Obama Should Act on Iran to Spare Us Next Afghanistan
In Washington, it is all too common for members of one political party to attack the position of the president from the other party, more or less automatically, especially when the president’s position is unpopular. President Obama’s decision to send additional troops to Afghanistan is indeed unpopular, but it would be wrong to oppose it just to score political points.
The president made a good case for our national security interests, and his proposal to enhance our efforts in Afghanistan should be supported by Republicans as well as members of his own party. I do not agree with all aspects of the approach, including his arbitrary deadline for withdrawal. However, in vital national security matters, there is value in muting partisan differences that do not go to the core of the policy, and in having America speak with a unified voice to both allies and adversaries.
It is in that spirit of bipartisan national security policy that I offer the following constructive advice to President Obama regarding a threat to American interests that is equal to, if not greater than, that posed by the Taliban, namely the radical and aggressive regime in Iran.
As a candidate last year, President Obama said the war in Iraq was ”an enormous distraction from the battle that does have to be waged in Afghanistan.” Unfortunately, I fear his criticism regarding his predecessor’s inattention to Afghanistan now applies to his own handling of Iran. Insufficient attention to the Iranian threat poses grave risks.
There are two vital differences between the problems in Iran and those in Afghanistan. First, unlike in Afghanistan, in Iran we face the real prospect of a rabidly anti-American, anti-Western country obtaining nuclear weapons. Second, unlike in Afghanistan, in Iran we still have a window of opportunity to act before a crisis is upon us, without having to deploy the U.S. military. If we act with resolve now in Iran, we could spare ourselves the agony of choosing among the poor options President Obama was left to consider in Afghanistan. And we could spare ourselves from what would truly be a nightmare: A violent government that calls America ”the great Satan” armed with nuclear weapons.
Let there be no mistake — that is undeniably Iran’s goal. Iran has long flouted U.N. resolutions to suspend nuclear enrichment activities and open its facilities to inspection. Only a couple of months ago, Iran revealed a secret, second nuclear facility. And when the U.N. issued a censure of the country’s nuclear ambitions and lack of cooperation, Iran’s leader responded by declaring his intention to build 10 more uranium enrichment plants. The Iranian government’s stated apocalyptic geopolitical goals and theocratic extremism make the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran intolerable to American security.
Faced with this prospect, it is imperative that we do everything we can now to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. The administration’s approach to date has been entirely ineffective. Iran has been emboldened by American passivity. Compromises on our part are not returned in kind by the Iranian regime. They are thrown in our faces.
Iran needs only one thing to achieve its nuclear goals — time — and by delaying action against it, we are giving the regime exactly what it wants.
Ultimately, Iranian rulers will drop their pursuit of nuclear weapons only when they are convinced their power is more secure without them than with them. This is not easily achieved, but the longer we wait, and the more advanced the Iranian nuclear program becomes, the more difficult will be our challenge.
A bipartisan majority in Congress is pushing for tougher sanctions against Iran and its allies. Two pieces of sanctions legislation are pending in Congress and would go a long way toward maximizing the Iranian regime’s discomfort. Unfortunately, President Obama has dragged his feet on these bills, sometimes even actively discouraging their passage.
President Obama wrestled with a difficult decision that culminated in sending more troops into Afghanistan. I appreciate the difficulty he faced in making it. In Iran, he has the rare opportunity to act with foresight, to address a growing danger before it becomes the full-blown battle he was forced to grapple with in Afghanistan. I sincerely hope he seizes that opportunity so we never face the need to send our military into battle to protect our security in yet another country in that troubled region.
Pat Toomey is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate and represented the 15th Congressional District from 1999-2005.
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