With the recent publication of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) alarming report concerning the development of Iran’s nuclear program, the United States foreign policy establishment and our erstwhile allies in the “international community” are belatedly recognizing what Israel has long known: that Iran is precipitously close to acquiring a nuclear weapon, and that drastic action must be taken now to stop it. The question then becomes whether the Obama administration has the courage to confront, by military means if necessary, a threat that has been years in the making. Recent news reports indicate the answer is no.
On Friday, December 2, 2011, Vice President Joe Biden, traveling in Turkey, told a local newspaper: “Putting pressure on Iran's leadership is necessary to secure a negotiated settlement, and that is why we encourage our partners, including Turkey, to take steps to impose new sanctions on Iran, as we have continued to do.” If this statement accurately reflects administration policy, then it’s time to look to Plan B.
The bipartisan (and utterly failed) approach of both Republicans and Democrats over the past decade has been to “isolate” Iran, and subject our Iran policy (and therefore our national security) to the whims of the U.N. Security Council, where we prostrate ourselves before China and Russia, hoping they’ll accede to our requests for ever more aggressive sanctions. As reported by The New York Times, the current hope is that targeted economic sanctions against Iran’s petrochemical industry and central bank will finally do the trick. Don’t bet on it.
According to the Times, several allies – including China and Japan – will likely oppose the new round of sanctions because they need Iranian central bank assistance in processing their oil purchases from Iran. If this story sounds familiar, it is because it is: see German and French resistance to the Iraq invasion, circa 2003. It’s truly déjà vu all over again. Sanctions have been tried and they have failed to stop Iran’s weaponization of its nuclear technology. More sanctions will bring more of the same failure.
Present multilateral challenges notwithstanding, the policy paralysis that has afflicted both parties and produced our present circumstances need not be so. Recent history provides useful examples of what the U.S. and its allies can accomplish militarily when other options prove futile.