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. james

    israel rather destroy the facilities that build the nuks than play politics israel is waiting for clearer weather and by repeating obamas own words that israel has the right to defend itself and america will support israel puts obama in a position to not only support israel but join in the war to prevent a oil crisis its a squeeze play by israel against obama period and simple

    March 11, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Reply
  2. Fred Goepfert

    Zakaria continues to be a supporter of the rulers of Iran. He states that "we" should not start a war with Iran. He chooses to ignore the fact that Iran is already at war with the US and Israel.The IED's that killed American troops came from Iran. The hundreds of missiles now striking Israel come from Iran. Zakaria is both a coward and a traitor and should be deported to Iran.

    March 11, 2012 at 4:52 pm | Reply
    • wolfman

      Fred, so nice to know that he should be deported to Iran, since that's not where he's from but I guess it doesn't matter because while pretending to defend the US and it's way of life you find it fit to decide who should be deported and for what.
      Should everyone who disagrees with you be deported or only Fareed?

      March 11, 2012 at 9:12 pm | Reply
  3. Farzin

    I think the important question is not whether or when Israel will attack Iran, it's rather when will it attack Iran a second time after the first attack. See, following the first attack, the Iranians will buckle down, kick out the inspectors, and this time really get to work to build a bomb, in order to deter future attacks. The sanctions regime will stay, but will weaken with Russia, China, India and others no longer scared into following the sanctions in order to keep the Israelis from attacking. The attack will already have happened. There may then a third attack maybe even a fourth. But eventually the Iranians will get a bomb, even a crude device at first, but now enraged after numerous attacks, intent of revenge for the thousands of Iranians killed. So the real question is what will the U.S. do then? If you are in favour of a attack on Israel, tell me what will you do then? And invading all of Iran is not an option: Just see what Hezbollah did against Israeli ground forces and multiply that by around 1000.

    March 11, 2012 at 4:53 pm | Reply
  4. james

    The world has a responsibility to side and protect israel from terrorists and the possibility of total destruction of the jewish people and state and republicans know that the only solution is to defend israel and go on the offensive this isnt war mongering its protecting and keeping a race of people safe and alive people compare iran to iraq because its easier to over simplify the iranian nuk program than it is to face reality that iran is building the nuks and the only option is military strike

    March 11, 2012 at 4:57 pm | Reply
  5. james

    farzin iran will have over 40 nations with the biggest military in history at its door step once israel attacks i doubt iran will put up much a fight america wont chance a drawn out war thats why we have 5 air craft carriers new by lolol

    March 11, 2012 at 4:58 pm | Reply
  6. james

    near by

    March 11, 2012 at 4:59 pm | Reply
  7. Twins in Arms

    James
    Iran is not going to back down. And the economy of the world as we know it will take a downfall if Israel bombed Iran nuclear facilities. Iran will show of scenes of people suffering from such an attack that will make the suffering of the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki look small in comparison. Just use your imagination from the WWII era black and white photos to the 3-D color action features. And not to mention how Iran might retaliate on American soil in a big way. I wrote the novel ‘Twin in Arms’ to prevent the Ayatollahs’ sleeper cells from such attack.

