Monday’s US presidential debate on foreign policy came and went. And we are none
the wiser for it.
Not surprisingly, at the height of the campaign season,
neither US President Barack Obama nor his Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney
was interested in revealing his plans for the next four years.
what was said, we can be fairly certain that a second Obama term will involve no
departure from his foreign policy in his current term in office.
as Iran and its nuclear weapons program is concerned, that policy has involved a
combination of occasional tough talk and a relentless attempt to appease the
mullahs. While Obama denied The New York Times
report from last weekend that he
has agreed to carry out new bilateral negotiations with Iran after the US
presidential elections, his administration has acknowledged that it would be
happy to have such talks if they can be arranged.
As for Romney, his
statements of support for tougher sanctions, including moving to indict Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the crime of incitement of genocide were
But they were also rather out of date, given the
lateness of the hour.
If there was ever much to recommend it, the
“sanction Iran into abandoning its nuclear weapons” policy is no longer a
relevant option. The timetables are too short.
On the other hand,
Romney’s identification of Iran as the gravest national security threat facing
the US made clear that he understands the severity of the threat posed by Iran’s
nuclear weapons program.
And consequently, if Romney defeats Obama on
November 6, it is likely that on January 21, 2013, the US will adopt a different
policy towards Iran.
The question for Israel now is whether any of this
matters. If Romney is elected and adopts a new policy towards Iran, what if any
operational significance will this policy shift have for Israel? The short
answer is very little.
To understand why this is the case we need to consider
two issues: The time it would take for a new US policy to be implemented; and
the time Iran requires to become a nuclear power.
In the aftermath of the
September 11, 2001, jihadist attacks on the US, then-president George W. Bush
faced no internal opposition to overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.
The US military and intelligence arms all supported the operation. Congress
supported the operation. The American public supported the operation. The UN
supported the mission.
And still, it took the US four weeks to plan and
launch Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. That is,
under optimal conditions, the US needed nearly a month to respond to the largest
foreign attack on the US mainland since the War of 1812.
Then of course
there was Operation Iraqi Freedom which officially began on March 20, 2003, with
the US-British ground invasion of Iraq from Kuwait.
Bush and his advisers
began seriously considering overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime in the spring
of 2002. They met with resistance from the US military. They met with a modicum
of political opposition in Congress, and more serious opposition in the media.
Moreover, they met with harsh opposition from France and Russia and other key
players at the UN and in the international community. So, too, they met
with harsh opposition from senior UN officials.
It took the
administration until November 2002 to get the UN Security Council to pass
Resolution 1441 which found Iraq in material breach of the cease-fire that ended
the 1991 Gulf War. The US and Britain began repositioning ground forces and war
materiel in Kuwait ahead of a ground invasion that month. It took more than four
months for the Americans and the British to complete the forward deployment of
their forces in Kuwait.
During those long months, other parties,
unsympathetic to the US, Britain and their aims had ample opportunity to make
their own preparations to deny the US and Britain the ability to win the war
quickly and easily and so avoid the insurgency that ensued in the absence of a
clear victory. So, too, the four months the US required to ready for war enabled
Iran to plan and begin executing its plan to suck the US into a prolonged proxy
war with its surrogates from al-Qaida and Hezbollah protégés.
Anglo-American victory would have involved the location, presentation and
destruction of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. And this Saddam denied
them. By the time US ground forces finally arrived, despite massive telltale
signs that such weapons had been in Iraq until very recently, no smoking gun was
In the long lead up to the US invasion, then-prime minister Ariel
Sharon warned that satellite data indicated that Iraq was transporting its
chemical weapons arsenal to Syria. Sharon’s warnings fell on deaf ears. So, too,
a report by a Syrian journalist that WMD had been transferred to Syria was
According to a detailed report by Ryan Mauro at PJMedia.com from
June 2010, after the fall of Saddam’s regime, the Iraq Survey Group, charged
with assessing the status of Iraq’s WMD arsenal, received numerous credible
reports that the chemical weapons had been sent to Syria before the
The stream of reports about the pre-invasion transfer of Iraq’s
WMD to Syria have continued to intermittently surface since the outbreak of the
Syrian civil war last year.
