The Limits of American Power

Caroline Glick is the Director of the David Horowitz Freedom Center's Israel Security Project and the Senior Contributing Editor of The Jerusalem Post. For more information on Ms. Glick's work, visit carolineglick.com


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

Monday’s US presidential debate on foreign policy came and went. And we are none the wiser for it.

Not surprisingly, at the height of the campaign season, neither US President Barack Obama nor his Republican challenger Gov. Mitt Romney was interested in revealing his plans for the next four years.

But from what was said, we can be fairly certain that a second Obama term will involve no departure from his foreign policy in his current term in office.

As far as Iran and its nuclear weapons program is concerned, that policy has involved a combination of occasional tough talk and a relentless attempt to appease the mullahs. While Obama denied The New York Times report from last weekend that he has agreed to carry out new bilateral negotiations with Iran after the US presidential elections, his administration has acknowledged that it would be happy to have such talks if they can be arranged.

As for Romney, his statements of support for tougher sanctions, including moving to indict Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the crime of incitement of genocide were certainly welcome.

But they were also rather out of date, given the lateness of the hour.

If there was ever much to recommend it, the “sanction Iran into abandoning its nuclear weapons” policy is no longer a relevant option. The timetables are too short.

On the other hand, Romney’s identification of Iran as the gravest national security threat facing the US made clear that he understands the severity of the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

And consequently, if Romney defeats Obama on November 6, it is likely that on January 21, 2013, the US will adopt a different policy towards Iran.

The question for Israel now is whether any of this matters. If Romney is elected and adopts a new policy towards Iran, what if any operational significance will this policy shift have for Israel?

The short answer is very little.

To understand why this is the case we need to consider two issues: The time it would take for a new US policy to be implemented; and the time Iran requires to become a nuclear power.

In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, jihadist attacks on the US, then-president George W. Bush faced no internal opposition to overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The US military and intelligence arms all supported the operation. Congress supported the operation. The American public supported the operation. The UN supported the mission.

And still, it took the US four weeks to plan and launch Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. That is, under optimal conditions, the US needed nearly a month to respond to the largest foreign attack on the US mainland since the War of 1812.

Then of course there was Operation Iraqi Freedom which officially began on March 20, 2003, with the US-British ground invasion of Iraq from Kuwait.

Bush and his advisers began seriously considering overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s regime in the spring of 2002. They met with resistance from the US military. They met with a modicum of political opposition in Congress, and more serious opposition in the media. Moreover, they met with harsh opposition from France and Russia and other key players at the UN and in the international community. So, too, they met with harsh opposition from senior UN officials.

It took the administration until November 2002 to get the UN Security Council to pass Resolution 1441 which found Iraq in material breach of the cease-fire that ended the 1991 Gulf War. The US and Britain began prepositioning ground forces and war materiel in Kuwait ahead of a ground invasion that month. It took more than four months for the Americans and the British to complete the forward deployment of their forces in Kuwait.

During those long months, other parties, unsympathetic to the US, Britain and their aims had ample opportunity to make their own preparations to deny the US and Britain the ability to win the war quickly and easily and so avoid the insurgency that ensued in the absence of a clear victory. So, too, the four months the US required to ready for war enabled Iran to plan and begin executing its plan to suck the US into a prolonged proxy war with its surrogates from al-Qaida and Hezbollah protégés.

A CLEAR Anglo-American victory would have involved the location, presentation and destruction of Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction. And this Saddam denied them. By the time US ground forces finally arrived, despite massive telltale signs that such weapons had been in Iraq until very recently, no smoking gun was found.

In the long lead up to the US invasion, then-prime minister Ariel Sharon warned that satellite data indicated that Iraq was transporting its chemical weapons arsenal to Syria. Sharon’s warnings fell on deaf ears. So, too, a report by a Syrian journalist that WMD had been transferred to Syria was ignored.

According to a detailed report by Ryan Mauro at PJMedia.com from June 2010, after the fall of Saddam’s regime, the Iraq Survey Group, charged with assessing the status of Iraq’s WMD arsenal, received numerous credible reports that the chemical weapons had been sent to Syria before the invasion.

