More sanctions, more war, more nukes

Dana Milbank has an excellent article in the Washington Post about former Ambassador to the UN John Bolton’s take on the [still ongoing] P5+1 negotiations with Iran over the latter’s nuclear program. Mr. Bolton’s stance on the matter is simple: more sanctions are not an option, and only war will stop Tehran from building a bomb. According to the Post and his own op-ed in the New York Times last week, he wants the US to attack Iran.

According to his argument, further sanctions will not impede Iran’s ability to enrich enough uranium to build atomic weapons. This assessment is probably correct, yet not for his supposed reasons. Iran’s economy is indeed suffering under sanctions, but the US’s ability to further damage Iran’s economy through sanctions is constrained. These negotiations are between six powers–the United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Russia, and China–and Iran, not just a bilateral talk between Washington and Tehran. All parties need to sign off any any agreement, and this is why the negotiations are so difficult.

Air strikes against Iran may set their nuclear program back considerably, yet it will likely accomplish little in the US’s long-term interest in the region. It will most likely solidify hostility toward the West and bolster support for the regime, which will certainly pursue atomic weapons again. This is probably preferable to another possible outcome of Iran, a country with a population almost as large as Germany’s, sliding into chaos under “regime change.” What kind of regime could emerge from chaos there?

Sanctions and virtually complete isolation did not prevent North Korea from gaining nuclear weapons. Military intervention toppled Saddam Hussein in Iraq, at enormous cost in Iraqi and American lives, a huge strain on the US budget, and allowed extremism to thrive in most of the country. Again, Iran is a much larger country, with more potential for destructive chaos. Engaging with Iran on this issue and leaving the door open to future cooperation may pay strategic dividends in the future. While China is hardly the best friend of the US these days, President Nixon’s actions in normalizing relations and trade with the world’s most populous nation was certainly a better move than letting animosity fester and a militantly communist China rise on its own. There may not be an ideal outcome, but there are certainly bad ideas. This latest half-baked scheme from the gang that brought us the Iraq war and ignored Afghanistan for years is most assuredly a bad idea.


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