The Real Choices Are War Now Or War Later (Eze 17)

 False choices about Iran

Over the last six years, President Obama has become a master at selling his policies by using a rhetorical device known as the false choice. Recently, however, sources normally friendly to the president have been commenting on this technique. After a speech at the Military Academy last year, for example, The Atlantic published an article titled “Obama at West Point: A Foreign Policy of False Choices.”
A more recent use of false choice involves the administration’s negotiations with Iran over that country’s nuclear program. The president has stated in many ways that the only two options available are to accept whatever deal he reaches with the Iranians or war.
That approach conveniently overlooks a number of other possibilities ranging from tougher negotiating, harsher sanctions, covert actions of various types, the threat of war and military action short of all-out war.
There have been three air attacks on nuclear reactors. Ironically, the first such attack was launched by the Iranians, who are now so worried about an attack on their own nuclear facilities. In 1980, the Iranian Air Force attacked an Iraqi reactor under construction near Baghdad. The attack did relatively little damage. Less than a year later, the Israeli Air Force completed the job.
In 2007, the Israelis repeated their success by destroying a nuclear facility being built in Syria with support from both Iran and North Korea. Initially the Syrians denied the existence of such a facility, a claim that the International Atomic Energy Agency accepted. Later investigations caused the IAEA to reevaluate its assessment, and Syria’s dictator eventually admitted its existence.
The Israeli attacks generated much outrage, but no war, probably because no one in the region wanted either to take on the Israelis or let the Iraqis or Syrians develop nuclear weapons.
Unfortunately, the Iranians hid their construction efforts from the IAEA long enough to harden their most important facilities, making them more difficult, but not impossible, to destroy by air attack.
When Iraq was developing its weapons programs, a number of mysterious events occurred. Nuclear scientists were killed and explosions destroyed vital materials and equipment in European sites before they could reach Iraq. Nuclear scientists in Iran have also been assassinated, and a major cascade of centrifuges needed to enrich uranium was destroyed when a computer virus caused the centrifuges to spin out of control.
Opponents of military and covert operations claim that such measures don’t significantly set back a nation’s efforts to build nuclear weapons and only increase their determination to do so. Note, however, that neither Iraq nor Syria has nuclear weapons today. The attacks delayed their nuclear programs long enough for other events to end those efforts.
Threat of military action alone might deter Iran, but the threat would have to be credible. Unfortunately, President Obama’s failure to carry out his “redline” threat to Syria not to employ chemical weapons has weakened the credibility of any future threats he might make.
Finally there is diplomacy. Diplomacy only works in cases where a nation genuinely has no ambition to be a nuclear weapons state, a condition not likely to be shared by Iran. After the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, Ukraine inherited the world’s third-largest nuclear arsenal. Ukraine gave up that arsenal in return for a 2009 agreement by Russia, the United States and Great Britain that guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity. Russia’s uncontested invasion of Ukraine will undoubtedly undermine confidence in future nuclear disarmament diplomacy.
Anything else is simply another example of a false choice.
 Col. Theodore L. Gatchel (USMC, ret.), a monthly contributor, is a military historian and a professor emeritus of joint military operations. The views here are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Marine Corps or the Department of Defense.

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