Four years ago this month I asked an astute U.N. observer what she thought was going to happen with Iran and its nuclear program.
She looked at me rather glumly and said, “I think they’re going to get the bomb.”
I remember being shocked at that assessment. It seemed inconceivable to me that neither the United States nor the West would be capable of summoning the will to thwart such a threat to our civilization. In the event they did nothing, I at least felt certain that Israel would rise to the occasion and deliver a knockout blow to the Iranian reactors, much as it done to the Iraqis in 1981.
I am in shock no longer.
With each passing day it seems the commitment of our leadership to preventing Iran’s possession of nuclear weaponry becomes weaker. Barack Obama has ramped down the tough rhetoric in order win China’s and Russian support for sanctions. Hilary Clinton is even hinting about extending the U.S. nuclear shield to the Middle East, a clear sign of the administration’s resignation to the fact of a nuclear armed Iran. Israel looks increasingly hemmed in by an American administration which has no apparent patience for its claims of vulnerability to an Iranian missile attack.
Obama’s expectation that China and Russia will join the United States in a full throttle U.N. sanctions campaign against the Iranians seems sorely misplaced. The Chinese and Russians have displayed only tepid interest in such a campaign, with a willingness to undertake only the narrowest of sanctions, even as the Iranians are revealed to be purchasing vital equipment for constructing centrifuges from Chinese companies!
But the sanctions in and of themselves do not seem to be worth very much anyway.
A front page story in the Wall Street Journal on Monday April 4 indicated that freezes of Iranian assets have produced pitiful results to date, with only $43 m secured, or roughly a quarter of what Iran earns in a single day from its oil revenues.
There is almost no doubt that the Iranians are rolling with laughter at the apparent feebleness of the West in building an effective barrier to its acquisition of nuclear weaponry.
With such an absolute failure of resolve, could there be another way of bringing Iran to heel?
One way is to tie up the amount of refined petroleum making its way into Iran. Because it lacks sufficient facilities for refining crude oil, Iran must import nearly 40% of its petroleum needs from other countries. Seven years ago, during a petroleum shortage, there were riots in Iranian cities when the government was forced to impose steep increases in gas prices. Tightening access to refined crude could have an instant and dramatic impact on the regime. It is the kind of pressure that can quickly undermine the credibility of any government, as former U.S. president Jimmy Carter can well attest.
Another means, rarely mentioned or spoken about, is to destroy Iran’s purchasing power by making it conduct financial transactions in a currency other than dollars or euro. In Israel, an organization called Shurat HaDin , or the Israel Law Center, has been pursuing for years a strategy in which terrorist organizations and their state sponsors have been sued through United States courts on behalf of plaintiffs who have suffered injury or death from a terrorist attack.
Pending judgments against the Palestinian Authority have attached the P.A.’s U.S. based assets – namely bank accounts. Successful judgments like this can force many banks to eschew dealing with regimes that support or finance terror. The result could be an increasing skittishness among American banks in dealing with unstable regimes like the PA , which, in the event of the execution of the judgment, may need to open accounts in places as far distant as Argentina. This may serve to restrict or outright debar the PA from trading in American currency.
Finally, there is the pure threat of military force. Teddy Roosevelt, at the turn of the 20th Century, understood that diplomatic engagement with aberrant regimes needed to backed up by the quiet understanding that the United States would not renounce force as an option should diplomacy fail. The Iranians have shown that they are quite susceptible to this kind of unrealized threat. After the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in fear that they might be next, the Iranians made all kinds of conciliatory gestures towards the United States, including offers to curtail its nuclear program and improve diplomatic relations. A show of force in the Persian Gulf could make a substantial impression on the mullahs in Tehran who are as prone as any unpopular regime to tremble before a determined and overpowering force.
It is a mistake, then, to believe that there are no options available to the American government other than sanctions. The failure to do nothing other than bleat about the iniquity of the Iranians, at this point threatens a potential catastrophe for American prestige and diplomatic clout. For not only will it offer terrorist sponsoring states such as Syria and Yemen a hegemonic shield behind which it can conduct its more nefarious activities with impunity. It will also encourage allies who have been tentative about their allegiance to the United States in the first place, to drift from its sphere of influence and towards the China/ Russia bloc. This augurs the disintegration of American hard and soft power.
Both our two most recent presidents are on record as consistently stating that “all options are on the table” for dealing with the recalcitrant nuclear aspirations of the North Korean and Iranian regimes. But you can’t keep options on a table if you have already swept them under the carpet.
Sadly, that is the conclusion our adversaries may have already come to as American resolve to thwart the most significant threat to global stability in our generation, slowly collapses.