In a forum sponsored by AEI and Brookings, Sen. Joe Lieberman addressed the looming Iranian nuclear threat and the question on most everyone’s mind: What happens when talking to the Iranians gets us nowhere? As to the discovery of the secretive uranium-enrichment plant on a military base in Qom, Lieberman explained:
The secret construction of this facility, whose size, configuration, and location are inconsistent with a peaceful energy program, fits into a pattern of deception and concealment by the Iranians about their nuclear activities that stretches back over twenty years. It also adds to the already substantial body of incriminating evidence that Iran is secretly, steadily developing a nuclear weapons capability.
Lieberman acknowledges that he was willing to support Obama’s “engagement” policy but that it is now time to stop fooling ourselves, given that “there has been nothing in the Iranian leaders’ behavior since President Obama came to office to ever suggest they are now any more likely to reciprocate the President’s good faith, or accept their responsibilities under international law, than they were on January 20th.” Indeed, he argues that there is “reason to believe that they will try to exploit the current attempt at engagement by the West, just as they have exploited past attempts at engagement, as an opportunity to ensnare us in a process without end, while they continue to advance toward a nuclear breakout.”
So what do we do? Lieberman argues that in order to avoid a confrontation, Iran must give us “full, unrestricted access to every site, every scientist, every scrap of paper, and every piece of equipment that they want to see. ” He for one isn’t ready to take a bargain like we made with North Korea, “where we repeatedly convinced ourselves that it was better to accept half-measures, in the hope of winning more complete cooperation later, than it was to abandon the negotiating process.”
And if Iran isn’t forthcoming, what then? Lieberman argues that “the current Iranian leadership will only consider stepping back from the nuclear brink when they are convinced that if they fail to do so, there will be consequences so severe that the continuity of their regime will be threatened. ” Lieberman therefore supports imposing “multiple sanctions, with multiple partners, simultaneously or sequentially.” Among these are a measure he has introduced for refined-petroleum sanctions and a more comprehensive set of sanctions that Sen. Chris Dodd is considering. Lieberman is also sponsoring a measure to help fund and support news and information gathering and new-media dissemination that can be used by Iranian democracy advocates.
Unlike the president, Lieberman plainly leaves military options on the table. He wants to look at “actions we can take through the UN Security Council, but also through regional organizations, ad hoc coalitions of like-minded countries, and unilaterally.” The bottom line, he says, is that we must be “prepared to use all means at our disposal to prevent the Iranian regime from getting nuclear weapons.” All means.
Compare this to the dreamy-eyed, open-ended talks that Obama spokesmen are talking about. Notice the unwillingness to rely solely on multilateral consensus, which is unlikely to ever be achieved. Could you imagine Obama giving the speech Lieberman did? No, I can’t either. The firm declaration that Iran won’t get nuclear weapons and the steely-eyed realism that the U.S. and like-minded allies will have to do many things, and do them despite objections from other quarters, are not what we are getting from the president. He is allergic to confrontation and obsessively attached to acting only in concert with all (how can we possibly get all?) the major powers.
And so, just as Lieberman warned, we begin the process of dithering. You can sense we are about to be sucked into another and then another and then another round of senseless meetings, and that the president will never conclude that we are being played. None of this is lost on Iran, Israel, or the rest of the world.