Perhaps even more alarming is the administration’s non-deterrence strategy of publicly warning Israel not to launch an attack on Iran. As Mario Loyola writes, this is daft:
Sanctions are a powerful vise, and they are having an effect, but they are far more likely to result in an internal regime change (eventually) than in this regime abandoning its nuclear-weapons program. The only thing that is going to stop the Iranians is the fear of a military attack. The U.S. should be helping the Israelis deter Iran’s further nuclear advance by helping them to scare the Iranians into thinking that an attack is coming. Instead, the Obama administration is doing everything possible to telegraph to Iran that we’re terrified of a conflict and are doing everything to prevent it. That’s exactly the same as inviting the Iranians to continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons. If there is an explanation for this, other than incompetence, I would love to know it.
I can think of several possible explanations. First, Obama desperately wants to get back to the bargaining table with the Iranians. That’s how he’s going to declare sanctions to be a “success” and try to get through the election without an international conflagration. He doesn’t want Israel messing up his game plan with talk of an attack.
Second, the administration, as on so many matters, has seen its assumptions (e.g., we can engage Iran, economic sanctions will work) dashed. They are plumb out of ideas. Were Israel to attack, it would be obvious that the United States’s “smart strategy” has been a failure and that this country is incapable of or unwilling to lead the West.
Third, and most troubling, the administration actually might believe that military action is worse than Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability; its deterrence policy is aimed at deterring Israel from acting, making clear that the United States opposes military action (until sanctions have had “time to work,” of course) and keeping the chances of military action in the region low, thereby forestalling a spike in oil prices. (How high will oil go if Iran gets the bomb, I wonder?)
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet withPresident Obama in March. He will probably take the time to remind Obama that the president has staked his own credibility and that of the United States on preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The only way to ensure that that pledge is fulfilled, and for the United States to remain relevant in the region, is to make clear that the United States is prepared — with the cooperation of states in the Mideast (surely the Saudis must be as nervous as Netanyahu about Obama’s fecklessness) — to take military action if needed to thwart Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In short, if the Unites States downgrades military assistance to Israel and seeks to diplomatically undermine the Jewish state, Iran will conclude (if it hasn’t already) that we can’t bring ourselves to use force. That, in turn, will make continued progress on Iran’s nuclear program, as well as Israel’s military action, all the more likely.