March 11th, 2012
08:25 AM ET

Zakaria: Avoid another war in the Middle East

By Fareed Zakaria, CNN

President Obama has been trying to cool down the war fever that suddenly gripped Washington early this month. But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's visit and the flurry of statements surrounding it have created a dangerous dynamic. It is easy to see how things move toward war with Iran. It is difficult to see how they don't.

The pressure is building on Iran, but there are no serious discussions of negotiated solutions. Israel has already discounted the proposed new talks. Republican candidates will denounce any deal, no matter how comprehensive the inspections.

So either Iran suddenly and completely surrenders - or Israel will strike. And Bibi Netanyahu knows that the window presented by the U.S. political season is closing. If he were to strike between now and November, he would be assured of unqualified support from Washington. After November, the American response becomes less predictable no matter who is elected president. The clock is ticking.

Read: Zakaria explains why oil prices keep rising.

Before we set out on a path to another Middle East war, let's remember some facts. First, Iran does not have nuclear weapons and the evidence is ambiguous - genuinely unclear - as to whether it has decided to make them.

But what if Iran did manage to develop a couple of crude nukes several years from now?

Obama says a nuclear Iran would set off an arms race in the Middle East.

But a nuclear North Korea has not led the two countries directly threatened by its weapons - South Korea and Japan - to go nuclear.

Read: Zakaria explains why Iran is a rational actor

Saudi Arabia and Egypt did not go nuclear in response to Israel's buildup of a large arsenal of nuclear weapons. After all, Egypt has gone to war three times with Israel. By contrast, it has not been in a conflict with Iran for centuries. So why would it go nuclear in response to Iran when it didn't in response to Israel?

Obama explained that a nuclear Iran would be a problem like India and Pakistan with their nuclear weapons. But India and Pakistan went to war three times in 30 years before they had nuclear weapons. Since they went nuclear, they have actually been restrained and have not fought a full-scale war in 40 years.

It's actually a case that shows the stabilizing, not destabilizing, effects of nuclear deterrence.

If Israel genuinely believes that deterrence doesn't work in the Middle East, why does it have a large nuclear arsenal if not to deter its enemies?

Iran's weapons could fall into the hands of terrorists, says the President. But would a country that has labored for decades to pursue a nuclear program and suffered huge sanctions and costs to do so then turn around and give away the fruits of its efforts to a gang of militants? This kind of reasoning is part of the view that the Iranians are mad, messianic people bent on committing mass suicide.

Read: Zakaria on Afghanistan

When Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Martin Dempsey explained on GPS last month that he viewed Iran as a "rational actor," he drew howls of protest. But Dempsey was making a good point. A rational actor is not a reasonable actor or one who has the same goals or values that you or I do. A rational actor, in economics or international relations, is someone who is concerned about his survival.

The one thing we know about Iran's leaders is that they are concerned about their survival. The question right now is not whether Iran can be rational - but whether the U.S. and Israel can accurately reason through the costs of a preventive war and its huge consequences.

For my full article on this subject (behind a pay wall), visit TIME.com. For more of my thoughts throughout the week, I invite you to follow me on Facebook and Twitter and to visit the Global Public Square every day. Be sure to catch GPS every Sunday at 10a.m. and 1p.m. EST. If you miss it, you can buy the show on iTunes.

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Topics: Fareed's Take • From Fareed • Iran • Military • Nuclear • United States

soundoff (646 Responses)
  1. Rags

    To help solve this stand-off and bad behavior between Iran and Israel I propose a sound solution. Let's lobby these two 'leaders' to a face-to-face confrontation in a boxing ring. No words, kicking, biting or other things allowed except blows to the body and head with a gloved hand.
    That way, the world can watch while these two arch enemies have at each other in a way that will keep the rest of the world safe and entertained in a humorous.
    BTW, because it's my idea, I get all the revenue generated by this bout.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:32 am | Reply
    • New Fan of Rags

      You, sir (or ma'am), are a genius. I will gladly have children with you.

      March 11, 2012 at 3:29 pm | Reply
  2. NorCalMojo

    If CNN was around in World War II, they'd give Quisling his own column.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:37 am | Reply
    • DanBun

      Quisling was a staunch conservative, he'd be on FOX News.

