In May 2009, we published an op-ed in The New York Times, see here, in which we argued that “President Obama’s Iran policy has, in all likelihood already failed”—largely because “Obama is backing away from the bold steps required to achieve strategic, Nixon-to-China type rapprochement with Tehran.” Indeed,
“The Obama Administration has done nothing to cancel or repudiate an ostensibly covert but well-publicized program begun in George W. Bush’s second term, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, the Iranian government—regardless of who wins the presidential elections on June12—will continue to suspect that American intentions toward the Islamic Republic remain, ultimately, hostile.”
Now, in an article by David Sanger, “Obama Order Sped Up Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran,” see here, The New York Times informs that
“From his first months in office, President Obama secretly ordered increasingly sophisticated attacks on the computer systems that run Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons, according to participants in the program.
Mr. Obama decided to accelerate the attacks—begun in the Bush administration and code-named Olympic Games—even after an element of the program accidentally became public in the summer of 2010 because of a programming error that allowed it to escape Iran’s Natanz plant and sent it around the world on the Internet. Computer security experts who began studying the worm, which had been developed by the United States and Israel, gave it a name: Stuxnet.”
The article goes on to describe multiple details about Stuxnet and the President’s decision-making as to its use. We, however, are most interested in the report for what it confirms about Obama’s approach to Iran—in particular, that Obama’s aggressiveness toward the Islamic Republic extended to a significant expansion of “America’s first sustained use of cyberweapons.” Consider what Sanger writes about the motives for Obama’s decision-making in this regard:
“Mr. Obama, according to participants in the many Situation Room meetings on Olympic Games, was acutely aware that with every attack he was pushing the United States into new territory, much as his predecessors had with the first use of atomic weapons in the 1940s, of intercontinental missiles in the 1950s and of drones in the past decade. He repeatedly expressed concerns that any American acknowledgment that it was using cyberweapons—even under the most careful and limited circumstances—could enable other countries, terrorists or hackers to justify their own attacks.
‘We discussed the irony, more than once,’ one of his aides said. Another said that the administration was resistant to developing a ‘grand theory for a weapon whose possibilities they were still discovering.’ Yet Mr. Obama concluded that when it came to stopping Iran, the United States had no other choice.
If Olympic Games failed, he told aides, there would be no time for sanctions and diplomacy with Iran to work. Israel could carry out a conventional military attack, prompting a conflict that could spread throughout the region.”
The perceived imperative “to dissuade the Israelis from carrying out their own preemptive strike against the Iranian nuclear facilities” also reportedly motivated the Administration to have Israel “deeply involved in every aspect” of Olympic Games.
Two things strike us as significant here. First, our May 2009 analysis was right on the money. If anything, we may have underestimated the degree to which Obama was prepared to let half-baked schemes undermine any chance he might have had, at least in theory, to pursue serious diplomacy with Iran. Obama apologists, see for example here, want us to believe that the President meant well on engaging Tehran, but that what they describe (with no evidence whatsoever) as the Islamic Republic’s “fraudulent” 2009 presidential election and the resulting “disarray” within the Iranian leadership stymied Obama’s benevolent efforts. This is utterly false.
Second, the Sanger article makes undeniably clear—if it were not sufficiently evident already—that the reason for the President’s hostility toward Iran has nothing to do with American security. Rather, Obama’s aggressiveness—which carries with it a willingness to put significant long-term American interests at risk—is motivated by a perceived imperative to prevent the Israelis from doing something that they cannot credibly do in the first place: namely, strike and destroy Iran’s nuclear program.
–Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett