Commentary Magazine


Topic: U.S.-Iran conflict

Iraq Lessons Can’t Mean Paralysis on Iran

There’s been a deluge of articles and features in the media in the last week about the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. The bulk of it has been a rehash of the old “Bush lied us into war” thesis that was convincingly debunked by Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy yesterday. Though much of what people think they know about the mistakes made by the U.S. before the invasion and after it are wrong, suffice it to say that most Americans aren’t particularly interested in debating the issue anymore. The prevailing narrative that the decision to topple Saddam Hussein was a mistake based on false intelligence and that all of America’s efforts to stabilize the country afterward were futile has become entrenched in our popular culture and the minds of most Americans, and it’s not likely anything can change that.

But the focus of American foreign policy is no longer whether Iraq was the wrong war or Afghanistan was the right one. With even President Obama acknowledging last week that Iran is probably within a year of a nuclear weapon, the question is whether the nation’s Iraq hangover will prevent it from taking action on a threat that can’t be honestly represented as the product of cooked U.S. intelligence or a neoconservative plot. As they continue to stall Western diplomats and ignore President Obama’s threats, Iran’s leaders are counting on America’s Iraq hangover to prevent Washington from ever taking action to forestall their nuclear ambitions.

Whether that calculation is correct will depend on whether the president means what he says about stopping Iran and all options being on the table—promises that he will repeat this week when he visits Israel. But as we get closer to the administration’s moment of truth on Iran, it’s vital to point out that the analogies between this dilemma and the Iraq conflict are specious and should be ignored by the president.

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There’s been a deluge of articles and features in the media in the last week about the 10th anniversary of the Iraq War. The bulk of it has been a rehash of the old “Bush lied us into war” thesis that was convincingly debunked by Peter Feaver at Foreign Policy yesterday. Though much of what people think they know about the mistakes made by the U.S. before the invasion and after it are wrong, suffice it to say that most Americans aren’t particularly interested in debating the issue anymore. The prevailing narrative that the decision to topple Saddam Hussein was a mistake based on false intelligence and that all of America’s efforts to stabilize the country afterward were futile has become entrenched in our popular culture and the minds of most Americans, and it’s not likely anything can change that.

But the focus of American foreign policy is no longer whether Iraq was the wrong war or Afghanistan was the right one. With even President Obama acknowledging last week that Iran is probably within a year of a nuclear weapon, the question is whether the nation’s Iraq hangover will prevent it from taking action on a threat that can’t be honestly represented as the product of cooked U.S. intelligence or a neoconservative plot. As they continue to stall Western diplomats and ignore President Obama’s threats, Iran’s leaders are counting on America’s Iraq hangover to prevent Washington from ever taking action to forestall their nuclear ambitions.

Whether that calculation is correct will depend on whether the president means what he says about stopping Iran and all options being on the table—promises that he will repeat this week when he visits Israel. But as we get closer to the administration’s moment of truth on Iran, it’s vital to point out that the analogies between this dilemma and the Iraq conflict are specious and should be ignored by the president.

The faulty intelligence about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction continues to mar the legacy of a George W. Bush presidency that deserves far more credit than it has gotten for keeping the country safe after 9/11 and for taking down evil governments in Iraq and Afghanistan. But it has made U.S. intelligence and the foreign policy establishment even more gun shy about asserting the truth about deadly threats to American security.

Saddam Hussein deceived the world into thinking he was still actively developing nuclear and biological weapons. But that mistake cannot inform the debate about Iran. Whereas the evidence about Iraq was fragmentary at best, the Iranian nuclear program is an established fact and not the figment of anyone’s imagination or fears. The Iranians are quite up-front about the enormous effort they have put into developing this project. The existence of their facilities has been photographed and documented. The presence of centrifuges spinning away refining uranium to the point where it can be used in a bomb is also an established fact.

For a time the reluctance of the intelligence community to face up to the facts about Iran served to deter a strong U.S. stand on the issue. The National Intelligence Estimate of 2007 on the subject claimed Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program. But subsequent investigations by the International Atomic Energy Agency have thoroughly debunked that claim and even the Obama administration, which spent most of its first years in office acting as if they had all the time in the world to deal with the problem, now has adopted a sense of urgency about the nature of the threat.

