President Obama clarified today that he’s looking to prevent, not contain, a nuclear-armed Iran, during his speech to AIPAC. While this was a welcome acknowledgement, it’s not particularly meaningful. Containment policy toward Iran has become so unpalatable that even American apologists for the Iranian regime rarely openly advocate it in mainstream discourse.
Instead, these regime allies promote a different kind of containment policy: containment of a nuclear-capable Iran. In other words, the bomb is the redline – but everything that Iran does leading up to the bomb, including high-level enrichment, is acceptable.
This strategy brings Iran within arms-length of obtaining a nuclear weapon (which is also well after Israel would have the ability to take military action). And it gives regime apologists more time to argue that a nuclear-armed Iran is less of a threat to the world than commonly believed.
The National Iranian-American Council, an American group that advocates for pro-regime policies, has been one of the most vocal supporters of this policy of containing a “nuclear-capable” Iran. The organization has pushed back against a Senate resolution that would specify Iran’s capability to build a weapon as a redline:
“This measure contradicts and confuses the existing United States ‘redline’ that Iranian acquisition of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable. Instead of reinforcing existing standards, the measure lowers the bar to assert that even the capability to pursue a nuclear weapon would be grounds for war. This is dangerous policy to be toying with.
“Acquisition is very different from capability. Nuclear weapons capability is a nebulous term that could theoretically be applied to every state from Canada to the Netherlands that possesses civilian nuclear capabilities. We should not be staking questions of war on such a shaky foundation.”
So while Obama was right to reject containment of a nuclear-armed Iran today, it’s noteworthy (and concerning) that he declined to rule out containment of a nuclear-capable Iran:
Iran’s leaders should know that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I’ve made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.
Trita Parsi, the president of NIAC, praised Obama for keeping the door open to containment. He wrote in the Huffington Post today:
The Obama administration puts the red line not at enrichment — which is permitted under international law — but at nuclear weapons. This is a clearer, more enforceable red line that also has the force of international law behind it.
While expressing his sympathy and friendship with Israel, Obama did not yield his red line at AIPAC. With the backing of the U.S. military, he has stood firm behind weaponization rather than weapons capability as the red line.
The fact that the head of NIAC drew this conclusion from the president’s AIPAC speech is something that should deeply worry supporters of Israel.