Earl Tilford

Once again, tensions between Iran and the international community are on the rise as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, released a new report that warns of concealed attempts by Iran to produce an atomic bomb. How should one respond?

The 19th-century Prussian general and philosopher Carl von Clausewitz, the ancient Chinese scholar-soldier Sun Tzu, and Napoleon Bonaparte all offered different perspectives on war. Clausewitz likened war to a wrestling match between two sentient foes with moves and countermoves, ultimately resolved by overwhelming violence: get the advantage on the enemy and move in. Sun Tzu saw war as seduction guided by sound strategy—the epitome involving a victory without battles. Napoleon’s approach was to put the enemy in an untenable position, cut off all avenues of retreat, and then have your way. All three would agree that war is an intellectual endeavor, the first requirement of which is to understand the kind of war in which you are engaged.

This month, Iran will have been at war with the United States for 32 years, ever since the Ayatollah dispatched a mob to sack the U.S. embassy and hold its staff hostage. Since then, Hezbollah, an extension of Iranian military intelligence, has attacked Americans and U.S. interests globally. Only al Qaeda has accounted for more loss of American life, but the Iranian butcher’s bill is growing with Tehran’s support of the Taliban in Afghanistan and of insurgent forces once thought beaten but now reviving in Iraq. The recent Iranian plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington and bomb the Israeli embassy reveals how bold Iran’s aggression has become. Meanwhile, the Iranian nuclear program continues.

The Obama administration’s Iranian strategy is inept. Sanctions are ineffective. It is unlikely that the United States will strengthen its economic sanctions, because these must focus on Iran’s petroleum exports, which would drive up the cost of oil on the world market and send prices at American gas pumps soaring in an election year. The European Union, with its economies on the verge of collapse, won’t stand for it either. Tougher sanctions will fail in the United Nations where China and Russia will veto them. The same goes for any effort to bring the United Nations on board with military action. For Russia and China, Iran is a cash cow feeding their newly revived armament industries.

Earl Tilford

Earl Tilford is a retired Air Force officer and college professor who lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. He is the author of several books on the air war in Vietnam. His latest book, Turning the Tide: The University of Alabama in the 1960s has been accepted for publication by the University of Alabama Press.