Why Has the United States Not Bombed Iran? The Domestic Politics of America's Response to Iran's Nuclear Program

42 Pages Posted: 1 Aug 2011 Last revised: 11 Sep 2011

Date Written: 2011

Abstract

Why has the United States, under both the Bush and Obama administrations, refrained from attacking Iran even as US officials have depicted the Iranian threat in all but apocalyptic terms and even as a loud chorus in Washington has been persistently calling for a preventive strike against Iran? I present an analysis — informed by Graham Allison’s famous bureaucratic politics model — of the main political and bureaucratic forces in Washington acting to promote or impede a preventive attack on Iran’s nuclear sites. I argue that America’s abstention from attacking Iran should be understood not as a coherent national response to Iran’s nuclear program but rather as (in Allison’s terms) an “intra-national political outcome” resulting from the “pulling” of Iran Threat interests — primarily Vice President Cheney’s camp in the Bush White House, members of Congress, and AIPAC — and the countervailing “hauling” of the Pentagon, the military’s top brass, the intelligence community, and the Department of State. The main reason why neither the Bush nor the Obama Administration opted for a military strike was that the “haulers,” who were led by a formidable bureaucratic-political player, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, have had the upper-hand over the hawkish “pullers.”

Keywords: US foreign policy, US-Iran relations, Nonproliferation

Suggested Citation

Oren, Ido, Why Has the United States Not Bombed Iran? The Domestic Politics of America's Response to Iran's Nuclear Program (2011). APSA 2011 Annual Meeting Paper, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1900611

Ido Oren (Contact Author)

University of Florida ( email )

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