Jackson Diehl of the Washington Post must have read my PJ Media column where I speculated that the Obama Administration - like the Bush Administration before it - has all but accepted the fact of a nuclear Iran:
The Obama administration’s positive tone following its first diplomatic encounter with Iran covers a deep and growing gloom in Washington and European capitals. Seven hours of palaver in Geneva haven’t altered an emerging conclusion: None of the steps the West is considering to stop the Iranian nuclear program is likely to work.
Not talks. Not sanctions, even of the “crippling” variety the Obama administration has spoken of. Not military strikes. And probably not support for regime change through the still-vibrant opposition.
For obvious reasons, senior officials won’t state this broad conclusion out loud. But it’s not hard to find pessimistic public statements about three of the four options. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called the prospects for diplomacy “very doubtful.” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has said military action will do no more than “buy time.” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, echoing private statements I’ve heard from the Obama administration, told me last week that a strategy of backing the Iranian opposition “would take too long” and might well produce a government with the same nuclear policy.
Diehl points out that far more ruinous sanctions against Saddam Hussein, coupled with regular bombings, failed to move Iraq toward obeying UN resolutions And there are those who point out that sanctions in Iran will even be counterproductive in that support for the opposition will decline in the face of the hardships engendered by a crippling loss of fuel in any gasoline embargo. The regime will easily be able to paint anyone who opposes them as supporting those who are bringing such pain to the Iranian economy.
And regime change? We would do well to remember that even the more “moderate” Iranian clerics are anti-American and anti-Israel. And as we saw in Pakistan, the drive for nuclear weapons, and ultimate possession of them, is a matter of enormous national pride regardless of what kind of government is in power.
By the way, the recently revealed facility at Qom has non-proliferation experts extremely worried. That enrichment plant would need feeder stock for the centrifuges. But the largest known ore processing facility at Esfahan is watched constantly by inspectors. Therefore, the logic goes, a secret enrichment facility would be supplied by a secret processing facility, while that facility would be serviced by other unknown plants and labs. It makes any talks with Iran extremely problematic.
Diehl posits a likely scenario regarding talks with Iran:
In the meantime, talks about the details of inspections and the uranium shipments could easily become protracted, buying the regime valuable time. (On Friday the Associated Press quoted a member of the Iranian delegation as saying it had not, in fact, agreed to the uranium deal.) Meanwhile, Tehran’s tactical retreat has provided Russia and China with an excuse to veto new sanctions — something they would have been hard-pressed to do had Iran struck an entirely defiant tone in Geneva.
The Obama administration and its allies have said repeatedly that they will pursue diplomacy until the end of the year and then seek sanctions if diplomacy hasn’t worked. That sets up a foreseeable and very unpleasant crossroads. “If by early next year we are getting nothing through diplomacy and sanctions,” says scholar Kenneth Pollack of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center, “the entire policy is going to be revealed as a charade.”
What then? Pollack, a former Clinton administration official, says there is one obvious Plan B: “containment,” a policy that got its name during the Cold War. The point would be to limit Iran’s ability to produce nuclear weapons or exercise its influence through the region by every means possible short of war — and to be prepared to sustain the effort over years, maybe decades. It’s an option that has been lurking at the back of the debate about Iran for years. “In their heart of hearts I think the Obama administration knows that this is where this is going,” Pollack says.
The background to all this is increased interest by the Saudis and other Arab nations in acquiring nuclear technology of their own. The French have been most gracious in this regard and the US has also been involved. This is certainly part of any containment strategy; letting the Iranians know in not so subtle ways that other nations can also crack the nuclear safe and develop their own capability.
I can understand the frustration of some who think that the military option - even if bombing results in only a short bit of breathing space with regard to Iranian nukes - should not be taken off the table by the US. But the risks are so enormous to our interests and friends in the region that the only real justification for bombing, much less invasion and regime change, would be to set back the Iranian program a decade or more; just as Israel did with the Iraqi program by bombing the reactor at Osirak.
This is why I believe we are already in the process of shifting our policy to reflect the reality that, if Iran wants to build a bomb, there is precious little we can do to stop them without risking a general war in the Middle East and having our military and interests in the region suffer severe damage.