Being Right: Clear Intentions

It is increasingly rare for conservatives and liberals to agree on anything, especially foreign policy issues. Iran, however, has proved to be somewhat of an anomaly in this regard. Politicians from across the political spectrum agree on the basic facts of the matter: a nuclear equipped Iran would be a dangerous (if not destructive) threat to world order and, left unchecked, Iran will soon be capable of producing its own nuclear weapons.

Despite policymakers’ agreement on these harrowing facts, there is widespread disagreement on what the United States should do to stop Iran from attaining nuclear capability. Most of this disagreement revolves around the United States’ relationship with Israel, its strongest and closest ally in the Middle East. On the far right, many policymakers believe that an immediate attack on Iran (presumably with the help of Israel) would be the best option; the far left, meanwhile, claims that the United States should wash its hands of its expensive and dangerous relationship with Israel and continue to pursue diplomatic relations with Iran.

The result of this disagreement is that the United States (i.e. the Obama administration), has failed to make a coherent and comprehensive policy regard-ing nuclear proliferation in Iran. For the most part, the Obama Administration, along with the heads of state of most West-ern governments, have pursued extensive economic sanctions against Iran, mostly targeting Tehran’s ability to make money by exporting oil to the West. And yet, even as Iran’s oil exports dry up (they were down 45 percent last month) and the standard of living of its everyday citizens plummets, Iran is still increas-ing its supply of highly enriched uranium, the presumed main ingredient of its future nuclear arsenal. In response, Israel has stepped up its hawkish verbal attacks on Iran, creating a po-tentially deadly discourse that has fueled instability throughout the region. Thus, it is clear that something more needs to be done. More specifically, the United States needs to drop its det-rimental ambivalence towards Iran and Israel and make clear its intentions to stop Iran from getting nuclear warheads at all costs. This will require two interrelated steps.

First, the Obama administration needs to make explicit what would constitute a grave violation of Iran’s authority in terms of nuclear weaponry. It is true that most people will dis-agree as to where this “line” would fall. And indeed, it could range from having a certain amount of nuclear material (not necessarily used for military purposes) to having full nuclear military capability (such as having long-range nuclear missiles). But the important part is to actually draw a line that sets limits on Iran’s nuclear program. Israel’s prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, recently claimed that “the clearer the red line, the less likely we’ll have conflict.” The point is that the most imperative thing to do is to draw a clear line and to explicitly say that if the line is crossed, it will result in military action.

The second step is to pledge full support to Israel in the case of a military showdown between Iran and Israel. Many, mostly liberal, policymakers have opposed such a move, claiming that it could thrust the United States into an awkward position if Israel were to prematurely attack Iran. To prevent this from happening, the United States’ support should hinge on Israel’s ob-servance of the aforementioned “red line.” Israel should know that if it acts unilaterally before the line set by the United States is crossed, it will be acting alone. However, if the line is indeed crossed, the United States will need the help of Israel.

The reason is that if Israel wishes to prepare for a potential fight against Iran, the United States will need a local ally. The past decade of fighting long-distance wars against both Afghani-stan and Iraq has showed that even a major power such as the United States struggles to project its power thousands of miles away. Throughout its wars in the Middle East, the United States has suffered from crippling transportation costs and unreliable (often hostile) regional “allies.” Therefore, having a cooperative operation with Israel will help to make a war against Iran less costly and more effective.

Dealing with a rogue state such as Iran is truly difficult. Statements from Tehran can never be fully trusted, and the United States can never be sure of its intentions. This is why the United States would do well to make its intentions regarding Iran and Israel crystal clear. For that way, officials in Tehran can make no mistake: if Iran continues its dangerous quest for nuclear weapons, it will be reprimanded.

Contact Will Whetzel at [email protected].