Iran and the Indispensability of Military Force

Andrew Harrod | September 18, 2015

The pious hope for an eventual peace with Iran’s Islamic Republic that drove the American government’s motivation with the Iranian nuclear negotiations has inverted the classic Latin dictum “if you want peace, prepare for war.” As indicated by former Vice President Dick Cheney’s Sept. 8 American Enterprise Institute address, Iran’s nuclear deal with the P5+1 contradicts constant invocations of military deterrence by its supporters.

Cheney denounced President Barack Obama’s Iran accord as “madness” to an audience that included Sen. Tom Cotton, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz and former Congresswoman Michele Bachmann. Cheney said that the Obama Administration’s claims about the agreement’s stopping Iranian proliferation “have been robust … but are simply false.” Obama himself conceded that, within 13 years after the signing of the agreement, Iran will have advanced its centrifuges such that its lead time for proliferation, or “breakout time, would have shrunk to zero.” The agreement’s lifting of restrictions on Iranian missile development will simultaneously “give Iran the means to launch a nuclear attack on the U.S. homeland.”

“Detecting elements of a country’s nuclear program and predicting how close it is to breakout is a notoriously difficult intelligence task,” Cheney warned, pointing out that this fact is irrespective of an inspection regime’s strength. The aforementioned undertaking “is one that we have failed at time and time again,” he added soberly. Nuclear proliferation in the Soviet Union in 1949, in China in 1964, in India in 1974, in Pakistan in 1998 and in North Korea in 2006 all surprised the United States, to its chagrin.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney
Former Vice President Dick Cheney


Cheney also decried the agreement’s sanctions relief for a terrorism-supporting (including Al-Qaeda) Iran. “This agreement will enable Iran to modernize and expand its military capabilities while the United States military suffers from the devastating Obama-era defense cuts,” Cheney said, adding that under such circumstances, America’s regional allies “are already assessing that the security guarantees long provided by the United States are increasingly meaningless,” and will thus seek nuclear weapons.

The former vice president rejected Obama’s claim that at the first sign of Iranian cheating, the lifted sanctions will suddenly snap back. “In reality, the nuclear deal makes it very difficult to re-impose sanctions, and enables Iran to walk away from the agreement completely if any attempt is made to sanction them anew,” he said. In actuality, any Iranian violations “would be followed by long international debates over every last technical point,” along with the Obama Administration’s predictable refrain that it is better to overlook an offense than to risk losing the entire accord.

“I know of no nation in history that has agreed to guarantee that the means of its own destruction will be in the hands of another nation, particularly one that is hostile.”

“A far better deal is still possible,” Cheney said, cautioning that “key non-negotiable points and maintaining a credible threat of military force are the indispensable elements of serious diplomacy.” Israeli airstrikes destroyed Iraq and Syria’s nuclear reactors in 1981 and 2007, respectively, while the American-led First Gulf War coalition destroyed Iraq’s reconstituted nuclear program in 1991. The 2003 American invasion of Iraq incited Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to hand over his nuclear materials to the United States and may even have encouraged a temporary halt to the Iranian nuclear program. “In each of these cases, it was either military action or the credible threat of military action that persuaded these rogue regimes to abandon their weapons programs,” Cheney said.

While speaking at American University on Aug. 5, Obama himself declared a “policy throughout my presidency to keep all options – including possible military options – on the table” to prevent Iranian proliferation. But the president said that he saw the Iran agreement in the “tradition of strong, principled diplomacy” exemplified by President John F. Kennedy and others who “created the time and the space to win the Cold War without firing a shot at the Soviets.” He added that the agreement currently on the table “doesn’t bet on Iran changing; it doesn’t require trust,” but said that most sanctions relief revenue will “go into spending that improves the economy and benefits the lives of the Iranian people.”

Obama’s former secretary of state and current presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton took an even stronger stance on the accord during a visit to the Brookings Institution on Sept. 9: inverting President Ronald Reagan’s “trust but verify” approach to the Soviet Union into “distrust and verify” toward Iran’s “ruthless, brutal regime,” descriptions far harsher than those previously used by Obama. She said that she would not hesitate to take military action against Iranian proliferation – phrasing that went beyond Obama’s standard “all options are on the table” position.

“We shouldn’t expect that this deal will lead to broader changes in [the Iranians’] behavior,” Clinton assessed, promising to confront the Iran leadership across the board and calling for new restrictions on conventional arms sales to Iran. Yet her words contradicted the agreement’s promised ending of United Nations missile and conventional arms embargoes against Iran.

Such hawkishness called into question the nuclear deal itself. Why strengthen an Iranian regime that shows no sign of moderation for an inevitable future confrontation? While Obama invoked Kennedy’s June 10, 1963 announcement at American University to seek a nuclear test ban, this came only after Kennedy stared down the Soviet Union in the 1962 Cuban missile crisis.

Notwithstanding a Code Pink protestor who interrupted Cheney’s AEI address while carrying a banner saying “Wrong on Iraq, wrong on Iran,” the case of the Iraq War does not support Obama either. Obama similarly criticized many Iran agreement opponents like Cheney, who supported the Iraq invasion as the “same people who seem to have no compunction with being repeatedly wrong.” Yet Hillary’s husband, President Bill Clinton, supported regime change against Saddam Hussein as a “Weapons of Mass Destruction threat” in the 1990s, only to face intense public opposition. Such disapproval today would frustrate strikes against an Iran that doubtlessly is actively pursuing proliferation.

The Code Pink protester chanted, “We want peace,” but Obama’s fecklessness will merely bring a day of reckoning. Either America will eventually have to stop the proliferation of a strengthening Iran with military force or try to contain a nuclear-armed Iran, as was inadvertently suggested by Obama’s former secretary of defense, Chuck Hagel.

Iran’s Islamic ideology, among other factors, makes the latter strategy far more dangerous than Cold War containment. Israel, meanwhile, might feel compelled to strike Iran (Nazi Germany required “seven years to kill 6 million Jews. It would take a nuclear-armed Iran one day,” Cheney said), unleashing a conflict that could entangle America. Obama’s agreement is unlikely to herald any Middle East “peace in our time.”