President Obama Should Resist Calls for War With Iran and Continue to Use Sanctions

Iran has been in the news often lately because of rising tensions with the U.S. and Europe. Iran is trying desperately to acquire nuclear weapons, and the Obama administration has declared that it will not let that happen. 

But how do we prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons? By quietly choking out the regime with diplomatic pressure and covert operations. Iran is ruled by an unstable government suffering from internal division and unpopularity among its citizens, and the country’s leadership is suffering deeply from the effects of international sanctions. Poking holes in a leaky ship is a sure way to sink it.

The Iranian regime is desperate, but they are not stupid. Every government has one ultimate goal whether they are a dictatorship or a democracy: Stay in power. The regime is trying to protect itself by acquiring nuclear weapons. But allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons would stoke fears of World War III igniting in the Middle East by ceding the country a dangerous bargaining chip.

Iran is engaged in a bloody, ideological conflict with other Middle Eastern powers. The Iranian regime promotes a firebrand version of Shiite Islam. The vast majority of Arab countries promote moderate forms of Sunni Islam. Ideological differences have driven Iran’s theocratic regime to wage small-scale, covert, multi-theater war in the Arab world. They supported Shiite militias in Iraq and sent members of the Revolutionary Guard across its borders to attack Iraqi and U.S. soldiers. The same condition exists in Afghanistan. The Iranian theocracy also has a powerful influence over Syria, a country on the verge of collapse after civil protests spurred an all-out civil war that is descending into chaos. And Iran provides funding, training, and weapons to Hamas and Hezbollah.

For years, Arab countries have been begging the U.S. behind closed doors to strike Iran. In fact, Arab countries feel so threatened by Iran that they would secretly thank (but publicly condemn) Israel for attacking them. But outright war is not the answer. 

Iran is too large and too populous to invade, and the U.S. cannot afford to roll out another massive land war in the Middle East anytime soon. Also, invading the country would be counter-productive because it would destroy any possibility of forging a positive relationship with the people of Iran, who are our natural cultural allies as illustrated by their brave (but failed) Green Revolution in 2009. Further, it is not the responsibility of the U.S. to play global super-cop, especially not when we shoulder the burden of cost in dollars and lives to protect access to oil that all countries benefit from and thus, should share the burden of cost for.

Since taking office in 2009, the Obama administration has worked with the international community to apply smart sanctions against the Iranian military, attacking the bank accounts and funding sources of its leaders and their cronies. The size of Iran’s economy is equivalent to the economy of Massachusetts and the regime relies on oil for over 70% of its revenues. With recent strengthening of joint U.S.-European sanctions, the leadership of the country is being starved by having their oil trading massively reduced. At the same time, the Obama administration has also cooperated closely (and quietly) with Israel to execute a targeted plan of assassinations, cyber attacks, and bombings aimed at disrupting the Iranian government’s nuclear program. While these attacks are never publicly acknowledged, they have been highly successful.

If you look at a map of the Middle East, you will notice that every country bordering Iran is under U.S. influence: Iraq and Afghanistan were both invaded by the U.S. and are directed by (at least, tacitly) pro-American governments, the CIA and U.S. special forces both operate in Pakistan, the U.S. military maintains a presence in Turkmenistan and has major military bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. Oman is a key energy trading partner of the U.S., Armenia will begin holding military exercises with the U.S. this year, France recently opened military bases in the UAE, and Turkey and Saudi Arabia are major U.S. allies. From the Iranian regime’s point of view, they are completely surrounded and desperate to assert themselves against U.S. and Arab power. So the only way to deter Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is to ensure that the price of acquiring those weapons becomes too expensive for the regime to stay in power.

The Obama administration has been using smart power to bend Iran’s regime to the will of the international community. In the coming months (and possibly years) you will hear a lot of talk coming from Iran and the United States. But as long as the Obama administration controls U.S. foreign policy, there will not be a war with Iran. Instead, Iran’s regime will continue to weaken under pressure by the U.S. and its allies and will, at the very least, either give up its nuclear program or not be able to construct a bomb. And at best, Iran’s theocracy will be weakened enough for its people to overthrow them. Either way, we win.

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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Reese Neader

Policy Director for the Roosevelt Institute Campus Network.

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