All the Errors of Our Iran Policy, in Two Minutes

by Mario Loyola

Today on Meet the Press outgoing defense secretary Leon Panetta and chairman of the joint chiefs of staff Martin Dempsey packed all the major fallacies of our Iran policy into just two minutes:

I’ve been in government, and I like Panetta, but I cannot for my life understand why the administration insists on this stupid talking point about how nothing indicates that Iran has decided to develop nuclear weapons. All the relevant information indicates that Iran has decided to develop nuclear weapons. That’s been true since ten years ago, when Iran’s secret military nuclear program was first revealed. Nobody at all believes Iran’s laughable “energy independence” justification for the program, but every element of that program is necessary for a country developing both uranium and plutonium warheads. So we know, of certain knowledge, that Iran not only has a nuclear weapons program — it has two of them. 

The larger issue, however, is whether we can really defend ourselves without the right to presume that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. That right should follow naturally from Iran’s consistent refusal to address the legitimate security concerns of those states that feel threatened by its nuclear program, and yet our policy appears to construe ambiguities in Iran’s favor. The most troubling legacy of the “intelligence failure” before the Iraq War is that our national security establishment has essentially accepted the burden of proving that a WMD terrorist attack is imminent before taking any action prevent it. That should strike the casual commonsense observer as a recipe for suicide, and it is. 

Next Chuck Todd asked General Dempsey, “Do we have the capability to stop this militarily?” Dempsey affirmed that we have the ability to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability, “But stopping is a political decision. . . . Intentions have to be influenced through other means.” In other words, we can destroy Iran’s nuclear program, but convincing them to abandon it has to be done by non-military means.

If that seems reasonable to you, consider the larger implication for a moment: If Dempsey is correct, then our military power has no dissuasive value. In other words, he thinks that Iran cannot be militarily deterred from proceeding with its nuclear weapons development. That of course leads to the general consensus within the national-security establishment, namely that we can destroy most of Iran’s nuclear program, but we can’t really stop them from getting nukes, because they can quickly constitute the program. As I’ve argued in the past, treating diplomacy as separate from military power virtually guarantees that both will fail. The real military option against Iran is not a matter of destroying its program, but rather of convincing Iran to abandon it. If you start by asking what our military can do to rattle Iran’s nerves without risking a major war, you realize that Iran is a lavishly target-rich environment. Instead we’re busy making a shameful demonstration of how easy it is for any two-bit government to rattle our nerves. 

These fallacies are why Iran isn’t the least bit scared of us while it continues to pursue nuclear weapons hell-for-leather. We had better fix that, and fast.

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