Reul Marc Gerecht and Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies offer up their latest proposition for Washington’s Iran policy in the Wall Street Journal today. Surprise: no matter what, Iran gets bombed.
They explain how Moscow and Beijing are rendering the new Iran sanctions meaningless because, as European and Asian firms are forced to exit Iran, Chinese and Russian companies are swooping in. If the US doesn’t crack down on Russia and China, Gerecht and Dubowitz warn, then Washington’s policy will fall apart and Israel will probably bomb Iran. But if the US does crack down on Russia and China, guess what: Israel is probably going to bomb Iran.
“Any U.S. action will surely infuriate Moscow and Beijing, as well as those in Washington who have worked to ‘reset’ our relations with both countries. Russia and China could retaliate in a variety of hardball ways that could greatly complicate American and European strategic interests. If Russia were to start delivering S-300 antiaircraft missiles to Tehran, for example, it could well provoke an Israeli preventive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.”
If “success” for Washington’s Iran policy still means Israel bombs Iran, perhaps it’s time to come up with a better policy. But Washington’s fixation with tactical “success”, i.e. an airtight sanctions regime, leaves no room for discussion of that broader strategic goal. This obsession misconstrues strong sanctions, and possible military strikes, with the real objective: actually ensuring Iran doesn’t pursue a nuclear weapons capability.
When sanctions are the singular policy goal, Washington ends up missing opportunities to make progress on the real objective. This was the case when Secretary Clinton shot down an opportunity to remove one bombs-worth of LEU from Iran, to potentially end Iran’s 19.75% enrichment, and to restart negotiations with Tehran. All because doing so may have distracted from the UN sanctions push. This was also the case when President Obama accepted artificial timelines for engagement last year so that Congress could go ahead with unilateral sanctions.
Now, Washington has spent the last year figuring out which companies are selling gasoline to whom and how the US can punish them, all for the tangential goal of undermining Iran’s economy. But if this is all just an exercise to bide our time for inevitable military strikes, who cares whether the sanctions are “working” or not?
As President Obama said, to his credit, at a closed Iran briefing weeks ago, “It is very important to put before the Iranians a clear set of steps that we would consider sufficient to show they are not pursuing nuclear weapons. They should know what they can say ‘yes’ to.” Unfortunately, there still isn’t any clarity on this point as to what a true resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue would look like—is it the vague and unlikely goal of a permanent, absolute end to enrichment in Iran? Or is it putting satisfactory safeguards in place to ensure Iran can’t develop nuclear weapons?
Until that question is answered and Washington pursues a strategic objective instead of tactical successes, the metrics of success for our Iran policy will be framed by neoconservatives like Gerecht and Dubowitz. And they have made clear that, no matter the question, they have one answer: bombs away.