    March 11, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  8. sR

    1. Most posters are not putting forward a rational argument to make a case for US involvement in Iran.
    2. We, general public, are not preview to US intelligence. So it is a moot point to discuss what action US should take.
    3. Most of the postings are eerily similar leading up to war on Iraq.
    4. US have to decide whether there is enough information to declare an unprovoked war.
    5. US have to decide whether to be at war with 3 Muslim countries at the same time.
    6. Can US withstand Israel lobby to take a right decision based on US interest.
    7. If one does not understand the power of Jewish lobby, any discussion will be incomplete.
    8. One has to distinguish the manifestation of Israel's internal politics and the workings of a coalition government.
    9. Any such discussion could go forward only if labels such as anti-Semitism are refrained.
    10. Zakaria is a realist. A tradition in international relations, which has members such Kissinger, Scowcroft and Brzezinski to name a few. None of them made statements supporting for US military action. Kissinger resisted Israel lobby during his White House/State Department years. If you may recall some of Kissinger’s statements have been attributed as anti-Semite.
    11. US administration, if it were to follow a realist tradition, would not attack Iran at the moment. However, it should be pointed out that Iran is a signatory of NPT; Israel is not. While it may sound hypocritical, it is a choice that Iran made.
    12. Iran can do 2 things legally. As signatory of NPT, Iran is legally bound for allowing UN inspector to all its nuclear facilities without any restrictions. They have not done so. What now?
    13. Iran can legally withdraw from NPT as N. Korea did in 2003. In essence, Iran is saying that it has become a nuclear weapon state. Iran would prefer to be in NPT to keep ambiguity in its nuclear ambition. Otherwise, it is telling the world, please attack us.
    14. Israel has stated many a times that if Iran were to procure a nuclear weapon the Jewish state will be annihilated.
    15. Now if Israel believes that an Iranian state with nuclear weapon(s) is an existential threat then it has to use its nuclear weapons to attack Iran.
    16. It has not yet. So Iran does not have one yet.
    17. One has to point out Bush administration explored in such detail with its decision to go war with Iraq. Of course, they relied on bad intelligence and were set on going to war regardless.
    18. I think it is US interest in the long-term to guide Israel to a make right decision. If Israel attacks, with or without US support, invariably US will be blamed.
    19. US should not get caught between Sunni and Shia debate. It is for the Muslims to deal with.
    20. Saudi Arabia is against Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon then why doesn’t it attack Iran. It is closer to Iran and Israel is. But it wants US to do it.
    21. Now we have to remember Saudis were part of oil embargo to the west in the 70s.
    22. How would we know what will happen in the next 20-25 years.
    23. I think Israel and US master plan should be to orchestra a Saudis attack on Iran. Again only the US can do that.
    24. How does Palestine problem fits in all of these? Here is where the debate stops..

    March 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  9. ginae

    I don't understand why the US has to stick their nose in all the time? Whenever there's a problem with other countries, there we are. The government needs to let them take care of their own messes. As long as they arent bothering us, who cares?

    March 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  10. Independent Thinker

    Prior to posting any further comments/opinions I strongly recommend everyone to watch the following debate from the Council of Foreign Relations regarding attacking Iran. Although, the debate is still heavily biased towards what would be best for US, not safety, but rather geopolitical interests in the region. It is clear that the dialogue among experts in the field, even those biased against Iran, more closely echoes Dr. Zakaria’s position, rather than the popular rhetoric displayed elsewhere. The outrage that this CNN piece has contrived is a clear testament to the constant bombardment of propaganda and manipulation of public opinion that has many people here convinced of a false-truth.

    Youtube search:
    Foreign Affairs LIVE: Time to Attack Iran? A Debate aDDP7r7FolA

    For instance, I am certain many people here truly believe that Ahmadinejad has called for the destruction of Israel through his infamous misquote “Israel should be wiped off of the map”. This was a purposeful misquote of “The regime currently occupying Israel should vanish from the pages of time”, which calls for regime change within Israel rather than complete obliteration as many warmongers would manipulate you to believe. The fact that the Iranian regime has repeatedly supported a Two-State solution, attest to the fact that they do in fact acknowledge the state of Israel. If the Iranian regime (as oppressive as it can be to its own population) wanted to have another holocaust, why is it home to the second largest population of Jews within the Middle East (some 250 000 Persian Jews) and even has a Jewish representative in Parliament.

    Youtube search:
    Jews in Iran – Australian TV – 1/2 z2Skmj8q0Wg
    Jews in Iran – Australian TV – 2/2 PbkmHf3jZUo

    Lastly for the majority of you who don’t have the slightest clue of what life is like in Iran. The following is a video of the youth of Tehran and their underground nightlife, which thrives despite the oppressive Islamic regime.

    Youtube search:
    Tehran Persian Nights 7y_AqbcGFGg

    (Please note this may become a double post, as my initial one posted 1 hour ago has still not made it through).

    March 11, 2012 at 5:04 pm | Reply
  11. Independent Thinker

    I encourage you to become independent thinkers and search the sources of information prior to deriving such passionate positions. Particularly when it comes to such delicate and dangerous issues.

    March 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm | Reply
  12. Tariq

    Irans destiny is to control the Middle East. We are the regional superpower, and will only be treated as equals. If Israel dares attack, we will make Israel burn. If attacked by Europe, we will make European cities burn. If America attacks, the American cities will burn. The Middle East will not be under the control of infidels. America is now weak, and no longer controls the world. It is time again for the Persian Empire to rise, and to take its place as a force.

    March 11, 2012 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • justice 766

      I would like to have a movie dinner and a beer when Israel bombs Iran. Iran will become a snake without venom and the mullahs will become skunks, bad smell, no action.

