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 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. Ahimsa-man

    I wish I could live on a different planet while you take out this one.


    March 11, 2012 at 11:30 am | Reply
  2. Jim in Florida


    "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?"


    Uh, Fareed – I think that the goal is to PREVENT Iran from ever getting its terrorist bllod stained hands on a nuke.

    So what if Iran developes a couple of crude nukes? Are you really that stupid Zarkaria? So what....goodness. If you are killed by a "crude" nuke, guess what Fareed, you are dead. Now its the "they will only develop a crude nuke argument. Right.

    I can only conclude that Zarkaria and CNN are proxies for CAIR and the Iranian government.

    Decidedly anti Semitic.

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

      You are "decidely not brilliant". Why bring anti-semitic into it? Are you in favor of invading or bombing Pakistan, North Korea or Russia (which has terrorist blood on their hands)? And if not, why not? Oh , I forgot to mention China. Now let's see which countries can the US let slip off the radar for future bombing? Yes, I must be anti-American. The world belongs to US and we decide who can and not have nuclear weapons.

      March 11, 2012 at 3:19 pm | Reply
  3. BornInUSSR

    On whose side Zakaria is? He disregards and twists facts to suit his almost pro-islamist ideology. Why don't CNN hire Al-Kaida to hear strait from the horse's mouth rather than have someone disguised as a commentator

    March 11, 2012 at 11:32 am | Reply
  4. amarjeet

    This is what Maine & GOP members are crying for & was done by Mr.G.W.Bush at the behest of WA WA. Every attack has an objective & strategy with concrete results. If results are hazy & more destructive its plan needs revision & redoing to achieve objectives. Nobody can determine results of a tornado except devastation & peace for some time but not wailing & weeping on losses. Every country needs culture study & Iran has proved different unlike own history. Shah was over thrown in favor of religious rule of preference. Now seeing theocratic exploitation, next younger generation appreciate democratic model with liberty & freedom from all extremes. It has to waited & watched for more time as it is yet be seen what Abduljenajad says & practices. All histories are evolution due to changing behavior & expectation of leaders & people as human behavior is not certain & stable.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:37 am | Reply
  5. Michael

    The reality of Irans domestic and international policy towards every other nation from trade to Cultural Exchange programs was normal but it was the far right militant religious fanatics, Christian and Jewish, begining with Regans term refused to renew Diplowatic Relations. After a failed military rescue Iran tried through Canadian Embdasy in Iran to negotiate hostage release but our hawks said no. Instead Hawks held up release and went through secret route using Isreal as middle man. When Iran agreed to Release hortages after Regan sworn in and later arms for Iran/ Contra Scandle they would open full Diplomatic Recognition of Khomenis ?? government. Hawks lied then just as they do today.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:40 am | Reply
    • DB

      You should check the fact before you blame far right. it all started with Jimmy Carter.

      March 11, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Reply
  6. 9/11

    This man who is employed by CNN is making an argument that Iran should be allowed to gain nuclear weapons yet the United States has deemed Iran a terrorist state and supporter of terrorism. Did not Iranian men attempt to kill Israeli diplomats in Thailand just last month? Hezzbolah is a terrorist organization that uses suicide bombings and bombings of innocents women and children. Iran is radical and they are run by fanatics. The leaders of Iran are equal to Hitler in what they want to achieve. Does the world need to have a world war for some third world country that seeks to be known as the greatest terrorist nation?

    This author is islamic and it shows clear as day. He is with little concern for what Americans think of him saying he supports Iran. He is embolden by barack obama in the White House. He sees obama with no spine to stand up for America and our own interest but to support islamic goals worldwide. If you dont understand then read the quran and hadith. Learn about islam and educate yourself about what is written in their faith guide.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
  7. jorget58

    I have a simple question about all this discussion: If Israel decide unilaterally to attack Iran based on their own need for security- even having nuclear weapons exclusively in the Middle East- why the US has to jumpo into war with them? It is not a mature decision of a country so be it but doing alone. It is your mess so, you deal with it. It is like a father fixing the disaster created by an spoiled child. Israel can do whatever they consider is necessary for their safety but has no right to pull the US with them. They have to think and act like adults not spoiled teenagers.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:41 am | Reply
  8. k

    Let us bomb every country on the planet and then bomb ourselves.

    No human problems anymore !

    March 11, 2012 at 11:48 am | Reply
    • Najda

      Now there is a logical person. Unfortunately, Awahd, I am not interested in the Allah fallacies.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
  9. martialeagle

    The root of evil in the Middle East rest in the claim of Abram of Ur,Sumer that his god ordered him to invade and occupy Canaan killing, wounding and displacing the Canaanites. But then the New Testament of Jesus and the Recitation of Muhammad made the same claim superceding the claim of Moses and the Old Testament.

