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. Awabnavi

    Why should the Arabs have any fear of Iran. Iran has not attacked ANY ARAB STATE. It is Israel which had PREEMPTIVELY attacked Egypt and had wars with the Arabs. The Arabs have MORE REASONS to fear a NUCLEAR ISRAEL than a nuclear Iran. And those who argue otherwise are either STUPID or SIMPLY BIASED.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:19 am | Reply
  2. George

    President Obama agrees with this analysis but keeps up the magniloquence for political reasons at home as much as abroad. Bibi's belligerent ambitions are as dangerous as Ahmadinejad's antagonistic provocations. Both should not be given consideration...nor a country to run.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:23 am | Reply
  3. salahuddeen

    hey guys peel off your onion layers and try to absorb this

    lets all give each other the right to Live and stop hating.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:44 am | Reply
    • Najda

      Hamdullilah, someone sees clearly.
      Why cant we all be friends.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:27 pm | Reply
  4. J

    The USA must do what it has to.Put more drones in to the sky and get rid of the extremists and the al Qaeda militants.

    Obama's policy of full support to Israel while applying economic and diplomatic pressure on Iran is the correct one. The Middle East poses multiple problems and requires a complex and sophisticated stategy.

    March 12, 2012 at 3:24 am | Reply
  5. S.V.P.YADAV

    respected, Mr. Fareed Zakaria Garu, U S and Israel will strike on Iran and his counter part , they will spent much of money and much of lives for that strategy, But U S concerns Elections will held shortly, so Mr. Obama speaks will not accept congress. In this situation Isreal is invisible.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:13 am | Reply
    • J

      Israel Has Every Right to Defend Itself

      March 12, 2012 at 5:28 am | Reply
  6. Azan

    It seems very reasonable and rationable arguments. The attack against Iran will be a historic mistake. I think it is enough just to monopolize the public opinion. What USA need is the comprehensive and preventive diplomacy in Nuclear Iran. Otherwise it will be catostrophic.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:54 am | Reply
  7. Moutasim

    It seems very reasonable

    March 12, 2012 at 5:27 am | Reply
    • Najda

      You so reasonable, how could all those stupid Americans no understand.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:25 pm | Reply
  8. Chris

    I don't think sanctions will have a meaningful effect on the regime in Iran. They are withstanding sanctions, international pressure and continue to enrich uranium, build centrifuges, develop intercontinental missiles. The Ayatollah is also a religious fanatic . I also don't think unilateral action by Israel or the US is a runner. Because the US won't do it, ad it does not want Israel to do it. But the US has to know that sanctions, despite the propaganda and time-buying tactics from Iran, will not work. The only solution I believe is for an international alliance for global stability. This alliance means a true common approach from Russia, China, Europe and the US and it can be backed up with a military dimension, meaning that if Iran were to ever use a nuclear weapon against any member of this alliance that it would be an attack on all and that Iran can expect a co-ordinated retaliation. However if Iran were to continue on their path then the alliance would take out the regime in the interests of global stability. There would be limited blow-back from this as it would be a truly international operation, with Chinese boots on the ground for example. Its not so far-fetched as the international community really believes that Iran with a nuclear weapon is a dangerous prospect, as evidenced by previous security council votes. It just requires both the will to make compromises to get this done and the realization that the current approach will not work.

    Another option of course is for the Arab League or Gulf Council to take action together, which would have nothing to do with Israel. But I don't think this would be an ideal option due to the after-math within Iran.

    March 12, 2012 at 5:56 am | Reply
  9. Najda

    Very well said! I love how you captured and used your words in this article. Just watched it on CNN as well. I wish this point of view could be shared vastly through out other media channels so as to reach as many people as possible! Great work!

    March 12, 2012 at 7:33 am | Reply
    • Najda

      And then, I would give you BJ real good Abdul.

      March 12, 2012 at 4:23 pm | Reply
  10. Onikami

    the real question is iran willing to face total annihaltion for their people and nation in bombing isreal? are they willing to kill not just isreal but themselves in this process? jihadi's aside i don't think they are willing to destroy their entire selves just blow up the jews knowing they would not even get them all. yes isreal would be wiped off the map but they also dropped on allies(the palistinians) and so lose credibility with their allies. i don't think the power brokers of iran want lose their tenuous hold on what little power they have. also if they believe in the power of war over reason they know they are outgunned by all sides. suicide for an individual is acceptable to them, suicide of their power is not.

