President George W. Bush uncharacteristically used common sense last year when he rejected aid for an Israeli strike on Iran, David Sanger reports in today’s NYT. This is good news. Yet, writes Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy, Obama’s arrival hardly signals that the military option is off the table:
First, there are still influential voices in Washington who maintain that the United States cannot permit Iran to maintain an independent enrichment capability, and who believe that the United States should use force to prevent this in the event that diplomacy does not succeed. […]
Second, as the United States draws down its presence in Iraq, Iran’s ability to retaliate in that area of operations will decline. Opponents of the military option will lose one of the obvious counter-arguments to an attack (though there are plenty of others), and opposition within the uniformed military (which has been deeply skeptical of the military option in the past) may decline.
Third, Obama will almost certainly try the diplomatic route first, just as he promised in the campaign. The question is whether the diplomatic strategy that the administration follows has any realistic chance of succeeding.
Walt also points out that the rumoured appointment of Dennis Ross as Obama’s Iran troubleshooter would give air strike advocates a “front-and-center” position in the new administration.