While European policy makers are eager to convince Iran that they don’t want regime change, it now appears the new U.S. administration (still in the process of reviewing its Iran policy) is making the threat of military action less credible. When Defense Secretary Robert Gates was asked about the Islamic Republic two days ago, he said that the Iraq precedent has raised the bar, and no president is likely to launch a preemptive strike in the future before asking “a lot of very hard questions.”
Now, any president, past present or future, should ask “a lot of very hard questions” when the possibility of war is discussed. There are at least three important factors that make Iran’s case different from the precedent Mr. Gates invoked:
- Iran’s program is conducted in many facilities that can be observed through satellite imagery, while in the case of Iraq there was not similarly clear evidence of clandestine installations.
- Iran’s program relies heavily on supplies from the A. Q. Khan nuclear-proliferation network that was dismantled in 2003. Khan’s network has supplied the IAEA with a wealth of detail on its nuclear transfers to Iran, which have provided a clear picture of what Iran is pursuing through the technology it acquired.
- The most worrying details of Iran’s nuclear program have come from the periodic reports of the IAEA — the same IAEA that, according to French nuclear proliferation expert Bruno Tertrais, “asserted in early 2003, at the risk of enraging Washington, that Iraq did not appear to have resumed its nuclear program after 1991 and which skeptics therefore should take seriously.”
Iran is not Iraq — and to remove from the table the two things that make its regime think twice (military action or regime change — or both) is downright silly.