Fellow PolicyMic pundit Douglas Goodman recently brought an interesting idea to my attention. After reading an article I wrote about the latest round of P5+1 talks with Iran failing because of the U.S. and Israel having lofty demands, he suggested the following:
“What if the West pulls sanctions and says to Iran 'Prove it'? At the same time an attack is prepared. If Iran shows any verifiable signs of developing a nuclear warhead, a no notice attack is launched.”
Douglas is an astute guy, and I’ll admit that at first I had to think about why this was a bad idea, but it did come to me after a few minutes. Upon first glance, it may sound like a workable solution: the U.S. removes all sanctions, immediately providing desperately needed relief to Iran’s economy. Then, weapons inspections continue as they did in the past, but if any proof of a nuclear device is found, the U.S. launches a strike on Iran’s facilities without warning. Easy right?
Not really. First off, the word “verifiable” is incredibly ambiguous as we saw when the U.S. made its “case” for war with Iraq in 2003. This would allow hardline U.S. and Israeli leadership to come up with what they consider proof of a weapon, which would more than likely not be proof at all. Remember Colin Powell’s “yellowcake” argument before the United Nations?
This approach forces the U.S. into a war if Iran does in fact produce a nuclear weapon. What if a strike simply isn’t possible at the time? If the U.S. couldn’t pull the trigger, it would send a message to the rest of the world that our resolve is not what it once was. It would look weak, and quite frankly it would be.
Furthermore, what kind of a relationship can possibly be built based on threats? If the administration were to take on this policy option, it would be nothing more than a lazy cop out in place of a real effort at diplomacy. The mutual distrust would still be there, as well as the lack of collaboration on mutually beneficial policy imperatives that both countries desperately need to work on together.
Lastly, does anyone want to maintain a United States that is constantly ready for a war many times more dangerous than Iraq was? As I have argued in the past, no air campaign against a country like Iran will end as an air campaign. Iran will absolutely retaliate in a fashion it finds suitable, most likely with guerrilla-style terrorist attacks in Israel, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and any U.S. assets it can get its hands on. This will escalate the conflict, potentially leading to boots on the ground. A perpetual finger on the trigger does nothing but heighten tensions between everyone involved.
The way to a workable solution does not lie in threats of violence. Instead, both sides need to realize that the time of reckoning is upon them. Iran’s economy is being gutted and the longer the Iranian people go without jobs, affordable housing, and other essential goods and services, the more likely they will be to jump start the Green Movement to the chagrin of the regime. On the other side, the United States can’t afford the military option, economically, or morally. Further, if the U.S. can’t persuade Israel that a strike is a horrible option then it will likely be forced to help if Israel attacks.
This is a no-win situation for all involved, and everyone must figure out how to navigate their respective domestic political minefields and leave egos at the door if there is to be any hope of rapprochement.