In short, at a minimum, the time the US
required to mount its operation in Iraq enabled Saddam to prepare the conditions
to deny America the ability to achieve a clear victory.
THIS BRINGS us to
Iran. In the event that Romney is elected to the presidency, upon entering
office he would face a military leadership led by Gen. Martin Dempsey that has
for four years sought to minimize the danger that Iran’s nuclear weapons program
poses to the US. Dempsey has personally employed language to indicate that he
believes an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons sites would
be an illegal act of aggression.
Romney would face intelligence,
diplomatic and military establishments that at a minimum have been complicit in
massive leaks of Israeli strike options against Iran and that have so far failed
to present credible military options for a US strike against Iran’s uranium
enrichment sites and other nuclear installations.
He would face a hostile
media establishment that firmly and enthusiastically supports Obama’s policy of
relentless appeasement and has sought to discredit as a warmonger and a racist
every politician who has tried to make the case that Iran’s nuclear weapons
program constitutes an unacceptable threat to US national security.
too, Romney would face a wounded Democratic base, controlled by politicians who
have refused to cooperate with Republicans since 2004.
And he would face
an electorate that has never heard a cogent case for military action against
Iran. (Although, with the goodwill with which the American public usually
greets its new presidents, this last difficulty would likely be the least of his
At the UN, Romney would face the same gridlock faced by his two
predecessors on Iran. Russia and China would block UN Security Council action
against the mullocarcy.
AS FOR the Arab world, whereas when Obama came
into office in 2009, the Sunni Arab world was united in its opposition to a
nuclear-armed Iran, today Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt favors Iran more than
it favors the US. Arguably only Saudi Arabia would actively support an assault
on Iran’s nuclear weapons sites. All the other US allies have either switched
sides, or like Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain are too weak to offer any open
assistance or political support. For its part, Iraq is already acting as Iran’s
satrapy, allowing Iran to transfer weapons to Bashar Assad’s henchmen through
All of this means that as was the case in Iraq, it would
likely take until at least the summer of 2013, if not the fall, before a Romney
administration would be in a position to take any military action against Iran’s
And it isn’t only US military campaigns that take
a long time to organize. It also takes a long time for US administrations to
change arm sales policies.
For instance, if a hypothetical Romney
administration wished to supply Israel with certain weapons systems that would
make an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear installations more successful, it
could take months for such deals to be concluded, approved by Congress, and then
This then brings us to the question of where will Iran’s
nuclear weapons program likely stand by next summer?
In his speech before the UN
General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that by next
spring or at the latest next summer Iran will have reached the final stage of
uranium enrichment and will be able to acquire sufficient quantities of
bomb-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon within a few months or even a few
Netanyahu said that the last opportunity to prevent Iran from
acquiring nuclear weapons will be before it reaches the final stage of uranium
enrichment – that is, by the spring. At that point, a hypothetical Romney
administration will have been in office for mere months. A new national security
leadership will just be coming into its own.
It is extremely difficult to
imagine that a new US administration would be capable of launching a preemptive
attack against Iran’s nuclear installations at such an early point in its tenure
Indeed, it is hard to see how such a new administration would
be able to offer Israel any material support for an Israeli strike against
Iran’s nuclear installations by next spring.
So this leaves us with
Israel. Over the past several weeks, there has been a spate of reports
indicating that Israel’s military and intelligence establishments forced
Netanyahu to take a step back from rhetorical brinksmanship on Iran. Our
commanders are reportedly dead set against attacking Iran without US support and
still insist that Israel can and must trust the Americans to take action to
prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
There is great plausibility
to these reports for a number of reasons. The intelligence and military brass
have for years suffered from psychological dependence of the US and believe that
Israel’s most important strategic interest is to ensure US support for the
country. Then, too, in the event that an Israeli strike takes place against the
backdrop of a larger military confrontation with Iran’s proxies in Syria,
Lebanon and Gaza, Israel would likely require rapid resupply of arms to ensure
its ability to fend off its enemies.
But when we consider the political
realities of the US – in the event that Obama is reelected or in the event that
Romney takes the White House – it is clear that Israel will remain the only
party with the means – such as they are – and the will to strike Iran’s nuclear
Israel is the only country that can prevent this genocidal regime
with regional and global ambitions from acquiring the means to carry out its