- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The traditional threshold for a country to join the nuclear-weapons club is straightforward. Any state that tests a nuclear weapon gets in. However, on Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton proposed more exclusive membership requirements.

Asked by NBC’s David Gregory if the effort to keep North Korea from going nuclear had failed, Mrs. Clinton answered, “No, I don’t think so, because their program is still at the beginning stages.” In other words, two nuclear tests and a stockpile of seven or eight nuclear weapons are no longer enough to join the club. Tough luck Pyongyang, you’ve been blackballed.

This would simply be an exercise in semantics if it weren’t for the probability that Iran will soon test its own nuclear weapon. This administration, like its predecessor, has said that an Iranian nuclear-weapons capability would be unacceptable. But if Iran conducts a nuclear test sometime in the coming months, that apparently will not indicate the failure of diplomacy any more than the North Korean tests have. Faced with defeat, the State Department will define it away.

The Obama administration’s willingness to accept the inevitability of a nuclear Iran could not be clearer. Mrs. Clinton said that if Iran is “pursuing nuclear weapons for the purpose of intimidating, of projecting your power, we’re not going to let that happen.” Yes, the United States will do “everything [it] can to prevent [Iran] from ever getting a nuclear weapon,” she said. But failing that?

The secretary of state said that even a nuclear-armed Iran would be thwarted. Its pursuit of regional hegemony is “futile,” she argued, because the “security umbrella” the United States would extend over the region would negate the advantages Iran seeks from atomic weaponry. Iran “won’t be any stronger or safer because they won’t be able to intimidate or dominate as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon,” she said last week.

Tehran seems perfectly content with the futility of its pursuit. Iran has made substantial progress on uranium enrichment necessary for constructing a nuclear weapon, and most estimates agree that it will be able to construct and test a weapon within the year. Meanwhile, countries such as Israel that cannot protect their territory and people with semantic shields are preparing to take action. Israel’s apparent state of readiness to exercise the military option against Iran — and America’s clear lack of readiness — underscores the credibility gap in the U.S. position that all options are on the table. Israel is communicating a credible threat of force to Tehran, a necessary element in coercive diplomacy that the U.S. posture explicitly lacks.

The American “umbrella strategy” is purely defensive and thus more likely to encourage Iran’s leaders than dissuade them. The Obama administration states firmly that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be unacceptable but at the same time indicates it will accept that. Nuclear Iran is not faced with massive retaliation but passive accommodation. That’s not much of a deterrent.

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