John McCain: Pull the Trigger

John McCain and Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday had the following exchange over the news that Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent up a warning flare that Obama doesn’t have a viable plan to prevent the mullahs from going nuclear:

MCCAIN: I didn’t need a secret memo from Mr. Gates to ascertain that. We do not have a coherent policy. I think that’s pretty obvious. We keep threatening sanctions. We keep, for well over a year now — in fact, including the previous administration — we keep threatening.

And obviously, we have not done anything that would in any way be viewed effective. Former secretary of state George Shultz once told me — he said, My old Marine drill instructor said never point a gun at somebody unless you’re willing to pull the trigger.

So why don’t we get our European allies together and let’s impose sanctions from that aspect of it? Maybe that would embarrass somehow or force the Russians and Chinese to act in a more cooperative fashion.

WALLACE: So forget the U.N., just impose …

MCCAIN: Maybe not forget the U.N., but certainly go ahead and move forward with some serious, meaningful sanctions.

WALLACE: What are sanctions?

MCCAIN: Well, refined petroleum products is one. The other, I think, is stand up for the human rights of the people of Iran. Put the pictures of those people who were brutalizing and killing and torturing the demonstrators and the people who are standing up for their God-given rights. Make them famous. We did that in certain respects during the Cold War.

WALLACE: And what about military action?

MCCAIN: Well, I think, obviously, every contingency has to be on the table. I think that we — it’s pretty clear that the Israelis cannot live with a nuclear-armed Iran. We saw news reports that the Syrians have moved Scud missiles into southern Lebanon. That is a serious escalatory move. Now Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are within range of Scud missiles.

So I think that we have to have contingency plans. But I do agree with most experts. Let’s try to get the pressure on from all directions, tough, tough sanctions, and stand up for the people that want and obviously are demonstrating in the streets and are being brutalized in the prisons.

The fact that Gates’s January memo was leaked now — following Obama’s dog-and-pony nuclear summit show — suggests that someone in the administration is nervous that the Obami have made precious little progress in devising an alternative to its que sera, sera stance toward a nuclear-armed Iran. The choice comes down to this: Obama’s mini-sanctions (which increasingly seem to be a slow walk to containment) or the toughest unilateral sanctions we can muster with a credible threat of military force if those sanctions don’t succeed. Unfortunately, by downplaying the use of force (and let’s be candid, Gates contributed to this by contributing his fair share of the bad-mouthing), such a threat is going to be all the more difficult to muster.

It’s hard to escape the conclusion that the Obami have done an extremely effective job of eliminating or hampering the most serious options for thwarting Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It may come as news to the Gray Lady’s readers, but for Obama’s conservative critics, it’s hardly surprising that when a president is reluctant to flex America’s “hard power,” the world becomes a more dangerous place.