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. jo

    I love you Zakaria....happy to see a person of your intellect and 'point of view'....expressing opinions....Love the fact you have a 'foreign name' and dark skin...I'm 'white'....:)

    March 11, 2012 at 6:29 pm | Reply
  2. Max

    Fareed, in demanding Israel negotiate with Iran, you assume Ahmadinijad is an honorable trustworthy person when he is not. You saw what he did to protesters who took to the street in opposition of a clearly rigged election. The Iranian government went into hospitals to murder protesters who were defenseless. And you think we can trust such a person? You claim he has no nuclear weapons, but have no source to back you up. You trust someone like Ahmadinijad to tell you he has no nukes? You see what he did to his own people and you expect him to treat Israel any differently in any so called good faith negotiations? You are either a subversive, an illogical dangerously naive uneducated simpleton or both.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:31 pm | Reply
    • wolfman

      Rather than insult the man, why don't you just disagree with him? Unless you are a simpleton.

      March 11, 2012 at 9:16 pm | Reply
      • Max

        Insulting me in your false allegation that I insulted is about as coherent as Fareed thinking Ahmadinijad is trustworthy. I made my points. You chose to ignore them. Go howl at the moon wolfman.

        March 11, 2012 at 9:32 pm |
  3. Craig

    The problem remains exactly the same every time a new nation joins the club. "Okay, so you have a weapon. Exactly what are you going to do with it?"

    If ever there has been an irrational character with nukes, it would be North Korea, and yet they have done nothing to date beyond declare how wonderful they are. India and Pakistan both have weapons, but seem to understand, as everyone else has figured out, that they simply can't use them. So...they spent a lot of money developing what is essentially a useless technology.

    The question for Iran is the same: If you do build one, what can you possibly do with it?

    At some point is Iran irrational enough to attempt to use it against Israel? If so, it means several things. First, Israel is physically small enough that a few nukes would essentially total the place. On the other hand, it is likely that every other nation in the region would immediately turn against Iran. It's also likely that Israel could get off a shot of their own, and Iran might just cease to exist too. Clearly the rest of the world, even China and Russian won't be backing that play.

    So...ultimately, we still have the same question: Is Iran, and/or its leadership, willing to commit national suicide with that hope that they can take Israel with them. There are no other considerations, because the outcome is a simply Yes or No.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:35 pm | Reply
    • William

      A voice of reason in a wilderness madness, thank you!

      March 11, 2012 at 6:50 pm | Reply
  4. Bum Scoobies

    Fareed Zakaria is on the Iranian Payroll!!!

    March 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm | Reply
    • err

      LOL and I used to think Arabs were silly pointing fingers at people calling them Zionists or something different without any base for the statement...But you guys are no less >.<. Lets just point fingers at people and accuse them negatively for their point of views.

      March 11, 2012 at 7:11 pm | Reply
  5. William

    Why is everyone worried about Iran getting a nuke, Israel has around 400 nuke weapons and can defend its self.
    Any nation who would attack Israel as to threaten its existence, would be committing suicide.
    I am tired of people trying to make us the worlds policeman, America needs to mind its own business and worry about its self for a change.

    A small scale nuke war in the MidEast would solve a many centuries old problem permanently for the rest of us who want peace!

    March 11, 2012 at 6:44 pm | Reply
    • krm1007

      Israel is not geographically big enough to have 400 nukes...it would implode. Plus it nukes are supplied by mail order with some refills allowed.
      Now, we all want peace in this world and it is evident that a new leadership is needed in the world and that appears to be China. All we need is a ring kissing ceremony and cut through years of BS. First to go should be India who should kneel down and kiss Don Chung and hand over some northern territories as homage. rest will follow.

      March 11, 2012 at 7:00 pm | Reply
      • William

        Implode, how so?
        Nuke weapons come in many sizes and applications, they al aren't on missle delivery systems.

        March 11, 2012 at 7:13 pm |
      • Aziz

        Oh dear allah, implode?, better not tell the Jews. It will be our Joke. ahahahha

        March 13, 2012 at 8:34 pm |
  6. justice 766

    Correction. when to bomb Iran

    March 11, 2012 at 6:51 pm | Reply
  7. krm1007

    PAKISTAN.....The New Gateway to Central Asia and Europe.
    With a population of over 180 million most of whom are well educated, English speaking, entrepreneurial and a cultural and social fit with Central Asians...Pakistan will now become the new face and gateway to Central Asia and Europe. Pakistan will thus span this region and provide the impetus for growth, prosperity and unity among these countries. These are new and exciting times for Pakistanis who should now look forward to their new leadership role aligned with Central Asia and Europe rather than the Subcontinent. We wish them much success as they have sacrificed the most during the past 30 + years creating a new world order.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:52 pm | Reply
  8. justice 766

    Don't even bother read his articles. He is nobody.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:54 pm | Reply
    • jo

      A 'nobody'...of course...he has a 'funny' name and dark skin...

