Time for a Revolution in America’s Iran Policy
Harvard Professor Stephen Walt has some pointed words for President Barack Obama on his policy towards Iran…words, by the way, that I wholeheartedly agree with:
“I can’t figure out who is actually directing U.S. policy toward Iran, but what’s striking (and depressing) about it is how utterly unimaginative it seems to be. Ever since last year’s presidential election, the United States has been stuck with a policy that might be termed “Bush-lite.” We continue to ramp up sanctions that most people know won’t work, and we take steps that are likely to reinforce Iranian suspicions and strengthen the clerical regime’s hold on power. “
I’m still at a loss as to why the United States is so concerned about Iran getting a nuclear weapon in the first place. Granted, more nuclear powers is not necessarily what the country (or the world) needs right now. And the formation of a new nuclear power (especially in the Middle East) is a direct contradiction to the nonproliferation agenda the Obama administration is trying to accomplish (given Obama’s arsenal cuts with Russia and his nuclear security conference in April, it’s clear that he really does want “a world without nuclear weapons”).
But even with these setbacks- which could be categorized as minor at best- it doesn’t really warrant Washington hyperactivity on the issue. Officials in the White House and in Congress are losing a lot of hair on a problem that is not really detrimental to U.S. national security (and believe me, if you’ve looked at Congress nowadays, they need all the hair they can get). It’s almost as if they have forgotten the whole concept of deterrence…the theory that a state’s irrational behavior is kept in check by the irrationality of other states.
Contrary to popular belief, Iran is a rational actor in the international system, and one that fully understands what would happen if they in fact used a nuclear weapon against Israel or any other state. Any short-term benefits that a nuclear strike could achieve would quickly be suffocated by the strong countermeasure that would result, like the barrage of missiles and ICBM’s that would rain down on Iranian cities. And if the Iranian leadership’s number one concern is the preservation of its status and power- which is what they have demonstrated repeatedly over the past three decades- then the offensive use of nuclear weapons is not a smart policy tool anyway.
It may be time for President Obama to adopt a different stance vis-a-vis Iran. Drop American-led efforts to terminate Iran’s nuclear program (which isn’t a realistic goal anyway) and start taking a defensive posture in the broader Middle East. Show Tehran that nuclear adventurism will not be tolerated, and send Iran a strong message that any offensive military action on their part will be met with an even stronger reaction from America and its allies. Extending the U.S. nuclear umbrella to America’s Arab partners is just the kind of posture that Washington needs to accomplish this objective. Just like the United States used its nuclear umbrella to deter Soviet action in Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea, the United States can deter Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf through a similar measure.
Sounds like a shallow policy prescription, but hoping that we can convince Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to change their behavior is an even shallower proposition.
-Daniel R. DePetris
**Comments courtesy of Stephen M. Walt at FP.com**