Monday, June 8, 2009

A New Strategy?

A new IAEA report says Iran is closing in on its nuclear goals and may be only 8 months away from a deliverable nuclear bomb, yet we're sticking to a "wait and see" attitiude. Here's how to kick it up.

The American administration has said that this is not the time to really press Iran on the nuclear issue because the upcoming elections could reshape Iran's attitude. In fact, this is exactly the wrong tactic to take. The Iranians need understand the cost of their actions, and the US and its allies have yet to provide them with an estimate.

The Iranian regime is in the perfect situation. They have green lighted certain talks, just enough to entice the West into waiting, but have not gone far enough to threaten their domestic popularity and regional influence. They hold the veto cards and have already played one when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week ruled out all future talks on its nuclear program. Western inaction has allowed them to wait the diplomatic track out, all the while continuing to work on its nuclear capabilities unabated. Without a significant effort from the US and its allies to force the Iranians into recalculating their actions, the Iranians have no reason to change course.

They know what their goal is and have a plan to achieve it and are deep enough into it that, given the current circumstances, they will not have to turn back. This necessitates a change in our policy. Although President Bush dialogued with the Iranians on a number of issues, and President Obama has said he is interested in having tea, the Iranians are not interested in talking, at least not on nuclear issues, as made clear by the Supreme Ayatollah and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Tthe importance of the issue of legitimacy to the current Iranian regime cannot be downplayed either. The Supreme Ayatollah has instructed the Iranian people not to vote for anyone who appears to be open to rapprochement with the West, and now the "reformist" and "moderate" candidates are stumping on increasing support for Hamas and the elimination of Western influence in the Middle East. Normalization of relations is a danger for the Iranians because their popularity relies on their ability to demonize the West.

Of the many uninspiring options on how to deal with Iran, two appear to be more promising than the others, although they would need to work in tandem to be successful. First, because the diplomatic track appears to have stalled before it has even started, crippling action must be applied to change the status quo.

For sanctions to be effective, President Obama needs European Union support. However, EU rhetoric has not been strong enough to persuade American diplomats that the EU is ready to engage in the kind of sanctions needed to get out of this crisis. The EU does not make decisions in a timely fashion; to get them to agree on sanctions is a business too time consuming to be a game changer. Some European countries, including Germany and Italy, appear to have little interest in stopping the Iranian bomb. Rather, it appears they have accepted one and are working on how to deal with that reality.

Therefore, President Obama could employ the unilateral tactic of instructing the US Treasury to end Iran's ability to conduct international transactions in US dollars, sending the Iranian economy tanking overnight. This would send a message infinitely stronger than any he has sent before that Iran's actions will not be tolerated.

Second, the Iranians must believe that at the end of the day, the US will use military action. In fact, senior EU negotiators have been pressing this with their American counterparts behind closed doors. The US has done nothing demonstrable to ensure Iran that should current efforts fail, our military will be used. An American President, whose actions in Iraq are understood by the Iranians that he would rather run from a tough fight than win outright, cannot sell this idea to the Iranians. Showing public support for an Israeli strike, and undertaking meetings with NATO allies, Russia, and China to develop a deployable military campaign, would be two demonstrable steps.

The fact is that we have allowed too much time to pass, and too much Iranian progress to be made, to woo them away from their path with words, and certainly not from a lack of effort on our part. The time has come to speak with actions and see if we can bring them to the table that way.

No comments: