Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Military Force is Vital for Effective Diplomacy

Posted in Middle East and North Africa by Dan on July 9, 2009


I wholeheartedly disagree with Dr. Walt when he claims that a nuclear-armed Iran would be effectively deterred by the international community. While the United States and Israel may eventually dissuade Tehran from de-escalating its nuclear enrichment capabilities, such a success would certainly include a tremendous swath of concessions from major western powers. Without compromising the U.S. position towards rogue states (including Iran, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, etc) and their militant proxies, it is hard to believe that Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would simply abandon their offensive aspirations. Do we as Americans really want to sacrifice our integrity for the simple possibility of Iranian compliance? Even if such a diplomatic approach does work, how would the U.S. Government and the United Nations be able to enforce this provision? The Islamic Republic has already gone so far as to defy the collective power of international institutions…not to mention the basic tenants of universal human rights.

Some may argue that a U.S.-diplomatic campaign with Tehran’s clerical regime is better than no campaign at all. This could be true in some respects. However, if President Obama is absolutely serious in taming Iran’s nuclear program through deliberation, he must recognize that the option of military force must remain on the bargaining table. To quote a common phrase from former President George W. Bush, “all options must be on the table.” What Dr. Walt seems to miss is how powerful and influential a preventive strike is…such threats often have the ability to pressure adversaries into negotiation (whether they truly accept discussion or not). Without a military deterrent available to either the United States or Israel, Iran’s hardliners will continue to enrich uranium without any concrete consequences. Absent the dangers of force, what would hold back the Iranians from pursuing this reality? Would more economic sanctions do the trick (the same sanctions that have failed to curb Iran’s behavior over the last few years)?

On the issue of whether a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities is possible without Arab anger and hostility, I see one solution…a successful Israeli-Palestinian peace plan. While I understand the difficulty of formulating a lasting agreement (given Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s refusal to compromise), milking out a document that respects Palestinian human rights would have the effect of diminishing Arab resistance against the Jewish State. With Palestinians finally living free of Israeli occupation, Arab opposition to an Israeli military campaign would dramatically ease throughout the region.  Such a development is certainly realistic… it is not a surprise that many of these same Arab powers have already expressed strong opposition to a nuclear-inspired Iranian power

Let’s not forget why Iran is continuing to increase its leverage in comparison to its Arab foes.  Citizens across the region commonly view the Islamic Republic as a powerful country whose leaders “stand up” for the human rights of Muslims worldwide. Iranians are uniquely talented in fermenting widespread opposition to Jerusalem’s policies…thanks to their common references to the harsh Israeli treatment of Palestinian men, women, and children. Yet, with a two-state solution fixed, Tehran would lose a remarkable amount of this talent. No longer would the ayatollah’s and mullah’s of the Islamic Republic be able to quickly draw Muslim support against an Israeli preventive attack. With a certain amount of Iranian credibility gone, Prime Minister Netanyahu may be able to set back Tehran’s quest for a nuclear bomb…all the while salvaging his political career at the same time.

I admit that this formula is extremely unconventional and perhaps downright ridiculous to some who advocate unconditional dialogue. While I understand this position, it is foolish to believe that Tehran would purposely scratch its hard work purely for western investment and recognition. Supporters of diplomacy should applaud this recommendation: case studies have proven that missiles and bombs often lay the groundwork for constructive dialogue to take its course.

I leave you with one question that has yet to be answered… how long can the world wait before Iran finally gains the expertise to produce a nuclear device? Remember…the Iranians need not use the bomb in order to damage the overall security interests of the United States, Israel, and pro-western Arab governments. Just the possession of a nuclear device could trigger an arms race in the Middle East: a race that we can all agree would be extraordinarily unfortunate in the world’s most turbulent area.

-Daniel R. DePetris


7 Responses

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  1. David Sternlight said, on July 9, 2009 at 8:23 pm

    More insanity
    by sternlight on Wed, 07/08/2009 – 5:16pm

    Iran is an international bully with a long track record of same. You do not “take the threat of force off the table” with bullies. So to do guarantees more aggression.

    It looks as if this “realist” Professor is living in a fantasy world of his own making, not the real world. Has he learned nothing from attempts to appease totalitarian regimes?

    If he were my student, this would rate an “F”.

    David Sternlight, Ph.D.
    Los Angeles

  2. Clint said, on July 9, 2009 at 8:24 pm

    Real Bully is Israel and its “mini-me”, USA
    Wed, 07/08/2009 – 5:41pm

    Professor Walt is right-on.

    Even the experts at the National Defense University agree with his view.

    (Google their document “Reassessing the Implications of a Nuclear Armed Iran”)

    The NDU study concluded that Iran desires nuclear weapons mainly because it feels strategically isolated and that “possession of such weapons would give the regime legitimacy, respectability, and protection.”