The stream of reports about the pre-invasion transfer of Iraq’s WMD to Syria have continued to intermittently surface since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war last year.

In short, at a minimum, the time the US required to mount its operation in Iraq enabled Saddam to prepare the conditions to deny America the ability to achieve a clear victory.

THIS BRINGS us to Iran. In the event that Romney is elected to the presidency, upon entering office he would face a military leadership led by Gen. Martin Dempsey that has for four years sought to minimize the danger that Iran’s nuclear weapons program poses to the US. Dempsey has personally employed language to indicate that he believes an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran’s nuclear weapons sites would be an illegal act of aggression.

Romney would face intelligence, diplomatic and military establishments that at a minimum have been complicit in massive leaks of Israeli strike options against Iran and that have so far failed to present credible military options for a US strike against Iran’s uranium enrichment sites and other nuclear installations.

He would face a hostile media establishment that firmly and enthusiastically supports Obama’s policy of relentless appeasement and has sought to discredit as a warmonger and a racist every politician who has tried to make the case that Iran’s nuclear weapons program constitutes an unacceptable threat to US national security.

Then, too, Romney would face a wounded Democratic base, controlled by politicians who have refused to cooperate with Republicans since 2004.

And he would face an electorate that has never heard a cogent case for military action against Iran. (Although, with the goodwill with which the American public usually greets its new presidents, this last difficulty would likely be the least of his worries.)

At the UN, Romney would face the same gridlock faced by his two predecessors on Iran. Russia and China would block UN Security Council action against the mullocarcy.

AS FOR the Arab world, whereas when Obama came into office in 2009, the Sunni Arab world was united in its opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran, today Muslim Brotherhood-ruled Egypt favors Iran more than it favors the US. Arguably only Saudi Arabia would actively support an assault on Iran’s nuclear weapons sites. All the other US allies have either switched sides, or like Jordan, Kuwait and Bahrain are too weak to offer any open assistance or political support. For its part, Iraq is already acting as Iran’s satrapy, allowing Iran to transfer weapons to Bashar Assad’s henchmen through its territory.

All of this means that as was the case in Iraq, it would likely take until at least the summer of 2013, if not the fall, before a Romney administration would be in a position to take any military action against Iran’s nuclear installations.

And it isn’t only US military campaigns that take a long time to organize. It also takes a long time for US administrations to change arm sales policies.

For instance, if a hypothetical Romney administration wished to supply Israel with certain weapons systems that would make an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear installations more successful, it could take months for such deals to be concluded, approved by Congress, and then executed.

This then brings us to the question of where will Iran’s nuclear weapons program likely stand by next summer?

In his speech before the UN General Assembly last month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said that by next spring or at the latest next summer Iran will have reached the final stage of uranium enrichment and will be able to acquire sufficient quantities of bomb-grade uranium for a nuclear weapon within a few months or even a few weeks.

Netanyahu said that the last opportunity to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons will be before it reaches the final stage of uranium enrichment – that is, by the spring. At that point, a hypothetical Romney administration will have been in office for mere months. A new national security leadership will just be coming into its own.

It is extremely difficult to imagine that a new US administration would be capable of launching a preemptive attack against Iran’s nuclear installations at such an early point in its tenure in office.

Indeed, it is hard to see how such a new administration would be able to offer Israel any material support for an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear installations by next spring.

So this leaves us with Israel. Over the past several weeks, there has been a spate of reports indicating that Israel’s military and intelligence establishments forced Netanyahu to take a step back from rhetorical brinksmanship on Iran. Our commanders are reportedly dead set against attacking Iran without US support and still insist that Israel can and must trust the Americans to take action to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.

There is great plausibility to these reports for a number of reasons. The intelligence and military brass have for years suffered from psychological dependence of the US and believe that Israel’s most important strategic interest is to ensure US support for the country. Then, too, in the event that an Israeli strike takes place against the backdrop of a larger military confrontation with Iran’s proxies in Syria, Lebanon and Gaza, Israel would likely require rapid resupply of arms to ensure its ability to fend off its enemies.

But when we consider the political realities of the US – in the event that Obama is reelected or in the event that Romney takes the White House – it is clear that Israel will remain the only party with the means – such as they are – and the will to strike Iran’s nuclear installations.

