Former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton tells NRO that President Obama is living in a “virtual reality” if he believes that the talks this week in Vienna over Iran’s nuclear program will yield any significant results. The meetings, hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are aimed at convincing Iran to ship low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for more processing, in order to prevent Iran from enriching uranium on its own. “Obama’s intent for direct interaction is just read as weakness by Tehran,” says Bolton.
“President Obama doesn’t understand the nature of the regime he’s facing,” says Bolton. “He doesn’t understand the determination of the Iranians to get nuclear weapons, and he doesn’t understand the risk that a nuclear Iran poses to the region. On all three critical points, he fails.”
“The president, so intent on rejecting the eight years of Bush, is ignoring important history,” says Bolton. “On Iran, Bush policy is indistinguishable from Obama policy. They are both based on the idea of negotiations and threatening sanctions, all of which have failed for years. That strategy will not work now, either.”
“You have to set today’s talks in the context of nearly seven years of failed European Union negotiations,” says Bolton. “All of those talks were aimed at getting Iran to give up its uranium-enrichment program. Those failed, and Iran got seven years closer to getting nuclear weapons.”
Instead of spinning his progress with Iran, Obama has to come to grips with the reality of the situation, says Bolton. “Right after the Geneva talks, the Obama administration spun that Iran agreed to a deal to ship low-enriched uranium to Russia. Russia denied that they had made a deal. Obama then said that Russia had signed on to strict sanctions, and that turned out to be untrue. This president must learn how to distinguish real realities from virtual realities.”
“Negotiations or sanctions won’t work,” says Bolton. “The real choice, though an unattractive option of course, is the use of force. As unattractive as the use of force is, the only practical alternative is an Iran with nuclear weapons.”
If Israel were to attack Iran, Bolton says that it would be “an act of self-defense” and a classic example of the “preemptive use of military force to prevent danger from emerging.”
Bolton adds that, should military force be used against Iran, nuclear weapons would not be required. “Israel should use conventional military forces,” says Bolton. “Those could break Iran’s forces.”
A military strike, says Bolton, “is still a very risky proposal for Israel. It wouldn’t solve the problem, but it would buy time. Typically, time is on the side of the proliferators, who need to overcome numerous scientific and production obstacles. By breaking Iran’s grip on the nuclear-fuel cycle, it would destroy their enrichment capability and change the equation.”
“I had hoped that President Bush would use force before he left,” says Bolton. “I do not see any prospects of the U.S. using force with President Obama. The main question now is whether we will be helpful to Israel if they decide to strike and won’t throw obstacles in Israel’s path.”
If Israel attacks, Iran is “most likely to unleash Hamas and Hezbollah to attack Israel,” says Bolton. “The United States will need to supply weapons to make sure Israel remains secure.”
President Obama, says Bolton, should also be considering a long-term solution to the Iranian problem: regime change. “We need to get rid of the entire group of leaders from the revolution of 1979,” says Bolton. “If Iran had representative government, they wouldn’t pursue nuclear weapons.” Bolton says the U.S. should continue to support democratic movements in Iran.
To read his recent NR cover story on Iran, go here.