December 3, 2010

Iran: Why containment is bad strategy

Heavy water reactor at Arak, Iran

Many analysts believe that the Obama Administration has resigned itself to the inevitability of a nuclear armed Iran. You can understand that argument if you look at the Administration's continuing attempts to "engage" the Iranians when the regime in Tehran has made it abundantly clear by its actions that it has no interest in meaningful and sincere dialogue with the West over its nuclear program.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hailed as "encouraging" the fact that after months of stalling, the Iranians have agreed to resume talks. Why she thinks this is encouraging is beyond me. The Iranians have consistently outmaneuvered Clinton on foreign policy since she has been Secretary of State. While she has been focused on these fruitless talks, the Iranians have been focused on buying time for the continued enrichment of uranium. The Iranians have used the Secretary's misguided belief that she could convince the regime in Tehran into working with the West as a virtual time machine allowing its scientists more time to not only acquire weapons grade fissile material but to refine weapons designs.

What exactly has Iran agreed to that Mrs. Clinton finds encouraging? It took over a month just to reach an agreement on a date and a venue. There still is no agenda. The Iranians have stated that they will not discuss their nuclear program, which is the only reason to have the talks in the first place.

The talks are pure theater. No one expects any results other than providing the Iranians the fig leaf that they are cooperating with the West. The West gets to advance the fiction that it is addressing a potential Iranian nuclear threat. Meanwhile, Iran continues on its path to becoming a nuclear armed nation. President Obama and Secretary Clinton seem okay with that, figuring that the United States was able to live with a nuclear Soviet Union for decades, therefore, we should be able to contain an Iran that possesses nuclear weapons.

Containment is not a viable option. Here's why.

There is much more at stake than the bilateral relationship between the United States and Iran. Everyone is aware that the Israelis view a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish state. They have been planning a strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities for years, even acquiring American-made GBU-28 "bunker buster" munitions required to destroy the hardened Iranian targets. If the Iranians get close to the possession of nuclear weapons, Israel will feel compelled to mount a military operation to destroy the production facilities. It simply cannot risk an attack that might virtually eradicate Israel.

An Israeli strike on Iran might ignite a conflagration that will draw in all countries in the region. Iran and Syria have a mutual defense treaty; Damascus possesses missiles that can strike anywhere in Israel, and is known to possess chemical warheads for those missiles.

Both Iran and Syria have influence over the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizballah, which can strike targets in northern Israel as far south as Tel Aviv. Iran also wields considerable influence over the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Hamas could open up a southern front against Israel.

In addition to the danger of an armed confrontation in the region, Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons will catalyze an arms race in the region. Thanks to leaked State Department cables, we have this on good authority.

From a Secret Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals cable sent by the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia (Riyadh 000178, February 2010):
9. (S/NF) COUNTERING IRAN: The King told General Jones that if Iran succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia.

From a Confidential cable sent by the American Embassy in Eygpt (Cairo 001067, May 2008):
3. (C) Asked about Egypt's reaction if Iran developed nuclear weapons capability, Mubarak said that none will accept a nuclear Iran, "we are all terrified." Mubarak said that when he spoke with former Iranian President Khatami he told him to
tell current President Ahmedinejad "not to provoke the Americans" on the nuclear issue so that the U.S. is not forced to strike. Mubarak said that Egypt might be forced to begin its own nuclear weapons program if Iran succeeds in those efforts.

The best course of action is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Thus far, nothing has been successful at convincing the Iranians to abandon that effort. Sanctions have not worked in the past and likely won't in the future. Time is running out. At some point in the near future, difficult decisions are going to have to be made.

While Mrs. Clinton might find the current situation encouraging, I do not.