Having just returned from the Persian Gulf region (the Arabian Gulf to the Arabs), I can echo the points made by John Bolton in this Wall Street Journal op-ed. Bolton suggests that sanctions have no chance of working and that, absent military action, Iran will go nuclear. That certainly is in line with the general view in the Gulf, where they can see up close how porous all attempts to sanction Iran have been. Indeed, the Gulf states most worried about the Iranian nuclear program also actively trade with Iran. They are starting to hedge their bets, too. Qatar, for example, which hosts a giant American military installation, sent representatives to watch recent Iranian war games.
There is a lot of support, albeit beneath the surface, for American military action against Iran, which, in the Gulfies’ view, could deal a decisive setback to the “Persians.” An Israeli strike, on the other hand, they fear, would not inflict much damage and would only allow the mullahs to rally the Arab street behind them. They are also “deathly afraid” (in the words of one American ambassador) that the U.S. will sell them out by reaching a deal with Iran.
With the growing likelihood of a nuclear Iran, talk has turned to containment, with Gulf states demanding more sophisticated air defenses from the U.S. and even talking about somehow turning the Gulf Cooperation Council into a NATO-like alliance to contain Iran. The Obama administration is clearly planning for a nuclear Iran by preparing to extend the American nuclear umbrella to regional allies. But the local leaders that we talked to (I traveled with a delegation from the Council on Foreign Relations.) made clear that they would place little faith in an American guarantee. They want a Sunni bomb to offset the Shiite bomb, which means that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, or Turkey would be likely to build their own nuke to counter Iran’s. Thus, at a minimum, the Iranian nuclear program could set off a serious proliferation problem — and that’s without considering the possibility that Iran will share its technology with Syria and other allies.
What is the Obama administration going to do about all this? I agree with Bolton: U.S. airstrikes on Iran are out of the question (unless Iran were to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, but probably not even then). Instead, the administration is pursuing toothless resolutions at the UN and making ridiculous gestures like revealing the size of the U.S. nuclear arsenal and trying to negotiate to make the Middle East a “nuclear-free zone.” The more of this that our Arab allies see, the less confidence they will have in American protection. That, in turn, will cause them to either pursue accommodation with Iran or build their own nuclear arsenal. Maybe both. And that makes the world a much more dangerous place.