    The base of evil in Holy Land stems from the destruction of the Temple, the Crusades,the Inquistion,pogroms,the Ottoman Empire,the British Empire, the Holocaust and the American Empire.

    Iran has fallen to whim of the British/American empires losing a democratic government,having the tyrant dictator Shah imposed on them, encouraging Iraq's war against Iran, shooting down a civilian Iranian plane and the invasion and occupation of Iran's neighbors Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Israel is a theocratic colonial apartheid state sponsor of terrorism with nuclear weapons. Israeli's who are not Jews(25%) are second class citizens. Palestinians under occupation(4 million) are in the position of the American colonists under British rule.

    Neither a Jewish state of Israel nor an Arab state of Palestine would be a liberal secular democracy in accord with American values or interests. Zionism and Islamism are morally equivalent but neither reflect Americanism.

    America has made the Iranians reasonably fearful and Israel unreasonably arrogant. Iran has more than twice as many people as Iraq and Afghanistan combined. The people have more education and women participate in the economy.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • Meebo

      Iran needs to be cleansed of its evil influences.. heat will do that.. lots and lots of it. A nuke blast starts with a brilliant white flash of light.. let there be light. Let it shine on Tehran.. downtown would be nice.

      March 11, 2012 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  10. paul

    My views tend to align with Fareed's in most cases. In this case however, I do think he underestimates the different rules by which religous fanascists play. They are wired differently. These are people who support suicide bombings and cloak the horrific acts in some twisted interpretation of the Quran. It's naive i think to assume they would think twice about starting a nuclear war if at any point they felt it is Allah's will to let all hell break loose as a means of protecting Islam. All it would take is one fatwa from the Ayotollah.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:52 am | Reply
  11. Steven James Beto

    Why not expand the concept of the European Union and invite Iran to join?

    March 11, 2012 at 11:55 am | Reply
    • Al Anton


      March 11, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Reply
  12. RC

    It is not in American interests to go to war with Iran on Israel's request.

    * If Israel could do it it alone, it may, but let this be a war between Israel and Iran, with all other players staying away. In
    reality, Israel is not very threatened, and it is just convenient if the US damages Iran.
    * Drawing the US into a war with Iran is no different than having drawn the US into the war with Iraq. We know the results.

    * The Iraq war helped Israel, but hurt the US. It cost US lives, US $ and the US reputation of being fair. The real problem was in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and we are dealing with that now, 10 years later.

    * Iran does not pose a threat to the US, nor any western nation. The argument that Israel makes is weak, and only serves to extend the sense of victim hood that is now gotten old given how strong Israel is. It is good to have a strong Israel, and we are happy for it. But, to forget that, and baby it more, is irresponsible. The world does not
    agree with us as we continue to coddle Israel.

    * The Israel lobby in the US is strong, and wields tremendous influence especially through the media. But, at the end of the day, we ought to think of the US, our people, and our credibility in the world.

    * Being pushed into a war with Iran, will hurt the US, give Israel a temporary sense of victory, but in the long run hurt Israel and play into Iran's hands.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:56 am | Reply

    I support the bombing of Iran.

    March 11, 2012 at 11:58 am | Reply
  14. DB

    Let just wait until after the election so you can protect Obama's foreign policy.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  15. Al Anton

    Hey FRED - what planet do you live on? North Korea is paranoid to be sure, but they're not populated by demented, suicidal maniacs such as the muslims in the middle east. Get a grip.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Reply
  16. Hugo Chavez

    The "noisome devil worshipper Iran" must fall upon the devil who Iran worships in perdition. Free the Iranians.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Reply
    • Yougo Chavez

      Sure thing buddy.

      March 11, 2012 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  17. Amit-Atlanta-USA

    "Israel has already discounted the proposed new talks. "


    March 11, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Reply
  18. Dave

    "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?" IN A HEART BEAT! Iran would give nukes to anybody who said they would be used against Israel or America...and that you can take to the bank! Once a nuke is used against Israel all evidence to trace it would evaporate in the explosion, and Iran would claim they had nothing to do with it. They want all Jews killed, and a nuke would be a "good start" as far as Iran is concerned.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  19. Voiceinthewind

    Israhell will not attack Iran because all Ishraell is capable of doing is killing innocent Palestinian women and children, any kind of real resistance and they get thier asses kicked like the last time they tried to use force. The slaughter of people who only want thier land back has got to stop. The United Nations and the world must demand an end to this Murdering by Israhell. It is not Israhell's land to beging with and they need to give it back to its rightful owners, the Palestinians.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:21 pm | Reply
  20. firemedic2274