So while opponents of the use of force against Iran will raise the specter of the blunders committed in Iraq to bolster their arguments in favor of containing or even ignoring a nuclear Iran, the analogies fall flat.

The only question about Iran is whether to believe their assertions that their intention is to use these facilities to produce energy or to conduct scientific or medical research, rather than to build bombs. And since only Tehran’s most egregious apologists buy the idea that an oil producing country needs nuclear power or that they have any sincere interest in science or medicine, the lessons of the intelligence failures prior to Iraq don’t really apply.

The notion that U.S. action would mean another land war in the Middle East is also a false argument. Regime change in Tehran is a desirable goal and the throngs that demonstrated in Tehran during the summer of 2009 about a stolen presidential election before being brutally suppressed bear witness to the tyrannical nature of the Islamist government. But the U.S. objective in any putative strike on the country is far more limited than the ambitious goals of the invasion of Iraq. All the U.S. needs to do is to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities. That will not be easy (though it is something that U.S. forces are better suited to accomplish than Israel’s) and it will not be without cost or the possibility of retaliation via terror or attacks on U.S. allies. But it will not require a land invasion of Iran or its occupation.

There’s no doubt Americans are war weary. President Obama’s decision to bail on both Iraq and Afghanistan have been widely popular and embraced even by many Republicans, who either buy into Rand Paul’s neo-isolationism or are just echoing the nation’s collective combat fatigue. But none of this should inform the American decision to take action on Iran. Even if one doesn’t take Tehran’s threats against Israel and the West seriously, a nuclear Iran cannot be safely contained. Nor can the U.S. blithely contemplate a Middle East in which Hezbollah, Hamas or even the faltering regime of Bashar Assad in Syria is given a nuclear umbrella.

It is still possible to hope that sanctions and diplomacy will work to force the ayatollahs to back down. But the odds of that happening are slim. Barring a decision to accept a North Korea-like compromise that will leave Iran a back door to a bomb, force will have to be considered. There will be many who will wave the bloody shirt from Iraq in an effort to persuade the president to renege on his promise to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. But that argument will ring false. Invading Iraq may have been a mistake. But not taking out Iran’s nuclear facilities could be just as, if not more, dangerous.

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Should Democrats Always Lead During War? Part Two

As I wrote in part one of this post, liberal hypocrisy about the anti-terror policies of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations has made clear that partisan affiliation seems to play a large role in the way Americans think about the wars the country has become embroiled in over the last half century. Just as anti-war sentiment about Vietnam mushroomed after Richard Nixon replaced Lyndon Johnson in the White house, it evaporated about the war on terror when Obama replaced Bush. After 2009, the outrage about Guantanamo and abuse of terrorists was no longer a potent political weapon for Democrats to pound a Republican target and simply faded from view. Four years after Obama first took office, it is now clear that his administration has not only kept most of Bush’s terror war infrastructure in place but has arrogated to itself power that its predecessor never thought to assert for itself. Yet few outside of the far left seem to think it is a problem.

Democrats ought to be ashamed of this but few seem to be blushing about their hypocrisy. Some may rationalize their behavior by saying that only their side can be trusted to lead wars that America should be fighting and that men like Obama can be relied upon to behave responsibly while Bush and Cheney could not. Yet there is nothing in the record of the past two administrations that backs up a conclusion that would draw any broad moral distinction between their records in fighting against Al Qaeda or the Taliban. The slaughter from that the drones have caused is something that conservatives think is justified by the need to fight an ongoing war against Islamists terrorists. But it makes the measures undertaken by Bush and Cheney — that were widely blasted by Democrats as a threat to American liberty — appear restrained. The question is, how will this undeniable pattern impact the chances that the U.S. will use force to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

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As I wrote in part one of this post, liberal hypocrisy about the anti-terror policies of the George W. Bush and Obama administrations has made clear that partisan affiliation seems to play a large role in the way Americans think about the wars the country has become embroiled in over the last half century. Just as anti-war sentiment about Vietnam mushroomed after Richard Nixon replaced Lyndon Johnson in the White house, it evaporated about the war on terror when Obama replaced Bush. After 2009, the outrage about Guantanamo and abuse of terrorists was no longer a potent political weapon for Democrats to pound a Republican target and simply faded from view. Four years after Obama first took office, it is now clear that his administration has not only kept most of Bush’s terror war infrastructure in place but has arrogated to itself power that its predecessor never thought to assert for itself. Yet few outside of the far left seem to think it is a problem.

