Should the consequences of war with Iran be discussed in private?

This week, Jeffrey Goldberg gave cover to Mitt Romney’s critique of public discussion about the consequences of going to war with Iran in Bloomberg News.

Goldberg wasn’t giving Romney a platform for his messaging; he agrees with the Republican nominee’s assessment:

Romney’s more potent criticism of Obama has more to do with statements made by Obama’s underlings. It is true, as Romney wrote, that administration officials have discussed publicly the risks of an American (or Israeli) attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. There are risks, of course — potentially catastrophic ones — of attacking. But it doesn’t help the American negotiating position to publicly telegraph to the Iranians these sorts of doubts.

Goldberg reiterated his stance in the Atlantic:

President Obama has been undermined from time to time by his own team on the Iran question — whenever a senior official of his administration analyzes publicly the dangers of a military confrontation to the U.S., we should assume the Iranian leaders breathe a sigh of relief, and make the calculations that Obama is bluffing on military action.

Not everyone agrees with Romney and Goldberg, whose reporting about the alleged threat from Saddam Hussein in 2002 was referenced by US hawks to advance their case for war on Iraq. Indeed, prompted by Israel’s latest Iran-pressure campaign, the editorial board of USA Today urged for a real discussion about the military option’s consequences:

But the choice between hot and cold wars is exactly what needs to be discussed before the U.S. risks launching itself into another military morass. Look at the daunting consequences, and you see why Israelis are so divided:

But can the cons of publicly discussing an easily devastating war be more harmful than concealing the discussion from the public? Ali Gharib answers in the Daily Beast:

Were the administration not willing to publicly discuss the potential consequences with its public, then the threats better be a bluff—because to launch this war without a national dialogue would be a monumental disservice to American democracy, not to mention irresponsible. The stakes are simply too high: an eminent group of foreign policy heavyweights recently said an attack could spark an “all-out regional war“; former top Israeli security officials say strikes could be counterproductive, spurring Iran to build the bomb, and justify it. That’s to say nothing of the incredible potential these scenarios—deemed likely by experts—hold for spilled American blood and treasure.

As does Ben Armbruster in ThinkProgress:

…having a thorough, thoughtful, honest and open discussion about the consequences of going to war with Iran only helps us and our allies. Democracies debate policy openly and freely, which actually could serve as a model for those Iranians looking for change. Openly discussing and knowing the consequences of attacking Iran doesn’t mean that President Obama won’t follow through with his policy of using all options available, including military force, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. It means that he, his administration and the American people will be more informed about what the aftermath of a military attack would look like.

“If we’ve learned anything from the past decade of war in the Middle East, it’s that debates over our national security strengthen our policy and our democracy. Doing the opposite weakens it,” Rubin said.

Indeed, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators” didn’t work out so well in 2003.


Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.



  1. Obama/Biden have on a number of occasions challenged Romney/Ryan that if they mean war they should say so. Another words, an invitation to a public debate.

    Goldberg’s piece is just cover for the fact that Romney indeed intends war, but the undebated variety.

    Romney is a ‘signature’ politician. He will dance to any gay/feminist/civil rights/47%=100% tune just so he gets to put his name on the big enchilada. What bigger signature piece than to start that war? Lets face it, if you seriously intended to start a war, would you debate it beforehand? I wouldn’t.

  2. Romney/Goldberg suggest that talking about outcomes of war-fighting damage a country’s negotiating position.

    Please sirs, negotiating between who and whom?

    If the American people are able to see that there is little (new) danger from allowing Iran to proceed with its nuclear projects and great danger from attacking Iran, they would be in a position — as democratic NEGOTIATORS sitting across the table from BIG-ZION, BIG-WAR, BIG-EMPIRE — to win this negotiation by putting a kibosh on a new war.

    As to negotiations between Iran and USA, both sides are grown up, both sides are poker players, and they will not be put off by what people say. Those negotiations will not be disturbed.

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