Israel is the only country that can prevent this genocidal regime with regional and global ambitions from acquiring the means to carry out its goals.

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  • Ghostwriter

    At least a President Romney will have Israel's back. President Obama doesn't really seem to care a whole lot about Israel.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "President Obama doesn't really seem to care a whole lot about Israel."

      I'm sure that's sarcastic understatement that really translates in to, "President Obama seems determined to fulfill promises made to certain Islamic imperialists like Rashid Khalidi and others."

    • Ghostwriter

      Well,objectivefactsmatter,from what I've seen of the Obama Administration,he doesn't seem to care a whole lot for Israel. His words and actions seem to suggest that.

  • RonL

    For 8 years, I have been talking about the threat Iran poses to AMERICA. AIPAC and Israel's "friends" in America continue to aid Iran by framing the issue only in terms of Israel.
    America will not go to war for Israel.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "For 8 years, I have been talking about the threat Iran poses to AMERICA. AIPAC and Israel's "friends" in America continue to aid Iran by framing the issue only in terms of Israel.
      America will not go to war for Israel."

      That's a rather stupid statement. The point is that Israel and the USA are allies. "Framing only in terms of Israel" means you have filters in your brain.

  • jose

    Caroline, if obama hussein is elected he will tell Israel to stand down. If Israel were to do a pre-emtive strike against Iran's nuclear arsenal, Obama would certainly aide Iran in a counter strike on Israeli forces. Obama would call the attack from ISRAEL an illegal attack on a peaceful sovereign neighboring country. We all know he abandoned our consulate in lybya. Many innocents were raped and murdered because of his lack of concern for defending americans under attack. Even though this was American territory and citizens of america their was no action to defend them. ISRAEL gets even less empathy than what happened to those people in Lybya. You should understand what the true intentions of mr hussain may in fact be " Nukeicide". :(

  • riverboatbill

    Operation: "Push the Red Button" would take about one half hour to eliminate Iran's WMD's.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Operation: "Push the Red Button" would take about one half hour to eliminate Iran's WMD's."

      In short, you are correct. The Israelis can't count on that and she is preparing her readership for unilateral action, which may be their only option.

  • NAHALKIDES

    At least Romney would be supportive of an Israeli strike, that is, he would consider it justified and could provide important logistical support (if Obama hasn't withdrawn all forces from the Middle East by then).

  • PaulRevereNow

    It isnt' simply a matter of Israel's top military commanders thinking they're dependent on the U.S. Who is behind Iran? Which country supports Iran? Why, Russia, of course. What would Russia do if Israel strikes Iran? Very possibly launch an attack on Israel. Israel needs the U.S. to strengthen and reverse policy towards Russia; such as beef up Europe's NATO missile defenses. However, Romney could quickly increase U.S. naval presence in the Persian Gulf, to support an Israeli strike.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      Russia was the other geopolitical "big threat" cited by Romney during the campaign. Perhaps China is third, but only if you consider Iran and Islam as a package.

      (Radical) Islam
      Russia
      China

      Romney's rhetoric is consistent with reality.

    • Raymond in DC

      "What would Russia do if Israel strikes Iran? Very possibly launch an attack on Israel."

      You should realize (as Russia certainly does) that Israel's (alleged) nukes can reach parts of Russia.

  • pennylane

    Israel has , and never had any intent to strike Iran. If it ever had, it would have done so long ago without much ado.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "Israel has , and never had any intent to strike Iran. If it ever had, it would have done so long ago without much ado."

      Correction: "Israel has , and never had any intent to strike Iran unilaterally."

      They want help and support from their allies. Wow, what evil people.

    • Mary Sue

      Um, where have you been? They DID, back in the 80s.

  • kathleen

    As far as I can detect from Ms Glicks assumptions ISRAEL is Between a rock & a hard place to decide taking on Iran by herself.
    Additionally methinks Ms Glick seems not to trust either :
    i.e No Romney versus Obama
    So,she sounds very pessimistic toward Romney..
    I beg to differ here anyone who replaces BHO is a bonus where Israel is concerned.

