The United States will not attack Iran to prevent her from acquiring nuclear weapons—and neither will Israel.
This prediction does not make me happy. Iran is a grave threat to her neighbors and the world, and in certain circumstances, a military attack by America might be the best way to deal with an Iranian bomb. But the evidence suggests that this will not happen.
Geo-political realities discourage American military action. A bombing raid would have to be intensive and prolonged, lasting 2 to 3 weeks, and even then, may not work. It would lead to attacks on American embassies and to missile attacks on Israel’s civilian population. Furthermore, in a military campaign lasting several weeks, the entire Moslem world would rally to Iran’s side. The recent rise of the Islamist parties in the Arab world also makes the Americans reluctant to act. It is not yet known if these parties will adopt a radical or moderate course, and an attack on a Moslem country would push them in the radical direction.
Add to all of this America’s economic difficulties and the war-weariness of the American people, and any American government will prefer economic sanctions against Iran to the uncertainties of a military strike. The Obama administration has asserted that all options remain on the table, but its preferred course is the program of sanctions that it has advocated, with considerable success, at home and in Europe. Dennis Ross, writing in the Wall Street Journal shortly after leaving the administration, made the case for the effectiveness of economic pressure in changing Iran’s policies.
And what is true for the Obama administration will be true for a Republican administration. Mitt Romney, who will be the Republican nominee for President, is a thoughtful and cautious man, the clear choice of the American business community and the Republican establishment. He has emerged as the overwhelming favorite for the nomination because of his relentless focus on America’s economic ills. When it comes to foreign policy, he has said the right things in order to win his party’s nomination, but he does not bring the same expertise and passion to foreign affairs that he brings to economic matters, and if elected, there is no reason to expect that he will depart from current American policy.
Mr. Romney’s most important statement to date on Iran appeared in the Wall Street Journal on November 10, 2011. Romney declared that he would not let Iran get nuclear weapons, but the essence of the article was a critique of Barack Obama for being insufficiently aggressive in his rhetoric on Iran, along with a call for tougher economic sanctions and more military coordination with Israel. In short, it had a tough tone but a moderate thrust. And the two most outspoken Republican candidates on the Iranian threat, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, did very badly in New Hampshire, while Ron Paul, whose policies are isolationist and anti-Israel, came in second behind Romney.
Some will argue that since America will not act, Israel must act on its own, but the simple fact is that Israel does not have the capacity to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities without the military and political backing of the United States—and this, for the reasons stated above, will not be forthcoming.
What this means is that unconventional methods short of outright war—such as the elimination of Iran’s nuclear scientists—must continue, and that those of us in America who worry about Iran need to be even more assertive in discussing the Iranian threat with our fellow citizens. And since economic sanctions are likely the best outcome that we will get, it is essential that these sanctions be exceedingly tough and cause maximum pain to Iran’s vulnerable economy.