      March 11, 2012 at 10:41 am | Reply
    • NorCalMojo

      Compared to the ultra conservative cultures of the middle east, even our conservatives are sandal wearing hippies.

      Funny that you like to attack your own to help fundamentalist nutcases, Dan. It might be time for some soul searching on that one.

      March 11, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
  3. Lex

    I am very disappointed in Zacharia. Of course there are two sides to the argument–Iran is irrational and Iran is rational. Farid, for whatever reason, decided the rational side is the better side. I disagree, as do most people.

    Iran threw away tens of thoussands of Iranian lives in its war with Iraq, is responsible for the deaths of thousands of US soldiers, and is supporting terrorists who are tossing missiles at Israel. Its leaders make terrible threats against the world and specifically Israel.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:41 am | Reply
  4. nopath

    Arguing against military action from the perspective that it is unnecessary, too risky or too expensive is pointless. War will always be utilized unless the global human community develops the consensus of a principled rejection of physical violence as an acceptable tool of change.

    As outlandish as that may sound it is worth noting that already the US has a much lower threshold of tolerance for enemy collateral damage and loss of our own military personnel and resources.And the rest of the West has long been even more resistant leaning towards virtual pacificism.

    The path to international peace is one of widespread personal freedom in the areas of politics, religion, thought and speech coupled with broad acceptance of interpersonal tolerance and respect of differences in the above.

    Today one viral video is more powerful than any State in terms of creating change. Millions of hits on a youtube can have a greater effect than megatons of explosive power. The power of the pen is truly greater than that of the sword.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:43 am | Reply
  5. Primus

    Zarkaria's premise is downright dangerous. Implying that Pakistan and India have not been at war recently because they both have atomic weaponry? The man's mental playground is as well grounded as a pre-1980 Mt. St. Helens. I'm a person who thinks it beneficial to have these forums of discussions on major news sites, but responding to the kind of absurdities Mr. Zarkaria has been presenting should not even be necessary.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:47 am | Reply
  6. palintwit

    "Getting Rid of Teabaggers" or "Palintwit's Final Solution"

    1. Walmart advertises a big sale in the gun, knife and ammo department.
    2. Walmart promises a free autographed copy of Sarah Palin's crosshairs poster with every weapon sold.
    3. Walmart promises plenty of free trailer parking.
    4. Hordes of teabaggers inundate Walmart. Birthers show up too.
    5. Nuke Walmart. Simple.

    This method of attracting baggers works equally well at a nascar track.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
    • NorCalMojo

      Thanks for the input, Stalin.

      March 11, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
      • nick

        MR ZAKARIA IS ON PAYROLE OF IRANIAN GOVERNMENT, IT IS SAD TO HAVE HIM AT CNN.

        March 12, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
    • DanBun

      Rather unrelated to the topic at hand, don't you think?

      March 11, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • Scott

      Always hypocritical to start name-calling fights. How childish.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
  7. CJ

    Best article I've seen on CNN in a long time.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:52 am | Reply
  8. wileysee

    cnn now publishes this fruit cake's views on Iran at least twice a month...nothing changes for Zakaria he is still an ostrich. Now cnn on the other hand must have a lot of slow news days.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:53 am | Reply
  9. Ahm fam

    Zakaria, why you hate Israel that much, they just defending them-self , if any Muslim county have the power of Israel ..they would destroy the world .. including you . even you are a Muslim yourself .. but Islam is nothing but hateful believes .. stop the hypocrisy .. you and CNN ..I can't believe that people read your garbage

    March 11, 2012 at 10:54 am | Reply
    • Jack

      Defending what sir?

      March 11, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
      • DanBun

        Israel has been attacked numerous times by many Muslim nations; I can undertsnad their paranoia. And Iran directly supports several groups that attack Israel continuously (Hamas, for one). Granted, Israel has not been directly attacked by Iran, but should they wait for that to happen?

        March 11, 2012 at 11:05 am |
      • Kate

        Who dose support have you ever asked why?!

        March 11, 2012 at 11:07 am |
      • Waleed

        Kate err Fatmah, we support that is who does support. We are the sane people of the world.