Democrats ought to be ashamed of this but few seem to be blushing about their hypocrisy. Some may rationalize their behavior by saying that only their side can be trusted to lead wars that America should be fighting and that men like Obama can be relied upon to behave responsibly while Bush and Cheney could not. Yet there is nothing in the record of the past two administrations that backs up a conclusion that would draw any broad moral distinction between their records in fighting against Al Qaeda or the Taliban. The slaughter from that the drones have caused is something that conservatives think is justified by the need to fight an ongoing war against Islamists terrorists. But it makes the measures undertaken by Bush and Cheney — that were widely blasted by Democrats as a threat to American liberty — appear restrained. The question is, how will this undeniable pattern impact the chances that the U.S. will use force to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat.

It should be remembered that George W. Bush punted on Iran during his second term. Bush outsourced Iran diplomacy to America’s European allies but those efforts were a complete failure. But Bush reacted to that fiasco with patience that he had not showed on Iraq. Bush not only was uninterested in U.S. action but also flatly vetoed any Israeli unilateral strikes on nuclear facilities. He appeared to conclude that adding a third conflict to the unpopular wars in Iraq and Afghanistan was impossible.

Obama doubled down on his predecessor’s outreach to Iran even though he spoke of it as if Bush had never tried diplomacy. But after four years of failed engagement, he now finds himself facing the reality that at some point in the next four years he will have to choose between accepting a nuclear Iran and fulfilling his pledges never to allow Tehran to get a nuke. The Iranians may be forgiven for thinking Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel to the Pentagon is a signal that he will never use force against them. But given the dire implications of an Iranian nuke for U.S. security, the stability of the entire Middle East as well as the existential nature of this threat to the state of Israel, it may well be that the president will have no choice but to think about attacking Iran.

Republicans may be skeptical that Obama will ever summon the will to do what needs to be done on Iran but if he does, one part of the equation that will make up that decision is the certainty that he can do so without fear that the much of the mainstream media and his liberal base will oppose him. Unlike any Republican president put in the same predicament, Obama can assess the need to launch strikes on Iran’s nuclear targets without having to worry about his left-wing constituency seeking to paralyze the country with anti-war protests or to defund the war.

If there is any consolation for Republicans in losing the last presidential election it should be this. No matter how obvious the case for force against Iran might be a President Romney would have had a difficult time uniting the country behind an effort to act to forestall the Iranian nuclear threat. The sickening hypocrisy of both the administration and the left makes it clear that if Obama were to strike Iran, he will likely have the support of both parties in a way that neither Romney, George W. Bush or any Republican could ever have hoped for.

That this is so doesn’t speak well for Democrats or liberals. Their partisan prejudices render them incapable of long supporting any war or anti-terror effort when the Republicans are in charge in Washington. Any Republican who starts a war labors under the handicap that the left will view their motives as impure and treat efforts to carry the war against the enemy by all means necessary as somehow illegitimate. Barack Obama has learned that for all of the criticism he has endured from his opponents, outside of libertarian outliers, Republicans will always salute the flag and back just about any war even when they hate the president.

Though this is something that is to be lamented, let us hope that it helps give Barack Obama the confidence to do what needs to be done on Iran once he accepts, as eventually he must, the truth about his feckless diplomatic efforts. 

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Temper the Optimism About Fordow Blast

Iran’s official denial of reports of a major explosion at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow is heartening for those who are hoping that the rumors about a setback for the Islamist regime are true. The optimistic scenario would be based on the notion that if Iran is bothering to deny the stories of something bad happening, then something must have happened. But the unconfirmed rumors with details about hundreds of workers being trapped in the underground facility may also be a matter of hope being father to the wish, as many in the West would like to believe that some sort of covert intelligence activity or computer virus will be so successful as to relieve either the United States or Israel of the need to take overt military action to neutralize the Iranian threat.

If there is one place in Iran that Western observers would like to see spontaneously explode it is Fordow, where hardened bunkers built into the side of a mountain house Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. As the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last fall, it is there that the Iranians have stepped up their activity, enriching uranium at a rate that might soon accumulate enough material to allow Tehran to begin amassing their own nuclear arsenal. But even if the reports about an explosion are true, it is: a) by no means certain that the event was not an accident rather than part of a daring operation conducted by American and/or Israeli intelligence forces, and b) no guarantee that the Iranian program has been dealt anything more than an insignificant setback.

