- - Thursday, March 18, 2010

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Washington craves a “quick fix” for Iran. Some hope tougher sanctions will stop Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Others, lacking faith in sanctions, want to bomb Iran. Still others urge a deterrence strategy to contain the “inevitable” threat of a nuclear-armed Iran.

In fact, no one strategy will work. It took a combination of policies maintained over time to win the Cold War. It will take a multifaceted approach to deal with Iran, too.

Certainly, we should impose strong sanctions. Deny visas to officials of the regime and its internal security organs. Ban foreign investment, loans and credits. End subsidized trade, and bar sending Iran refined petroleum products.

Both chambers of Congress have already approved sanctions on U.S. firms that export gasoline to Iran, but the White House is dragging its feet. If the president is serious about slapping tough sanctions on Iran, he can start by signing that measure into law.

Yet sanctions will not be enough. We also need to focus public diplomacy on Iran’s human rights abuses. The regime is already quite unpopular at home. That weakness should be exploited. The U.S. should ramp up exposure of the regimes corruption, abuses and aid to terrorists, and make sure that information is broadcast widely among the Iranian people.

Thankfully, many Iranians want what we do: A corruption-free and truly democratic government that respects its peoples rights. We can help Web-based opposition groups outside Iran by supplying them with technology that can evade government surveillance and censorship. And we should provide democratic opposition groups inside the country with the type of covert assistance we gave Poland’s Solidarity Movement during the Cold War.

The U.S. should not shrink from exposing the regimes hypocrisy in a misguided desire to “engage” Iran. The specter of a nuclear-armed Iran is too menacing. President Obama’s attempt to make nice with the mullahs has borne no fruit. It would be more productive to consciously pressure the regime for change. That would show the Iranian people we are on their side and help intensify internal pressure on the regime.

Surely, our intelligence services have loads of information embarrassing to Iran’s leaders: Where they keep their foreign bank accounts, how lavishly they spend on mansions and villas inside and outside Iran, etc. Such information should be released to expose the mullahs hypocrisy and corruption.

Military might is important, too. What happens in Iraq will directly influence Iran’s ambitions in the region. Even after the current troop withdrawal is complete, we will need to keep some U.S. troops in Iraq to help counter Iran’s efforts to destabilize it. A stable and democratic Iraq will give Iran’s Shiites an alternative governance model, helping to de-legitimize Tehran’s Islamist system in their eyes.

A free Iran should be our goal. This may or may not be achieved with the means outlined here. But since our national security is at stake, we should never rule out the use of military force to protect our interests. Under certain circumstances, it may prove to be the only option.

It may also be that, no matter what we do, Iran acquires nuclear weapons. So, even as we try to keep that from happening, we must also prepare for that contingency.

A nuclear Iran would force us to develop and deploy a new generation of nuclear weapons. That’s the only way to convince Tehran that any attempt to use nuclear weapons against us would fail to achieve their political or military objectives — whatever they might be.

Those who believe a nuclear Iran is inevitable must also recognize that, if Iran does get the bomb, it would immediately trigger a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East. Iran’s regional enemies are legion, and they will insist on having their own nuclear weapons to deter Iranian intimidation and aggression.

Similarly, a nuclear-armed Iran would leave America no choice but to deploy a robust and comprehensive missile defense. We should be preparing these missile defenses anyway, as insurance against an Iranian breakout and attacks from other rogue states. Arms controllers who link arms with the “live with a nuclear Iran” crowd may want to think about such consequences of their positions.

Doubtless some who advocate for sanctions are really closet fatalists who have no faith that the sanctions will actually work. They push for sanctions mainly to forestall what they fear even more than a nuclear Iran: a military confrontation between the U.S. and Iran.

Putting all our Iranian eggs in a sanctions basket would be worse than naive. It would be a sham. It would give Iran time to get the bomb and crowd out more serious actions that could pressure the regime to change. That would be a shame … for freedom-loving Iranians and for all those who truly love peace.

Kim R. Holmes, a former assistant secretary of state, is a vice president at the Heritage Foundation (Heritage.org) and author of “Liberty’s Best Hope: American Leadership for the 21st Century.”