        March 11, 2012 at 1:19 pm |
    • JD

      You are plain Stupid.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:05 am | Reply
    • wolfman

      I'm sure Fareed appreciates being informed by you that he is Muslim. What's next? He's Arab, too?

      March 11, 2012 at 8:09 pm | Reply
  10. Michael

    1953 till today, 49 yrs. of the Iranians having to worry about what will US do or say about every move they as a people choose. 49yrs is longer than Avg age in Iran. What would Iran be like today if the US had not preasured all its allies to try and ostracize Iran as a form of punishment for removing a US, Brit. dictator who was far worse than Saddam. or even Ruler of todays Syria.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:56 am | Reply
    • DanBun

      Clearly, our support of the Shah was a mistake. In our defense, that was done in the 1970's mostly, and done largely to prevent the Soviet Union from having direct access to the Indian Ocean. India was already a friend of the USSR (granted, officially non-aligned, but much of India's weapon's purchases were from the Soviets), and we wanted to block direct Russia influence into the Middle East. They already had strong ties to Syria and Egypt at that point. So much of our support of teh Shah was simply a Cold War aspect.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
      • Scott

        Everything we are fighting still is because of cold-war tactics. The biggest problems, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, all directly caused by our want to control and confront Russia's influence. And we did so by the easiest way we could find: take down democratic opportunities and promote strong-handed dictators to force control.

        I don't believe Americans can fix this problem until they realize that Americans are not perfect - because right now we view our government as perfect, but if it were ever anything more American, it would be to question your government's actions, past and future.

        March 11, 2012 at 11:29 am |
    • Adam

      They like Kings and Shas and dictators in the US, UK and Europe. It is easier to control people by providing a strong security apparatus to protect the kings who in turn can silence their people and put in jail whom we want without impunity. We create, support and allow few pariahs who were never elected but rather chosen by us to run the undesirable countries we sometimes call allies. But here is a truth, Bush declared war against all of them and the Arab spring has come to kick the ones we protected (like Moubarak) so where is that part of the world is going to? Our Middle-east experts have lost their minds, everything is changing since the Iranian revolution of 1979 we failed to understand and the fall of Moubarak we do not understand and Yemen we do not understand and Syria we do not understand and Lebanon (Condi said New World Order) we do not understand and Iraq we did not understand and Afghanistan we do not understand... They know where are going but we DO NOT KNOW where WE ARE GOING!

      March 11, 2012 at 3:05 pm | Reply
  11. John G

    The people that advocate a military solution to Iran are the same people who were all for the invasion of Iraq, thinking it would be quick and easy. If we do take military action, it will just create another nasty quagmire for us in the middle east, greatly increase the price of oil, and lead to another recession. Since it is likely we would damage, and not completely destroy their capability, it would take a full scale invasion to stop them from getting back to work on the bomb, with vengence in their heart.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:58 am | Reply
    • DanBun

      Agreed. And remember, Iranians are Persians, not Arabs. They have a cultural difference and are rather better armed than Iraq was before we invaded them.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:09 am | Reply
    • Scott

      Iran has a large population, nearly one quarter of the USA's, more than Afghanistan and Iraq combined, with more wealth than both put together.

      In fact, when you google photos of Tehran, any reasonable human being would shed a tear at the thought of bombing the city and its people, as a jab at their leaders, just as terrorists would kill our civilians as a jab at our government.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:25 am | Reply
    • scieng1

      Not really. many of us did not support invading Iraq. I am do not supoort invasion of Iran, but Iran's rationality is totally based onits commitment to radical Islam. As long as its people permit this leadership, they share the consequences of Iran's promises to attack Irsrael and the West.

      March 11, 2012 at 1:40 pm | Reply
  12. Alan

    I tell you we need to go to war because we have brought prosperity and democracy to IRAQ Look at them now they have nice cars they eat at,RUTH CHRIS,They Eat CRABS and so much more this is why there are more reasons we should attack IRAN and protect the ISREAL unconditionally as we have for the last 50 years. I think U All get my point,,,,, and Farid is a Jihadist for sure as some of u say.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:59 am | Reply
    • Alex

      To the point.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • Beny

      You are funny

      March 11, 2012 at 11:08 am | Reply
    • Scott

      War is for the uncivilized. Since Iran has not started it, that would make Iran more civilized than yourself.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  13. ThePastaSauce

    Fareed's premiss that "nuclear proliferation helps support world peace" might be the singular most dangerous statement ever made by a bias news reporter. He claims nuclear nations do not go to war with one another out of fear of retaliation (MAD). However, in nuclear age you one need ONE weapon to fall into the hands of an unstable government or worse unstable military commander and you have all you need for a human catastrophe. What if Cuba were do have been permitted to build soviet military nuclear weapons? Should the US place nuclear weapons in Kuwait or Saudi Arabia to counter Iran's nukes? A world armed with nuclear weapons is not one step closer to utopia, but rather a world one step closer to Armageddon!!!

