Cliff May

It’s been said that a diplomat is a gentleman paid to go abroad and lie for his country. Sometimes, however, diplomats slip up and tell the truth. In response to a question at the hopefully named Aspen Ideas Festival this month, Yousef al-Otaiba, the ambassador from the United Arab Emirates, said bluntly: “We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.”

Al-Otaiba went on to add that, if sanctions fail to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, military force will be the only option left and it should not be ruled out. "A military attack on Iran by whomever would be a disaster,” he said. “But Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a bigger disaster.”

'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the director-general of Al-Arabiya TV, followed with an article for the English language edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, in which he not only agreed with the ambassador, he declared the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, “the most dangerous threat that is facing our region in a hundred years.” He called upon readers to “imagine what Tehran will do when it has nuclear capabilities!”

Al-Rashed then did a little imagining himself: Iran, he said, would soon “dominate … and perhaps take over” the Gulf States, the small, wealthy, Arab countries so tantalizingly close to its borders.

Such an anschluss would not require tanks or troop deployments. As Ambassador al-Otaiba said at Aspen, the region’s leader will “start running for cover towards Iran” once it becomes clear that Washington, having said under both the Bush and Obama administrations that it would be “unacceptable” for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, had accepted that after all.

One can only imagine that other nations will draw the conclusion that being America’s enemy is less risky than being America’s friend. The implications for Iraq – where the U.S. has invested so much blood and treasure -- are obvious. Imagine you are an Iraqi leader. American troops have departed and the mullahs next door are stockpiling nukes and commanding death squads. What would you do?

In Pakistan, Islamists will advance, while democrats retreat. That will further complicate matters in Afghanistan where Iranian interventions – e.g. the supplying of roadside bombs to insurgents -- will escalate in an effort to frustrate an already challenging American mission. If America does not respond, Iran wins the battle of Afghanistan. If America does respond – well, since neither the Bush nor the Obama administration responded to Iran’s interventions in Iran and Afghanistan in the past, there is no basis to imagine a policy change once Iran’s rulers have their fingers on nuclear triggers.

Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.