      March 11, 2012 at 7:58 pm | Reply
  9. Belingo

    LOL, you guys are jokes. You accuse Mr. Zakaria of being an Obama puppet below a piece in which Mr. Zakaria disagrees with everything Mr. Obama has said: the potential of a nuclear arms race in the Middle East, the India-Pakistan analogy, and the possibility of Iranian nukes falling into the hands of terrorists.

    Sorry, but you guys really need to do your homework.

    March 11, 2012 at 6:55 pm | Reply
    • wolfman

      Please don't confuse these folk with the facts. They hate Obama and Fareed and that's that. No need to have anything reasonable to add to the debate. Well Fareed and Obama aren't white , they have names which aren't Anglo or European so I guess they must be a threat to the US. The only problem being that they've both contributed more to the US in both deed and spirit than the majority of ignorant haters commenting here. Let's see now, Obama is a stooge of the arabs, iranians, africans, wall street, socialists, muslims, europeans. Did I leave anyone out. And Fareed is a stooge of CNN, the Iranians, Pakistani's, elite, socialist, blah, blah , blah. Many commenters here are pathetic in their ignorance and prejudice.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:53 pm | Reply
  10. Bill

    This ship has sailed. We've said, unequivocally, that they will not have them. If we cave now, you might as well wipe your behind with the non-proliferation treaty. If Iran can get away with pretending to be a signatory while covertly developing weapons, or even weapons capability, and gets away with it, what case do we have for denying anyone else who wants to do the same?

    March 11, 2012 at 7:05 pm | Reply
    • Inno'

      Iran has not actually ratified that treaty, In any event, the Iranians are not joined in the hip with the said treaty. I believe that Iran has every right to develop a nuclear weapon and its delivery system like anyone else including the state of Israel.

      I'll like to see an argument for a complete dis- armament of the whole world from nukes and middle east in particular. Israel should lead in the middle east before halting Iran's project. I think Iran already has the nuclear technology anyway. The horse has long bolted!

      March 11, 2012 at 7:55 pm | Reply
  11. AngryAmerican

    Whoever supports a war on Iran will not get my vote. This government is blood hungry.

    March 11, 2012 at 7:14 pm | Reply
    • Najda

      wellllllllllllllllll, whether you vote for ahmadinedork or not is of no concern to me.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:35 pm | Reply
  12. Guard1an

    Why is Iran a threat?

    10% Approve of Congress. (Lowest Rating in almost 40 years of conducting this poll) Source: Gallop

    11% Approve of Iran. Source: Gallop

    March 11, 2012 at 7:17 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      Habibi, I do not know why Iran a threat? Apart from the constant, violent threats to all members of the Jewish faith and allies, they never say or do anything bad. I just dont get it.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Reply
      • Khaled

        And, then, of course there is the threat to blockade the transport of oil to the world. But apart from that, I really do not understand why we think Iran is a time bomb.

        March 11, 2012 at 8:13 pm |
      • Khaled

        Also, there is the threat to kill all Sunnis. But, I still do not understand how that could be construed as something bad. Honestly!

        March 11, 2012 at 8:15 pm |
      • Khaled

        Okay, last one, could it be the brutal repression of its own population. But, still, I do not understand how Iran could be so bad.

        March 11, 2012 at 8:31 pm |
  13. Calvin Hobbes

    Iran should be pushed into ruin. It's ports should be mined, airstrips and oil fields bombed, roads and bridges blown up and all of it's accounts should be frozen or attacked. Iran likes to play games of procrastination, then by all means, everyone should play the same game with Iran and let this go on indefinitely while peace negotiations drag on until the regine is destroyed.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:01 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      "and the regime is destroyed" and, unfortunately, peace loving citizens will be collateral damage.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  14. Jim R

    If Israel is threatened by Iran, they should deal with the problem themselves. With hundreds of nuclear weapons and a military that is unchallenged in the region, they're more than capable. But leave the United States out of it. If Israel's security is to be our responsibility, how about they start paying us for the privilege of American military protection instead of us subsidizing THEM with billions of dollars per year?

