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Talking Down the Military Option

The Washington Post‘s editors observe that the administration is so averse to the use of force or even the threat of the use of force that it is leaving itself no real option to thwart Iran’s nuclear program. They write:

President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation. Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, offered more reassurance to Iran on Sunday, saying in a forum at Columbia University that “I worry … about striking Iran. I’ve been very public about that because of the unintended consequences.”

Adm. Mullen appeared to equate those consequences with those of Iran obtaining a weapon. “I think Iran having a nuclear weapon would be incredibly destabilizing. I think attacking them would also create the same kind of outcome,” he was quoted as saying. Yet Israel and other countries in the region would hardly regard those “outcomes” as similar.

The editors say they don’t favor a military strike, but they find the Obami’s “squishiness” about the use of force “worrisome” because sanctions are going nowhere. And let’s be clear, the Obami hope sanctions will get the Iranians back to the bargaining table, where, of course, we’ll have months more of stalling and antics by the mullahs, with eager administration negotiators refusing to take “no” for an answer.

The editors say they’d prefer support for the Green Movement. “But the administration has so far shrunk from supporting sanctions such as a gasoline embargo that might heighten popular anger against the regime.” Indeed, the administration insists that the only meaningful sanctions, the aforementioned gasoline embargo, for example, are out of the question, because we’d get the Iranian people — who are pleading for our help and dying in the streets to overthrow a brutal regime — mad at us. (Equally probable is that the Obami don’t believe this hooey but instead are parroting the line for the sake of agreement with the Russians and others in the “international community” who don’t want to agree to anything effective.)

The editors conclude by quoting Gates: “‘There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries,’ he added, ‘that the United States is … prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.’ If allies and adversaries are presently confused, that would be understandable.” But let’s not pretend to be “confused.” It is very clear what the administration is up to — nothing. Having eliminated viable options to stop the mullahs’ nuclear program, it is playing out the charade of assembling wishy-washy international sanctions. It seems quite implausible that Obama, after Gates and Mullen have both talked down the military option in public for some time, would turn on a dime and decide to strike Iran.

That leaves two possibilities: Obama is either cynically hoping (after much carrying on) that Israel will take care of the problem or he is prepared to live with a nuclear-armed Iran. The former is a bit improbable given the Obami’s onslaught against Israel (although the truly cynical would say given how much animosity they’ve injected into the U.S.-Israel relationship, they would have a plausible-deniability defense if Israel launched a military strike). The latter — resignation to a nuclear-armed Iran — is more frightening, and more probable. They’ll have to finesse the whole “unacceptable” line, but for this crew, that’s just a “messaging” problem. After all, they already told us they weren’t upset at all to get Gates’s memo articulating what we already knew to be true — that there’s no actual plan to prevent the “unacceptable” from happening.



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