If, as seems likely given that the mullahs have already gotten so much of what they want from the West, no nuclear deal is reached with Iran by the upcoming deadline, what happens then? Mark Dubowitz and Reuel Marc Gerecht of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies considered the question in a column for the Wall Street Journal.
They discuss five scenarios. First, the U.S. might give up on diplomacy and strike Iran’s nuclear sites. But Dubowitz and Gerecht correctly view this scenario as extremely unlikely.
Second, the administration could give up on the current talks and default back to sanctions. In that event, Dubowitz and Gerecht think it likely that President Obama would attempt, as he did in 2011 and 2013, to undercut the seriousness of the sanctions. Thus, Iran would proceed full speed ahead with its nuclear weapons program.
Third, biting sanctions might be imposed, thanks to Congress. But given Iran’s progress on the nuclear weapons front, the sanctions would have to “hit like a tidal wave over the next year” if Iran’s behavior is to be affected. Since this is unlikely, Dubowitz and Gerecht believe that sanctions alone won’t do the job. Additional coercion is required.
This leads to their fourth scenario — sanctions plus a credible show of force. It was, after all, President Bush’s show of force in Iraq that, it seems, temporarily halted Iran’s nuclear program ten years ago.
What show of force might serve that purpose this time? Dubowitz and Gerecht have Syria in mind:
Syria is Iran’s most helpful ally among Arab states. Taking Mr. Assad down would let Tehran know that America’s withdrawal from the Middle East and President Obama’s dreams of an entente with Iran are over.
Taking out Mr. Assad is unavoidable if Washington is serious about stopping the radicalization of Syria’s Sunni population and getting their help in defeating the radical Islamic State, also known as ISIS. And such an about-face by Washington would be shocking—perhaps paralyzing—in Tehran.
As Dubowitz and Gerecht acknowledge, however, it is hard to imagine Obama taking such action. Instead, he and our European allies will likely angle for more talks.
This is the fifth scenario. And because Ayatollah Khamenei might well agree to more talks — their prolongation would mean Iran’s economy could continue to improve apace with no cost to further nuclear progress — it may be the most likely one.
Unfortunately, endless diplomacy will lead to the same outcome as the other options that are palatable to Obama — Iran as a member of the nuclear weapons club. As Dubowitz and Gerecht say, the mullahs view obtaining the bomb as essential to the success of their revolution. For them, retreat is not an option.
This means that for the U.S. the only options remain military action or settling for a nuclear Iran. Obama, it seems clear to me, has already decided to settle.