Over at National Review Online, Clifford May, the President of the National Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has written an excellent piece detailing our options for delaying or degrading a nuclear Iran.
His thoughts are illuminative for several reasons. First of all, he outlines historic antipathy between the United States and the Islamic Republic. Secondly, he summates the implications of a regional arms race. Third, and most importantly, he reviews the policy options available to the president, members of Congress, and candidates for the GOP nomination. As he notes, they aren't numerous.
From his perspective, diplomacy and outreach have failed -- now is the time for robust engagement with opposition leadership. Cyber attacks and "the untimely deaths of a number of Iranian scientists" are instructive of our covert action. Cold War era containment is inapplicable -- Soviet Russia was an atheistic state while Iranian theocracy runs on a millenarian countdown to the eschatological End Times. Appeasement, posturing and temporizing, "a fair description of both American and European policy toward Iran over the past three decades," demonstrates an inability or unwillingness to adequately address the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. However, May recommends we lead from behind, thus allowing Israel to demonstrate her "ingenuity and determination," buttressed by American support.
And finally, should all else fail, the military option:
A last resort, after all peaceful efforts have been exhausted, would probably feature an aerial campaign to destroy or degrade Iran's nuclear facilities -- with no boots on the ground. The risks and uncertainties of such action should not be minimized. By the same token, standing up to Khamenei and Ahmadinejad will not be easier once they possess a nuclear arsenal.
Allow me to expand upon said "risks and uncertainties."
Regardless of whether an aerial assault is conducted by the United State or Israel, the ramifications would be colossal. Military action would guarantee an increase in violence against American targets, both at home and abroad. Iran would win sympathy in the Arab street -- and across much of the Muslim world. Historic rivalries and antagonisms would undoubtedly fall by the wayside. We would allow the Islamic Republic to escape its current international isolation, and assume the "heroic" vanguard of anti-Americanism. Perhaps most importantly, air strikes would unite the Iranian people in their opposition to intervention, and cement support for what has become an increasingly unpopular ruling cabal. Moreover, it would harden the country's collective nuclear ambition.
All this for the sake of degrading -- not demolishing -- Iran's nuclear program. Something to consider before we pull the proverbial trigger...
Speaking proverbially, there's another "nuclear" option May fails to mention. Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) has proposed legislation designed to "collapse the Central Bank of Iran." It's expected to garner overwhelming bipartisan support. Previously, Senators Kirk and Shumer wrote the administration calling on the president to impose sanctions on Iran's central bank, which 92 senators signed. Sounds good on paper, but economists caution that such a measure would deal a devastating blow to a fragile international economy. Likewise, it remains to be seen whether manufacturing economic crisis in Iran will persuade the mullahs to abandon their date with nuclear destiny.