Time for U.S. to rat­tle the saber

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

As the United States and five other world pow­ers en­gage in talks in Moscow with Iran over its pro­duc­tion of high-grade ura­nium, Wash­ing­ton ought to mean­ing­fully de­ploy the in­stru­ment of mil­i­tary power from its oftcited all-op­tions-on-the-ta­ble rhetoric. The United States sat down Mon­day with Ira­nian of­fi­cials and coun­ter­parts from China, Rus­sia, France, Bri­tain and Ger­many to ad­dress Tehran’s grow­ing stock­pile of en­riched ura­nium.

Iran for years has threat­ened in­ter­na­tional peace with its nu­clear as­pi­ra­tions. Tehran claims its ura­nium pro­cess­ing is only for en­ergy and med­i­cal re­search, but the world has grave and jus­ti­fi­able con­cerns about a se­cret nu­clear-weapons pro­gram as well as Iran’s cal­cu­lated run­ning out of the clock un­til its arms project comes on­line.

Over the years, Wash­ing­ton and the United Na­tions have slapped on an ar­ray of ev­er­tighter sanc­tions against Iran, to no avail. End­less talks and sum­mits also have failed to ar­rest Iran’s nu­clear am­bi­tions. Judg­ing by his­tory, only the cred­i­ble show of mil­i­tary ac­tion will get Tehran’s at­ten­tion for a res­o­lu­tion.

We’ve been here be­fore. An early ex­am­ple of res­o­lute ac­tion to stare down a rogue took place with North Korea as the Soviet Union fell into the his­tor­i­cal dust­bin. Un­re­strained by the Krem­lin, Py­ongyang stepped up its nu­clear op­er­a­tions. U.S. satel­lites soon de- tected nu­clear ac­tiv­ity con­tra­ven­ing the Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion of Nu­clear Weapons Treaty, signed by Py­ongyang in 1985. In re­ac­tion, Pres­i­dent Ge­orge H.W. Bush scaled back his en­gage­ment pol­icy to­ward the North and de­layed the planned with­drawal of 6,000 U.S. troops from South Korea. Then-Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Colin L. Pow­ell ut­tered an un­char­ac­ter­is­tic threat: “If [the North Kore­ans] missed Desert Storm, this is a chance to catch a re­run.” Amer­ica’s mil­i­tary power, tech­no­log­i­cal su­pe­ri­or­ity and, mostly, un­apolo­getic res­o­lute­ness stood awe­somely pre-em­i­nent af­ter its stun­ning vic­tory in the Per­sian Gulf War.

Py­ongyang was awed, and it re­lented be­cause of Mr. Bush’s in­sis­tence. It ac­cepted in­ter­na­tional weapons in­spec­tions in May 1992. The In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency’s probe un­cov­ered the North’s du­plic­i­tous ac­count­ing for 90 grams of sep­a­rated plu­to­nium. To this day, that rev­e­la­tion re­mains the loose thread that un­rav­eled mul­ti­ple pre­var­i­ca­tions about plu­to­nium re­pro­cess­ing un­til the coun­try’s fiz­zled nu­clear test in 2006 con­firmed all the sus­pi­cion of its true de­signs.

Even the bel­li­cose Sad­dam Hus­sein sud­denly be­came amenable to read­mit­ting U.N. arms in­spec­tors af­ter Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush went to the Gen­eral Assembly in Septem­ber 2002. There, Mr. Bush pledged that U.N. res­o­lu­tions against Iraq for sus­pected il­licit nu­clear and chem­i­cal arms “will be en­forced — or ac­tion will be un­avoid­able.” Mr. Bush’s warn­ing and the mas­sive mil­i­tary buildup un­der way in Kuwait and Qatar per­suaded Sad­dam to drop his re­stric­tions and open the door to the U.N. Mon­i­tor­ing and Ver­i­fi­ca­tion Com­mis­sion. Pre­vi­ously, he had frus­trated U.N. searches un­til the com­mis­sion’s pre­de­ces­sor pulled out of Iraq in 1998.

In the wake of the U.S. and al­lied in­ter­ven­tion to top­ple Sad­dam, other rogues grew wary. Be­liev­ing a sim­i­lar fate awaited him, the Libyan tyrant, Moam­mar Gad­hafi, felt in­ti­ma­tions of mor­tal­ity. Soon af­ter the “shock and awe” phase in the Iraq War, he was quoted in Le Fi­garo as say­ing that “when Bush has fin­ished with Iraq, he’ll turn on us.”

Libya’s tyrant flinched and aban­doned his nu­clear-arms goal, which A.Q. Kahn, the Pak­istani sci­en­tist and nu­cle­ar­weapons ped­dler, had aided and abet­ted in the Libyan deserts. Gad­hafi rat­ted out Khan to the world, opened his nu­clear and chem­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties to in­ter­na­tional in­spec­tors and brought his coun­try in from the cold al­most a decade be­fore he was ousted by his re­bel­lious coun­try­men. Mr. Bush un­sub­tly greeted the Libyan U-turn when he said, “In words and ac­tions, we have clar­i­fied the choices left to po­ten­tial ad­ver­saries.”

The U.S. in­cur­sion into Iraq also may have yielded a tem­po­rary pause in Iran’s nu­cle­ar­arms pro­gram. Tehran cer­tainly was ap­pre­hen­sive that Amer­i­can forces might roll east­ward onto Ira­nian soil. The Na­tional In­tel­li­gence Es­ti­mate in 2007 de­clared in a still-con­tro­ver­sial re­port that Iran halted se­cret work on nu­clear arms in 2003. The mo­ment of panic passed as the spread­ing Iraqi in­sur­gency pre­oc­cu­pied Wash­ing­ton. More­over, the Iraqi Study Group, a panel con­vened by Congress to find a way out of Iraq, sug­gested among its 79 rec­om­men­da­tions that Wash­ing­ton reach out to Iran to sal- vage its fail­ing pol­icy.

A be­seech­ing Wash­ing­ton sig­naled to Tehran that Amer­ica was not to be feared. Mr. Bush re­trieved the founder­ing coun­terin­sur­gency with ad­di­tional troops and a new strat­egy. But Iran still un­der­stood that it had dodged a bul­let. Soon af­ter, the in­com­ing Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion looked for rap­proche­ment with Iran be­fore tight­en­ing sanc­tions.

What is his­tor­i­cally clear is that sanc­tions have played no role in per­suad­ing rogue regimes to stand down their nu­clear pro­grams. Tough lan­guage com­bined with the cred­i­ble threat of mil­i­tary force of­fers a surer course for diplo­macy than sanc­tions alone. The com­ments re­cently ut­tered by Dan Shapiro, U.S. am­bas­sador to Is­rael, to an Is­raeli au­di­ence are a step in the right direc­tion and should be en­dorsed by the Oval Of­fice. The envoy stated that the United States is not just willing to use mil­i­tary ac­tion to stop Iran from build­ing nu­clear arms but the “nec­es­sary plan­ning has been done to en­sure that it’s ready.” A steel-edged dec­la­ra­tion from Mr. Obama backed by an un­mis­tak­able dis­play of armed might would go fur­ther than the overused and hol­low phrase that “all op­tions are on the ta­ble” when re­fer­ring to his ad­min­is­tra­tion’s ap­proach to Iran.

Thomas Hen­rik­sen is se­nior fel­low at Stan­ford’s Hoover In­sti­tu­tion and au­thor of the book “Amer­ica and the Rogue States” (Pal­grave Macmil­lan, June 19, 2012).

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