    Looking at all we know, Iran is clearly heading towards nuclear weapons. Its hard to see any other path for them. There needs to be a timetable "line in the sand" that the world needs to put to this regime. Iran is at this line, and it must not be allowed to cross it. Their lack of cooperation and stalling just further reinforces this. The World must act together on Iran, not just Israel or the U.S. War should always be the last resort, but it seems we have reached the point where action must be taken. Iran cannot be allowed to continue on their path towards nuclear weapons. A nuclear armed Iran is far worse a threat than a military action. The Iranian regime must be convinced of this before
    we ( several countries, not just U.S. and Israel) strike their facilities.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:23 pm | Reply
  21. about fareed and CNN

    Listen, the "media", the elites, mostly left, have given themselves the RIGHT to moralize that they and they alone can tell you HOW to think.....SINCE WHEN ARE YOU THERE TO TELL ME HOW TO THINK! JEEEEZ...what a bunch of hypcrites...the left who was supposed to have PIONEERED the notion of INCLUSION....not this ...this grotesque thing that the left has morphed into....

    the comparisons fareed uses are false, the people he presents on his shows are biased...the whole thing is a rigged game...he is a SHILL for obama acting under CNN's banner...who by the way, just FIRED ALL OF ITS JEWISH ISRAELI REPORTERS...yes, CNN now in israel only sends arab reporters to cover stories where the old olicy was to always have one jewish and one arab reporter covering stories...NOT anymore...CNN changed that curiously, in the year runnup to obama's election....and given the iran issue he is now facing, CNN is trying to give him all the cover it everything from CNN going forward is going to be nuanced to seem that israel is bad....this way, CNN tries to help influence voters against israel so when obama screws them, they wont punish him for it....its classic and its totally transparent....

    the media and their collusion with obama is a very dangerous slippery slope. At the end of the day, people like fareed will be proven that time, it will be too late, and sadly, I think even fareed knows that.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Reply
    • wolfman

      How dare Fareed not put your favorite hawks on his show. He is deeply biased and must be anti-semitic and anit-american, after all he went to college, he shouldn't be trusted. People who think are dangerous and must be stopped, watch Fox and learn what to think by really deep thinkers like Dick Morris and Bill O. Now those guys are really qualified to give their opinions and they're fair and balanced. By the way fair and balanced means always supporting the current Israeli government and being against the current American administration, right?

      March 11, 2012 at 3:24 pm | Reply
  22. RoyInOregon

    The US military has already sandwiched Iran. We're currently in Turkey, Iraq, and Afghanistan. And our government maintains no channel of communication with Iran. Perhaps if we removed our military from their doorstep - and showed some willingness to reach out in aneffort to at least sit down and talk with them - Iran would be less likely to feel the need to protect itself by developing nuclear weapons. From Iran's point of view, who poses a military threat? Who are the aggressors here? We don't see Iranian armed forces in Canada and Mexico. And if we did, what would our response be?

    Also, for decades we have transferred vast US treasure to Saudi Arabia and other middle east countries for their oil. They can well afford to step up in response to Iran's supposed threat to the area. Why don't they? Either because they don't see Iran as a threat or they can count on the American public further bankrupting itself in an effort to police the rest of the world. They've got very convincing evidence from the past that we will do their bidding. Europe would also be at risk, yes? Are the French, the British, the Germans, the Italians, the Spanish and others stepping up? Not really . . .

    Can't we keep just a little bit of our fortune at home to shore up Social Security, rebuild our schools, bring our medical care up to the standard now set by our European allies, build viable mass transit, invest in non-polluting sources of energy? Haven't we got better things to do with our resources?

    Can we please use some common sense for a change?

    March 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
  23. Michael

    BS of Warcraft video game players hides true military power of and aids the oh poor poor Israel crowd. Germanys guilty conscience built and gave for Free not one but two nuclear Polaris capable firing sub marines. At a cost of 200 hundred Billion a joint US/Israel undergroud base and millitary aircrafat hanges can withstand nukes euen larger than ones set off by Russia or China. Israel has signed treaty with Saudis to use its airfields in case of war. Saudis do not like Iran. Israel has more than 200 nukes, more aircraft than all surrounding nations with a couple hundred more sitting on US SHORES , that you know US would refuel mid air. Only power in mideast could take on Israel is US, and we wouid lose first couple rounds. How about this fact! Irans sites millitary and nuke are defended by our old style Patriot Missels onced by Israel to defend against Iraq Scuds and them sold to Iran and Israel got newer style even before our troops.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:31 pm | Reply
    • Thinker23

      I'd recommend you to fing a good Jewish psychiatrist and tell her these stories, Michael. She is your only hope...