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Iran’s official denial of reports of a major explosion at its underground nuclear facility in Fordow is heartening for those who are hoping that the rumors about a setback for the Islamist regime are true. The optimistic scenario would be based on the notion that if Iran is bothering to deny the stories of something bad happening, then something must have happened. But the unconfirmed rumors with details about hundreds of workers being trapped in the underground facility may also be a matter of hope being father to the wish, as many in the West would like to believe that some sort of covert intelligence activity or computer virus will be so successful as to relieve either the United States or Israel of the need to take overt military action to neutralize the Iranian threat.

If there is one place in Iran that Western observers would like to see spontaneously explode it is Fordow, where hardened bunkers built into the side of a mountain house Iran’s nuclear centrifuges. As the International Atomic Energy Agency reported last fall, it is there that the Iranians have stepped up their activity, enriching uranium at a rate that might soon accumulate enough material to allow Tehran to begin amassing their own nuclear arsenal. But even if the reports about an explosion are true, it is: a) by no means certain that the event was not an accident rather than part of a daring operation conducted by American and/or Israeli intelligence forces, and b) no guarantee that the Iranian program has been dealt anything more than an insignificant setback.

The objective lesson here is the widespread optimism within the U.S. government in late 2011 when the reports about the Stuxnet computer virus were first published. The assumption that the Iranians were either too unsophisticated or too dumb to cope with the virtual attack proved ridiculously optimistic. Stuxnet may have delayed the Iranian program, but it wasn’t stopped. Indeed, the Iranians not only redoubled their efforts in the subsequent year but also counterattacked with their own computer virus attacks against U.S. banks.

Thus, whether the Fordow rumors are substantiated or debunked in the coming weeks and months, no one should assume that this resolves the question about what to do about Iran’s nuclear threat. Making sure that Iran is–as President Obama promised in his foreign policy debate with Mitt Romney–deprived of a nuclear program will require more than cloak and dagger operations. An outcome that removes the danger of an Iranian nuke will mean that either Iran surrenders its nuclear option on its own in a verified program or a full-scale air assault on all of the Iranian facilities that would ensure that it would take many years and more treasure than the Iranians can amass to rebuild them.

Given the apocalyptic stakes involved in a potential nuclear weapon being placed in the hands of the religious fanatics in charge of Iran, the United States and Israel are justified in any effort they undertake to stop the Iranians, up to and including the use of force. That’s why Israelis are hoping that if President Obama is ever truly convinced that diplomacy won’t work, an American attack using Massive Ordinance Penetrator bombs that the Jewish state doesn’t possess will do the job at Fordow. But while we hope that all efforts to stop the Iranians, including diplomacy, sanctions and covert action, are successful, reliance on any measure that falls short of a comprehensive attack or verifiable and complete diplomatic surrender is probably nothing more than wishful thinking.

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Iran Cyber Attacks Belie Nuke Complacence

As the Obama administration and its European allies prepare to embark on yet another drawn-out and almost certainly futile round of diplomacy with Iran, the lack of a sense of urgency about the nuclear threat is once again obvious. The belief that more negotiations or sanctions can convince Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambition seems to be rooted in the idea that the West has virtually unlimited time to deal with the problem. That’s why so many in the chattering classes mocked Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu when he famously drew a red line across a cartoon bomb when speaking at the United Nations. Some in the foreign policy establishment seem to think Israeli fears about Iran are overblown or merely a ploy by its right-wing government. But it is also rooted in a degree of complacency about Iran’s capabilities. That complacency seemed to underline the optimism about the ability of the Stuxnet virus that was reportedly unleashed on Iran by the U.S. and/or Israel last year even though it was soon apparent that it had only a temporary affect on their nuclear project.

Western overconfidence about Iran’s capabilities should have been shelved after that, as well as the wave of cyber attacks believed to have originated in Iran that crippled computers in the Saudi Arabian oil industry as well as some American financial institutions last fall. The fallout from those attacks led outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to say that the U.S. was vulnerable to a “cyber Pearl Harbor” but in case no one was paying attention, it appears the Iranians have struck again. This time the targets were American banks, and American security experts were clear that the culprit was Iran.

