- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Obama administration is coming to terms with the inevitability of a nuclear Iran. Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton sought to reassure Middle Eastern countries in case Iran does develop nuclear weapons. In that event, the United States would “extend a defense umbrella” over the region to counter it, she said.

Mrs. Clinton said that Iran will not advance its security or achieve its “goals of advancing its power both regionally and globally” by developing nuclear weapons. It is always interesting to see American policymakers lecture foreign governments on their self-interest. Other countries, such as India, Pakistan and North Korea, have enhanced their international status and importance by building nuclear weapons. Iran could profitably join that club.

If nothing else, nuclear weapons would guarantee that the United States would not seek to use military force to take down Iran’s government, something that has occurred in two of Iran’s neighbors, Afghanistan and Iraq, in recent years. There is no case in history of a nuclear-armed state having regime change imposed from abroad.

Stating that America will extend a security umbrella is more likely to encourage Iran’s leaders than dissuade them. The umbrella is the ultimate symbol of passivity and defensive posture. It tells Tehran that the regime will be safe, which is the regime’s primary objective. Meanwhile, rain will fall under the umbrella as Iran pursues its interests more aggressively at the conventional and unconventional levels of conflict through proxies such as Hezbollah and Hamas.

The secretary of state threatened “crippling action” against Iran if the regime continues on its current course, but that is more slogan than policy. The proposed actions have not been spelled out in a way that makes them a credible threat, and the international community has not yet reached agreement on a coherent sanctions regime. Instead, the administration seems content for the moment to sit by the open door and hope Iran will walk through it, something the regime has shown no inclination to do. The nuclear clock is ticking, and most analysts believe Iran will have the capability to construct a nuclear device sometime this year, if it doesn’t already.

The countries that Mrs. Clinton sought to assuage are clearly not waiting for events in Iran to take their course. A recent report indicated Israel and Saudi Arabia have reached a modus vivendi regarding overflight rights pursuant to an attack on Iran. Israeli naval forces, including a submarine potentially armed with nuclear weapons, have transited the Suez Canal with Egypt’s blessing. These countries and others in the region are not willing to take risks that the United States apparently finds acceptable.

The stakes are too high and the threat too grave to let Iran become a nuclear power. The Iranian regime will move ahead regardless of the Obama administration’s regional master plan, which is too little and too late. The United States would do well to begin contingency planning for the crisis that will ensue when Israel and other countries take concerted action to deal with the Iranian threat. A hard rain’s going to fall, and the bumbershoot strategy will not keep us out of it.