December 27, 2010


Iran: Why Containment Is Bad Strategy

By Rick Francona, Middle East Perspectives
December 3, 2010

Many analysts believe that the Obama Administration has resigned itself to the inevitability of a nuclear armed Iran. You can understand that argument if you look at the Administration's continuing attempts to "engage" the Iranians when the regime in Tehran has made it abundantly clear by its actions that it has no interest in meaningful and sincere dialogue with the West over its nuclear program.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hailed as "encouraging" the fact that after months of stalling, the Iranians have agreed to resume talks. Why she thinks this is encouraging is beyond me. The Iranians have consistently outmaneuvered Clinton on foreign policy since she has been Secretary of State. While she has been focused on these fruitless talks, the Iranians have been focused on buying time for the continued enrichment of uranium. The Iranians have used the Secretary's misguided belief that she could convince the regime in Tehran into working with the West as a virtual time machine allowing its scientists more time to not only acquire weapons grade fissile material but to refine weapons designs.

What exactly has Iran agreed to that Mrs. Clinton finds encouraging? It took over a month just to reach an agreement on a date and a venue. There still is no agenda. The Iranians have stated that they will not discuss their nuclear program, which is the only reason to have the talks in the first place.

The talks are pure theater. No one expects any results other than providing the Iranians the fig leaf that they are cooperating with the West. The West gets to advance the fiction that it is addressing a potential Iranian nuclear threat. Meanwhile, Iran continues on its path to becoming a nuclear armed nation. President Obama and Secretary Clinton seem okay with that, figuring that the United States was able to live with a nuclear Soviet Union for decades, therefore, we should be able to contain an Iran that possesses nuclear weapons.

Containment is not a viable option. Here's why.

There is much more at stake than the bilateral relationship between the United States and Iran. Everyone is aware that the Israelis view a nuclear armed Iran as an existential threat to the Jewish state. They have been planning a strike on the Iranian nuclear facilities for years, even acquiring American-made GBU-28 "bunker buster" munitions required to destroy the hardened Iranian targets. If the Iranians get close to the possession of nuclear weapons, Israel will feel compelled to mount a military operation to destroy the production facilities. It simply cannot risk an attack that might virtually eradicate Israel.

An Israeli strike on Iran might ignite a conflagration that will draw in all countries in the region. Iran and Syria have a mutual defense treaty; Damascus possesses missiles that can strike anywhere in Israel, and is known to possess chemical warheads for those missiles.

Both Iran and Syria have influence over the Lebanese terrorist organization Hizballah, which can strike targets in northern Israel as far south as Tel Aviv. Iran also wields considerable influence over the Palestinian terrorist group Hamas. Hamas could open up a southern front against Israel.

In addition to the danger of an armed confrontation in the region, Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons will catalyze an arms race in the region. Thanks to leaked State Department cables, we have this on good authority.

From a Secret Not Releasable to Foreign Nationals cable sent by the American Embassy in Saudi Arabia (Riyadh 000178, February 2010):
9. (S/NF) COUNTERING IRAN: The King told General Jones that if Iran succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia.
From a Confidential cable sent by the American Embassy in Eygpt (Cairo 001067, May 2008):
3. (C) Asked about Egypt's reaction if Iran developed nuclear weapons capability, Mubarak said that none will accept a nuclear Iran, "we are all terrified." Mubarak said that when he spoke with former Iranian President Khatami he told him to tell current President Ahmedinejad "not to provoke the Americans" on the nuclear issue so that the U.S. is not forced to strike. Mubarak said that Egypt might be forced to begin its own nuclear weapons program if Iran succeeds in those efforts.
The best course of action is to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. Thus far, nothing has been successful at convincing the Iranians to abandon that effort. Sanctions have not worked in the past and likely won't in the future. Time is running out. At some point in the near future, difficult decisions are going to have to be made.

While Mrs. Clinton might find the current situation encouraging, I do not.

Wikileaks Documents Show Iran a Major Concern

By Rick Francona, Middle East Perspectives
November 30, 2010

Secret State Department cable released by Wikileaks

I am appalled by the release of hundreds of thousands of classified U.S. military and diplomatic cables by the Wikileaks organization. While Julian Assange's organization may not technically be breaking the law, it does major damage to our ability to prosecute two wars and conduct foreign policy around the world.

The real culprit appears to be Army Private First Class Bradley Manning, a 22-year old intelligence analyst who has no clue what harm he has done. He, of course, has violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and will be court-martialed.

