Last week I cited a report by Eli Lake concerning intensified U.S. and Israeli cooperation with regard to the “triggers” that would require military action against Iran. However, some analysts and Iran experts on Capitol Hill and elsewhere insist there is time for sanctions to work.
A senior congressional aide, who has been critical of President Obama’s Iran policy, concedes time is getting short. He e-mails: “There is serious reason to believe that 2012 will be the decisive year with respect to the confrontation over the Iranian nuclear program. The message from Israel isn’t just the usual saber rattling; this time, it’s deadly serious — first and foremost, because of advances that are being made on the ground by the Iranians.”
He insists, however, that it is still possible to avoid the choice between military action and accepting a nuclear-armed Iran. He contends: “Time has not yet run out for sanctions, but the clock is ticking, and to push the regime over the edge is going to require more than ‘business as usual.’ Rather, it necessitates swift implementation of sanctions against the Central Bank and an oil embargo — starting with action by the European Union early in the new year. Our effort now needs to be focused on pushing those countries in the EU that are reluctant to accept these sanctions — the Germans on CBI, the Greeks on oil — to drop their opposition.”
The administration will certainly feel compelled to go forward with this diplomatic effort. But the devil is in the details and the time it takes for such efforts to play out. The administration tried its best to water down Iran sanctions put forth in the Menendez-Kirk amendment, which hardly sets an example for other governments. European leaders, like the Obama team, will fret about oil prices and further economic disruption. The haggling will take time, and the results will be less than even this administration wants. Meanwhile, the Iranians’ weapons plan will move ahead.
The value of a military option, in part, is the threat that it will be used. In the case of the Obama administration, years of equivocation and talk about how “disruptive” a strike would be have given the mullahs, correctly or not, the impression that the administration is less than resolute in its determination to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Perhaps while the administration pursues its last efforts to enact crippling sanctions, it will make a more concerted and visible effort to convey its seriousness about using the military action if the sanctions are not effective. Both rhetorically and in military exercises, as well as regional diplomatic efforts, the administration should be doing everything possible to convey that the military option is viable. (The leaks to Lake for his story, we can hope, were part of such an effort.)
In his foreign policy white paper Mitt Romney spelled this out:
This message should not only be delivered through words, but through actions. The United States should restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier task forces in both the Eastern Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. The United States should repair relations with Israel, increase military coordination and assistance, and enhance intelligence sharing to ensure that our allied capabilities are robust and ready to deal with Iran. The United States should also increase military coordination with our Arab allies in the region and conduct more naval exercises as a demonstration of strength and resolve. Only if Iran understands that the United States is utterly determined when we say that their nuclear-weapons program is unacceptable is there a possibility that they will give up their nuclear aspirations peacefully.
Congress, for its part, should conduct adequate oversight and give the administration support for a military option, if it becomes necessary.
The administration and the president specifically also need to begin a period of public education to explain why it is imperative that Iran not get nuclear weapons and why it is both advantageous (because of our military resources) and essential (because of our position as leader of the free world and guarantor of the West’s security) to do the job, if it becomes necessary, rather than let Israel do the heavy lifting. The duty to educate and prepare the American people is critical and in and of itself will enhance the credibility of a military option.
In addition, the efforts to assist the Green Movement and to make clear we support the democratic aspirations of those seeking regime change should be accelerated. The president needs to articulate that regime change in Iran is the official policy of the United States and begin a full court press to isolate Iran from international venues and organizations.
Finally, there would be no more credible signal to the Iranian regime than the removal of its junior partner in Damascus. The swift elimination of Bashar al-Assad is in the interests of the Syrian people and would demonstrate that the United States does not intend to allow Iran’s influence in the region to go unchecked. Civil war is regrettable, but now that it is for all intents and purposes underway in Syria, we should do whatever feasible to assist the Free Syrian Army and stop the blather that “both sides” should act nonviolently.
All of this demands greater will, finesse and organization than the administration has demonstrated in three years. Let’s hope the Obama team can put it all together or at least delay Iran’s program long enough to hand the baton to a new administration willing to do what is necessary to prevent what two U.S. presidents have declared is unacceptable, namely the acquisition of nuclear weapons by a revolutionary Islamic state.