      March 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm | Reply
  24. Knotty Boy

    Why use North Korea as an example of nuclear development? False argument, at best. They haven't spurred an arms race because they haven't made a warhead that even works.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
  25. Captain America

    I like how everyone here bashes his article but cannot refute one of his points directly. You have to admit, thats pretty funny. That should probably send you a hint that you're an idiot and you're probably wrong. War with Iran is a terrible... terrible solution and I'd like to see anyone on here "actually" pick one of the points in this article and refute it. I gotta see this!

    March 11, 2012 at 12:45 pm | Reply
  26. Arash Parsi

    Iranian people are less enthusiastic for the prospect of regime making a deal on nuclear issue to avert an attack. For Iranians continuing to live under repressive regime is a slow death experience. Freedom, Democracy, Prosperity and Justice all of them denied by the despotic regime are the most important issues for Iranians.
    Saving Iranian people is not a less worthy cause than saving the Jewish people. and surprisingly both are saved by a Regime Change in Iran. A democratic government in Iran will not pursue a Nuclear Bomb, but will want to keep Nuclear Energy program. US or Israel attack will not solve the problems. A continued crippling sanction will do the job if aimed at Regime Change.
    President Obama of continued harsh sanctions is right policy if aims and result s in Regime Change, but will be deadly wrong if it aims to force the mullahs to sit on negotiating table in order to sign a treaty to purge their Military Nuclear Program and guarantee the survival of the regime. . There is no way, inspectors to be able to discover undeclared digged down nuclear sites. The regime while allowing access to declared or discovered sites will continue the military nuclear work in new undeclared sites and eventually will make the bomb.
    Everything including suffering of Iranian people and western population paying steep prices for oil and gasoline will be wasted if the regime survives. Iranian people will continue to suffer living under the repression and Israelis continue to live under fear of being annihilated.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
    • Nuke

      I couldn't agree more, Arash. I couldn't agree more. Iran (read: Persia) was and is a great country of great minds, great culture, and diverse thought. The problem with Americans who remember the student uprising and the hostage-taking was that it offended nationalistic sensibilities. Nationalism (which is decidedly different than patriotism – I am a patriot but I despise nationalism) has a way of bloating on itself, and that's what happened over time when it comes to how the US as a whole sees Iran as a whole. The younger people who came along afterwards were "schooled" to hate Iran, just as I was schooled to hate Russia. Now there's no longer cohesive, coherent, fact-based thought – it's degraded to my country can beat up your country. Leaders like Ahmadinejad and Bush (and wanna-be leaders like Gingrich) make it worse. Stupidity at a global scale. That's one reason I hope that the Green Revolution is revived and that they can keep the same heart the Syrian people have...fighting in the face of enormous odds and terrible losses, but realizing that its for the good of their children and grandchildren to throw off the mantle put on them by the Supreme Leader, the Assembly of Experts, and the Revolutionary Guard. One can hope, right?

      March 11, 2012 at 2:08 pm | Reply
  27. about fareed and CNN

    suuuuuure, and fox is biased riiiiight LOL...can you say HYPCRITES?

    The left are the worst hypocrites...the absolute worst! hehehehe....such drivel here on cnn....and they have the gaul to look down their noses at fox...its truly stunning. cnn exhibits such contempt for so many americans...its disgusting.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Reply
    • Nuke

      I would say HYPCRITES, but it's not a word. -5 for spelling. Go home and get schooled, son.

      March 11, 2012 at 2:09 pm | Reply
  28. Gary

    Move your wife,children and love ones to Tel Aviv, Jerusalem or any other likley target of Iran nukes and then speak about rationality and reason and your take will carry more weight. Its easy to tell Netanyahu what to do while safe at home and at no risk to yourfamily

    March 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
    • wolfman

      Gary, should we also invade China, Russia , North Korea, Pakistan and consider invading Venezuela? If not, why not?

      March 11, 2012 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  29. palintwit

    It must be absolute hell to wake up in the morning, look in the mirror, and realize you're a Palin. I'd probably run out in front of a bus.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:56 pm | Reply
    • Rog

      Your obsession with Sarah Palin is quite sickening. This article and discussion have nothing to do with her. Get a life or get some help, you probably need both.

      March 12, 2012 at 7:25 pm | Reply
  30. pee

    This is for ( Jr and K ) a country which has said it would wipe off another country from the world map.Do you guys think such country should be allowed to engage in nuclear program?can you guys imagine how many and which countries it will wipe off if it becomes nuclear.Something which when grown will hurt you, should nerver be allowed to grow.

    March 11, 2012 at 12:58 pm | Reply
    • wolfman

      Pee, which countries would you allow to have nuclear weapons?

      March 11, 2012 at 3:27 pm | Reply
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