That the Iranians—who are the world’s leading sponsor of terrorist groups—would wish to harm the United States is not a secret. But what seems to surprise some observers is the skill and sophistication that is evident in this cyber offensive. According to the New York Times, the nature of these attacks dwarf what the Russians did to Estonia in 2007 when it attempted to take down its Baltic neighbor’s economy. While the cyber attacks are troubling in and of themselves, they also ought to expose the idea that the Iranians are years away from a bomb as the sort of hopeless optimism that ought not influence the debate about whether to forestall the threat.

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As the Obama administration and its European allies prepare to embark on yet another drawn-out and almost certainly futile round of diplomacy with Iran, the lack of a sense of urgency about the nuclear threat is once again obvious. The belief that more negotiations or sanctions can convince Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambition seems to be rooted in the idea that the West has virtually unlimited time to deal with the problem. That’s why so many in the chattering classes mocked Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu when he famously drew a red line across a cartoon bomb when speaking at the United Nations. Some in the foreign policy establishment seem to think Israeli fears about Iran are overblown or merely a ploy by its right-wing government. But it is also rooted in a degree of complacency about Iran’s capabilities. That complacency seemed to underline the optimism about the ability of the Stuxnet virus that was reportedly unleashed on Iran by the U.S. and/or Israel last year even though it was soon apparent that it had only a temporary affect on their nuclear project.

Western overconfidence about Iran’s capabilities should have been shelved after that, as well as the wave of cyber attacks believed to have originated in Iran that crippled computers in the Saudi Arabian oil industry as well as some American financial institutions last fall. The fallout from those attacks led outgoing Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to say that the U.S. was vulnerable to a “cyber Pearl Harbor” but in case no one was paying attention, it appears the Iranians have struck again. This time the targets were American banks, and American security experts were clear that the culprit was Iran.

That the Iranians—who are the world’s leading sponsor of terrorist groups—would wish to harm the United States is not a secret. But what seems to surprise some observers is the skill and sophistication that is evident in this cyber offensive. According to the New York Times, the nature of these attacks dwarf what the Russians did to Estonia in 2007 when it attempted to take down its Baltic neighbor’s economy. While the cyber attacks are troubling in and of themselves, they also ought to expose the idea that the Iranians are years away from a bomb as the sort of hopeless optimism that ought not influence the debate about whether to forestall the threat.

While it can be argued that a cyber attack is not evidence of nuclear progress, it does undermine the notion that the Iranians are not advanced enough to do what needs to be done to quickly convert their enriched uranium into a weapon. Iran’s Islamist government has made a massive investment in its scientific resources that are dedicated to the nuclear program and are not unrelated to the advances they have clearly made in cyber warfare. The point is that any nation that can pull off a stunt like the recent attacks on American banks is probably also fully capable of doing what needs to be done to rapidly transform their nuclear program into a functioning threat to the peace of the world.

Far from being irrelevant to the discussion about how to persuade Iran to stand down on its nuclear ambition, the hacking incidents testify to the gravity of the situation and the likelihood that they will get to their goal sooner rather than later. Those in the Obama administration who are prepared to endure another long and ineffective negotiation on the nuclear question should understand that their faith that Iran simply can’t create a bomb this year is more a matter of wishful thinking than hardheaded analysis.

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Iranian UAVs Pose Growing Threat

Pentagon officials and journalists have been speaking publicly about their concerns regarding advances in Iranian missile technology. No one should underestimate Iran’s indigenous armament industry or the capabilities of Iranian engineers and scientists. Given enough time and, when needed, assistance from North Korean, Pakistani, and Turkish scientists, they are capable of reverse-engineering any military system.

It is against this backdrop that the increasing production of Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) should pose a concern. The issue is not simply Iranian bluster about their capabilities to replicate the technology in the state-of-the-art U.S. drone seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after landing inside Iran. (Why President Obama did not order it to be destroyed on the ground in Iran is a question that will haunt families of future Iranian terror victims).

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Pentagon officials and journalists have been speaking publicly about their concerns regarding advances in Iranian missile technology. No one should underestimate Iran’s indigenous armament industry or the capabilities of Iranian engineers and scientists. Given enough time and, when needed, assistance from North Korean, Pakistani, and Turkish scientists, they are capable of reverse-engineering any military system.

