In the last two weeks we have witnessed potentially historic diplomacy in the Middle East. One hopes that this yields a safer Middle East and lessens the likelihood of the United States or Israel engaging in dangerous military operations. As the President pursues diplomacy with Syria and Iran, the U.S. Congress must reaffirm the tough policy positions that have gotten us to this point.
It is more important than ever that the Congress affirm and strengthen its commitment to deter Iran from the pursuit of nuclear weapons. President Obama has stated repeatedly that he would, if necessary, employ U.S. military force to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. The question now, in light of all that has happened with Syria, is whether Iran still believes this. Iran must not misinterpret the often-messy workings of our Constitutional system as a lack of American resolve in opposition to Iranian nuclear development.
A nuclear Iran would pose a far greater threat to our country than Syria likely ever could, and Iran appears to be accelerating its efforts to achieve this status. Should the Ayatollahs obtain the nuclear weapons they seek, American national security would be imperiled in a very real way. The risk of the use and proliferation of nuclear weapons would rise dramatically, and radical Islam would achieve unprecedented and potentially irreversible power in the Middle East.
‘Today we have a great opportunity to rid Syria
of its chemical weapons, but this process is fraught with risks.’
A core, longstanding plank of the President’s policy to deter Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is the credible threat of American military force. We should be concerned, however, that a resolution to the Syria crisis might compromise the credibility of this threat in the minds of the Iranian rulers. Since the start of the conflict in Syria, President Obama has wisely done everything possible to avoid U.S. military engagement. Even after Bashar Al-Assad violated the President’s “red-line” and gassed thousands of his own people to death, President Obama sought – and may have achieved – a diplomatic solution to the crisis. Today we have a great opportunity to rid Syria of its chemical weapons, but this process is fraught with risks. Should Syria not promptly cooperate and allow the removal of all its chemical weapons, the U.S. risks appearing feckless. Yet even if every last chemical agent is removed from Syria, we will still be left with the American people and their leaders having shown themselves very wary of new military engagements.
In the wake of the deal for the removal of chemical weapons from Syria, President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry have wisely, promptly warned Iran not to misinterpret the American response to the Syria crisis. But reassurances from the President and Secretary Kerry on the military threat against Iran are now insufficient, however steadfast the President’s resolve. Given its important role in the Syria debate, Congress too must let Iran and the world know of its commitment to deter – by means of a credible military threat – Iranian nuclear development.
And Congress must not delay in sending this message. Syria’s apparent use of chemical weapons–and the subsequent, lengthy debate about how to respond–underscore the need for Congress to speak well before Iran achieves a nuclear-weapons capability. Otherwise, Congressional action would be too late, and our deterrence policy will already have fallen short, with dire consequences.
Notwithstanding all that has happened in Syria, Iran is currently accelerating the expansion of its uranium-enrichment capacity and the development of a reactor that can yield plutonium for bombs. Russia, newly emboldened and ever cynical, is reportedly on the verge of significant new arms sales to Iran. And while Iran’s new President Hassan Rouhani has signaled his desire to improve relations with the U.S., he has not matched his rhetoric with actions.
The time is now for Congress to affirm its support of military action against Iran should such action be necessary to stop Iran’s development of nuclear weapons. Iran must know that there is no division in the American government on this policy. It is with this clear, credible military threat that America stands the best chance of avoiding another crisis in the region.