March 5, 2012
March 5, 2012
The Obama administration is painting itself into a dangerous corner in response to Iran’s nuclear program. Under pressure from the very powerful Israeli lobby and from GOP presidential candidates, Obama proclaimed in his State of the Union address: "Let there be no doubt, America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal."
He did not say what would count as “preventing,” but it seems to include getting Tehran to agree to a major and verifiable reduction in its nuclear program. Iran rejects this demand, insisting that it is enriching uranium solely for electrical power, which is permissible under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
There are conflicting assessments about Iran’s intentions. According to the New York Times, “Even as the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said in a new report Friday [2/24] that Iran had accelerated its uranium enrichment program, American intelligence analysts continue to believe that there is no hard evidence that Iran has decided to build a nuclear bomb.”
Iran may have decided instead to enhance its prestige and influence by letting the world know that it has the capacity to produce an atomic bomb in a short time span. It may not want the trouble and huge expense of actually building a stockpile of nuclear weapons.
Obama is saying that the U.S. will “prevent” Iran from developing a nuclear weapon one way (sanctions) or another (military force). The latest sanction under consideration would deny Iran access to The Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), the financial messaging service for most international money transfers.
This would make it difficult for international buyers to pay for Iranian oil, thereby sharply reducing Iran’s revenues. Although that would be a blow to the Iranian economy, it also threatens to reduce the supply of oil to the world market, further driving up fuel prices and stalling economic recovery in the U.S. and elsewhere.
The President knows that the military alternative to sanctions could have disastrous consequences. A U.S. attack would take place at the same time as Iran’s neighbor and ally Syria is slipping into a civil war that threatens to destabilize the Middle East.
Israel is threatening to launch its own attack on Iran, and is saying that it will not warn the U.S. in advance (AP 2/27). If that happens, the U.S. will very likely be drawn into the conflict to protect Israel.
Even the most powerful American or Israeli bombs would be only partially effective against Iran’s widely scattered nuclear facilities, some of which are deep underground or inside mountains. Air strikes would likely result in an even stronger effort by Iran to develop atomic weapons. Its people would put aside their deep political divisions to unite against the “Great Satan.”
The U.S. would be unwilling and unable to invade and occupy Iran. Therefore, the Iranian regime would survive American or Israeli bombing raids and be able to retaliate both in its own region and abroad. There could be a major interruption of the world’s oil supply if the Persian Gulf becomes a war zone.
As the International Crisis Group says in a Feb. 23 report, “There is no evidence that Iran’s leadership has succumbed or will succumb to economic hardship.” So Obama’s ultimatum to Iran—that Iran should yield under pressure of his economic sanctions or he will use force—may back him into a disastrous military conflict. His ultimatum is as much a threat to American national security as it is to Iran’s.
To better understand Iran’s resistance to American pressure, we need to reflect on the last 60 years of our relationship to Iran. In 1953 the CIA partnered with British intelligence to overthrow the democratically elected Prime Minister of Iran, Mohammed Mossadegh, to stop him from nationalizing the holdings of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (AIOC, known today as BP).
The coup enabled Shah Reza Pahlavi to rule Iran for 26 years as a brutal police state. The Shah’s security service, the SAVAK, tortured and murdered thousands of Iranians. It also worked closely with the CIA.
The Islamist revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979 was inspired by Ayatollah Khomeini and driven by hatred not only of the Shah but also of the U.S. for its oppressive manipulation of Iranian politics. The current hostility of the Tehran government is blowback for American abuses of power.
Even as the U.S. government is threatening Iran for enriching uranium, it accepts Israel’s arsenal of a hundred or more nuclear warheads which it can deliver by intercontinental ballistic missile, aircraft or submarine. It would be suicidal of Iran to build and then use a nuclear weapon against Israel.
We must hope that President Obama has the wisdom and toughness to resist the efforts of the Israeli government and its allies in Congress to draw us into another military and foreign policy disaster in the Middle East.