Where Do We Go From Here?

Wednesday’s International Atomic Energy Agency’s report about Iran’s nuclear program should alarm everyone who cares about keeping weapons of mass destruction out of the hands of third world dictators and terrorists. Since August, Iran has increased its stash of enriched uranium by over 30%. Analysts say Iran is enriching uranium at a pace that will allow them to produce enough fissile material for a crude nuclear bomb by early 2009.

To make matters worse, the IAEA also reported that there has been a complete breakdown of communication between them and the Iranian regime over Iran’s nuclear weapons program. This, of course, makes the job of the already hapless UN agency even more difficult.

A defiant Iran brings up the most important question in national security today, “Where do we go from here?” President-elect Obama is faced with several choices, none of which are great. First, he can, as promised, open a dialog directly with the Iranian president (while others in his administration carry on lower level talks). Since the Europeans have been attempting to negotiate away the Iranian nuclear program for years, this seems unlikely to work. Also, remember that we have had some direct negotiations with the Iranian government over the past several years. Specifically, US ambassador to Iraq, Ryan Crocker, has met on several occasions with his Iranian counter-part. Again, there was no progress from these negotiations.

Second, Mr. Obama can take military action to destroy or significantly impede Iran’s ability to manufacture WMD. If this were to work, it would be our best option. Forever putting to bed the threat of this terrorist regime obtaining the world’s most dangerous weapons and, at the same timing, warning all other rogue regimes that the United States means business when it says that it will not tolerate nuclear proliferation.

However, as with all military operations, there are no guarantees of success and the ancillary consequences may not be good. Iran may have the ability to activate terrorist cells around the world (including in the US) to strike at US civilians, installations and interests. I do think that this threat is substantially less than the threat of a nuclear armed Iran. And, of course, it would result in increased oil prices.

There has also been some talk in the Israeli press recently that the Israeli’s are moving in the direction of a military confrontation with Iran over this issue. I, however, doubt that Israel will be willing or able to act. They have an upcoming election in February and it is unlikely that a lame duck prime minister who has shown no ability to manage international threats will suddenly decide to act.

A third approach is proposed by Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL). Congressman Kirk (who happens to be my Congressman), proposes that we engage in a naval blockade of all Iranian ports. This would have devastating effects on the Iranian economy, especially in the energy sector. Despite being one of the world’s top oil producers, Iran has very little refining capacity and imports most of its usable oil via oil tanker. Congressman Kirk figures that a blockage will cause such an economic crisis that either the Iranian government will be forced to end its nuclear program in a verifiable way so as to end the blockade or it will be overthrown by factions who wish closer ties to the west in general and the US in particular.

This approach seems reasonable, but is not without its potential problems. The Iranians may activate their terrorist cells because they consider the blockage provocative (after all, under international law, this is an act of war). Oil prices would increase as well. Also, this too may not work. Then, we are left with either more talking or military action.

The final option is, of course, allowing Iran to possess nuclear weapons. Of all of the options, this is by far the worst. Nothing good will come from it!

As we approach inauguration day, President-elect Obama has some difficult choices to make. Let’s just hope that he has an effective idea for “Where do we go from here?”

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