It is against this backdrop that the increasing production of Iranian Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) should pose a concern. The issue is not simply Iranian bluster about their capabilities to replicate the technology in the state-of-the-art U.S. drone seized by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps after landing inside Iran. (Why President Obama did not order it to be destroyed on the ground in Iran is a question that will haunt families of future Iranian terror victims).

Rather, the Iranian military has been making great strides in constructing and putting into operation smaller UAVs. The Iranian military, for example, now operates the Sobakbal, which can fly at attitudes of 20,000 feet, has a range of 13 miles, and can be used for surveillance; and the Ababil, which flies only at a ceiling of 4,200 feet, but has a range exceeding 200 miles. The longer the United States waits to tackle the Iranian problem, the stronger Iran will become and the more crowded the skies over the Persian Gulf will become. Iranian air traffic control de-conflicts manned flights with a great deal of professionalism, but the smaller, unmanned aircraft are another matter. The armaments on the Ababil may not be much more powerful than a rocket-propelled grenade, but the presence of Iranian UAVs buzzing American aircraft carriers or sharing the skies with civilian traffic, American fighter-jets, and helicopters suggests that they are an accident waiting to happen.

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Running Out of Excuses on Iran

President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he will never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. But given that his various attempts at engagement, diplomacy and now sanctions show no signs of working, it is inevitable that speculation about his willingness to use force persists. However, that is the one thing Washington has never seemed willing to contemplate. Though even the president will occasionally say that no options are being left off the table, the administration has been doing its best to argue that military strikes would only give the West a temporary respite. But, as Lee Smith writes in Tablet, the claim that strikes on Iran wouldn’t effectively end the threat tell us more about the president’s unwillingness to use force than it does about its effect on Iran.

This premise that Iran’s nuclear program is basically invulnerable to military attack is wrong. Though its targets are spread out and many have been hardened to render air strikes less deadly, the notion that a concentrated campaign couldn’t take them out underestimates American air power. Moreover, the notion that the Iranians would have the personnel, the resources and the will to start from scratch again overestimates their capabilities. The difficulties that are cited as insuperable obstacles to an attack have been inflated out of proportion to the actual problem, because the administration has no interest in undertaking the mission.

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President Obama has repeatedly pledged that he will never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. But given that his various attempts at engagement, diplomacy and now sanctions show no signs of working, it is inevitable that speculation about his willingness to use force persists. However, that is the one thing Washington has never seemed willing to contemplate. Though even the president will occasionally say that no options are being left off the table, the administration has been doing its best to argue that military strikes would only give the West a temporary respite. But, as Lee Smith writes in Tablet, the claim that strikes on Iran wouldn’t effectively end the threat tell us more about the president’s unwillingness to use force than it does about its effect on Iran.

This premise that Iran’s nuclear program is basically invulnerable to military attack is wrong. Though its targets are spread out and many have been hardened to render air strikes less deadly, the notion that a concentrated campaign couldn’t take them out underestimates American air power. Moreover, the notion that the Iranians would have the personnel, the resources and the will to start from scratch again overestimates their capabilities. The difficulties that are cited as insuperable obstacles to an attack have been inflated out of proportion to the actual problem, because the administration has no interest in undertaking the mission.

As Smith writes, if the United States were to knock out Iran’s air defenses, its missile program as well as the nuclear plants, it would present the regime with an impossible dilemma because the cash-starved government barely has the resources to maintain its infrastructure, let alone rebuild it.

Smith quoted one credulous Israeli who expressed faith in the Obama administration’s willingness to go to the mat with Iran despite everything it has done and said that would incline a more sober observer to conclude it has no intention of making good on its promises. Indeed, as Retired General Jack Keane (the former vice chief of staff of the U.S. Army) said to Smith:

I don’t believe this administration has any intention, ever, of attacking Iran. I don’t believe it, the Israelis don’t believe it, and the Iranians don’t believe it.

Keane is right. The whole thrust of American diplomacy has tended to reinforce Iran’s belief that President Obama is a paper tiger who will never challenge them. That explains their arrogant refusal to play in the P5+1 talks where they could, if they wanted it, accept a weak deal that would probably enable them to eventually go nuclear because of the probability that the West hasn’t the will to enforce such an accord.