    In other words, Iran desires nuclear weapons for the purpose of deterrence, just like every other nuclear-armed nation. The NDU study continued, “[W]e judge, and nearly all experts consulted agree, that Iran would not, as a matter of state policy, give up its control of such weapons to terrorist organizations and risk direct U.S. or Israeli retribution.” And it said the “United States has options short of war that it could employ to deter a nuclear-armed Iran and dissuade further proliferation.”

    The most sensible way to approach the Iranian nuclear issue would be to work seriously toward confidence building and eliminating nuclear weapons from the entire Middle East, including those in Israel.

    Iran is a member of the NPT and not a nuclear-armed nation.

    Israel is not an NPT member and is nuclear armed and has attacked 3 of its neigbors in 3 years: Lebanon, Syria and Gaza.

    Iran is surrounded by two nations, both of whom have been attacked by the US.

    No wonder it desires the _capability_ to make nukes, if it should so desire.

    As an American, why should I care what happens to Israel? They are just a big waste of my tax money.

  3. David Sternlight said, on July 9, 2009 at 8:25 pm

    Anti-Israel illogic
    by sternlight on Thu, 07/09/2009 – 10:42am

    Israel’s nukes are for deterrence. They have never threatened to destroy another country. To the contrary, it is the Arabs who have not only threatened Israel, but made repeated wars to “drive the Jews into the sea”. In contrast, Iran’s nukes are for aggression. They have threatened to destroy Israel. Israel has never threatened to destroy Iran.

    Only a fool or a knave would attempt to equate the two.

  4. Clint said, on July 9, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Nuclear arms race in the ME was started by Israel
    by Clint on Thu, 07/09/2009 – 12:19am


    Nuclear arms race in the middle east was started by Israel.

    Want Iran to stop?

    Get rid of Israeli nukes. Get US to stop attacking the middle east.

    Israel is not even an NPT member.

    It is a rogue state that has attacked 3 of its neighbors in 3 years.

  5. Jacob Blues said, on July 9, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    Short sighted? Blind sighted? Or just hate filled?
    by Jacob Blues on Thu, 07/09/2009 – 10:26am

    Sad, but hardly surprising is the idea that we should just let Iran handle things by themselves, or defer to their supposed need to ‘protect themselves’, from imaginary threats.

    Reality is, that the Islamic Republic of Iran is the nation state that has over the course of 30 years, repeatedly rejected the idea of the independent Jewish state of Israel. It, not Israel, is the one threatening elimination. Such stands are taken not just at the highest levels of Iran’s government, but to the people, with their weekly calls of Death to Israel.

    Iran’s philosophy towards the Jewish state have been wholly absorbed by its two proxy armies, Hizballah and HAMAS.

    Iran’s “isolation” is due in large part to this militaristic stand. The easiest way to step away from the edge of the cliff, is to acknowledge Israel as a legitimate state and forswear plans for its destruction.

    Unfortunately, without such steps, claims that Iran mearly seeks the deterrence provided by nuclear weapons, falls on deaf ears, especially in light of the fact that all the neigbhoring nations do not have the military capacity to threaten Iran.

  6. David Sternlight said, on July 9, 2009 at 8:40 pm

    Fools and knaves
    by sternlight on Thu, 07/09/2009 – 10:49am

    it is not the Jewish State that has “cost the world so much”. It is the Arabs attempt to destroy a legitimate member state. All they have to do is accept Israel, a UN member State, and the world can move on.

    It is Arab murder of Jews since well before the creation of Israel; Arab siding with Hitler in World War II, Arab intolerance, ranging from Mohammed’s turning against the Jews when they wouldn’t convert, to Arabs running States in which no religion but Islam is permitted in public, Arabs seizing vast amounts of jewish property and forcibly expelling Jews as non-military government policy, that is the problem, not Israel.

    Blaming the victim is a game for fools and knaves, not serious people.

  7. frankier said, on July 9, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Didn’t Israel side with the
    by frankier on Thu, 07/09/2009 – 11:30am

    Your arguments are not conducive to anything constructive.

    Didn’t Israel side with the South African aparthied regime?

    Speaking of UN membership …. how about complying with “those” resolutions? …. how about accepting and working with the UN investigations into human rights violations in Gaza? …. how about allowing help to Gaza population under siege? … how about not bombing UN compound in Gaza? …. and so on …..

    Without acknowledging your statements, both sides have done regrettable actions and need to get past them if they want to find a solution.

    Israel, if it is genuine in its intent to achieve peace, should: (A) foster a strong leadership within the Palestinians and not fomenting Hamas and delegitimizing Arafat; (B) obey the UN resolutions dealing with Israel, including reversing settlements, rather than creating a series of “fait accompli” by having settlers in the West Bank.

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