Why Won’t Obama Speak Frankly About Iran?
he world is nearing the point where it is going to have to make some difficult decisions about how to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon—among them, a decision about whether to use military force. Given Iran’s deep hostility to the United States and Israel, as well as its history of sponsoring terrorism, the importance of denying Iran a nuclear weapon cannot be overstated.
But, while President Obama says he believes Iran must be denied the bomb, his rhetoric on the subject has been curiously circumscribed. He has not made a major speech explaining to the American and global public why an Iranian nuclear bomb would be a threat to the United States or to the countries of the Middle East. He has not used his bully pulpit to detail the content of Iran’s genocidal threats to Israel. He has not explained why an Iranian bomb would doom his hopes for preventing further proliferation of nuclear weapons to other countries. Even as he says things like “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon,” he has not explained to the country why a policy of containment and deterrence—which worked in the case of the Soviet Union—is deeply problematic in the case of Iran.
Consider his comments about Iran during his recent State of the Union:
And we will safeguard America’s own security against those who threaten our citizens, our friends, and our interests. Look at Iran. Through the power of our diplomacy, a world that was once divided about how to deal with Iran’s nuclear program now stands as one. The regime is more isolated than ever before; its leaders are faced with crippling sanctions, and as long as they shirk their responsibilities, this pressure will not relent.
Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.
But a peaceful resolution of this issue is still possible, and far better, and if Iran changes course and meets its obligations, it can rejoin the community of nations.
First, it is not true that the world “stands as one” regarding stopping Iran’s progress towards the bomb. For instance, while China supports some form of economic sanctions, it also continues to buy a great deal of oil from the country. So while the world may “stand as one” in wishing that Iran does not get the bomb, there is no unified position on how to translate this wish into reality.
Second, Obama asserts his determination to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon and says he “will take no options off the table.” When a President speaks about the possibility of using military force in a preemptive strike to prevent another country from attaining nuclear weapons—for this is what taking no options off the table means—norms of democratic legitimacy require that he explain in that moment to that huge audience why he would even consider such a thing. Yet Obama said nothing about why the military option must remain on the table. His refusal to do so raises doubts about how serious he is.
Third, these doubts are enhanced by the next sentence regarding the possibility of a peaceful resolution of the issue. Yes, of course, that would be preferable; but the President does not explain why he thinks such a course is likely.