Iran and the Bomb: What Are Our Options and What are the Candidates Saying?

Romney: “I will speak out forcefully on behalf of Iranian dissidents. I will back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option. I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously. I will increase military assistance to Israel and coordination with all of our allies in the region. These actions will send an unequivocal signal to Iran that the United States, acting in concert with allies, will never permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”

 Romney: “Look, one thing you can know and that is if we reelect Barack Obama, Iran will have a nuclear weapon. And if we elect Mitt Romney, if you elect me as the next president, they will not have a nuclear weapon.”

Gingrich: “If my choice was to collaborate with the Israelis on a conventional campaign or force them to use their nuclear weapons, it would be an extraordinarily dangerous world if out of a sense of being abandoned they went nuclear and used multiple nuclear weapons in Iran. That would be a future none of us would want to live through.”

Gingrich: “I think replacing the regime before they get a nuclear weapon without a war beats replacing the regime with war, which beats allowing them to have a nuclear weapon.”

Obama: “Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal. But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.”

We are getting again into the silly season of politics trumping good sense and reality on security policy. One of these issues clearly has to do with actions against Iran, which, along with China, Russia, and North Korea, has become a focus of much political posturing and little calm analysis and thought in our presidential debates. 

The Iran issue has many levels of complexity, uncertainty, and contingencies, as well as clear dangers and a number of options or approaches. The main problem is the desire of some to drive the debate and work towards a single thrusting action of preemptive war. This is what was done when the Bush II administration drove us mindlessly into war in Iraq. The time has come to stand back a bit and give thought to not only the options “on the table,” as President Obama said, but also about what can accomplish our goals with the least cost to human lives and, in all probability, serious unintended consequences.

The uncertainties include just how close Iran has come to actually having a bomb and just how much and to what degree the uranium has been enriched. Further, there is belief that a final decision has not yet been made to proceed with the making of the bomb. What is clear is that Iran is moving in a steady course towards that capability and acting like it would cross the line.

The other question is what are its intentions and final goals. Does it just want to have the bomb but would never use it….a kind of latent “protection” and leverage? Or would Iran threaten the use of the bomb or perhaps use it in some way? This last action would likely precipitate the consequential retaliation with nuclear weapons with essential destruction of Iran society. Not a pleasant outcome with some British understatement.

Along with the bomb itself, the question becomes the means of delivery and how to protect any weapons that might be built. Do you put the bomb on missiles, on planes, on ships or subs, or do you use them in a clandestine way via disguised or cloaked delivery mechanisms? Each of these options has its problems and very high risks for Iran. Surely the Iranians must know that if they prepare to launch or use a weapon they will be open to a massive preemptive strike.

Two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups sit in the seas off the Iranian coast. But across the Persian Gulf, the U.S. has a previously unacknowledged weapon in reserve: a new special operations team. In short, for a rational government, getting the bomb may have as many disadvantages as it might have advantages. But then the question must be asked – are we dealing with a rational government or even a stable government? The other models of North Korea and Pakistan offer little insight into the minds of the Mullahs that run Iran.

There is almost no intelligent discussion of these and related issues in the current political debates and speeches by the Republican candidates. It is mostly just war haranguing and posturing or criticizing Obama for being “weak.”  

One example is the Romney quote above, saying “I will restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously.” It shows perhaps his willingness to prevaricate and bluster despite the fact that Obama has, according to reports, now two U.S. aircraft carrier battle groups sitting in the seas off the Iranian coast. Further, in the Persian Gulf region America has an, up to now unacknowledged, added weapon: a new special joint operations team led by the Navy SEALS. In short, it seems Romney is either ignorant or unmindful of telling the truth. The same can be said of Newt Gingrich looking at his quotes. 

The simple fact is that neither Gingrich nor Romney has any national security background, expertise, or direct experience. Indeed, it appears they do not have a clue how to address these issues in any serious way. None of the candidates have had the slightest exposure to direct national security issues other than briefing by their staff and advisers, and no sign they grasp the important implications of their proposed actions to deal with these issues – other than to issue threats. 

Every serious assessment is that Iran’s military is fundamentally weak compared to the power that the U.S. and its allies can project in the region against actions by Iran. The outcome must, in the end, be clear to the Iranian leaders.

President Obama, on the other hand, has made some specific statements, most recently in his State of the Union speech, where he noted no options were off the table. He has moved on a two tract approach of more severe unilateral and multilateral sanctions while also keeping open the negotiation route. He has made real progress in getting other nations to support tougher sanctions and is working in the UN Security Council for a sanctions resolution which would likely be blocked by the Russians and Chinese. Meanwhile, we are developing a more powerful 30,000-pound “bunker-buster” bomb. Otherwise known as the Massive Ordnance Perpetrator (MOP), it is devised to take out the hardened fortifications built by Iran and other countries such as North Korea to protect their nuclear programs.

In the end, the best option must be that of negotiations where both sides can achieve some gains and likely make some compromise. The effort will test if the Iranians are totally determined not only to build a bomb but really think they might want to use it. The other options lead to disaster for all sides, including the likely spread of weapons by other actors in the region. Presidential candidates, if they are serious leaders, would do well to temper down their rhetoric and do more studying up on national security issues and acting like statesmen and not the “crazies” they now appear to be.

By Harry C. Blaney III.

2 thoughts on “Iran and the Bomb: What Are Our Options and What are the Candidates Saying?

  1. Bob Lamoree March 4, 2012 / 7:37 AM

    Among things that are NOT in short supply are ‘stupidity’ and ‘arrogance.” Mr. Blaney’s commentary touches on both. Sadly, when those two commodities affect the foreign policy of nations lives are at stake. And when an affected foreign policy involves nuclear powers the outcome could well be catastrophic.
    The questions I ask are: Do we really know that Iran is making a nuke? Assuming they are, knowing that immediate and catastrophic retaliation would befall them . . . beyond Iran’s inciteful rhetoric . . . are they really likely to use a nuke? The threat of mutual retaliation kept the Cold War cold . . . because of the players, is that no longer of consequence?
    Some years ago there was a book titled “The Ugly American.” It struck a chord because basically we think we’re usually right, and/or we want to be loved. Considering the history of American/Iranian relations, starting with the overthrow of Mossadegh, setting up the Shah, supporting Iraq in the Iraq-Iran war, shooting down the Iranian Airbus carrying worshippers to Mecca, and assorted economic sanctions . . . yes, they stormed our embassy . . . but is it any wonder why we’re not friends?
    And what about Israel? Have they ever spied on us? Have they ever shot a missile at an American military vessel?
    Maybe it’s not all ‘stupidity’ and ‘arrogance.’ Maybe it’s ‘insanity.’

  2. Magnus February 16, 2012 / 6:28 AM

    Finally, a very well thought out article concerning Iran. Religious insanity is the wild card, rarely considered but by far the most insidious danger of all. I am not quite sure the Mullahs care about our desire to see things continue the way they are. They are far more dangerous with a bomb than in a development stage. In a preemptive strike my blood will not be on the line no, but my fragile economic situation would with gasoline and food rising to unseen heights. Iran will not back down and their resolve to defy UN sanctions in order to threaten Israel show they cannot be dealt with rationally. Thanks.

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