sat down with an Iranian delegation in 2008, the commander of the Revolutionary Guards' ground forces declared, "America has no other choice but to leave the Middle East region beaten and humiliated." On the 30th anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran, Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei ridiculed Obama's outreach. While Americans see the 'pivot to Asia' against the context of China's rise, Iranians and Gulf Arabs hear a repeat of Sir Anthony Eden's "East of Suez" speech, which presaged the British withdrawal from the region almost a half century ago.

The looming danger is not a proactive conflict, but rather that the Iranians misread American resolve and force a reactive conflict. A quarter century has passed since Operation Praying Mantis -- the last major skirmish between U.S. and Iranian naval forces -- and that confrontation served as a reminded to Tehran that America would back its rhetoric with action. Let us hope that Obama understands that sometimes the best guarantee of peace is to speak softly and carry a big stick.

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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-5943
    Email: dpletka@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Alexandra Della Rocchetta
    Phone: 202-862-7152
    Email: alex.dellarocchetta@aei.org



  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran and diplomacy. Rubin instructs senior military officers deploying to the Middle East and Afghanistan on regional politics, and teaches classes regarding Iran, terrorism, and Arab politics on board deploying U.S. aircraft carriers. Rubin has lived in post-revolution Iran, Yemen, both pre- and post-war Iraq, and spent time with the Taliban before 9/11. His newest book, Dancing with the Devil: The Perils of Engagement examines a half century of U.S. diplomacy with rogue regimes and terrorist groups.

    Follow Michael Rubin on Twitter.

  • Phone: 202-862-5851
    Email: mrubin@aei.org
  • Assistant Info

    Name: Ahmad Majidyar
    Phone: 202-862-5845
    Email: ahmad.majidyar@aei.org

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