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.