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We all know that military action is the only way to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of a state led by religious fanatics with a world-historical mission to wave the banner of Islam over the whole world. Yet the only credible threat of force resides with Israel, and we have been doing everything we can to undercut our ally, for whom a nuclear Iran represents an existential threat. In various ways, the administration has put pressure on Israel not to attack but rather to endorse the magical thinking that Iran will suddenly change its decades-long pursuit of nuclear weapons because of economic pressure. Thus General Dempsey, at the same time he stated Iran was not pursuing such a weapon, also said of the Israelis, “A strike at this time would be destabilizing and wouldn’t achieve their long-term objectives. I wouldn’t suggest, sitting here today, that we’ve persuaded them that our view is the correct view and that they are acting in an ill-advised fashion.” Of course, however “destabilizing” such an attack might be, it wouldn’t be as much so as a nuclear-armed Iran. And Israel’s first priority is not the price of oil, or the political comfort of other nations, but the continued existence of her own people.
The other tack is to highlight the prohibitive difficulty of such an attack, as the New York Times did Monday in a cover story headlined, “Iran Raid Seen As a Huge Task For Israeli Jets.” Yet as David Goldman reports, an analysis by Hans Rühl in Die Welt “is highly confident that Israel could knock out Iran’s nuclear program for a decade or more with about 25 of its 87 F-15 fighter-bombers and a smaller number of its F-16s.” Over at the Wall Street Journal, Edward Luttwak argues that the difficulty of a U.S. attack on Iran results from exaggerated estimates of target numbers made by the Pentagon during the Bush administration: “The overall bill for this assault was thus hugely inflated into a veritable air armada that would last weeks rather than hours, require more than 20,000 sorties, and inevitably kill thousands of civilians on the ground.” Ruled out by such inflation was “the option of interrupting Iran’s nuclear efforts by a stealthy overnight attack against the handful of buildings that contain the least replaceable components of Iran’s uranium hexafluoride and centrifuge enrichment cycle—and which would rely on electronic countermeasures to protect aircraft instead of the massive bombardment of Iran’s air defenses.” In other words, a decision not to act resulting from political self-interest and a geopolitical failure of nerve is rationalized as based on military concerns.
The Obama administration’s pressure on Israel is baffling. It must know that no matter what, Iran will not give up its facilities or conveniently forget the expertise they have acquired over the last few decades. This means that any solution––cooperating with U.N. inspectors, for example, or agreeing to a “freeze” on enrichment––that leaves this equipment and knowledge in the hands of the current Iranian regime will not prevent the mullahs from eventually acquiring the bomb. Like North Korea, Iran will cheat, lie, delay, and otherwise game the process to buy time to complete developing the weapons. Thus for Obama to browbeat Israel as he has been doing is inexplicable. As Mario Loyola writes at NRO:
“The U.S. should be helping the Israelis deter Iran’s further nuclear advance by helping them to scare the Iranians into thinking that an attack is coming. Instead, the Obama administration is doing everything possible to telegraph to Iran that we’re terrified of a conflict and are doing everything to prevent it. That’s exactly the same as inviting the Iranians to continue their pursuit of nuclear weapons. If there is an explanation for this, other than incompetence, I would love to know it.”
One should never rule out incompetence when explaining anything the Obama administration does. But history shows that people are usually more influenced by the unforeseen consequences and risks of action than they are by the consequences and risks of inaction. That’s where leadership comes in: good leaders show their people that the dangers of not acting are usually greater than those of acting, that there are always risks and costs to defending a nation’s interests and security, and that there is no cost-free, risk-free way to stop a determined fanatical aggressor. That’s what Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, and Ronald Reagan did in their times. And that’s what Barack Obama has proven he is incapable of doing in ours.
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