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "As far as I can detect from Ms Glicks assumptions ISRAEL is Between a rock & a hard place to decide taking on Iran by herself.
      Additionally methinks Ms Glick seems not to trust either :
      i.e No Romney versus Obama
      So,she sounds very pessimistic toward Romney."

      When you consider her readership, you realize she is preparing them for the potential need to make difficult decisions about attacking unilaterally. I don't disagree with your sentiments about the USA, but she is not wrong either. It's not her job to perform cheer-leading for Romney at this point, especially to Israelis. She's expressing her concerns for a worst-case scenario, or cautioning Israelis not to lose their determination to deal with Iran as a result of Romney seeming to come to the rescue. He might not be able to pull it off if the circumstances go sideways at all. She's right to be concerned for Israel.

      Americans have less to worry about from Iran, that's the bottom line.

      I personally feel that no more nukes should not be tolerated at all, and we should have already bombed Iran. If I were elected, I'd order the bombing in inauguration day. That's why I'm not electable. Romney is. Let's see where that gets us.

  • kathleen

    An addendum :On the WMD's Saddam had:Indeed he had them.But transferred them to Syria.
    Qute true and not an imagination.Proof POSITIVE (even if some may scoff at my suggestion)
    TRUTH IN ESSENSE…
    And now they are in the hands of Bashir al Assad the butcher next door to Israel .
    HE (assad) Already tried to build a nuclear plant with N.Korean help but the ever vigilant Israel destroyed it ….
    p/s Thought I'd remind some here

    • objectivefactsmatter

      "An addendum :On the WMD's Saddam had:Indeed he had them.But transferred them to Syria.
      Qute true and not an imagination.Proof POSITIVE (even if some may scoff at my suggestion)
      TRUTH IN ESSENSE."

      Anyone who doubts this hasn't looked for the evidence, or skims the headlines for bias confirmation. They revel in lines like, "Bush lied, people died" and that's all the "evidence" they care about…claims from lying politicians who oppose Republican administrations as a non-negotiable strategy.

  • Horace

    What is Israel thinking when it acts to help the overthrow of Assad and install Islamists. As it turns out Saddam wasn't as much of a threat as the new Iranian client Malaki of Iraq who is beholden to and aiding Iran every chance he gets. Mubarak was replaced by Islamists with the hots to obliterate the Jews. King Abdullah in Jordan is on the ropes, with Islamists ready to take over. Pakistan is wildly Islamist and just as dedicated to the destruction of Israel as Achmadinejad, and already has a large arsenal of nukes, and missiles to deliver them to Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Bomb Iran now if you like, but a large united Islamic Caliphate from Turkey to Morocco sending millions of suicidal fanatics armed with conventional rockets rpgs, body bombs and plain old macine guns and hand grenades converging on Israel seems like more of a threat. Just tell Iran loudly and repeatedly that Israel will incinerate it if it tries to atttack, and bomb it then. Exploit the Sunni-Shiite split now, save Assad for a while. Israel shouldn't have abandoned the South Lebanon Army. Most Jews in the USA are pro Obama (therefore anti Israel) and anti Christian to the core. Good luck.

  • objectivefactsmatter

    In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, jihadist attacks on the US, then-president George W. Bush faced no internal opposition to overthrowing the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. The US military and intelligence arms all supported the operation. Congress supported the operation. The American public supported the operation. The UN supported the mission.

    "And still, it took the US four weeks to plan and launch Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001. That is, under optimal conditions, the US needed nearly a month to respond to the largest foreign attack on the US mainland since the War of 1812."

    Not to diminish her point, but if nukes were threatening us from Afghanistan, it could have been dealt with that hour, not 4 weeks later.

  • objectivefactsmatter

    "For instance, if a hypothetical Romney administration wished to supply Israel with certain weapons systems that would make an Israeli strike against Iran’s nuclear installations more successful, it could take months for such deals to be concluded, approved by Congress, and then executed."

    That's what executive orders are for.