    March 11, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
    • DanBun

      Your concerns are indeed well-founded. But History HAS shown us that nuclear weapons do keep the peace. Simply put, the USA and USSR never fought each other. Mostly out of fear that whoever started losing might be tempted to use nuclear weapons. And he is right about Pakistani-India relations. I would add that india and China have not had any border disputes since they both obtained nukes.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:12 am | Reply
      • ThePastaSauce

        BIG difference is the USA & USSR were never fighting over disputed land, economic resources or religious fanaticism
        only political ideological differences. Interject nuclear weapons into the dispute over Israel's right to exist and the centuries old religious disputes and the its a recipe for nuclear war.

        March 11, 2012 at 11:28 am |
  14. chet

    To think that anyone would leave Israel out in the cold to defend themselves alone only shows the blame the J E W S for everything mentality. Those types of people only want the Holocaust to happen again. We have no choice but to back Israel to the fullest.
    As for this reporter he should be ashamed of his biased reporting and speculation. If C N N continues to take such a one sided view of the so called news it will continue to loose its credibility.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:06 am | Reply
  15. Joe M.

    Fareed is against attacking Iran, period. So why would we listen to his advice on when an attack would be considered by him to be "too early".

    March 11, 2012 at 11:11 am | Reply
    • DanBun

      Perhaps he is the voice of caution. We should not rush to war. It's too easy. Look how many of our boys and girls died, and are permanently affected, by our rash decision to attack/invade Iraq? War has its place, but should not be entered into so lightly and quickly. That said, we must make VERY clear that if the USA is threatened, we will not hesitate to defend ourselves. This is not an easy balance to maintain, of course.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:14 am | Reply
      • DonBon

        Slimy fear monger. does Allah give you permission to lie?

        March 11, 2012 at 2:53 pm |
  16. Truth_Sayer

    Fareed, I see lots of bias in your Iran comments. So these days I dont watch your political side of the program. I understand your point., probably your life would be in danger if you say against Iran. So leave this Geo-Political analysis and limit your program to Economy.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
  17. tman

    the mullahs of iran are the greatest SATANS OF THEM ALL...........

    March 11, 2012 at 11:13 am | Reply
  18. John Vance

    Dr Zakaria's point is well-made. Although the containment of nuclear weapon capability is a wise policy, a greater need is to use caution in both words and action when dealing with the Middle East. Whether or not Iran really wants to make nuclear weapons is uncertain but She certainly wants to provoke some kind of reaction with rhetoric. One thing to remember: Iran does not have nuclear weapons and Israel (by all accounts) does. Israel has no friends in the region, and given Her history of using a "no alternative" doctrine in dealing with military conflicts that endanger Her survival, there exists the possibility of creating a crisis where the next atomic weapon that goes off in anger will be Israeli-made. The resultiing situation would be immeasureably tragic and infintely worse than the current state of affairs.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:18 am | Reply
    • Mike in SA

      The problem with your theory about Israel is that the only reason Israel is not overrun is that A) they are supported/protected by the US and B) they have a handful of nukes. They know that were they to use a nuclear weapon without being invaded to the point of complete and utter annihilation as a nation, they would lose US support and protection. As soon as that handful of nukes ran out, they would be overrun in short order. That's a pretty big deterrent to them using those weapons.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  19. Mike in SA

    I used to think Zakaria was a paid mouthpiece of the Obama administration. I'm starting to think he's moonlighting as a paid mouthpiece for the Iranian government too. I mean Fareed actually seems to be PROMOTING a nuclear Iran under the rationale that it would somehow be stabilizing factor for the Middle East.

