Decisive action on the world stage has not been the Obama administration’s strong suit. Even when President Obama has pursued the correct policies — such as his eventual backing of the revolutionaries of the Arab Spring and his initial approach to Iraq and Afghanistan — he arrived at them only after much agonizing and often unnecessary caution.
So it was easy to predict the Obama administration’s response to the outrageous plot by the Iranian Qods force to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States in a Washington, D.C., restaurant: express indignation and threaten unspecified diplomatic action and international isolation.
But in this case, that standard response is going to put Americans at risk.
A rogue state sponsor of terror and a nuclear-weapons aspirant was caught plotting an attack that would almost certainly have killed Americans on U.S. soil. Iran has been killing Americans for decades. American lives have been lost at the hands of the Iranian-backed terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas. For years, U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan have been blown up by devastating Iranian-supplied explosive devices and gunned down by Iraqi Shiite snipers trained and equipped by Iranian government forces. Thirteen Americans were killed in the month of July alone by Iranian-backed Shiite militias, attacks that were publicly denounced by senior American officials but received no overt U.S. military response against the facilitators inside Iran. The same can be said of the U.S. response to Iran’s continued provocative actions as it progresses toward a nuclear weapons capability.
Since President Obama took office, Iran has steadily crossed redline after redline in its nuclear weapons program. This has been met with a mix of silence or public bluster about additional sanctions. Remember the “crippling sanctions” promised by Secretary Clinton in April 2009? Now Iran possesses a stockpile of several weapons’ worth of enriched uranium, has a formerly secret centrifuge enrichment facility coming online, is making significant strides in its ballistic missile program, and is reportedly conducting ongoing weaponization work. These developments have all been met with nothing more than a series of relatively toothless U.N. Security Council resolutions and some stern lectures from American and European diplomats.
As developments this week make abundantly clear, our disgraceful attempts to “engage” the despotic regime in Tehran — even as Iranians tried to overthrow their leaders in 2009 and even as Americans were dying in Iraq and Afghanistan at the hands of the Qods force — have failed.
Fortunately, there is a template for action from President Obama’s predecessors in the Oval Office. An appropriate response would be targeted strikes against key regime facilities that support Iran’s illicit activities.
As President Clinton told the American people in June 1993 when he announced cruise missile strikes on Iraq after it was revealed that Iraqi president Saddam Hussein had plotted to assassinate former President George H. W. Bush:
From the first days of our revolution, America’s security has depended on the clarity of this message: Don’t tread on us. A firm and commensurate response was essential to protect our sovereignty; to send a message to those who engage in state-sponsored terrorism; to deter further violence against our people; and to affirm the expectation of civilized behavior among nations.
Or as President Reagan justified his air strikes against the regime of Moammar Qaddafi in April 1986:
We Americans are slow to anger. We always seek peaceful avenues before resorting to the use of force—and we did. We tried quiet diplomacy, public condemnation, economic sanctions, and demonstrations of military force. None succeeded. Despite our repeated warnings, Qadhafi continued his reckless policy of intimidation, his relentless pursuit of terror. He counted on America to be passive. He counted wrong. I warned that there should be no place on Earth where terrorists can rest and train and practice their deadly skills. I meant it. I said that we would act with others, if possible, and alone if necessary to ensure that terrorists have no sanctuary anywhere. Tonight, we have.
Until now, the president has chosen to be the hapless victim of Iran’s machinations. It is time for President Obama to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors and stand up to tyrants who kill Americans and threaten our interests.
It is time to take military action against the Iranian government elements that support terrorism and its nuclear program. More diplomacy is not an adequate response.
— Jamie M. Fly is executive director of the Foreign Policy Initiative.