A senior fellow at the Brookings Institution sets out our increasingly diminished options for dealing with a country that has vexed America since the Eisenhower administration.
War-weary and disgusted with the seemingly intractable problems posed by the Middle East, Americans perhaps understandably resist thinking through the implications of Iran’s drive to acquire nuclear weapons capability. But if we are to avoid the sort of blunders made in Iraq, Pollack (A Path Out of the Desert: A Grand Strategy for America in the Middle East, 2008, etc.) argues, we must consider our policy choices carefully and prepare now to implement them. He begins with an assessment of Iran’s brutal regime and offers a best guess about the state of their nuclear program, admitting throughout that there’s much we simply don’t know. Moving to an appraisal of our current policy and the sanctions that have surely weakened the Islamic Republic, he notes that they have failed to persuade the regime to abandon its quest for a nuclear arsenal. Moreover, while the carrot-and-stick approach has not been exhausted, necessary concessions do not appear forthcoming. Nor are the prospects for regime change likely. Pollack favors playing out these last gambits to the end, but he fears that our choices are rapidly narrowing down to either declaring war to prevent Iran from going nuclear or adopting a strategy of containment, both heretofore “unthinkable.” He clearly states his preference for containment but not before thoroughly exploring the pros and cons of a military attack (including one by Israel) and not without conceding the dangers of the policy he recommends. As the Cold War demonstrated, the path of nuclear deterrence and containment is a difficult slog, but this choice, as Pollack meticulously demonstrates, is likely less bad than the alternative. Egypt and Syria dominate today’s headlines, but it’s only a matter of time before Iran again seizes our attention. When it does, policymakers would do worse than to turn here for the difficult, systematic reasoning the problem will require.
Learned, lucid and deeply sobering.