Much has been said lately about red lines for Iran’s nuclear weapons program, but the most important of those lines in the sand already has been crossed. Iran now has the know-how and the means to build nuclear weapons, and aerial attacks by the United States or Israel would not erase that capability.
The best result from an air attack on Iranian nuclear targets would be a delay in Iran building a working weapon. But no matter how long the delay, Iran would eventually attain its nuclear goal as long as its government remained in place and committed its resources to doing so. Putting the nuclear genie back in its bottle may not be possible.
There are no easy solutions and no guarantees, but because the status quo is unacceptable, we must look at options. As President Kennedy told the nation during the Cuban missile crisis, all paths are full of hazards, “but the greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.”
Time is the most important element of the debate about what to do about Iran. In proposing renewal of international talks about its nuclear program, Iran clearly is stalling for time. Tehran knows having working nuclear weapons provides insurance that its regime will continue and thrive and that no other nation would risk attacking it.
President Obama also has been arguing for more time, saying economic sanctions need time to succeed. The President has been saying we need more time since he took office more than three years ago, exactly what the Iranians want. Every day the Iranians are making further progress toward a nuclear weapon, as the clock keeps ticking.
It is ironic the Obama Administration has so far strongly resisted stronger sanctions, only to yield because of insistence by Congress. Yet the Administration is only slowly implementing the stronger sanctions Congress has authorized.
Congress continues to work on legislation to further tighten Iranian sanctions. Rather than resisting such legislation, as it has so often in the past, the Administration should embrace legislation to close sanction loopholes and fully implement it as soon as possible.
While Western sanctions have impacted the overall Iranian economy and made life more difficult for the average Iranian, the Iranian regime seems willing to let the population endure the brunt of the sanctions while the nuclear program moves forward unabated.
The Administration’s Iranian sanctions strategy was called into question again recently when its Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, testified before Congress that all the sanctions piled on Iran so far have not slowed Iran’s nuclear program one iota.
Most of the sanctions so far targeted the Iranian people. Clearly, we should target additional sanctions on the Iranian regime’s leadership and its Revolutionary Guards Corps, who have been left largely unscathed by past sanction efforts. There is legislation that does so which I cosponsored, H.R. 1905. This bill passed the House in December and is pending in the Senate.
Other apparently covert means seem to have delayed Iranian nuclear progress somewhat. These include industrial “accidents,” computer worms that targeted delicate Iranian nuclear centrifuges, and the assassination of prominent Iranian nuclear scientists.
An important option missing so far from U.S. policy is a strong effort to encourage the Iranian opposition to try to replace the current regime. Because we can only delay and not stop Iran’s nuclear program, changing the regime before it achieves a nuclear bomb may be our best approach and certainly is worth considering to avoid a larger war.
A new Iranian government not pledged to the destruction of Israel, the United States and its allies would not pose the same kind of threat to the world posed by the current regime.
Young people, born after the 1979 revolution, which make up the majority of the Iranian population, and non-Persian Iranians, who are about one-third of the total population, would be receptive to a regime change message.
Iranian young people are chaffing under harsh Islamic restrictions imposed by a revolution that occurred before most of them were born. Iranian minority populations resent the Persian domination of the Tehran regime and often feel repressed or ignored. Both groups would be receptive to a strong regime change message.
During the “Green Revolution” in Iran in 2009, when thousands of people took to the streets to protest the Iranian mullahs’ repression and a rigged election, President Obama failed to support them. Despite that failure, it is not too late for the United States and others to offer both material and moral support to those who want a new government.
President Obama recently declared that his Administration’s policy was prevention of Iran obtaining nuclear weapons, not containment after the fact. If that’s the case, the Administration needs to try a new approach to the Iranian dilemma, with tighter sanctions aimed at Iran’s leaders and possible regime change as its focus.
Republican Rep. Elton Gallegly represents Ventura and Santa Barbara counties in Congress and is vice chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration Policy and Enforcement. He served on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2003-2011.