Thursday, April 30, 2009

Defense Secretary Gates on Iran

Defense Secretary Robert Gates spoke about Iran's nuclear program today. Here are his words:
a military option would only delay Iran's nuclear ambitions and drive the program further underground, making it more difficult to monitor, he said.
Instead, the U.S. & allies should
convince Iran that building a nuclear program would start an arms race that would leave the country less secure.

Here's a translation of the actual meaning of those words:

The U.S. isn't willing to carry out the type of military strike that could actually destroy Iran's nuclear program. In case Iran hasn't figured that out yet, we are going to make it crystal clear, thereby removing what little leverage we might have in negotiations based on any Iranian fear of a strike. Instead, we are going to pretend that we can convince Iran not to do something that they really want to do, and that appears from their view, to be in their own best interests. 

Although I am convinced that the Iranians will eventually acquire nuclear weapons, I do not support a military strike to destroy its program -- as I have written here repeatedly. It is simply not worth the costs. But having said that, Gates comments are complete nonsense. First of all, as the secretary is well aware, the U.S. could certainly destroy Iran's nuclear program if it truly wanted to. The U.S. could cripple Iran entirely and obliterate its modern infrastructure. A nuclear program would come to a screeching halt with Iran's electrical grid and power generation stations destroyed, its dams broken, its ports in ruins, its airfields cratered and mined, and so forth.  That's not even considering what we could do if we chose to employ nuclear weapons. It's worth pointing that out, because what the U.S. has the power to do is often confused with what we have the will to do. It's also useful to remember that Iran is nothing more than a third-rate power with grandiose pretensions. Our own humanity and self-restraint is what allows it to exist in a state of semi-hostility with the U.S.

Secondly, why is Gates talking about this at all? What purpose does it serve to tell the Iranians that we "can't" destroy their nuclear program? If we want to negotiate with them, isn't it better to keep them guessing as to our intentions? And having the secretary pretend that we can talk Iran out of its nuclear program is not reassuring. It looks like naivete, or worse, stupidity. The Obama administration needs to dispense with such utopian thinking and start crafting a deterrent policy for when Iran gets nuclear weapons. 

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