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A Powerful Case for Force Against Iran

The Obama administration seems to be enjoying some success in getting European states to embargo Iranian oil. That’s good news. The question, however, is whether this latest round of sanctions will convince Iran to do what previous sanctions have not done–i.e., convince it to forego nuclear weapons. I hope so, but hope isn’t a policy, and there is good reason for skepticism.

In the first place, Iran will be able to sell its oil in Asia, to China, India, and even to U.S. allies such as Japan and South Korea. It may lose some money in the bargain, but it seems doubtful the loss of some oil revenue will be enough to dissuade the clerical regime from what it seems to view as a national, indeed religious, obligation. The mullahs know the Iranian Revolution will be far more secure–less prone to attack, more able to attack with impunity–if it has nukes, and past conduct indicates that it will not stop until it has them.

If the U.S. is truly determined to prevent that from occurring–and if we’re not, we should be–the most effective option is to use force. Obviously, air strikes carry risks of their own, but those risks have to be measured against the risk of letting Iran go nuclear. In the pages of the latest Foreign Affairs, Matthew Kroening, a former staffer at the Department of Defense who is now a colleague of mine at the Council on Foreign Relations, argues the case for air strikes. In the process, he knocks down pretty much all of the objections that have been made against them. That doesn’t mean we have to strike tomorrow; there is still time for sanctions to work–but not much time. As Kroening notes:

Years of international pressure have failed to halt Iran’s attempt to build a nuclear program. The Stuxnet computer worm, which attacked control systems in Iranian nuclear facilities, temporarily disrupted Tehran’s enrichment effort, but a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency this past May revealed that the targeted plants have fully recovered from the assault. And the latest IAEA findings on Iran, released in November, provided the most compelling evidence yet that the Islamic Republic has weathered sanctions and sabotage, allegedly testing nuclear triggering devices and redesigning its missiles to carry nuclear payloads. The Institute for Science and International Security, a nonprofit research institution, estimates that Iran could now produce its first nuclear weapon within six months of deciding to do so. Tehran’s plans to move sensitive nuclear operations into more secure facilities over the course of the coming year could reduce the window for effective military action even further.

As a result of the growing danger, Iran is getting closer to what should be “redlines.” Writes Kroening: “If Iran expels IAEA inspectors, begins enriching its stockpiles of uranium to weapons-grade levels of 90 percent, or installs advanced centrifuges at its uranium-enrichment facility in Qom, the United States must strike immediately or forfeit its last opportunity to prevent Iran from joining the nuclear club.”

This is the second powerful and sober article in favor of bombing Iran that Foreign Affairs (hardly a journal known for warmongering) has run. The first appeared a year ago and was written by Eric S. Edelman, Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr, and Evan Braden Montgomery. Together, these two articles present a powerful case for military action. I have yet to see (have I missed it?) an equally detailed and convincing exposition of the anti-bombing side.