- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

President Obama says Republicans are engaging in “casual” talk about war with Iran. Actually, Mr. President, it’s not casual talk, it’s frustration. It was extremely frustrating for us to see the Obama administration try to water down sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran. The Senate forced the issue with a unanimous 100-0, vote, and the administration responded by seeking waivers to lessen the blow.

Another frustration was the administration’s early decision to reach out to the Iranian ayatollahs and ask them to “unclench” their fists. The Iranians met this well-intentioned gesture by rigging the 2009 elections and engaging in the wholesale slaughter of the Iranian people when they raised their voices in objection. The Persian Spring came and went with virtual silence on our government’s part. A great opportunity in Iran was wasted.

The president now accuses Republicans of not doing a cost-benefit analysis regarding action against Iran, a charge with which I strongly disagree. We know the price of undertaking military action against Iran is high, but the costs of Iran obtaining nuclear-weapons capability are greater.

American military action against Iran will open Pandora’s box, but Iran with nuclear-weapons capability empties Pandora’s box.

Any attack on Iran will immediately place thousands of American troops in the region under even greater threat and likely prompt Iran to unleash terrorist activities against the American homeland.

However, Iran with nuclear-weapons capability could hold the world hostage as it sees fit. The Iranians likely would share nuclear materials with terrorist organizations, and Sunni Arab nations in the region would seek nuclear programs to counter the Iranians.

The equation for our Israeli allies is much simpler: Iran with nuclear-weapons capability is simply unacceptable.

The Israelis are clear-eyed that an attack on Iran could result in a situation in which some Israelis may perish. An Iran with nuclear weapons, in their view, means all may perish.

If Israel attacks Iran, Israel will be targeted for retribution. If the United States attacks Iran, Israel also will be targeted for retribution. Either way, the state of Israel and its citizens likely will suffer the greatest blows from Iran. This is why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has made clear that Israel must remain the master of its own fate.

Over the past three years of American engagement with Iran, we have seen an all-too-familiar pattern emerge. We talk, the Iranians enrich. We sanction, they enrich. Start process over. Repeat.

It is indeed frustrating that after three years of engagement and sanctions, all we have to show for them is an Iranian regime in possession of more enriched uranium than ever, enough to make 1.5 nuclear bombs.

I would like to remind Mr. Obama that when he was a presidential candidate, he never hesitated to criticize U.S. policy in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was a right to which he was entitled and one he freely exercised. Our criticisms today are based on frustration with policy, not personality.

Many Republicans remain gravely concerned that sanctions and engagement will not stop the Iranian regime, which seems hellbent on obtaining nuclear-weapons capability. Sanctions and engagement may work only if serious military consequences lie ahead.

American intentions are less clear when top intelligence officials from the Obama administration say they are uncertain about Iranian intentions to obtain a nuclear weapon.

Would Iran suffer through economic devastation if it were not trying to produce a nuclear weapon? Why build peaceful nuclear facilities in underground bunkers? Why create clandestine enrichment facilities and hide them from the international community?

The Iranian regime cannot be trusted. It has participated in the killing of Americans in Iraq and Afghanistan, it openly avows the destruction of Israel, it tried to assassinate the Saudi ambassador in Washington and is the primary supporter of groups associated with terrorism, such as Hamas and Hezbollah.

Given its history, to not be alarmed and gravely concerned about Iran is both unwise and dangerous. If there ever was a time for American clarity and sense of purpose, it is now.

I’ve tried to be bipartisan and support the president in taking a tougher line against the Iranian leadership. When he says it’s unacceptable for Iran to obtain nuclear-weapons capability, I agree. When he says containment of a nuclear-armed Iran is not an option, I agree.

At the end of the day, the real question is not whether Republicans like me are willing to be supportive of President Obama. The question is whether the Iranian regime respects him and believes he is dead serious about using any and all tools to stop it from obtaining nuclear-weapons capability. It’s on that question that doubts remain, and those doubts extend from the United States to Europe to Israel all the way up to the leadership of the Iranian regime.

There are many reasons for us to be frustrated.

Sen. Lindsey Graham is a South Carolina Republican.

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