The New York Times is out this morning with a story that is sure to get Washington talking. Essentially, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates warned Obama in a no-longer-secret January memo that the United States has no strategy for dealing with Iran if sanctions and diplomacy fail:
WASHINGTON — Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates has warned in a secret three-page memorandum to top White House officials that the United States does not have an effective long-range policy for dealing with Iran’s steady progress toward nuclear capability, according to government officials familiar with the document.
Several officials said the highly classified analysis, written in January to President Obama’s national security adviser, Gen. James L. Jones, came in the midst of an intensifying effort inside the Pentagon, the White House and the intelligence agencies to develop new options for Mr. Obama. They include a set of military alternatives, still under development, to be considered should diplomacy and sanctions fail to force Iran to change course.
Officials familiar with the memo’s contents would describe only portions dealing with strategy and policy, and not sections that apparently dealt with secret operations against Iran, or how to deal with Persian Gulf allies.
Pressed on the administration’s ambiguous phrases until now about how close the United States was willing to allow Iran’s program to proceed, a senior administration official described last week in somewhat clearer terms that there was a line Iran would not be permitted to cross.
The official said that the United States would ensure that Iran would not “acquire a nuclear capability,” a step Tehran could get to well before it developed a sophisticated weapon. “That includes the ability to have a breakout,” he said, using the term nuclear specialists apply to a country that suddenly renounces the nonproliferation treaty and uses its technology to build a small arsenal.
Mr. Gates’s memo appears to reflect concerns in the upper echelons of the Pentagon and the military that the White House did not have a well-prepared series of alternatives in place in case all the diplomatic steps finally failed.
Well, that’s comforting to know, especially considering the fact that there’s never been any indication that diplomacy is going to deter Iran from developing nuclear weapons, and sanctions aren’t going to have an impact unless all the major world powers are behind them. As the Times story indicates, though, Obama’s charm offensive hasn’t done anything to sway reluctant world opinion:
Administration officials had hoped that the revelation by Mr. Obama in September that Iran was building a new uranium enrichment plant inside a mountain near Qum would galvanize other nations against Iran, but the reaction was muted. The next three months were spent in what proved to be fruitless diplomatic talks with Iran over a plan to swap much of its low-enriched uranium for fuel for a medical reactor in Tehran. By the time Mr. Gates wrote his memo, those negotiations had collapsed.
As Allahpundit, notes, though, this isn’t all Barack Obama’s fault:
Bush knew what it would mean to hand this issue off to a Democratic president and he went ahead and did it anyway. Invading Iraq necessarily left him with fewer military options against other threats; now the bill is coming due.
Translation — by bogging the United States down in a pointless war in Iraq, George Bush left us with few military options to deal with a nuclear, or near-nuclear, Iran.
So what does this all mean ?
Basically, it means that Iran is going to become a nuclear power whether we want them to or not. They may not take the formal step of assembling and testing a nuclear weapon right away, but they will soon be at the point where they will have all the components necessary to do so, and it wouldn’t take long for them to take those final steps.
Justin Gardner is among those who don’t seem to think this is such a bad thing:
[M]y question to all of you who think Iran will use their nuclear program to try and destroy Israel…do you really think they would risk the lives of everybody in their country?
Because, if they decide to bomb Israel, I think we all realize that Iran, as a nation, will not exist anymore. Every nuclear nation will bomb them back to the stone age…and then some.
Except, of course, there are a myriad number of ways that a nuclear Iran could be a problem without ever having to actually use it’s weapons. Just as a nuclear Pakistan and India transformed the conflict between those nations into something far more serious than it had been before (not to mention the legitimate concerns about the stability of the Pakistani government and the ties between elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services and the Taliban and al Qaeda), and that’s exactly what a nuclear Iran could mean for the Middle East.
Israel and Iran would stare at each other across the miles, missiles and bombers at the ready, but it’s the nations in between, and most especially Iran’s immediate neighbors, that would feel the most impact of a nuclear Iran. Quite possibly, we’d see signs from nations like Saudi Arabia that they want to pursue their own nuclear program. And, the idea of a Middle East where everybody has nukes isn’t one the world should look forward to.
But there is another danger that a nuclear Iran poses, and it can be found in the history of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program. It was the father of the Pakistani nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, who, with the possible cooperation of others in the Pakistani military, transferred nuclear weapons technology to nations ranging from Iran to North Korea to Libya in exchange for missile technology and material that Pakistan needed to continue it’s nuclear weapons development. Going further back, it’s fairly clear that China provided Pakistan with technology and information necessary to the development of nuclear weapons.
Who might Iran share nuclear technology with ?
Well, we’re going to find out, because it’s long past time where we can do anything about it militarily, and the Obama Administration has proven itself incapable of mustering the necessary diplomatic cooperation to do the things that could choke the Iranian economy to the point where it would have no choice but to cooperate.