Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Obama’s Iran doctrine misguided, increases likelihood of war

U.S. President Barack Obama has made it clear in the past few days that he will not countenance nuclear-armed Iran, a clear-cut red line – if not bluff. This also, in other words, means the U.S. is not even considering plans of containment after Iran gets a nuclear bomb.

There are many reasons why Obama’s premature Iran red line announcement is misguided at best. Let’s consider two scenarios with respect to the Iran’s nuclear imbroglio.

In the first case, also current US-Israeli policy, the U.S. and Israel declare that they will not tolerate Iran with nuclear arsenals. With this policy, war of devastating consequences is inevitable if Iran decides to go down the nuclear road. Even if Iran does not develop nuclear weapons in the foreseeable future, which it claims it doesn’t, preventive war is seen in the offing as trust deficit between Iran and the West is unlikely to be eliminated. In a nutshell, after the U.S. and Israel choose bite over bark, the war is either inevitable or highly likely. The astonishing part of this scenario is that it doesn’t solve Iran’s nuclear crisis; it might instead urge Iranian leadership to redouble their efforts to develop a nuclear weapon and even spur other countries to follow the suit to counter Iran.

Fortunately, Obama clearly understands that this rhetoric carries the seeds of war. In a related development, he said on Tuesday that diplomacy can still resolve the crisis over Iran's possible pursuit of nuclear weapons and accused his Republican rivals of "beating the drums of war."

In the second scenario, the U.S. and Israel avoid putting red lines and instead increase the intensity of international pressure to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb. With this policy, no matter what Iran does, the West shelves war with Iran and hence avoids destabilizing Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestinian territories along with skyrocketing the price of oil amid global economic recession.

Containment is not new to the U.S. foreign policy; it has successfully contained major nuclear powers such as Soviets and China in the past, whose leaders were much more brutal and merciless. Containment of Iran will also make Iran decelerate its nuclear program and make compromises to rescue its crippling economy. If Iran still works tooth and nail to acquire a nuclear weapon, in the absence of U.S. or Israeli pressure, regional countries such as Turkey or other Gulf nations will counter Iran’s ambitions. They will eventually shoulder the burden of containing Iran. The lack of alacrity in regional countries to squeeze Iran into abandoning its suspected nuclear program is because the U.S. and Israel are doing much of the work.

After the Islamic republic gets the bomb, there are prospects that Iran and Israel may again become regional friends in the face of common Arab threat. Much of the Iran-Israeli standoff has to do with Iran’s nuclear ambitions; accepting to live with nuclear-armed Iran will clear the way for a possible Iran-Israel thaw. If history is any guide, it will be clear that war with Iran is more perilous than Iran getting a nuclear bomb. 

Kenneth Waltz, John Mearsheimer and Robert Jervis have all made it clear that more nuclear weapons are key for stability and enhanced security. This is not to suggest that Iran should acquire a nuclear bomb but to advocate that US and Israeli leaders must lay off hawkish talk and concentrate more on containment – a better strategy to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear bomb than war that could unleash unpredictable devastating consequences.

If Obama's "zero tolerance" policy is a bluff -- and he made it clear that it is not -- it will reduce U.S. credibility all around the world in case the U.S. doesn't take decisive actions once Iran declares it has nuclear weapons.

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