Obama in 2004: Surgical airstrikes might be necessary to stop Iran from going nuclear

BuzzFeed’s Andrew Kaczynski finds that, once upon a time, Barack Obama thought surgical airstrikes should be among the potential means to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Much of what Senate candidate Obama said about Iran in a 2004 interview with the editorial board of The Chicago Tribune sounds familiar — then as now, he emphasized economic sanctions, for example — but some of it does not:

“The big question is going to be, if Iran is resistant to these pressures, including economic sanctions, which I hope will be imposed if they do not cooperate, at what point are we going to, if any, are we going to take military action?” Obama asked.

Given the continuing war in Iraq, the United States is not in a position to invade Iran, but missile strikes might be a viable option, he said. Obama conceded that such strikes might further strain relations between the U.S. and the Arab world.

“In light of the fact that we’re now in Iraq, with all the problems in terms of perceptions about America that have been created, us launching some missile strikes into Iran is not the optimal position for us to be in,” he said.

“On the other hand, having a radical Muslim theocracy in possession of nuclear weapons is worse. So I guess my instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran. … And I hope it doesn’t get to that point. But realistically, as I watch how this thing has evolved, I’d be surprised if Iran blinked at this point.”

Today, it’s Benjamine Netanyahu who does all the talking about launching air and missile strikes against Iran’s nuclear program, while Obama continues to push for a diplomatic solution. No doubt about it, though: A diplomatic solution is probable in proportion to the perceived sincerity of Bibi’s threats. The rhetorical backup Obama unwittingly provided Netanyahu in 2004 might be of benefit in the same way.

Note that Obama even then thought international opinion should be a prime consideration when it came to what to do about Iran, though. “My instinct would be to err on not having those weapons in the possession of the ruling clerics of Iran,” he said, as though it might be equally reasonable to err on the other side. That he would even think it might be worth it to allow those weapons into the ruling clerics’ hands for the sake of sycophantic praise from a war-weary world is troubling. Surely security should always be the most important of foreign policy considerations.