First Published: 2012-06-06


Obamas Cyber-War on Iran


The United States, in collaboration with Israel, has undertaken an unprecedented cyber-warfare attack on Irans nuclear program, opening the door to a new dimension for international conflict and complicating negotiations with Iran, say Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett at


Middle East Online

In May 2009, we published an op-ed in The New York Times, in which we argued that President Obamas 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.

We wrote, The Obama Administration has done nothing to cancel or repudiate an ostensibly covert but well-publicized program begun in George W. Bushs second term, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars to destabilize the Islamic Republic. Under these circumstances, the Iranian government 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, 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 Irans main nuclear enrichment facilities, significantly expanding Americas 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 Irans 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 Presidents decision-making as to its use. We, however, are most interested in the report for what it confirms about Obamas approach to Iran in particular, that Obamas aggressiveness toward the Islamic Republic extended to a significant expansion of Americas first sustained use of cyberweapons.

Consider what Sanger writes about the motives for Obamas 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 want us to believe that the President meant well on engaging Tehran, but that what they describe (with no evidence whatsoever) as the Islamic Republics fraudulent 2009 presidential election and the resulting disarray within the Iranian leadership stymied Obamas 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 Presidents hostility toward Iran has nothing to do with American security.

Rather, Obamas 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 Irans nuclear program.

Flynt Leverett served as a Middle East expert on George W. Bushs National Security Council staff until the Iraq War and worked previously at the State Department and at the Central Intelligence Agency. Hillary Mann Leverett was the NSC expert on Iran and from 2001 to 2003 was one of only a few U.S. diplomats authorized to negotiate with the Iranians over Afghanistan, al-Qaeda and Iraq. [This article was originally published at]



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