Iran, and Israel, Should Take Obama at His Word on the Nuclear Question

President Obama promised to kill Osama Bin Laden. He did. He promised to withdraw American troops from Iraq. He did. He promised to kill Anwar al-Awlaki. He did. He promised to make Afghanistan the focus of the War on Terror. He did. Obama has said, repeatedly, publicly and unconditionally, that a nuclear-armed Iran is unacceptabe to him. He has said that all options are on the table. If I were the Iranians, I would take him at his word. And if I were Israel, I would take him at his word as well. (Obama's feelings about Prime Minister Netanyahu are not particularly material in this discussion, in part because the president understands that Iran is a problem for the world, not just for Israel.)

I know there are plenty of people out there who believe that Obama would rather let Iran become a nuclear power than launch a military strike at its nuclear sites. I don't agree. I see no sign that Obama is moving toward a policy of containment -- which is to say, I don't think he's very interested in learning to live with an Iranian bomb. Things could change -- the advocates of containment (a not-very-effective policy idea, in my opinion) could make inroads at the White House. But I don't think so, for any number of reasons, which I outline in my Bloomberg View column this week:

...I believe, based on interviews inside and outside the White House, that (Obama) would consider using force -- missile strikes, mainly -- to stop the Iranians from crossing the nuclear threshold. Why? Four reasons:
First, Iran and the U.S. have been waging a three- decade war for domination of the Middle East. If Iran goes nuclear, it will have won this war. American power in the Middle East will have been eclipsed, and Obama will look toothless.
Second, every U.S. ally in the Middle East -- Israel, the Gulf countries and Turkey, especially -- fears a nuclear Iran. The president would have their complete support.
Third, the president is ideologically committed to a world without nuclear weapons. If Iran gets the bomb, it will set off an arms race in the world's most volatile region. At the very least, Saudi Arabia and Turkey will seek nuclear weapons. It would mark a bitter defeat for Obama to have inadvertently overseen the greatest expansion of the nuclear arms club in recent history.
Finally, the president has a deep understanding of Jewish history, and is repulsed by Iranian anti-Semitism. He doesn't want to be remembered as the president who failed to guarantee Israel's existence.
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Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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