Commentary Magazine


Do Nothing on Iran

With infinite wisdom, Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations, gives advice to the next President in a long Newsweek article. Among other things, he writes about Iran. Haas, apparently, believes that if the President has to choose between two bad options, he should choose . . . neither:

Iran constitutes another challenge where the campaign generated more heat than light. If Tehran continues its current progress in enriching uranium, early on in your presidency you will be presented with the choice of attacking Iran (or greenlighting an Israeli attack) or living with a nuclear Iran. Yogi Berra said that when you approach a fork in the road, take it. I respectfully disagree. Neither option is attractive. A military strike may buy some time, but it won’t solve the problem. It will, however, lead to Iranian retaliation against U.S. personnel and interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, and much higher oil prices-the last thing the world needs, given the financial crisis. An Iran with nuclear weapons or the capacity to produce them quickly would place the Middle East on a hair trigger and lead several Arab states to embark on nuclear programs of their own.

Of course, Haass can’t say that not making a decision is the right thing to do. So he produces some diplomacy-speak:

I would suggest that we work with the Europeans, Russia and China to cobble together a new diplomatic package to present to the Iranians. Ideally, Iran would be persuaded to give up its independent enrichment capability or, if it refused, to consider accepting clear limits on enrichment and intrusive inspections so that the threat is clearly bounded. We should be prepared to have face-to-face talks with the Iranians, without preconditions. In general, it is wiser to see negotiations not as a reward but as a tool of national security.

This is the way we should go, according to Haass: Start by asking the Iranians to give up their independent enrichment capability. But since we know there’s no way they will accede to that demand, we are already preparing a better option for them. That is, for them to consider “accepting clear limits on enrichment.” (Why the Iranians would go for the first option when they already know they can get a better deal is beyond me). And of course, we should talk, no preconditions, face to face, etc., etc.

But here’s a question: what happens if the Iranians will don’t buy the first OR second deal? What if, after spending yet another six or eight or twelve months talking, we reach again (as can reasonably be expected) this “fork in the road”?

What Yogi Berra would do we already know. But I think we also know what Haass will do. “Respectfully,” he’ll find yet another excuse for inaction. We know–and more importantly, Tehran knows.