The Region: Onwards, Iran marches

It has been 15 months since Barack Obama called for ‘good-faith negotiations’ with the Islamic Republic on its nuclear program. Where are we now? Still talking about it.

mugabe ahmadinejad hold hands311 (photo credit: AP)
mugabe ahmadinejad hold hands311
(photo credit: AP)
Iran may be able to build a missile capable of striking the United States by 2015, according to a new US Department of Defense report. As I keep trying to explain, this isn’t all about Israel, because Iran will be able to hit any country in the region.
Yet the more likely danger is that the Iranian regime will use nuclear weapons “defensively.” In other words, it will intimidate, subvert and bring over to its side millions of people, changing the power balance in the region. And if anyone in the Arabic-speaking world wants to oppose it or do anything about it, Teheran will just use the possession of nuclear weapons to scare them into submission.
But won’t a US promise of protection reassure everyone? Take a look at current US policy and try to answer yes without laughing. And there’s another problem. Even if you know that the US will launch an attack in response, your country will still be flattened. Better to give in or even jump on the revolutionary Islamist bandwagon, many will conclude.
Meanwhile, we can still read headlines like this one: “US open to Iran nuclear fuel deal despite doubts.”
Oh, right! Let’s spend a few months going back to the nuclear fuel swap deal which Iran raised last September to sabotage the sanctions train so successfully. No problem. What could possibly be a reason to hurry in putting pressure on Iran?
That’s why the Pentagon report is so important. It warns: “Iran’s nuclear program and its willingness to keep open the possibility of developing nuclear weapons is a central part of its deterrent strategy.”
Please note what Iran’s deterrent strategy means in practice. Iran’s radical Islamist regime will be able to foment terrorism and revolution against Arab governments, try to take over Lebanon, promote Hamas in fighting Israel and overturning the Palestinian Authority, and target American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other things.
But if the US or others try to do something about it, Iran will use its possession of nuclear weapons to deter them. At the same time, it will use possession of nuclear weapons to foment appeasement among regional and Western states while simultaneously persuading millions of Muslims that revolutionary Islamism is invincible and they should join a movement headed for inevitable victory.
IN ADDITION, the report spoke of how Iran backs revolutionary Islamists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon (Hizbullah, to which Iran gives $200 million a year) and among the Palestinians (Hamas). What does the Pentagon report mean when it says that Iran views Hizbullah “as an essential partner for advancing its regional policy objectives”?
Teheran is conducting a campaign to seize hegemony in the Middle East and destroy US influence there. How are you going to engage and negotiate away that problem? While Iran may never give nuclear weapons to terrorist groups, it is not an encouraging precedent to note that it gives them all manner of non-nuclear weapons. In the report’s words, “Iran, through its long-standing relationship with Lebanese [Hizbullah], maintains a capability to strike Israel directly and threatens Israeli and US interests worldwide.”
Instead of a decisive US response, here’s how a veteran Defense Department official described what’s been happening in an interview with The Times of London, April 20: “Fifteen months into his administration, Iran has faced no significant consequences for continuing with its uranium-enrichment program, despite two deadlines set by [President Barack] Obama, which came and went without anything happening. Now it may be too late to stop Iran from becoming nuclear-capable.
“First, there was talk of crippling sanctions, then they [spoke of biting sanctions] and now we don’t know how tough they’re going to be. It depends on the level of support given by Russia and China – but neither is expected to back measures against Iran’s energy sector.”
The Washington Post comprehends the dangers: “A year-long attempt at engagement failed; now the push for sanctions is proceeding at a snail’s pace. Though administration officials say they have made progress in overcoming resistance from Russia and China, it appears a new UN sanctions resolution might require months more of dickering. Even then it might only be a shell intended to pave the way for ad hoc actions by the United States and European Union, which would require further diplomacy.”
And what would sanctions accomplish? Secretary of State Hillary Clintontold the Financial Times last week that “maybe... [they] would lead tothe kind of good-faith negotiations that President Obama called for 15months ago.”
Yet the notion that the hard-line Iranian clique now in power wouldever negotiate in good faith is far-fetched. It’s almost May 2010, theObama administration is almost 40 percent through its term in officeand Clinton is still talking about “good-faith negotiations.”
If the US wants to prevent a future war with Iran, the best way to doso is through tough sanctions now – not only to discourage Iran’snuclear program but to weaken its overall military might and confidence– and a comprehensive strategic campaign of its own to counter the“regional policy objectives” of Iran and Syria.
The writer is director of the GlobalResearch in International Affairs Center and editor of Middle EastReview of International Affairs and Turkish Studies. His personal blogcan be read at