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Contentions

Mixed Message on Iran

I recently spent a week in the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia as part of a delegation of American policy wonks and former government officials organized by the Center for Strategic and International Studies. One of the big subjects of our discussions with Emiratis and Saudis, both in government and out of it, was the looming threat from Iran, which is felt keenly by its Sunni neighbors.

All agreed that Iran is a major menace. There was disagreement about whether military action is warranted; many said they dreaded the prospect of another war, but many others (including senior government officials) said that a prophylactic air strike was better than the alternative—a nuclear Iran dominating the region.

Whatever you think about the desirability of a preemptive strike, one thing is clear: it would be the height of foolishness for the United States to take that option off the table. Only if the mullahs think they face a serious military threat are they likely to slow down their quest for the bomb.

Thus it was puzzling to see Admiral William Fallon, head of U.S. Central Command, telling the Financial Times that, as the headline had it, “U.S. strike on Iran ‘not being prepared.’” The content of the article was a bit more complex: while Fallon was quoted as saying that a strike is not “in the offing,” he continued, “That said, we have to make sure there is no mistake on the part of the Iranians about our resolve in tending to business in the region.”

The Iranians can be forgiven for having grave doubts about U.S. resolve, however, when the senior U.S. military figure in the region is going out of his way to assure them that their threatening actions will not result in American military action.



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