    March 12, 2012 at 11:03 am | Reply
  11. Hence21

    What I find funny is that America has had a long history of remaining neutral in global conflicts, we had to be drug into WWI and WWII. But in the last 60 years, we have been sticking our noses in places all over the world. People act like it is the American way to flex our muscles and throw down a fight. But really, that is only a recent phenomenon that America should act a the world's police. I think politics need to be removed from our war mongering, and we should not have one side saying we should go to war just because the other side says we shouldn't. We all know that if Obama was beating his chest at Iran and calling for bombings, that the republican candidates would be crying about spending on another war and American imperialism. I am just so tired of the endless games in our political system, it makes all of us look foolish.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:28 pm | Reply
  12. SyBurg

    Does it matter what anyone says about Iran. Iran is not a threat to U.S, so I am not a traitor to start or support a war against Iran on behalf of anyone.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm | Reply
  13. Maxwell

    Prior to an attack on Isreal, Iran needs to ask where are the Isreali submarines. One submarine equipped with nuclear weapons can destroy Iran days, weeks or months after the annihilation of Isreal.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:37 pm | Reply
    • Najda

      Good thinking Abdul. Call ahmadinadork and ask him to destroy all Israel submarine real quick. Oh oops, I guess we shouldn't say these things in our outloud voices. Sorry!

      March 12, 2012 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  14. jack phoenix

    Attack Iran now. No foot soldiers, rather Cruise missiles. Bases and center of government. then lets the tribes fight amongst themselves.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:44 pm | Reply
  15. mike

    WoW!! can some one speak the truth to Washington like Zakaria did? I am afraid soon you will be victim of AIPAC.

    March 12, 2012 at 12:51 pm | Reply
    • Khaled

      Yeah, sure thing Abdul, because you say so, I am sooooooo scared. Without you Abdul, I would not know what to think. hehehe....

      March 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  16. SyBurg

    TRAITORS – beating the WAR drum.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:15 pm | Reply
    • Najda

      Patriot – whistling Dixie.

      March 12, 2012 at 7:47 pm | Reply
  17. Israeli

    Wow sir you sure dont really know that Iran is a threat that must be eliminated, but as I seen you are with Obama, and your name sounds like your muslim which means your an Anti Zionist Muslim. Case close.

    March 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm | Reply
    • Najda

      Case Closed.

      March 12, 2012 at 7:45 pm | Reply
  18. Nate Olson

    We grew a custom to the Israeli aggressions whenever the time for U.S. elections. As always, a U.S. president must show his loyalty and pledge the allegiance to AIPAC and to keep his mouth shut while Israelis using our F-16 to massacre humanity. I thought these are the same people who despised Hitler because he was doing the same thing to them! As our ex-president Jimmy Carter made it clear in his book, our government is elected by AIPAC and a U.S. president/Congress must pledge allegiance to the Israeli flag instead of America. Our economy is depilated for the sake of Israel and its wars. My son joint the army to fight for America not Israel and he already promised me that he will not fight in Iran and die in Iran for the sake of Israel. Every U.S. president candidate must promise and show his loyalty to Israel and his willingness to attack other countries on behalf of illegitimate country like Israel. Israel is claiming to be a peace loving nation at the same time occupying Palestine and massacring the Palestinians since Israel conception in 1948. History is very clear that there was nothing called Israel until England helped the Jewish people to take over Palestine. You can read the "Balfour Declaration" by the prime minister of England at that time Arthur James Balfour promising a Jewish homeland in Palestine before Israel existence which will shed some light on Israel love for wars.

    March 12, 2012 at 2:25 pm | Reply
    • Zuni Lan

      Good Heavens!
      Israeli in Upper Galilee

      March 14, 2012 at 8:26 am | Reply
  19. Elbonian

    Fareed: Your argument presumes that Iran is a rational actor. But what we know of Iran and its internal workings leads many (including me) to believe that Iran is NOT a rational actor, and Iran specifically could execute a nuclear first strike on Israel at any time. Iran would not need any further reason beyond the reasons which already exist. A nation controlled by religious zealots is not a nation any of us want possessing nuclear weapons!

