The Magazine

A Period of Consequences

Our dangerous Iran policy.

Jun 21, 2010, Vol. 15, No. 38 • By JAMIE FLY and WILLIAM KRISTOL
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

The passage last Wednesday of a fourth U.N. Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on Iran was the latest act in the tragicomedy that is U.S. policy toward Iran.

A Period of Consequences

Winston Churchill

Credit: Newscom

Administrations of both parties have pursued the same failed policy for the last several years. Even while successive rounds of sanctions against Tehran have been threatened and engagement tried, the Iranian regime has made steady progress towards a nuclear arsenal, supported terrorist groups, and assisted those fighting American troops in Iraq and Afghanistan—all without serious repercussion. 

Although President Bush spoke during his second term about “keeping the military option on the table,” it became apparent to Tehran that, distracted by other issues, Washington would not back up its words with actions. Now the Obama administration has virtually given up even referring to the use of force—except when administration officials warn of the supposed catastrophic consequences of any military attack against Iran’s nuclear facilities. Indeed, the Obama administration seems much more taken with the urgency of blocking an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear program than with stopping Iran’s nuclear program. And one routinely hears how very, very dangerous any use of military force against Iran would be. 

Would it be so dangerous? That is a debate the country needs to have, publicly and frankly, before it’s too late.

Critics of military action against Iran argue that it would open up a third front for American forces in the Middle East. Our troops would be at risk from Iranian missiles. Iran would block the Strait of Hormuz (causing oil prices to skyrocket) and use its terrorist proxies Hamas and Hezbollah to carry out attacks well beyond the Middle East, including perhaps on the U.S. homeland.

Yet if we carried out a targeted campaign against Iran’s nuclear facilities, against sites used to train and equip militants killing American soldiers, and against certain targeted terror-supporting and nuclear-enabling regime elements, the effects are just as likely to be limited.

It’s unclear, for example, that Iran would want to risk broadening the conflict and creating the prospect of regime decapitation. Iran’s rulers have shown that their preeminent concern is maintaining their grip on power. If U.S. military action is narrowly targeted, and declared to be such, why would Iran’s leaders, already under pressure at home, want to escalate the conflict, as even one missile attack on a U.S. facility or ally or a blockade of the Strait would obviously do?

Some in Washington seem resigned to letting Israel take action. But a U.S. failure to act in response to what is perhaps the greatest threat to American interests in decades would be irresponsible. Israel, moreover, lacks our full capabilities to do the job.

Despite our global commitments and our engagement in two ongoing wars, the U.S. military is fully able to carry out such a mission. Indeed, the success of President Bush’s 2007 surge of forces into Iraq and of President Obama’s sending additional resources to Afghanistan means we are on better footing to deal with Iran’s nuclear program than we were a few years ago.

Obviously, the best alternative in Iran is regime change brought about by domestic opposition. Unfortunately, President Obama waffled while innocent Iranians were killed by their own government a year ago after the fraudulent elections. To this day, he has done little to support the forces of freedom in Iran.  

It’s now increasingly clear that the credible threat of a military strike against Iran’s nuclear program is the only action that could convince the regime to curtail its ambitions. But instead of using the possibility of military action as leverage, the Obama administration has tried to soothe the mullahs’ nerves. It’s time to put Tehran on edge.

In a speech to the House of Commons in late 1936, Winston Churchill warned, “The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”

We, too, are entering such a period. We can act and make the world safer. Or we, and the rest of the free world, can choose to be the hapless victim of choices made by our enemies. For doing nothing in the face of danger, wishful procrastinating, and fearful delay are also choices—dangerous and dishonorable ones.

—Jamie Fly & William Kristol


Recent Blog Posts

The Weekly Standard Archives

Browse 18 Years of the Weekly Standard

Old covers