Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

The Hawks Have It Right

Posted in Iran by Dan on September 13, 2009
Past negotiations and frustrations with the Iranians have proven that the time for diplomacy is over

Past negotiations and frustrations with the Iranians have proven that the time for diplomacy has past

I do not know about the rest of the country, but as a young American who hopes to one day enter into the U.S. national security community, I have become sick and tired of the nuanced tone concerning Iran’s nuclear capability.  Of course, it would be incorrect to assert that the United States Government and its think-tank associates are wholly unconcerned with a potential Iranian nuclear power.  For months, even years, policymakers, diplomats, military commanders, and security analysts have devoted an extraordinary amount of time, energy, and resources towards this very issue; assessing Tehran’s uranium enrichment process, formulating responses to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s defiance, and projecting when Iran will acquire the bomb to name only a few.  Just mention the concept of nuclear proliferation to officials within President Barack Obama’s administration (in addition to former officials of the Bush White House) and they will certainly tell you that the issue is at the top of the foreign-policy agenda.

The work ethic of Washington is not the concern in this particular case…what is the problem is the consistent arguments by moderates and doves alike calling for the elimination of the military option.  FP’s own Stephen Walt (his views can be seen here http://walt.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/10/theyre_baaaaack) is a prominent leader in this camp; a host of academics who claim that the only way of fully persuading the Islamic Republic to abandon its nuclear program is through a genuine campaign of unconditional diplomatic engagement.  In the words of President Obama, “mutual interest and mutual respect” will result in far more compliance from Tehran than threats of aerial attack and aggressive rhetoric.  One only needs to take a look back at Mr. Obama’s speech during the Persian New Year- when he directly and publicly addressed his desire to include the Islamic Republic “in the community of nations”- to firmly recognize the strengthened position of this movement.

Yet, however bold and honorable all of these approaches are (and indeed they are), this peacenik-plan has failed to achieve exactly what it sets out to achieve: a more moderate change of behavior from Iran’s clerical establishment.  In fact, dialogue and “mutual respect” has translated into opposite results.  Ayatollah Khamenei has used (and is continuing to use) his Friday sermons as a venue to lash out against western powers, all the while issuing religious decrees stating that the Iranian people will never forgo their absolute right for nuclear energy.  The International Atomic Energy Agency- the primary nuclear authority in the international community- is nothing but a laughing-stock to the Iranian leadership…a U.S.-puppet that is simply an extension of western intervention and imperialism in an otherwise susceptible region.  Stonewalling international inspectors has become a common practice for Tehran, viewing its presence as a hindrance to Iranian power and perceiving its duty as a western sabotage of Iranian national interest.

Perhaps more dangerous to international peace and security as a whole, the “dialogue-first” method is giving the Iranians an ample opportunity.  By using the diplomatic process, the Iranians have been able to improve and bolster their enrichment capabilities…all the while claiming that they are cooperating with the U.N. Security Council through the long and doled out process of negotiations.  Unfortunately, this reality is only buttressed by U.S. Envoy Glyn Davies; reporting that the Iranians already possess (or will soon possess) enough low-enriched uranium to produce a nuclear weapon.

With Iranian-U.N. negotiations at the lowest point of its existence, advocating further dialogue seems like a rather contradictory option for both the United States and its global partners.  Formulating policy on the false hope that the Iranians will eventually ‘see the light’ is an ignorant basis to go upon.  If Tehran has neglected, thus far, to show signs of reconciliation on their nuclear program, let alone cooperate extensively with IAEA inspectors, can we really expect that Khamenei will participate in some radically progressive way?  Experts hate to say it, but the time of a renaissance-like period of diplomacy has already reached its peak.

Absent the threat of military force, there is virtually no inducement for the Islamic Republic to constructively engage.  Sanctions, minus a few breakthroughs, have proven to be a catastrophic failure.  Thanks to the unhelpful behavior of Russia and China, the Security Council has been more of a frustrating obstacle to disbarment than a proponent of it.  For months, the agency’s five permanent members (the United States, Great Britain, France, Russia, and China) have been unable to pass tougher economic punishments on those Iranian officials associated with nuclear development.  Crediting David Rothkopt’s scholarly-reporting, Russia appears to be in no mood for American pressure…as is obvious based on Sergei Lavrov’s declaration that his country would not support a timetable for Iranian compliance.  Indeed, Russia is even calling for a halt to the proposed Iranian oil and gas embargo; a devastating setback considering that the Iranian Government is heavily dependent on refined petroleum for a mobile economy.

Where does this leave the United States and its allies?  The answer is relatively straightforward:  in a position of weakness and desperation.  Following the present course is therefore a terrible policy decision, one that will hopefully be diverted if Tehran decides to exercise its nuclear-breakout capacity.  Label us hawks, neo-conservatives, or war-mongers if you so choose, but nothing has worked through the avenues of diplomacy.  Sometimes war-like jargon is the best option.  In a variety of cases, history has proven that intimidation is often the precursor to moderate behavior.  Just ask Muammar al-Qaddafi in 2003; a terror-supporter turned ‘good guy’ after he strategically decided to scratch Libya’s weapons of mass destruction research.

Opponents of military force against Iran have also centered their arguments on false pretexts.  Some claim that bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would only strengthen conservatives within that country, uniting moderates under the banner of Iranian nationalism.  The reality is that an increase in popular support is highly unlikely, given Khamenei’s harsh crack-down on Iranian citizens and the systematic purging of democratic opponents within Iranian society.  Just because the Iranian people support nuclear research does not necessarily mean that they will blindly stand behind their repressive government in the event of U.S.-led air-strikes.  This is the equivalent of saying that Al’Qaeda and Hezbollah, two terrorist organizations with starkly different ideological and religious beliefs, will form a unified coalition based on a common enemy.  It is simply not a convincing argument.

In addition, the belief that air-strikes would only temporarily halt Iran’s nuclear development withholds a dramatic piece of the puzzle; military action has the capacity to destroy a significant amount of Tehran’s nuclear sites.  More importantly, such an act would establish an Iranian-precedent; the United States, Israel, moderate Arab Governments, and indeed the world will not accept a belligerent state with highly catastrophic weapons.

Stephen Walt, despite his conventional opinions, is right in one respect…the hawks are “baaaaack…”  The thing he fails to accept is why the hawks are resurging back into the public-consciences: the solutions they hold are the most realistic with respect to the Iranian question.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Stephen M. Walt, David Rothkopt, John P. Hannah, and the British Broadcasting Service contributed to this piece.


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