    The responsibility of the government of the United States is to protect and defend the people of the United States. If Israel tries to manipulate America into launching a preemptive war on its behalf, there will be a serious backlash. The Israelis, as well as the warmongers running for the Republican nomination (Ron Paul excluded) underestimate how sick the American people are of these bloody, costly, unnecessary wars in the Middle East.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:04 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      Divide and Conquer is a game that is played by intellects–not you habibi. You too stoopid.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:17 pm | Reply
  15. Captain

    Half the people on here claim Zakaria is a stooge for Iran, and the other half claim he is a stooge for Israel. Sounds to me like that means he's pretty close to the truth.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Reply
    • wolfman

      Captain, well said. There are a lot of yahoos out here who think Fareed is Muslim and Arab. As though even if he were that somehow would prove something.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  16. JoFromMo

    If we cannot afford to fund Pell Grants, Social Security, etc... , we cannot afford to go into another war. The Republicans are just war crazy...

    March 11, 2012 at 8:05 pm | Reply
  17. rocketman

    It's too late - we should have attacked in 1979.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:25 pm | Reply
  18. Evan

    Alright, seriously people? The amount of ignorance and sheer racism on this discussion is truly disgusting. I only got about ten percent of the way through all the comments before I couldn't take it anymore. Islam as a religion is one of the most peaceful in the world, and I say this as an atheist. People always try and make it seem horrible due to the extremists but the same could be said about Christianity during the crusades/Spanish inquisition. A religion in and of itself cannot be bad, it is what followers do with it and warp it that can make something a "reason" for committing acts of violence and terror.

    I also cannot believe that amount of people calling for the US to drop a nuke in the Middle East. How can people be so insensitive? A nuclear weapon is one of the most devastating weapons ever to be developed and has lasting consequences. Although there are radicals in some middle eastern countries that wish to cause harm to the western world, the vast majority of people in these countries are just that, people. They have the same worries, thoughts, and emotions that everyone else in the world feels. To have some people in this discussion brand these people as inhuman monster just because they practice Islam is the same thing that the Nazis did in WWII with the Jewish people. Has humanity really learned nothing from the past?

    I believe that no nation wants to destroy itself, as the article defines this as "rational actors." The ruling governments of all states, yes even those in the middle east, are there to govern and guide their society as they deem the best, and while in some cases, their values do not align themselves with that of the western world, we in the western world need to understand and respect their views. Only through understanding, respect and communication can the world start to work out its differences.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:31 pm | Reply
    • Adam

      Evan, you are absolutely right and this is the sense of globalization the world is going toward. But unless we stop this biased behavior and favoritism toward Israel, we will only raise the Arab Spring children to hate us more and more. We are playing our fate in the hand of some minorities of Zionists who do not recognize the Palestinians people and refuse to give them their rights. We are blindly helping an apartheid regime in the Middle-East. But history taught us that this kind of regime will not go on forever without meeting its end. If we do not steer our foreign policy, then the new generations of the Arab spring will find a way to free their brothers in Palestine. Not before too long, I am afraid.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Reply
  19. seriously

    this is the most idiotic video i ever watched ,and that's all i'm going say

    March 11, 2012 at 8:33 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      Seriously? Okay then!

      March 11, 2012 at 8:54 pm | Reply
  20. Michael

    Thank You for a reasoned, intelligent article. There is absolutely NO reason to go to war with Iran, period. Those screaming for war are the same neocons who screamed mushroom clouds when they wanted to go to war with Iraq... and look where that got us. Have we learned NOTHING? This is the classic definition of insanity. If you cant see that... then you are drinking from the same coolaid.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:40 pm | Reply
    • Najda

      We have no reason to go to war with Iran. Afterall, Iranian Islamists are all fun loving, pot smoking peaceniks.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:32 pm | Reply
  21. Ed

    Faridi,
    Israiel has an opportunity and like they have donenit for the past 60 years use USA to kill more innocent Muslims. Believe me this will catch up with them. They are not interested in piece. God willing ... Isriel will pay a very heavy price all the innocent blood it has

    March 11, 2012 at 8:43 pm | Reply
    • Najda

      That is correct Abdul. all that 6 million Jews want to do is kill, kill, kill all mulslims.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  22. Bob Havecker

    I believe in the late 1930s there were much the same type of arguments about Hitler and how he really didn't pose much of a threat..... and treaties with Hitler would assure that neighboring countries would not be invaded or occupied. Does anyone really think we can trust the madman Ahmadinejad?