      March 11, 2012 at 5:57 pm | Reply
  13. Independent Thinker

    Tariq is obviously not Persian and only serving as a troll to ignite further unhealthy discourse.
    The name Tariq itself is an Arabic one, not Persian, which speaks to the underlying ignorance of the commentator.

    March 11, 2012 at 5:29 pm | Reply
  14. DKHolder

    You make your point in the absence of the Iranian regimes clear threat to destroy Israel... this threat from the Iranian leadership cannot be ignored in respect to Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon..

    March 11, 2012 at 5:33 pm | Reply
  15. Kimo

    Why do US politicians kowtow to the right wing Likud party? They don't even represent the majority opinion in Israel. Didn't listening to neocons like Wolfowitz, Feith, Perlman and Abrams just get us into war that was not in the interest of the US?

    March 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  16. JJ

    What we fail to forget is the whole Picture...... September 11 is in the eyes of many people quite possibly a false flag .... then just after this we have George Bush ... and his " Axis of evil " Speech ,,, then Afgnaistan ( Taliban ) was attacked . and then Iraq ....... naturally Iran is very nervous......They just dont know where they stand. ????.... and then they started to tell the world they are going produce Nuclear Fuel for Energy and Isotopes....But in effect .. they are quite possibly trying to create there own nuclear weapon. to be used as a deterrent themselves.. to prevent themselves from being attacked..... but if we go back to the George bush speech.. Iran was also on the radar.. one could say 2 down one to go.. but to effectively accomplish the down fall of Iran.. ( part 3 in George Bushes axis of evil challenge ).. i believe the whole situation which has engulfed Libya Egypt Tunisia and finally Syria . could be be part of some Bigger plan at getting at Iran .... As we see now Syria is under pressure and its just a question of time before Assad will give in and we all Know Syria is an alliie of Iran .....The plan could also be instead of using military means , they could be trying to create a Revolution of change from With in Iran because this would save Money, political suicide back at home and also be seen as the easiest option on getting regime change in Iran.......
    The repercussions of Syria Falling might help in the momentum which is needed to create political change also in Iran the same as it has done in Eygpt Libya Syria which we have all witnessed lately......

    The Whole wave of change which we have seen in North Africa and Syria recently . could be a false flag operation with goal at getting at Iran ....

    but the major question if September the 11 was a cover up is whats the Goal of it all by attacking Afganistan Iraq Iran and north Korea ( North Korea was thrown as a decoy )

    March 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  17. DKHolder

    agree IndependentThinker...

    March 11, 2012 at 5:35 pm | Reply
  18. Twins in Arms

    The story of our lifetime, if we could close the gaps between the differences of the three great monotheistic religions than I believe the World would be a better place to live in and would be no need for nukes. It seems hate and mistrust dictates the hearts and the mind of the three faiths. We must find a way before it’s too late. We had enough death of innocent people in the Middle East and more to come if we don’t find a way out, at least, to respect one another.

    March 11, 2012 at 5:36 pm | Reply
  19. Jay

    I find myself in disagreement with Mr. Zakaria often, partly because his analysis at times lacks rigor. Not in this instance.

    Setting aside disagreement on minor details, the broad brush analysis is unusually clear-headed, simple, and understandable to most impartial and unconvinced Americans who wish to gain a clearer view of the standoff. NIcely done!

    March 11, 2012 at 5:43 pm | Reply
  20. MurrayK

    Adolph Hitler told the world what he was going to do, and the world chose not to believe him. For this the world and the Jews paid a terrible price. Now Zakaria tells us not to believe the Iranians when they say Israel must be destroyed, and do not believe them when they are openly showing off their long range missiles.

    Zakaria agrees with General Dempsey saying Iran is a “rational actor” defining the term as, “someone who is concerned about survival.” Zakaria, however, fails to make the distinction between the Iranian people and leadership. This is the leadership that ruthlessly subdued its own people when they protested the 2009 elections, and who is now supporting Syria’s Assad in massacring his own people? And this is the leadership that used Iranian children as young as twelve years old to clear mine fields during the Iran-Iraq war.

    No country, including the United States, would relinquish its ability to protect itself to someone else. Yet, that is what would happen if Israel does not strike within its limited window of opportunity. Zakaria chooses to make light of this saying that it is all about the elections. But then, he also thinks that India and Pakistan having nuclear weapons is a good thing.

