President Obama’s nomination of Chuck Hagel was meant to send a message, and it has: That President Obama is not serious about stopping Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and that Tehran has an anti-Israel ally in the president’s war cabinet.
Chuck Hagel’s misguided policies on Iran and the Middle East have already received considerable coverage. Chief among them is his opposition to sanctions on Iran. Both in 2001 and 2008 (at which point the United Nations had already sanctioned Iran) Hagel steadfastly opposed sanctions against Tehran.
Hagel has tried to explain away those votes, but he has also opposed sanctions against countries such as North Korea, Syria, Libya, and Cuba. This aversion to sanctions is incompatible with Obama’s strategy on Iran, and it’s also flat-out wrong (the progress we’ve seen in Burma is a direct result of sanctions).
Hagel supporters say that the “Jewish lobby” is using paranoia and scare tactics to overhype the threat of a nuclear Iran. But President Obama himself said that “a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained” and promised to “do what we must to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.”
If President Obama wants to change course and claim we can tolerate a nuclear Iran, he should do so explicitly. Instead, by nominating Hagel, he has done so implicitly, and has signaled that he won’t do whatever it takes to prevent a nuclear Iran.
Obama’s goal has been to force Tehran to capitulate to sanctions by threatening to use force if sanctions fail. Iran probably never believed this to begin with. But by nominating Hagel, Obama has likely confirmed Tehran’s suspicions.
Without the threat of force, sanctions are unlikely to work. The mullahs believe that a nuclear weapon is the only way to preserve their regime (an argument which has credence if you examine what’s happened in Iraq, Libya, Syria, and North Korea).
The mullahs have also shown a willingness to kill and torture their own people to preserve power (both during the Green Revolution and in the years since).
So it’s hard to imagine that economic sanctions alone will convince Tehran to give up its nuclear weapons program. Further, sanctions have been undermined by China’s and India’s decisions to continue buying Iranian oil.
And any hope that sanctions will convince the Iranian people to overthrow the regime is similarly misplaced. The Iranian people tried this in 2009, and were snuffed out by the mullahs and Revolutionary Guard with absolutely no moral or other support from the United States.
Hagel’s nomination will be seen by Tehran as confirmation that Obama will not use force. Whether this is true or not, it is the signal that Obama has sent. And it may doom our chances of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.