Beyond the Cusp

May 22, 2012

When Would President Obama Use the Military Option?

United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro was quoted telling the Israel Bar Association, “U.S. has plans in place to attack Iran if necessary to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons. Iran should not test Washington’s resolve to act on its promise to strike if diplomacy and sanctions fail to pressure Tehran to abandon its disputed nuclear program.” Ambassador Shapiro clarified adding that the U.S. hopes it will not have to resort to military force. “But that doesn’t mean that option is not fully available. Not just available, but it’s ready. The necessary planning has been done to ensure that it’s ready.” Of course all of this will be left on the table while the Iran sanctions and negotiations are given ample time to be effective.

That phrase always leaves me wondering as to exactly who has the responsibility for deciding whether or not the sanctions and negotiations are working and whether such is moving at a sufficient pace to actually be effective in preventing Iran from attaining nuclear weapons capability. This is of paramount importance as this person or committee has to first decide what line they will use as their trigger point. Will it be when Iran has worked out some but not conquered all the requirements for the making of a nuclear device, once they have all the technology down and are about to implement the manufacture of the component parts, once they have the component parts made and are about to actually assemble weapons, or will they decide that everything is just fine as long as the Iranians have yet to place a rocket beneath an assembled warhead. Needless to point out, but the point at which the Iranian nuclear weapons procurement program is defined as one step too far has severe consequences and is of the utmost importance. Equally important is who is making this decision. Let’s face it, there is a world of difference between whether Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu is deciding or if European Union Foreign Minister the Lady Catherine Ashton is making the decision. Prime Minister Netanyahu might have already decided that point has been crossed while the Lady Ashton sounded as if she had a high school crush on the Iranian negotiator in her assessment of the progress made at the last meeting of the P5+1 negotiations with the Iranians. Needless to say, I would not place my trust in Ms. Ashton’s assessments and would hope nobody else would either.

Truth be told, we are all aware that the final decision will fall on the shoulders of President Obama. Judging from past experiences, we can be assured that President Obama will not be rushed and will probably sleep on the matter for as many nights as he is allowed and will not be rushed in making such a decision upon which so many consequences and unknowns will be produced once it has been made. A decision of this importance and with untold ramifications will require not only the most careful deliberations for President Obama, but he will also need to plan for the means, reasons, and excuses for why anything that might go awry was not due to his actions or decision and have people assigned to take the fall. Let us hope that should this route prove to be necessary and President Obama makes the fateful call, that nobody will need to take blame and the entire operation can be completed with great ease and in a timely manner with minimal loss of life on all sides. Unfortunately, this is not all that likely which is why the decision will be difficult and place a great weight upon whoever must make this call. This is one reason it boggles the mind why anybody would actually choose to run for the office. I understand the undeniable attraction to hold close to ultimate power, but with such power come some unenviable responsibilities and consequences for every choice.

There have been many people who have given their analysis and made predictions as to what the actual red lines might be that would trigger either an American or Israeli strike and even made predictions as to the date when such will become an actionable event. Lately there have been some rumblings emanating from the Russians who claim to be alarmed by the seeming wave of countries now moving towards supporting actions to hamper crucial segments of the Iranian nuclear program or actual complete destruction of all the nuclear installations currently known by intelligence sources. Needless to point out, but the Russians are very concerned about this growing threat to their new found ally. Historically, Russia and Persia were never all that friendly despite their proximity as neighbors. This will not lead to the Russians applying any pressure to try and relieve the pressures posed by the ongoing Iranian actions. One might hope that Russia would at least pull their technicians who have been working with the Iranians at a minimum at the Bushehr reactor.

I would be remiss if I did not include some assessment of my own impression on what, when and who is going to do what or if Iran will attain nuclear weapon status. The first thing that we all need to come to grips with is that even the most accurate assessments of the Iranian nuclear programs are in agreement that they probably do not know about a measurable portion of the program as it exists in locations none of them have yet been able to detect. This is likely the most depressing piece of the puzzle as it makes destroying the entire set of installations impossible without a very intensive ground campaign which would be extremely expensive in both treasure and lives. So, actual destruction of the Iranian nuclear program would result in an ongoing operation which would require follow-up strikes for the foreseeable future. This is another consequence which will make this decision all the more difficult. My feelings are that President Obama is loathed to decide to strike Iran before the election unless something completely devastating were to change the situation drastically forcing actions, especially if the American people were demanding for a United States response such as an Iranian attack. The one other situation that might push President Obama into such an action could be campaign oriented where should he be losing and polls show that the American public sufficiently supportive of a strike, then President Obama might be pushed into giving the order in an attempt to show his forcefulness and foreign policy strength and also use such to prove his support of Israel. Would such a move work? Well, stranger things have happened. Then there is the one scenario which has haunted me as possible though, fortunately, highly unlikely. Might President Obama upon losing the election decide to leave an incoming President Romney a welcoming present, an already ongoing war in the Middle East? This is one fear I hope never becomes anything more than a theoretical plot for a Hollywood movie. Otherwise, I do not see President Obama taking the extreme risk of another Middle East war of any nature. He has spent the last eighteen months running from any confrontations in the Middle East as fast as he can logistically get our forces out safely, both tactically and politically. Going into Iran would not be something President Obama would want to do no matter what the reasons. As far as Israel committing the act? Not likely unless Israel finds some backing from other countries, the question is from where as the European countries are likely equally done with Middle East conflicts. The only reason that anybody in Europe might choose such an action would be as a last gasp effort to promote economic growth in order to forestall the train wreck that appears to be barreling towards them. I still think any attack or other actions against the Iranian nuclear programs will have to wait until after the November elections and then it still could depend on the winner. The only other scenario is the unthinkable where the Iranians test a nuclear weapon, well, actually multiple nuclear weapons. The only question is upon whom would Iran implement such a test? That is another article.

Beyond the Cusp

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