    March 12, 2012 at 2:41 pm | Reply
  20. Punkass

    Fareed makes some really good points, however, Iran has not acted very rationally lately. Sloppy covert plots with poorly trained individuals makes me think otherwise. I believe on the whole Iran will act rationally but it puts some of its actions in the hands of irresponsilbe ppl which makes me nervous about their program. I do not think for a second that Iran would detonate a device themselves but I wouldnt put it past them to give it to someone else....

    March 12, 2012 at 2:58 pm | Reply
  21. Another Iranian

    Fareed, got some gifts from government of Iran and well served in the best hotels and restaurants in Tehran when he had a trip to Iran and now is playing roll of pro-Iran and anti-Israel sentiment.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:15 pm | Reply
  22. Another Iranian

    Why Farred is supporting this unwanted regime that breaks the foot and hand of students and hang up any body that requested democracy in Iran? This government is void from the Iranian point of view and is a big trouble maker for all region...they support the terrorist to kill USA army and explode the bomb to terror the child and women to be safe from attack of USA.

    March 12, 2012 at 4:22 pm | Reply
  23. JC in Jax

    I love watch GPS and love the topics and guest that Fareed invites. But yesterday he made some very important points about an argument for Israel to not attach Iran, including unconfirmed intelligence, that it would ignite the neighbor, and others in the area have nuclear and it has not begun a nuclear race, and manyh other convincing points except Fareed left out one important fact: Iran had said Israel needs to be wiped off the face of the map. That not reason enough?

    March 12, 2012 at 4:33 pm | Reply
  24. Iranian

    Regime of Iran wanted to attack Israel and be number one in middle east. For this reason they wanted nuclear weapon....that all the story ....

    March 12, 2012 at 4:34 pm | Reply
  25. JACOB

    This Fareed guy is really stupid THey have threatened to wipe isreal off the face of the earth. "Why" Well if you dont know why then your a real idiot!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    March 12, 2012 at 4:40 pm | Reply
    • Najda

      Yeah, like we believe you are Jewish because you call yourself Jacob. And, you advocate violence. This makes you an Islamists trash. You should not try and judge people by your own standards Abdul.

      March 12, 2012 at 5:03 pm | Reply
  26. SHIIAZIM = EVIL= terrorists= russia=666

    it is time to take stand aganist Iran terrorizim and aggression, and aganist syrian shiia thugs aggression and Iraqi shiia thugs killers those are helping hizboallah and all terror group with money and russia send the weapons to those shiia thugs from iran, iraq and syria to destroy lebanon, bahrain hamas iraqi sunni and syrian sunni today along those shiia thugs killed 150 women and children just because they are sunni , this is what shiia islam all about, and make no mistake when those shiia evil gets the nic weapoins they will use it, YOU HAVE TO UNDESTAND WHY,,,THE SHIIA WANT TO SEE WAR, CAIOUS , ADULTERY AND KILLING BECAUSE THEY BELIVE THAT AL MAHDI AL MONTADHAR WHAT SO CALLED SHIIA MASAIA WILL APPEAR WHEN THAT HAPPEN...THEY ARE PURE EVIL BEILEVE IN THIS EVIL MAN CALLED THE INVIBLE MASSAIA...

    March 12, 2012 at 5:44 pm | Reply
  27. Lobo Ferrol

    If the Obama administration is avoiding war with Iran. Thank goodness!!! I don't think Iran, the USA or the world can afford another conflict. The entire world is in some indirect way facing the consequences of wars and conflicts that could have been avoided altogether.

    March 12, 2012 at 6:23 pm | Reply
  28. sumit

    i used to watch GPS and though he is most brain person in the world, but iam so sorry about my past knoladge about Farid,. it is not same , as Iran and world, , its not right to compair with india and Pakistan. both country has neku. before last sunday i always thougth Zakariya is middle, he is best;' s bast; but iam sorry for me, how much i am wrong. it is clear that Farid Zakariya wants Iran to Make Nuke, so world will be same power as Iran, so sorry for Farid's Mind,

    March 12, 2012 at 6:45 pm | Reply
  29. sumit

    iam so sorry for my english,

    March 12, 2012 at 6:46 pm | Reply
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