This morning, Jennifer Rubin lambasted the Obama administration's "feckless Iran policy." Fair enough. I agree the president's approach has proven disjointed, at best, and "rudderless," at worst. Waging a shadow war in the global economy against a diabolical theocracy, while assassinating nuclear scientists and corrupting technology with the help of its arch-nemesis won't cultivate fertile soil for constructive engagement. And that's fine and dandy. These aren't the Khatami years and the "dialogue among civilizations" is off the table.
However, Rubin's hardline approach demonstrates an unfortunate artlessness on a number of levels -- it's both strategically and historically unfeasible.
To be clear, I'm not advocating some sort of Kumbaya approach to diplomatic persuasion. We can't simply tell Iran to surrender its nuclear ambition and play hands-off with Baghdad. Nor am I disavowing the unique threat presented by Iran, itself a potential nuclear power that boasts dodgy protégés in the Gulf States, Southern Lebanon, Northern Saudi Arabia and (for the time being) Damascus. But let's be realistic.
Rubin has drawn up a five point policy platform to deal with the Islamic Republic. I'll respond in kind.
First, like the Israelis, we need to enhance the credibility of our military threat.
Rubin goes on to suggest that "the idea is to disabuse the Iranians of the idea that President Obama is simply mouthing platitudes when he says 'all options are on the table.'" In other words, it's time to ramp up the jingoism to a level heretofore unheard of…which makes me a little nervous.
Talk is cheap. We can shake our fists as hard as we please in the general direction of the Persian plateau, but that's not going to discourage their desire to build the bloody bomb. Quite the contrary -- it will only serve to egg them on. Say what you will about the mullahs… they're rational actors and defensive realists. Security is a zero sum game. Khamanei shook his head in disbelief as Gaddafi fell to NATO powers absent the nuclear program he surrendered a decade back. Likewise Saddam.
Threats ring hollow unless we're ready to back them up, so enough with the "tough talk" nonsense. You can't threaten a war unless you're damn well ready to launch one. We're not going to "impress" the Iranians, as Rubin suggests, unless we do so with a massive bombing campaign and boots on the ground. Strafing fire and mixed sorties aren't going to get the job done. As I've written here repeatedly, this would only serve to diminish -- not destroy -- Iran's nuclear development, while cementing support for an increasingly unpopular and fragile regime. Unacceptable.
Second, the sooner Syrian President Bashar al-Assad goes, the better.
Fair enough, but Rubin should realize that even Tehran has begun to distance itself from Assad's shrinking cabal -- they've even taken meetings with opposition leadership in preparation for the embattled Alawite's eventual downfall. However, Rubin fails to mention what's really at stake. Damascus plays host to Iran's two main militant proxies in the Middle East, Hamas and Hizbullah. Absent Assad's assurances, diplomatic cover would be shed and supply routes severed. That's why we need him out, and ASAP. But not without the aegis of Arab League approval and the UN's R2P clause -- we just got out of one Arab country (make that two, if you count Libya) and we're not prepared to stumble blindly into another.
Third, the administration needs to stop dragging its feet on sanctions against the Central Bank of Iran and oil exports.
Um…not sure what Rubin's gripe is, here. The Treasury and State Departments are already in the process of implementing Menendez-Kirk sanctions -- which will ice the Central Bank of Iran, and summarily nick the Islamic Republic from the global payments system. Let's call it the "nuclear" economic option. The Senate approved the amendment with passage of the National Defense Authorization Bill back in December. If anything, Rubin should reserve her indignation for Timothy Geithner, but also recognize the impact that Menendez-Kirk is already having, including the absolute demolition of the Iranian rial.
Fourth, we should be treating Iran like the pariah state that it is, a violator of international law, an abuser of human rights and a sponsor of terror…We and our Western allies (Russia and China are nearly hopeless, I understand, but we need to try) should be pressing to exclude Iran from every international forum (from the United Nations to the Olympics), enacting a travel ban, freezing assets and the like. Iran is already at war with us…
Agreed, but we can't allow Ahmedinejad to play up his anti-American routine like he did during the latter half of the Bush administration. We want him wholly isolated at the global level. When he talks, we'd like no one to care. He's already losing his audience, even within his own country. Let's not provide his ammunition.
Fifth, regime change in Iran must be the official policy of the United States.
I would simply ask Ms. Rubin if she has the foggiest notion what got us into this mess in the first place. Believe it or not, Iranians don't have the fondest memories of U.S. orchestrated regime change on Persian soil. Let's leave it at that.
Finally, I'd note that Rubin's insistence on conflating America's military strategy and defense priorities with those of Israel is incredibly cavalier. Our alliance is undeniably important, but it is not fused by an unalterable, divine writ. Our policy need not mimick their posture.