Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Strong Dose of Reality on the Iran Nuclear Weapons Crisis

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By Barry Rubin

Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, has made a great speech which shows, as I wrote recently, that the U.S. military seems to have a better understanding of the threat than its political masters.`

Mullen was right when he pointed out that military action against Iran’s nuclear capabilities could have "unintended consequences." He told a press conference: "No strike, however effective, will be in and of itself decisive," The US. military would, however, develop plans for such an action if it was ever ordered. But diplomacy and sanctions should be tried first.

It is presumably no accident that he’d just returned from a trip to Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Apparently he listened. Here’s the most important sentence:

"It isn't just a nuclear capable Iranian military our friends worry about; it's an Iran with hegemonic ambitions and a desire to dominate its neighbors."

Yes, that’s the primary threat and this is the first time anyone working for the Obama Administration has said so.

Meanwhile, announces the building of new uranium enrichment plants. Here’s the paradox. On one hand, it is far too early for any military operation for two reasons. First, precisely because Iran isn’t far enough along in the weapons-building process to do damage enough to set it back really far. Second, the fact that diplomacy and sanctions have not been fully tried indicates there would not be enough Western support—or at least toleration—of such a strike.

Israel is certainly not going to attack Iran soon.

On the other hand, the dispersion and hardening of Iranian facilities will make it much harder to have a successful attack when the time would be ripe.

My personal opinion of what’s going to happen: Nobody is going to attack Iran to destroy its program. The military option will be kept in reserve for any occasion when Iran seems about to use its capability to attack Israel.

This leaves the problem of doing everything in the mean time to slow or stop Iran’s program and a serious effort to contain Iran for when it does get weapons and missiles to deliver them on target.

But let’s be clear: the probability of failure is no excuse for not doing everything possible right now. And the administration’s efforts have been slow, inadequate, and misdirected.

In addition, “containment” isn’t going to mean just verbal assertions of support for Iran’s potential victims. This is the message that Israel and relatively moderate Arab states keep frantically sending to Washington.

And now, guess what? It isn’t just China and Russia opposing tougher sanctions. Since the Obama Administration wants to win over all of Europe it means that countries like Luxemburg and Sweden are now sabotaging them, too!

The United States is currently pursuing the idea of wooing Syria away from Iran. This is ridiculous as Tony Badran brilliantly explains in Now Lebanon. At the same time, Iran is intimidating and subverting just about every other country away from the United States with more success.

In Mullen’s words, Iran’s “desire to dominate its neighbors" is advancing every day while Washington is still diddling around, wasting its time wooing enemies, apologizing for past toughness, and focusing on smug but useless mini-sanctions.

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