    March 11, 2012 at 5:48 pm | Reply
  21. justice 766

    No one whould listen to Zakaria anyway. He is not that smart when it comes to foreign affairs. Israel should and will bomb Iran when it feels the threat is getting critical and the mullahs will get what they deserved long time ago, to go back to the stone age. But wait, they will get a prize , the 17 virgins. May be they are inspiring Zakaria.

    March 11, 2012 at 5:50 pm | Reply
    • CAL USA

      One of the things that makes us a great country is our ability to attract people of the caliber of Dr. Zakaria to become Americans. Sadly, we don't get enough of them to offset the too many native born bigots and morons who so proudly vent their prejudices and ignorance, and their hypocrisy. I'm willing to bet very few if any of those calling for war with Iran is willing to volunteer themselves or their children for the effort, or agree to pay higher taxes to support it.

      March 12, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  22. Marc F

    To folks who don't like what Fareed has to say, let's consider this:
    1.Ahmadinejad, as much an idiot as he is, NEVER said he wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. He said (translated) "Israel's tyrant regime belongs in the pages of history....". From this AIPAC, Mosad and its Sayyans (in US, these are American citizens who spy ON AMERICANS and ANYONE else for Mosad/israel) came up with their own version;
    2. Listen to Zakaria's reasoning of why the logic is flawed about a "nuclear arms race" in the Middle East if Iran gets 'the bomb". It makes sense and it's logical;
    3. Of all the nations involved, in this discussion, the only nation that continually has killed civilians from other countries, and by far a higher number than has shed the blood of its own civilians, is....drum roll please: Israel.
    4. AIPAC, Mosad and its Sayyans were the source of information to us about Iraq owning WMDs. It's been over TEN years and still NOT one WMD has been found in Iraq. Ergot, consider the source of information and see who's beating the drums of war.
    5. Last but certainly not least, I don't want any more American blood shed. If "Israel Is Real", as the shirts read, let them find their own darn wars!

    March 11, 2012 at 5:53 pm | Reply
  23. JJ

    I have this Feeling CNN is a propaganda tool........ not just used to give us information . but also to be aimed at putting pressure on Iran and Syria.... there seems this immense interest in Syria at the moment ??? ..i feel that CNN might be a cover for some other third party.. make no doubt people here and there are watching what CNN is s saying....this Cnn Coverage on homs is deinitely negative for Assad..... i just feel that possibly Syria is being get at with the Ultimate goal of getting regime change in iran... and Cnns covergae is definitely helping with the propaganda war against Syria. with ultimate goal of getting at Iran through syria´s regime change

    March 11, 2012 at 5:56 pm | Reply
  24. justice 766

    Go Mccain. He is the only person this country can depend on when pus comes to shove. Obama is as spineles as they come. If he didn't have Hilary the chinese and russians would have walked all over him.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Reply
  25. loops808

    I don't understand. Is Zakaria asking Isreal not to rush to defend itself? Iran has called Isreal a "stinking corpse," and a "cancerous tumor [...that] should be removed from the region." It is a farce to believe that Iran will give up its nuclear weapon ambitions. Iran is not just building a facility but technology. If Isreal continues to wait, it won't matter if the facility is destroyed because Iran will have developed the technology and can start over or sell it. Iran is not only a a threat to Isreal, but to the U.S. and the world. They are responsible for the deaths of many of our service men and women across the world and continue to fund and support terrorist. What FANBOY Zakaria is really saying is for Isreal not to rush to attack Iran before the November elctions because it could complicate matters for Obama.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:04 pm | Reply
  26. justice 766

    zakaria should go advise his indian brothers not us. We don't need his advice especially when to bomb Israel.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Reply
  27. Terrible_Ted

    The Arabs and Persians are beggars still living off a past glory. The path to war was long predicted by Carters National Security Advisor. This is about oil and always has been. We are the Saudis, we are the Arabs/Persians, we are the Jews. Who controls the oil...Controls the world.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:11 pm | Reply
  28. Smith

    Would an attack on Iran by anyone not be against internationals laws of some sort?

    March 11, 2012 at 6:18 pm | Reply
  29. jimzcarz

    One of his most lopsided articles yet...

    March 11, 2012 at 6:20 pm | Reply
  30. a disgrace

    its safe to say iran already has nuclear warhead and thanks to obama's incompetence they have a failing america's latest drone technology to carry them to america....

    March 11, 2012 at 6:24 pm | Reply
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