By: Brian Sikma
The past few weeks have seen a rapid series of developments take place with respect to our nation’s foreign policy goals. In the first part of September we saw the President continue his reluctance to speak out forcefully against Iran’s nuclear pursuits. Iran has repeatedly insisted that it is enriching uranium for peaceful and civilian purposes. To believe this line, and assume that Iran is limiting its program to only meeting its energy needs, is overly optimistic at best and terribly naïve at worst.
Former Senators Dan Coats and Charles Robb, and retired General Charles Wald, recently analyzed the Iranian situation and concluded that by 2010 Iran will have enough weapons-grade uranium enriched to fuel a nuclear device. Their conclusion factored in only the enrichment plant at Natanz and was made before the revelation that there is another small enrichment facility built into a mountain at Qom. The addition of this plant could further reduce the time line that Iran is working with on this project. Since the concept of a nuclear armed Iran became a serious possibility, observers, analysts, and other experts have repeatedly updated their projections with shorter and shorter estimates for when Iran will become only the second rogue state with nuclear capabilities.
Beginning after the last day of the Bush Administration, our nation has lacked a comprehensive approach to dealing with the building storm swirling around Iran’s nuclear ambitions. In the free world the nation that has continued to pose a significant moral and potential military objection to Iran’s action has been our ally in the Middle East: Israel. While Washington continues to solace itself with platitudes of peace and promises of dialogue, there is reason to believe that some in the position to shape US policy with Iran are hoping that Israel will play the bad cop role in this precipitous situation. But this is not an instance in which our country can afford to be a part-time, one-part player on the world stage.
In this near crisis we must not continue to abdicate our national position of responsibility and leave it to others to resolve this problem. Every diplomatic and military option must be on the table. Whether or not we like this obligation is irrelevant because our position in the world, the magnitude of the threat posed directly to us by Iran, and the grim consequences of inaction compel us to do something. Unfortunately, doing nothing or resorting to dialogues not backed up by a common commitment to realistic goals or a firm final policy position all form an array of poor choices we can choose from.
Related to the forward progress of Iran in acquiring nuclear weapons and perfecting and testing delivery systems is our voluntary withdrawal of key missile defense elements from Europe. In a sudden, though not unexpected move, President Obama surrendered the diplomatic achievements made by some of his predecessors in announcing that we will not deploy 10 missile interceptors to Poland and build an advanced radar and tracking station in the Czech Republic. Although they came under intense pressure from Moscow to not cooperate with the United States, these nations chose freedom over following the heavy-handed dictates of their former masters.
In making the brave choice to become part of our nation’s global missile defense system, Poland and the Czech Republic put their faith in us and in the success of our policy. The people of these countries and their leaders vividly recall what it was like to live in oppression and since they have escaped their shackles they have pursued liberty and state sovereignty with zeal. Their decision to become an integral part of our effort to neutralize the threat of WMD-tipped ICBMs was not only one of cold decision-making, but also a symbol of their willingness to put national sovereignty ahead of regional appeasement, to reinforce their separation with Russia, and assert their own security needs and their own view of what must be done to protect against 21st Century threats.
Our decision to abandon full-scale development of missile defense in Europe not only undermines the position that Poland and the Czech Republic have taken on their regional stage, it ungratefully leaves them to bear the shame of having to explain why they put their trust in a super power that is only interested in keeping the commitments it finds convenient. These nations took a risk with us and by extension we have a duty to lead them well. Abruptly folding the alliance and leaving them with nothing to show for their risk exposure discredits our credibility with the nations that matter.
Extending beyond the consequences for our European policy, eliminating missile defense initiatives in Europe dramatically hurts our capacity effectively respond to the Iranian threat before a catastrophic event materializes. By presenting a bolder diplomatic front – something the present administration has not done – and backing such forceful words with meaningful action both inside the region and within the ranges of Iran’s missile capabilities, we can achieve a far more meaningful result than we are on track to get right now. The old adage to speak softly and carry a big stick still rings true today, and replacing it with unfounded hope and unwise change carries a heavy penalty.