    March 11, 2012 at 8:45 pm | Reply
    • wolfman

      Bob, you can use that example to justify any invasion or pre-emptive strike you wish. I guess that since Hitler (and Stalin) didn't respect treaties that we should have no more treaties and just get on with invading whoever we feel like.

      March 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Reply
      • litvak

        Or how about just the crazy ones that want to annhilate others

        March 11, 2012 at 11:54 pm |
  23. Ed

    Faridi,
    Israiel has this big opportunity to blackmail US like they have done for the past 60 years. They are not about to pass it up specially a weak black US President. God willing ... Isriel will pay a very heavy price for all the innocent blood it will shed... It will catch up with them.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:49 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      Blackmail is defined as: Extortion of money or something else of value from a person by the threat of exposing a criminal act or discreditable information. Enlighten us of Mahdi, what does Israel have on America?

      March 11, 2012 at 9:05 pm | Reply
    • Captain

      How does him being a "black" president have any importance to relations between the US, Israel, and Iran other than to prove your distaste for black people? Did you ever define Clinton, Bush, Reagan, Carter, or the other 40 odd presidents as "white" presidents?

      March 11, 2012 at 9:25 pm | Reply
  24. wolfman

    Ed, the least you can do is learn to spell the names of the people and countries you so like to insult.

    March 11, 2012 at 8:55 pm | Reply
  25. BBoy705

    Reading some of these comments I've come to the conclusion that many of the commentators are more blood thirsty than the Iranians and for that matter on about the same level as the most crazed Jihadist. You want another war? You want more debt? You want to kill more innocent civilians? Have you learned nothing? You, not people like Zakaria, are turning the world against the U.S.A.! You scare me more than the Iranians! You're freakin' crazy!!

    March 11, 2012 at 8:57 pm | Reply
  26. wolfman

    Very well put. It's so easy to be a tough guy when you don't have to do anything but hurl insults and express your rage.
    We really need to go back to the draft and require some of these morons to give their lives for their brilliant ideas

    March 11, 2012 at 8:59 pm | Reply
  27. najania

    Nice to hear a voice of sanity on this issue. The political hay that the Republicans are trying to make out of this in the primary is disgraceful. Worse, even.

    March 11, 2012 at 9:19 pm | Reply
    • Najda

      yep the voice of REASON.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm | Reply
  28. Bro22

    Why some people think that Zakaria is supposed to write the way they want? He is a great journalist and political specialist about the middle east. If his ideas aren't in favor of you guys, either accept it as a different idea than yours or just switch the channel to Fox news and you will be good!

    March 11, 2012 at 10:19 pm | Reply
  29. john

    Fareed Zakaria's opinion on this issue is not that unique. in fact, i hear most foreign policy writers express about the same sentiment from the foreign affair, the economist, etc..
    iran has 1/14 of US GDP and no modern military. But their land is vast with mountains with 80 million modernized people.
    They are not at all like Afghans or Saudis. Israel has modern military but a small land with 8 million people (with Muslim minority).

    America with the strongest military and biggest GDP and 300 million people on the other side of the ocean should not be afraid of Iran, though America has the right to be concerned about the region as Europeans and Asians.

    I think once America pull their men out of Afghanistan, things could get cooled down. It's not like Iran like Talibans there. But i dont know what will happen to Israel in the midst of Arab Spring.

    Nuclear weapon is just hardware. the issue is israel acting too aggressively toward Arab nations and Iran with help from US even when US does not want it to be so.
    Their illegal settlements continues. Israel provoked wars with their next door nations while Iran never started a war themselves. Surey Iran sent terrorists around the world but so do Israel, killing their scientists

    If Iran is not rational, neither is US or Israel. I don't support any of the nations on this.

    March 11, 2012 at 10:22 pm | Reply
  30. Peter

    Fareed Zakaria's analysis is spot on.
    Solution is to get agreement on a Nuclear Free Middle East. This proposal has been made already some time ago. Guess who is DOES NOT want such a Nuclear Free Middle East. Right it is Israel. Why, because they have 200+ nuclear weapons. Who distabalizes the ME??? Which country has WMD??? Which country does not sign the NPT?
    Which counrtry does NOT allow inspections of the IAEA? Just search the web and find the answers.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:38 am | Reply
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