from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

What Must They Think in Tehran?

November 9, 2012

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On November 1, Iranian warplanes attacked a US drone over international waters in the Persian Gulf. CNN had the story, which has been confirmed. In a separate CNN story, a Pentagon spokesman said this:

The reality is that we have a wide range of options, as I said before, to protect our assets and our forces in the region, and we’ll do so when necessary. The United States has communicated to the Iranians that we will continue to conduct surveillance flights over international waters, over the Arabian Gulf, consistent with longstanding practices and our commitment to the security of the region.

Three comments seem appropriate today.

First, the Obama administration withheld this information--hid it, if one wishes to use a tougher term--in the days before the presidential election. That alone must suggest to the government of Iran that politics, not national security, comes first in Washington.

Second, what in fact has been the American response to what we are calling an unprovoked attack in international air space? Nothing. We sent a message. The Pentagon spokesman said we have lots of options, and among them it seems we have selected none. Because this attack is only the latest in decades of Iranian attacks on Americans and American assets, and has elicited the usual non-response, the government of Iran must conclude that we will go to extreme lengths to avoid any confrontation and to protect our rights. And what if the drone had been shot down? Would we have reacted? Does the protection of our rights depend on Iranian marksmanship? Next time will we send a more strongly-worded message? If we are trying to persuade Iran that it must negotiate on its nuclear weapons program or face possible military action, the U.S. government’s handling of this incident is counter-productive--to say the least.

Third, what do the Iranians make of the apparent fact that the President’s chosen negotiator for new, secret talks is Valerie Jarrett. Ms. Jarrett’s background in foreign policy is this: "Jarrett has held positions in both the public and private sector, including the chairwoman of the Chicago Transit Board, Chicago’s commissioner of planning and development and deputy chief of staff for Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley. She also practiced law with two private law firms." She is a political adviser to Mr. Obama, and it is reported that she opposed the strike that killed Osama bin Laden. What must they think in Tehran? Again, that politics dominates national security policy and that we seek to avoid a confrontation at all costs.

All of this will make a negotiated solution more difficult, and a bad outcome--either caving into accept an Iranian nuclear weapons program, or having to bomb Iran to avoid this--far more likely. In fact, if Mr. Obama really means it when he says that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable, these erroneous moves are bringing a military confrontation steadily closer.

 

 

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