If all else fails, in early 2010, the White House should elevate consideration of the military option. This need not involve a strike. A naval blockade would help ensure the effectiveness of proposed sanctions, such as an embargo on gasoline imports. Ultimately, though, a U.S.-led military strike is a feasible, albeit risky, option of last resort.It is now three weeks into the New Year and nothing has been done to address Iran’s missed deadline. As Iran gets closer to a nuclear weapon, the risks of catastrophe grow. Despite the fact that the administration’s naïve foreign policy eschews the discussion of military options, it is pertinent that such discourse begins. The administration must take the lead on quashing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, particularly before Israel feels compelled to take matters into their own hands.
Next month's talks may be one of the last opportunities to diplomatically address the advancing Iranian nuclear threat. If Iran chooses to waste yet another such chance, President Obama will have no choice but to fulfill his February commitment to "use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon."
An increase in the threats of (credible) military action would have two effects. First, it would provide disincentives to the otherwise obdurate Iran. As has been readily apparent, the carrots of negotiation and talk have done nothing to dissuade Iran’s quest for nuclear weaponry. The nation has developed an uncanny ability to work the system. By adding a healthy dose of ‘sticks’ to the bounty of carrots, the administration can hope to dissuade Iranian behavior.
However, such threats cannot be baseless. Iran may very well attempt to call a bluff. The administration must be ready to show that promises of military action are sincere. In order to limit the possibility of war, lower-scale military conflict, such as the naval blockade that Coats, Robb, and Wald suggest, can be the ‘bluff-testing’ actions. This would give the West ample opportunity to prove its commitment to ending the Iranian threat without immediately necessitating war.
Second, an increase in bellicose rhetoric would assuage some of Israel’s disquietude. The small Jewish state is rightly concerned with a nuclear Iran. Ahmadinejad has long called for the destruction of Israel. The Israeli government will not sit idly as Iran develops a nuclear arsenal. However, It is in America's interest to lead any potential military action against Iran. An Israeli-led conflict, that will most defintely pull in the United States, will have negative effects on global opinion and support for the war making its prosecution all the more difficult.
However, Israel is understandably wary about preemptively attacking Iran. Contrary to its past attacks on nuclear facilities in Iraq and Syria, a military strike on Iran’s facilities would be extremely difficult. In all likelihood, as a recent article in The Economist discusses, a preemptive strike would most likely fail to completely eliminate the Iranian threat. Furthermore, any attack, either from Israel or the United States, would certainly lead to a counterattack on the Jewish state.
However, unlike what seems to be an increasing acceptance of a nuclear Iran in the White House, Israel is unlikely to tolerate a regional game-changer. The Obama administration is obviously restraining Netanyahu, but will only be able to do so for so long. At the end of the day the threat of annihilation will outweigh any pitfalls of a military excursion or the cajoling from America. In order to prevent full military action it is necessary for the administration to finally take the mantle of leadership and rely on the use of military threats. The Obama Doctrine of extending hands to clenched fists has proven a dismal failure. However, it is not too late for the President to alter his foreign policy.