Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Obama Administration & Iran

Now that Obama has named his foreign policy/national security team, one of the problems they'll have to confront is what to do about Iran & its nuclear program. Obama said during the campaign that he would not permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Some of the latest estimates say that Iran already has enough enriched uranium to make at least one warhead. How is the Obama administration going to stop them? Short answer -- they can't and won't.

Iran's nuclear program is too far along to be stopped by any sort of surgical military strikes. The ISIS report of August 7, 2008 details the difficulties of eliminating a gas centrifuge program. A military solution would require massive, sustained action against Iran. With the U.S. winding down its operations in Iraq, still embroiled in Afghanistan, and in the midst of a world-wide recession, there is no way any U.S. administration, let alone Obama's, is going to go to war with Iran. That leaves the diplomatic option.

Despite Democratic propaganda to the contrary, the Bush administration has been talking to Iran, and there has been some international pressure on it to give up its nuclear program. These efforts have been unsuccessful because Iran is dedicated to becoming a nuclear power. From their perspective, obtaining nuclear weapons is a critical project for Iranian security and prestige. There are only two main ways in which diplomacy could possibly force Iran to give up its nuclear aspirations. These could be employed separately, or in combination as a carrot/stick approach. The first involves imposing so much pressure, and so many sanctions, that the nuclear program isn't worth the price they have to pay for it. The second rests on creating positive incentives that convince Iran to change its direction. Neither of these approaches has any real chance of success. The first requires unprecedented international cooperation and resolve, and has to include all major powers, such as Russia & China. The second rests on the assumption --a very large one -- that there is anything that we would be willing to offer Iran, that could sway them from their nuclear designs.

So how does the Obama administration handle the situation?  I fear that Obama will attempt to make a deal with Iran, similar to the Clinton approach to North Korea.  I would not be at all surprised to see a U.S. initiative that offers Iran incentives to stop its nuclear program.  This is a terrible idea for one simple reason: the Iranian government cannot be trusted.  Such a deal would almost certainly result in Iran taking whatever we are willing to give them, and secretly continuing its nuclear program.  If I'm wrong, and Obama is somehow able to get the international cooperation necessary to impose truly crippling sanctions on Iran, I'll applaud him. But I think a bad deal is far more likely.

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