The Gathering Danger Of Iran Is Greater Than ISIS.

Robert G. Kaufman Professor of Public Policy, Pepperdine University
Font Size:

The understandable preoccupation with ISIS has deflected attention from an even greater danger — a revolutionary, implacably anti-American Iran close to having the capacity to build nuclear weapons. As Henry Kissinger warned recently, “there has come into being a Shia belt from Tehran through Baghdad. And this gives the opportunity to construct a Persian empire, this time under the Shia label. I think the conflict with ISIS — manageable as it is — is more manageable than a confrontation with Iran.”

With mounting frequency and intensity, Iran has fomented war and strife throughout the region, directly and through its surrogates: Assad in Syria; Hezbollah in Lebanon, and Hamas in Gaza. Iranian leaders  have routinely threatened to annihilate Israel. The pace and purpose of Iran’s nuclear program has generated increasing distress, particularly in Israel but also at least rhetorically in the Obama administration. Though actively discouraging Israel from taking preemptive action and viewing the use of force as an absolutely last resort, President Obama has pronounced it unacceptable on many occasions for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. “I do not bluff,” Obama told Jeffrey Goldberg in an interview published in The Atlantic. “When the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons, we mean what we say.”

Yet the administration’s conciliatory actions contradict the president’s stern warnings. The president assumes he can talk the Iranian regime into renouncing its nuclear ambitions and becoming a partner to maintain rather than menace regional stability. That is a triumph of hope over the long dismal U.S. experience of dealing with revolutionary Iran run by Ayatollahs. To paraphrase Clausewitz, Iran has used negotiations with the United States to wage war against the west by other means. President Obama hailed the interim accord reached on November 24, 2013 between Iran and the P5+1 (the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany), which theoretically froze Iran’s nuclear program for six months in exchange for easing sanctions, as a milestone for rolling back the Iranian nuclear program. Yet grim reality has smashed president’s extravagant expectations. The interim accord left the essentials of Iran’s nuclear program untouched while bolstering a terrible, corrupt, economically vulnerable regime with a desperately needed $ 7 billion infusion in cash.

Predictably, the P5+1 and Iran have failed to reach a permanent accord ever since. When the interim accord expired in June 2014, Iran agreed to extend the deadline to November 2014 in exchange for more sanctions relief. The prospects for a deal advantageous to the United States look increasingly bleak, despite the administration’s wishful thinking. National Public Radio reports that substantial differences remain between the two sides on how much uranium enrichment to permit Iran, the status of the Fordow enrichment facility near the Holy City of Qom, the controversial heavy water facility near Arak capable of producing weapons grade plutonium, and the number of centrifuges — now totaling more than 19,000 — Iran would retain.

In April 14, Secretary of State John Kerry — a strong proponent of engaging rather than containing Iran — testified before the Senate nevertheless that “Iran could produce enough fissile material for a nuclear bomb in a mere two months.” On September 5, 2014, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a troubling report that Iran had failed to satisfy the confidence building measures of the interim accord that its nuclear facilities were purely peaceful. Meanwhile, the Iranian government has increasingly obstructed scrutiny of its nuclear program, in violation not only of the letter, but also the spirit of the interim accord.

Worse, the president has wagered American security based on the illusion that the current Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is truly a moderate who seeks and can deliver a nuclear deal beneficial to the legitimate interests of Iran and the United States. Yet it is more likely that Rouhani is merely masquerading as one to gull western opinion. The Iranian president has played a pivotal role in Iran’s nuclear program for decades. Likewise, Rouhani has a long history of unswerving fealty to the fanatically anti-American Ayatollahs Ruhollah Khomeini and Ali Khamenei — the real powers in Iran over the past 35 years — making  Rouhani an unlikely candidate for an Iranian Mikhail Gorbachev. In January 2014, Rouhani blustered on Twitter that “world powers surrendered to Iranian national will” by agreeing to the interim accord. He declared victory again in an interview later in the month, boasting that “no facility will be closed; enrichment will continue; and qualitative nuclear research will be expanded. All research into a new generation of centrifuges will continue.”

The Clinton administration’s ill-fated attempts to curb North Korea’s nuclear program appears to offer the closest parallel for what will come of the president’s obsession with negotiating with a rogue Iranian regime. Iran will pocket billions in sanctions relief, continue its nuclear program clandestinely, and then proclaim its nuclear breakout as a fait accompli. The administration’s current policy of with Iran not only menaces a decent democratic Israel, but will precipitate a nuclear arms race including Saudi Arabia, perhaps Egypt, and Turkey in the most dangerous and volatile region of the world. If that nightmare occurs, Americans will yearn for threats as manageable as ISIS.