February 29, 2012

Regarding David Ignatius’s Feb. 23 op-ed, “Getting Iran to back down”:

A conflict with Iran would inevitably have major consequences for the United States, Israel and the Western alliance. But to avoid conflict, the United States depends on some combination of Iranian forbearance, excellent Iranian command and control, and plain old luck. No great power should ever put itself in such a position.

It is time to try real negotiations — not, as now, by requiring that Iran “surrender” before talks start, but by recognizing that the United States, Israel and Iran all have legitimate security interests. Otherwise, the United States risks a war that would be a disaster for so much we hold dear.

Robert E. Hunter, Washington

The writer was director of Middle East Affairs on the Carter administration’s National Security Council staff and U.S. ambassador to NATO from 1993 to 1998.

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The Feb. 23 front-page article “Sense of inevitable war grips Israel” was alarming. When armed conflict seems inevitable, and specifically when leaders frame the choice of going to war as “war now vs. war later,” deterrence collapses. Absolute costs, whether in deaths or treasure, no longer matter or deter. All that matters is the relative cost of war now vs. war later.

 Israeli society seems to be drifting dangerously close to such a fateful option. The United States should do all it can to encourage Israel and Iran away from the fatalistic conclusion of inevitable conflict and a fatal choice of war now vs. war later. We should make it absolutely clear to the Netanyahu government that the United States will not inevitably follow Israel into war. 

Peter Schoettle, Washington

The writer is director of policy programs at the Brookings Institution.