Manning is currently in custody in Quantico, Virginia, where he is being held in solitary confinement, probably for his own safety. He has initially been charged with "transferring classified data onto his personal computer and adding unauthorized software to a classified computer system" and "communicating, transmitting and delivering national defense information to an unauthorized source." The maximum sentence for those two offenses is 52 years.

I suspect that if the leaks can be tied to the arrest, imprisonment, mistreatment or death of an American information source, Manning will be tried for additional, more serious violations. Personally, I hope he is found guilty of treason in a time of war, a capital offense. At the very least, he should spend the rest of his days bolted into a concrete box. Thankfully, given Attorney General Eric Holder's track record on prosecutions, this will be tried in a military court where the chances of a conviction are good.

That said, the recent tranche of diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks shows the depth of concern among many of our regional allies over Iran. Iran is now regarded as the world's major state sponsor of terrorism and the biggest threat to regional stability in the volatile Persian Gulf.

I'll forgo Israeli concerns over Iran. These concerns have been well-documented already since Israel has made no secret that it regards a nuclear-armed Iran as an existential threat. Many of the Tel Aviv cables in the released documents again point this out, including requests for GBU-28 5000-pound "bunker buster" bombs. These munitions will be required if Israel plans to attack Iran's hardened nuclear facilities.

Second to Israel, the country that most regards Iran as a major threat is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Many of the released cables deal with Saudi Arabia's concerns over Iran's nuclear program as well as its influence in neighboring Iraq. A cable written in February of this year setting the scene for a visit by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is telling. Some excerpts:
- "King 'Abdullah believes we are not always reliable, consistent, or willing to heed his advice on important issues such as Iraq. Sa'ud Al-Faisal and others have openly been critical of U.S. policies they describe as having shifted the regional balance of power in favor of arch-rival Iran."

- "Saudi Arabia is thinking through how best to take a leaf from the Chinese playbook and use these expanded trade ties to achieve important political goals. In this regard, Saudi Arabia has told the Chinese that it is willing to effectively trade a guaranteed oil supply in return for Chinese pressure on Iran not to develop nuclear weapons."

- "We expect that Saudi Arabia will continue to develop its ties with China, in part to counterbalance relations with the West. While the King's preference is to cooperate with the U.S., he has concluded that he needs to proceed with his own strategy to counter Iranian influence in the region, which includes rebuilding Riyadh-Cairo-Damascus coordination, supporting Palestinian reconciliation, supporting the Yemeni government, and expanding relations with non-traditional partners such as Russia, China, and India to create diplomatic and economic pressure on Iran that do not directly depend on U.S. help.

- "The King told General Jones that if Iran succeeded in developing nuclear weapons, everyone in the region would do the same, including Saudi Arabia."

- "The King is convinced that current U.S. engagement efforts with Tehran will not succeed; he is likely to feel grimly vindicated in his view by Ahmadinejad's February 11 boast that having successfully enriched uranium to a level of 20 percent, Iran 'is now a nuclear nation.' The King told General Jones that Iranian internal turmoil presented an opportunity to weaken the regime -- which he encouraged -- but he also urged that this be done covertly and stressed that public statements in support of the reformers were counterproductive. The King assesses that sanctions could help weaken the government, but only if they are strong and sustained. The King will want you to elaborate on the President's statement that the time for sanctions has come. He will also want to hear our plans for bolstering Gulf defenses vis a vis Iran."
Another secret cable from the U.S. embassy in Riyadh quotes the Saudi ambassador to the United States 'Adil al-Jubayr citing the Saudi king's "frequent exhortations to the US to attack Iran and so put an end to its nuclear weapons program.
"He told you to cut off the head of the snake."
After the cables were made public, Mrs. Clinton remarked,
"I think that it should not be a surprise that Iran is a source of great concern, not only in the U.S. The comments reported in the cables prove that Iran poses a serious threat in the eyes of its neighbors, and beyond the region."
She missed the point that most of the comments are not supportive of President Obama's lenient engagement policy toward Iran.

In a somewhat surprising and no doubt embarrassing revelation, Lebanese Prime Minister Sa'ad al-Hariri was quoted in a cable that he supported military strikes on Iran's nuclear program. Of course, things have changed and he denies ever saying it. Egyptian President Husni Mubarak also was quoted disparaging Iran.

President Obama is allegedly a big proponent of "transparency." One of his first executive orders when he took office in 2009 dealt with the classification system and his desire that only things absolutely requiring secrecy be restricted from the public. I wonder what he thinks now that less than one-tenth of one percent of the over 250,000 documents to be released have come to light.

More importantly, these documents clearly show that most of our allies in the region are wary of Iran and are skeptical of the President's attempts (which all have failed) to engage the Iranians diplomatically. As the Saudis point out, he doesn't listen.

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