    Virtually no informed source believes that the "evidence is ambiguous" as to Iran's intentions. That's why the global community is piling on sanctions. Even worse is his attempt to downplay the looming threat by implying Iran might... MIGHT...have nukes "several years from now" when almost all Informed, rational experts are predicting several MONTHS from now.

    Also, Fareed, if you are going to cite events and impacts as examples, then be honest about it. South Korea has not developed nukes for the sole reason that they already host nuclear missiles on their soil. The US military has many - both strategic and tactical - nuclear missiles based in South Korea. And of course North Korea's neighbors didn't start development of nuclear missiles in response! North Korea was already surrounded by nukes and developed theirs in response to that! Add to that the fact that as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Saudi Arabia government has already declared that they were committed to acquiring nuclear weapons if Iran did and it's clear that you are playing very loose and free with the "truth".

    One has to question why Fareed. Why all the contortions on your part to feed the public a bunch of dangerous misinformation???

    March 11, 2012 at 11:19 am | Reply
    • Samuels

      Bravo! Well said.

      March 11, 2012 at 2:17 pm | Reply
  20. Scott

    Declare War, see how easy it is to declare it when you do it legally.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:19 am | Reply
  21. jal

    Consider signal-to-noise ratio.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:19 am | Reply
  22. Lee

    It seems to me that Western Propaganda Machine have decided to stop here . Ha ha ha ha ha .Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has brushed aside the US and Israeli military threats against the Islamic Republic, saying their options can remain on the table until they rot.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
  23. Lee

    It seems to me that Western Propaganda Machine have decided to stop here . Ha ha ha ha ha .Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has brushed aside the US and Israeli military threats against the Islamic Republic, saying their options can remain on the table until they rot. Press tv

    March 11, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
  24. Scott

    I'd like someone to present some evidence that Iran has nuclear weapons... oh wait, still, both CIA and Israeli intelligence say Israel "could but hasn't" started making a Nuclear Weapon.

    Here we are, ready to bomb more cities due to the petrodollar being in trouble, and we sit on our own undrilled lands.

    Sarcastically can't wait to sit and watch CNN while we bomb Tehran, forgetting that millions of innocent women and children are listening to this outside their windows.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • Mobius007

      I'm all for more domestic drilling, but why would that lower gas prices? Some facts:

      – US gasoline consumption is at 15 year lows.
      – Gasoline exports FROM the US are at RECORD highs
      – US oil production is higher now than anytime in the last 6 years.
      – Multiple US refineries have been closed due to lack of gas demand.

      So, I would suggest to you that even if we had more US production, it would be exported as refined product (like gasoline), since that's the most profitable outcome for the oil companies.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:27 am | Reply
  25. reader

    The "rational actors" of Iran have repeatedly stated that they would wipe Israel off of the map and have denied the holocaust. Is this really rational thinking?

    March 11, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
    • AGuest9

      Very little rational thought takes place in the Middle East.

      March 11, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
    • sfoch

      Actually this statement is not true. Iran never said it would "wipe Israel off the face of the earth." It said like the regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Soviet Union, [one day] the Zionist regime will pass from the pages of time. The wipe off the earth thing came from our own media in the states who were paraphrasing using their own language. Not condoning the statement, just correcting a frequently misquoted saying that is far more dangerous than what was said.

      March 11, 2012 at 4:24 pm | Reply
  26. wade

    Great Idea unless of course they get the BOMB! Then it would have been the stupidest idea of the century.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:21 am | Reply
  27. Alex

    Fareed used to be somewhat ok once. Now he is nothing else but Muslim Agenda rep on CNN.he is clearly anti Israeli – manipulating facts again and again. And what about his anti ADL remarks? Anyways I cant watch his show anymore.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:23 am | Reply
  28. Mobius007

    It would take just one tanker being hit by a missile in the Straight to send oil to $200.

    Unfortunately, since oil is the most precious commodity on Earth, war with Iran is inevitable.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:24 am | Reply
  29. Howard64

    Great picture of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad thumbing his nose at the world! (appearances count)

    March 11, 2012 at 11:26 am | Reply
  30. AGuest9

    Gee. Do you think China will lend us the money to do this?

    March 11, 2012 at 11:28 am | Reply
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