Preventing Iran from getting the capability to manufacture nuclear bombs is obviously high on the list of concerns for the White House, and will be for the foreseeable future. Finding a way to do that is another issue entirely. While pundits from the U.S. often talk about the concept of “spin” in news reports, our journalists are amateurs in comparison with the religious leaders in Iran. And that is part of our current problem in dealing with their leadership.
On a very simplistic level, Americans are incapable of fully understanding the depth of resolve in Iran. It is a cultural divide that exacerbates the situation. The region in general is influenced to this day by tribal and clan feuds dating back thousands of years. In Islamist regimes like Iran, government is backed by God, as far as the people are concerned. That, coupled with the relative isolation of the nation from the rest of the world, leaves religious leaders there with the ability to spin the story about the current trade restrictions against Iran as an evil plot by infidels, or whatever they choose. While those leaders control to some extent what information gets in to the citizens, they also control what gets out. Only recently, the West got a taste of what could be a daily occurrence in Iran for all we know – citizens protesting against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Add to that the fact that Iran has a history of instability, and cannot under any circumstances be trusted to honor promises or treaties, and it becomes one of the most difficult diplomacy problems facing the U.S.
It is a given that Iran will be a large part of the foreign policy debate between Obama and Romney this fall. But, it will necessarily be in general terms that will likely be useless in practice, and will only be for the benefit of the public and pundits. And it is unlikely that there will be much from Romney’s side that will differ greatly from the current course of action, if for no other reason, because the options are fairly limited. No one that wants to be elected this November will suggest military action in Iran, outside of unmanned air-strikes, or limited surgical actions to reduce Iran’s ability to produce enriched Uranium. And any debate on that would be limited to what is already known publicly about those operations, so there would be logistical issues to address in such a plan – Iran apparently has been building facilities underground, presumably out of the reach of conventional air-strikes.
While the release of video showing domestic unrest is somewhat heartening, it is without real context. Yes, the people are angry with Ahmadinejad, but they could just as easily be more angry with the U.S. – a likely scenario, given that they are undoubtedly given daily doses of anti-Western rhetoric from clerics. The video evidence is also anecdotal, so it would be foolish to think that it is a sign of a potential mass uprising and eventual regime change. For the true cynics out there, change might not be good either – there are no guarantees that once the dust settles, the new leadership would be any friendlier with the U.S. or Israel.
Arab nations in the region add to the instability of the situation as well. Syria’s problems give Iran incentive to move forward faster toward nuclear capabilities, since that nation is its only real ally in the region. Then there is the issue of other Arab nations seeking nuclear arms in the wake of Iran accomplishing that end. That alone is arguably the greatest reason for preventing Iran from entering the nuclear club.
Then there is the possibility that Israel would render all U.S. diplomatic considerations moot by initiating a strike against Iran. If this happens before November, it would radically change the situation for our election, obviously. If it happens at all, it virtually guarantees U.S. involvement in yet another war. Any plan for preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear capabilities that does not take Israel into consideration should be left on the drawing board. If Romney wants to truly exploit deficiencies in the Obama course of action, this is it. The current administration’s diplomatic failures with Israel should be tied into the Iran problem.
The one thing this administration might have done right was to enlist Russia in the diplomatic process. There is a tiny glimmer of hope that their restarting of talks with Tehran may cause the end of the current problem. While it may not leave all parties happy, since it may result in Iran’s ability to export power from nuclear plants, it is at least progress.
As for finding a winning strategy in Iran, perhaps the answer lies in the middle, between extending an open hand as the Obama administration is doing, and offering only a fist, like Iran. But, no matter what is chosen, if the U.S. does not stop characterizing itself as a weakling on the world stage, our nation will pay for it. There is such a thing as tough diplomacy, and as a nation, we need to embrace that stance once again.