On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared the equivalent of “the emperor has no clothes.” The Jerusalem Post quoted Netanyahu’s public remarks during Mitt Romney’s visit: “I heard some of your remarks, and you said that the greatest danger facing the world is the Ayatollah regime possessing nuclear weapons capability. Mitt, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I think it is important to do everything in our power to prevent the ayatollahs from possessing that capability. We have to be honest and say that all the diplomacy and sanctions and diplomacy so far have not set back the Iranian program by one iota.”
As a factual matter he is accurate. The Iranian program, we know, according to the sources including the New York Times, has enriched uranium up to 27 percent: “[I]t is potentially significant because it moves Iran’s uranium enrichment closer to bomb-grade purity.” Since President Obama came into office we have learned about the extent of the nuclear enrichment activities in Fordo and Parchin.
So Congress is trying to up the ante by seeing if any more stringent sanctions can tip the balance. The administration insists current sanctions are crippling enough. This puts defenders of the administration in a curious spot, after arguing that the president wanted the stiffest sanctions possible to force the mullahs into giving up their nuclear ambitions. (As the Wall Street Journal editors put it: “The Administration will resist these stiffer penalties, as it has consistently resisted previous Congressional attempts to impose the harshest possible sanctions. But that’s all the more reason for the conferees to present the President with the toughest bill possible, and see where he really stands. If Mr. Obama is a pretender on sanctioning the mullahs, then you can be sure he isn’t inclined to stop their nuclear program by other means.”)
Even if sanctions, seven months after passed by the House, were to go to the president’s desk and he were to sign them, it is an open question whether it is “too late.” The timeline for Iran obtaining a nuclear weapons capability at some point crosses the timeline for sanctions to “work.” Had the full array of sanctions been enacted years ago and/or we robustly assisted in regime change, we could be in a far different position now. But Obama foot-dragged on sanctions and turned a blind eye toward the Green Movement.
At this point Romney suggests another course: “We should employ any and all measures to dissuade the Iranian regime from its nuclear course, and it is our fervent hope that diplomatic and economic measures will do so. In the final analysis, of course, no option should be excluded. We recognize Israel’s right to defend itself, and that it is right for America to stand with you.” Put differently, tighten the sanctions noose as far as we can, but make the threat of the nuclear option credible and visible. And, if need be, utilize it.
The reason Netanyahu is contemplating unilateral action is because sanctions and negotiations have failed and because of well-founded skepticism (by Congress, our allies, Israel and the Iranian regime) that Obama would ever employ force. As with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 (which prompted the release of the U.S hostages), the election of a new U.S. president may be needed to prompt Iranian capitulation. The mullahs simply don't think the current one is serious about stopping them.