Sunday, February 22, 2009

Obama's Road To Iran

Doyle McManus has provided a rather nice bit of analysis on the new administration's likely approach to Iran. Underlying the column's argument is the assumption that Iran wants nuclear capability for weaponry rather than for the generation of power, and while that may in fact be the case, it is still an assumption. That caveat aside, I am cheered by the fact that President Obama and those he has surrounded himself with are thinking in terms of real-world outcomes to the various options currently available to them.

Most (and maybe all) of Obama's advisors see the costs of attacking Iran as outweighing the benefits. If Iran gets closer to acquiring nuclear weapons, they've warned, military action won't look any more appetizing than it did under George W. Bush.

But that doesn't mean the United States would do nothing. Instead, Obama aides suggested in their writings, the U.S. should pursue a Persian Gulf version of the containment strategy used against the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

What would that mean? For starters, a nuclear-capable Iran would face continued, serious pressure from the United States and its allies to dismantle whatever it had built. Obama might declare that a nuclear attack on Israel would be treated as an attack on the U.S. homeland. And the U.S. military would act to bolster Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states against conventional-warfare threats from an emboldened Iranian regime. ...

None of this thinking means Obama has abandoned hope in negotiations to stop Iran from building nuclear weapons. At this point, one official said, the administration is focusing on Plan A, not Plan B. But it's welcome evidence that behind the slogan of hope lies a realistic appraisal of the possible outcomes.

President Obama has more tools to work with than his predecessor because he has made it clear, both during his campaign and after, that he is willing to talk to Iran (and to listen) without any of the insulting preconditions listed by the Bush regime. He also can go to the rest of the world for guidance and assistance without any of the baggage of the last eight years. Europe knows that they are going to be dealing with an American president who has promised an end to unilateralism carried out with bombs. Russia rattled a few sabres and was met with a measured yet firm response. And China, with the drop in energy prices worldwide, does not need to fear angering the mullahs with whom they have negotiated major contracts.

Containment, which Mr. McManus refers to as "the middle way", does appear to be the best the US and the rest of the world can hope for, but it was a successful tactic during the Cold War, and should work as Plan B during these times. Meanwhile, Plan A, open and frank discussions with Iran, should proceed.

It's about time.

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