So long as the United States is committed to diplomacy, the odds are Israel will not act on its own. The “window of diplomacy” that the president has touted is all but closed, but it is likely that it will limp along at least until the November election. After that, should the president be re-elected, belief in his willingness to act on Iran, even as a last resort, rests on pure faith that is undermined every day by the signals emanating from the administration.

 

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Iran Declares Victory in Nuclear Talks

Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.

But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:

In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.

Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?

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Since the beginning of the P5+1 nuclear talks with Iran, foreign policy establishment figures have been bubbling with optimism about the negotiations leading to a deal that will settle the crisis. The inauguration of the talks is considered a master stroke that will head off the possibility of a Western or Israeli attack on Iran and allow the European Union to back off its pledge to implement an oil embargo on the Islamist regime. All that will be needed, we are told, is a little patience, and then EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will broker an agreement that will involve the removal of refined uranium from Iran but allow Iran to continue its “peaceful” nuclear research.

But if President Obama thinks the negotiations are the perfect way to kick the nuclear can down the road while he is running for re-election, the Iranians think the talks are a triumph for their nuclear ambitions. As Hamidreza Taraghi, an adviser to Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated in a startlingly frank interview with the New York Times, the regime’s stalling tactics have been an unmitigated success, allowing them to transgress every red line set by the West and forcing them to accept Iran’s terms. As the Times notes:

In continually pushing forward the nuclear activities — increasing enrichment and building a bunker mountain enrichment facility — Iran has in effect forced the West to accept a program it insists is for peaceful purposes. Iranians say their carefully crafted policy has helped move the goal posts in their favor by making enrichment a reality that the West has been unable to stop — and may now be willing, however grudgingly, to accept.

Taraghi is, of course, absolutely right. The opening of the talks in Istanbul gave the Iranians reason to believe the international community was prepared to accept their nuclear enrichment program as well as buying the fiction that Iran’s Supreme Leader had issued a fatwa against a nuclear weapon. The question these conclusions pose for President Obama is whether he is really prepared to allow Ashton and the Europeans to broker a deal while he is running for re-election that will, in effect, give the international seal of approval to an Iranian nuclear program that is likely, deal or no deal, to lead to a nuclear weapon?

That the Iranians have played the West for fools for a decade is no secret. For this, President Bush bears as much responsibility as President Obama or the Europeans. By allowing the Iranians to stall diplomatic efforts for years and for refusing until the last few months to set in place meaningful economic sanctions, the Western powers have encouraged the Iranians to think they can get away with doing what they like, safe in the knowledge there will be no serious repercussions.

Every red line has been transgressed. The West had opposed the opening of a nuclear plant, the construction of heavy water facilities as well as uranium enrichment. But Iran has them all now and has good reason to think a deal will not force them to surrender any of it.

Mr. Taraghi and other officials say their policy has forced the United States to accept enrichment, though five resolutions by the United Nations Security Council have called for it to suspend it. Obama administration officials dispute that view.

But some Iranian and Western officials have hinted that the White House may now be willing to accept some level of enrichment activity …

Iran’s negotiators left the Istanbul meeting believing they had scored a major victory. “We have managed to get our rights,” said Mr. Taraghi in his office in downtown Tehran. “All that remains is a debate over the percentage of enrichment.”

President Obama has talked very tough about stopping Iran and even convinced some otherwise savvy observers (like Jeffrey Goldberg) that he means it. But the Iranians clearly believe Obama is a paper tiger who has no stomach for a conflict with them. They think he will be talked into going along with the Europeans and letting the Iranians keep their nuclear program while abandoning the crippling sanctions that the president never showed much appetite for enforcing.

The proposed deal will also give them relative impunity against a pre-emptive attack by Israel to forestall the creation of an Iranian bomb. Despite the fact that the West is already in possession of evidence of a weapons program, once it is put in place and the sanctions are lifted, the deal will allow Iran to quickly pivot to the construction of a bomb whenever they like.

That the Iranians believe they have defeated Obama on this issue is now no secret. The only question is whether the president and his credulous Jewish supporters will let this taunt go unanswered as the P5+1 talks head inevitably toward an agreement that will give international sanction to Iran’s nuclear goal.

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