This weekend, The New York Times reported on a secret, three-page memorandum that was composed by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and sent to President Obama’s national security advisor this past January. The document highlights Gates's fear that the United States is not adequately prepared for a nuclear Iran, while calling for effective long-term strategies in dealing with the defiant Mideast nation. This unintended admission showcases the American government's lack of long-range preparedness in the face of an aggressive and resistant Iran, while leaving many to wonder how the administration will confront Iran’s ever-increasing volatility.
The recent memo, written just three months ago, is startling in its own regard, as it appears to warn the White House that the U.S. is ill-prepared for the potential nuclear fruits of Iran’s defiance. While this memo does, indeed, provide new internal insight, experts have been aware of the horrific dangers of a nuclear Iran for years. On Mon., Reuters reported that, with “sufficient foreign assistance,” Iran may have the capability to strike the U.S. with a missile by 2015. This, teamed with Iran’s very obvious nuclear ambitions and a plethora of “what ifs” should sanctions fail, has many experts worried about what is to come. As time progresses, Iranian leaders are making it clear that, regardless of Western pressures, nuclear plans are forging onward.
Over the past two weeks the Iran/U.S. saga has intensified. Just days prior to the memo's release, Gates told reporters that he does not anticipate Iranian ability to produce nuclear weapons for at least another year. While this may seem like a settling piece of information, one year is hardly enough time to make viable headway with a nation that shows no signs of yielding. Gates vocalized this timeline in response to recent statements from Behzad Soltani, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization. According to Voice of America,
"Iran's Fars news agency quotes the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization as saying "no country would even think about attacking Iran" after it joins the nuclear club. Fars also quotes the official, Behzad Soltani, as saying Iran plans to expand nuclear technology for "purposes other than energy and fuel production."
This exchange of sorts occurred around the same time last week that President Obama met with 47 world leaders to discuss global nuclear security. As Time Magazine reports, the event was an attempt by Obama to build support for international sanctions against Iran. In warding off U.S. pressures, Time reports that “…Iran has relied on its commercial relations — especially with Russia and China — to thwart U.S. efforts to isolate Iran.” Coincidently, Iran was not invited to Obama’s conference, so the nation held its own “summit” to counteract the U.S.-led event. In sum, 60 nations were in attendance (13 more than attended the U.S. conference), including representatives from both Russia and China.
Following the wake of the memo’s release, Gates seems to be downplaying the concerns that the document has sparked. However, the Jan. 2010 memorandum exposed appropriate urgency in a matter that can no longer be ignored. In the original memo, Gates plainly stated that the U.S. “...does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability.” In an effort to put the Jan. 2010 memo into context, Gates attempted to explain why he issued what some see as a “jolt to action” for the Obama administration. Gates said,
"The memo was not intended as a 'wake up call' or received as such by the President's national security team. Rather, it presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision making process."
In the end, regardless of the PR game administration officials are likely playing, the main story here is that the U.S. lacks long-term strategy in dealing with a dangerous and volatile rogue nation – a nation that is doing little to nothing to comply with international requests that it stop utilizing nuclear materials. Regardless of what Gates intended, or believes for that matter, the lack of a solidified plan is more than evident. So, the natural question is: Where do we go from here?
Obama’s nuclear summit was likely a starting point for what is to come. On April 14, just four days before the now-infamous memo leaked, The Los Angeles Times quoted Gates as saying that a broad, international agreement is extremely important if the U.S. plans to make headway with Iran. In fact, the Obama administration is pushing so hard for something viable that officials are willing to adopt weaker sanctions than they would like, so long as the United Nations and the international community join forces in furthering Iranian isolation. According to the Times,
[Gates] said a Security Council resolution "provides a new legal platform" for individual nations or groups such as the European Union to take more stringent action. In that way, the UN resolution acts as a "launching pad" for economic strictures that are much tougher than those adopted by the world organization, [Gates] said.
This indicates that the Obama administration is settling for whatever compromise its international colleagues are willing to make. As a result of pushback from other nations, the U.S. has abandoned a push for a ban on petroleum heading to and coming from Iran. With Turkey, China and Russia serving as potential blockades to Security Council action (the latter two have recently joined talks), U.N. sanctions may be weak at best. Still, the Times notes that insiders believe that U.N. agreement, regardless of strength in tone, makes a statement to Iran and is essential to the formulation of smaller contingencies of nations that, under U.S. leadership, may embrace stricter sanctions. While only time will tell how the scenario will play out, swift and stringent U.S. policy is surely due.