Representatives from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia are scheduled to meet today in Brussels to discuss future steps to dissuade Iran from developing the capacity to build nuclear weapons. Our message to the world leaders: If you want peace, prepare for war.
President Obama said yesterday that the international community intends to send a “clear message” to Iran. Unfortunately, Iran has clearly gotten the message already: It has nothing to fear. The United States has shown no desire to take serious steps to confront Tehran on the nuclear issue. It’s doubtful that anything will come out of Brussels to change the substance of that message.
Iran has learned the lesson of the international community’s spectacularly flawed attempt to prevent North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Years of negotiations, sanctions, agreements, breakdowns and breakthroughs resulted in one of the poorest countries in the world joining the nuclear club. The missing ingredient throughout the confrontation with Pyongyang was the credible threat of force. The idea of a strike against North Korea’s nuclear facilities was never on the table, which freed the state to pursue a two-track strategy of pretending to negotiate away its program while pressing ahead on weapons development.
The United States has never really admitted that diplomacy failed with Pyongyang, and Mr. Obama sealed the sense of cognitive dissonance by rewarding the architect of failure, former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Christopher R. Hill, with the important ambassadorship in Baghdad.
Tehran is taking a page from Pyongyang’s book - indeed, the countries collaborate on nuclear matters - by bending just enough to hold out hope to the diplomats without actually delivering. There is no reason to believe Iran will give up its nuclear program, the true extent of which is still unknown. Yesterday, inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency examined the nuclear facility at Qom that Iran had concealed for seven years, and an IAEA report released Monday implies that Iran is hiding other nuclear facilities. It is bewildering that U.S. intelligence agencies still maintain that Iran has no intention of developing nuclear weapons.
The case for using force against Iran is growing more plausible as the threat intensifies. Compared to the 2002 case for war against Saddam Hussein, it is a slam-dunk. Unlike Saddam’s Iraq, Tehran has a functioning nuclear program and is close to being able to assemble nuclear weapons. It is developing long-range delivery systems and has tested a rocket that could be the basis for an ICBM. Iran is the world’s leading state sponsor of terrorism, with a global network of operatives. Tehran has given safe haven (what it calls house arrest) to dozens of members of al Qaeda and supplied sophisticated anti-armor weapons to Iraqi insurgents and the Taliban to use against coalition forces. Iran is more of a threat than Iraq ever was.
Force need not be used to be effective, but the threat of force must be credible to have any chance of influencing Iranian behavior. Right now, there is no credible threat emanating from the United States. The Obama administration unambiguously opposes military action against Iran, particularly by Israel. But it would help to have a little ambiguity on this issue. So long as Tehran thinks the United States will work actively to prevent Israel from taking action, it has one less reason to worry. It would be most helpful if the United States began to send signals to Tehran that the United States will assist Israel in its preparations for military action and maybe even participate when the attack ultimately is launched.
If the regime in Tehran is not made to fear serious consequences for its continued intransigence, it has no reason to abandon its nuclear ambitions.