  • amused

    Never have I seen such ignorance as that displayed on this thread . First of all an Invasion of Afghanistan was not necessarry , because while the Taliban and Bin Laden AND Zarwahiri and the one eyed Sheik were all in one place having their "mock hearing on whether Bin Laden was guilty of 9/11 one squadron of jet bombers could hve taken the entire Taliban leadership out in ONE STRIKE . The subseqwuent invasion of Iraq was equally ILL-ADVISED .
    A far as Israel acting Unilateraly , What just happened in Sudan ? What happened to the Osiris Reactor in Iraq ? Or the attempt to build one in Syria ? That's right ! When threats become existential Israel will act alone to eliminate the threat .Iran's economy is on the verge of collapse , the sanctions are working ,otherwise WHY would Iran suggest one on one talks with the US , regardless of who wins the election ?

    • Mary Sue

      "Necessity" is very subjective these days. Personally I think Afghanistan was worth it simply for the fact that they were throwing acid in girls' faces, keeping them from going to school, destroying schools for girls, and they're still at it (re: the shooting of a 14 year old girl they see as a "traitor".)

      Iraq is another subjectivity, but if you were paying attention back then you'll recall that Saddam refused to comply with UN resolution 1441, and then subsequently, just prior to the invasion, he had all the goods trucked out to Syria (corroborated by a Syrian Journalist and sattelite photos of the trucks in question crossing the border). I find it ironic that when they did get Saddam, he justified his actions, claiming that he HAD to be brutal just to keep order. These were the lengths he had to go to in order to have some semblance of civilzation, or so he claimed. If he was in fact telling the truth, it paints a picture of a very different mindset in that part of the world that we are not accustomed to dealing with. Which probably explains why the desired aftereffects have not been easily obtained and even now seem elusive. But at least Saddam won't be marching on Saudi Arabia or Kuwait anymore.

      Personally I think Canada knows full well Israel WILL act on its own, why else would they have pulled all their diplomats out and kicked all of Iran's out of Canada?

      • WalkTall Hang Loose

        Afghanistan would have been worth if it had worked. But it didn't, and that was clear by 2003. After 10 more years of death and destruction, Aghanistan is not a stable democracy and the Taliban have not been defeated. As you say, 'they are still at it.' War is not an efficient method of changing an educational system.

        Saddam did not refuse to comply with 1441: he make the declaration he was asked to do, and after some initial problems the inspectors were able to make good progress with their work. It was 1441 that said there should be inspections, and it was the US and its allies that broke 1441 when they decided to invade before the inspections were completed. Why? Because the inspectors started to disprove the US intelligence, and it looked as if the US would lose its excuse for war if they allowed the inspections to continue any longer.

        After the war the Iraq Survey Group made a thorough study and found no evidence of recent WMD developments. Their report carries much more weight than the word of a single journalist and some photos of some trucks, content unknown.

  • WalkTall Hang Loose

    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran:

    “The Iranian nation has never pursued and will never pursue nuclear weapons. There is no doubt that the decision makers in the countries opposing us know well that Iran is not after nuclear weapons because the Islamic Republic, logically, religiously and theoretically, considers the possession of nuclear weapons a grave sin and believes the proliferation of such weapons is senseless, destructive and dangerous.”

    US National Intelligence Estimate on Iran, 2007:

    “We judge with high confidence that in fall 2003, Tehran halted its nuclear weapons
    program… We judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years… We assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons program as of mid-2007…”

    Every IAEA report on Iran:

    “The Agency has been able to continue to verify the non-diversion of declared nuclear material in Iran.”

    At the moment, there is no nuclear weapons program in Iran. They could not start one without leaving the NPT. Then everyone would know about it. There Is No Need to Panic.

    • Mary Sue

      And you're going to believe what those guys say? Remember, Bush didn't throw out all the Clintonites when he took office. They are enriching uranium as we speak.

      Mid 2007? It's now 2012. That was 5 years ago.

  • amused

    Many on this thread think there will be a "difference " between Romney's "Red Line " and Obama's . All that is , is partisan banter , for circumstances unforseen at the moment will dictate actions to be taken .Israel however , has it's own perception of that "Red Line " . And if need be will act unilateraly which inturn the position of the US will be forced .

  • Mr. Polly

    "genocidal regime with regional and global ambitions"

    Projection?

  • Ghostwriter

    No,Mr. Polly. That perfectly describes Iran under the Mullah to a T.