The International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) report on Iran’s nuclear program represents another increase in international anxiety over the growing possibility of an Iran with nuclear weapons. This report also brings attention to Israel’s potential military action in response to a belligerent Iran.
The Obama administration’s reaction to the report, and the situation as a whole, must show tremendous restraint in the face of a growing call to military action. Obama must heed the lessons of Iraq and wait for international consensus that avoids unilateral action by the United States. While Israel might pressure for American action against Iran, it is up to Israel to decide its own fate and do its part to avoid a chaotic meltdown of the region.
The most obvious plea for restraint with Iran comes from the past decade of experience, the Iraq War. It is important to remember the drumbeat for war as the Bush administration and the media built up an unfounded momentum that resulted in a costly human and financial toll for the United States. Obama cannot act upon intelligence and conclusions that are shrouded by political pressure and repeat the mistake of his predecessor.
While the IAEA report only serves to confirm some of the fears about the weaponization of Iran’s nuclear problem, the problem must be confronted with increased international sanctions and consensus on addressing the problem. It may be argued that international sanctions are ineffective, but they are the only sensible option. Any response that includes military action in Iran would be disastrous for the United States and would have serious implications for American allies in the region, allies like Israel and Saudi Arabia who already have adversarial relationships with Iran.
Both the U.S. and Israel know that unilateral action would have a host of grave consequences for the provocateur. Unlike in Israel’s past strikes against foreign weapons sites, a strike against Iran would lead to intense bloodshed throughout the region. Israel would immediately have to contend with a variety of terrorist organizations with ties to Iran and would embroil itself in a long, vicious war against an enemy that is a strong geopolitical weight in the region.
The news of a nuclear Iran is not a shocking revelation about the power dynamic in the Middle East. Israel has had nuclear capabilities for some time, a fact that gives Iran all the more incentive to acquire its own. Even with a nuclear capability, Iran has strong incentives to prevent a nuclear war in the region. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, even with his eccentricities, is well aware of the destruction that military aggression would have for his country. A regional war would surely dry up a substantial portion of Iran’s oil producing wealth and lead to international intervention that would destroy his government’s already uncertain future. The Iranians have learned from Libya that giving up weapons of mass destruction takes away any deterrent that would prevent a foreign invasion and therefore have strong incentives to acquire nuclear weapons, even if they don’t intend to use them.
The reality of a nuclear Iran puts America in a tough position but the only practical solution is one of international consensus. If the U.S. decides for a military intervention, they are only guaranteeing chaotic bloodshed in the Middle East. While it is not attractive to sit back and try to contain the problem from afar, it is the best option that will prevent a conflict that would have many, if not more, of the consequences that plagued the intervention in Iraq.
If Obama has the courage to ignore the reckless call for military action, he can avoid being on the wrong side of history and prevent an unnecessary war.
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