Iran

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In the past year, Barack Obama has been trying to open up a new dialogue with the Muslim world.  Last year, he specifically made trips to Turkey and Cairo in order to speak to the Islamic world about America’s goals, and its relationship to Islam.

But ultimately, there are only two issues that are central to this relationship, and they are inter-related:  Iran and Israel.  However, with its burgeoning nuclear and missile program, Iran clearly rises to the list of issues the President must deal with.

The White House has been trying to achieve tangible sanctions against Iran, as its rhetoric becomes more stringent.  This group would theoretically include the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, as well as Germany.  Obama has been successful in pulling the Europeans and, to a certain extent, the Russians into believing in sanctions as the best course of action.  However, China (with its huge economic ties to Iran) stands in the way, and ultimately is the most concerning obstacle.

Iran has so far responded coolly to the American overtures. In a statement carried on Iranian state television in a prelude to the 31st anniversary of the Iranian Islamic revolution, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared that Iran was, by all accounts, a Nuclear state.  But take his word for it…they don’t want to build a bomb:

“We have the capability to enrich uranium more than 20 percent or 80 percent (the level needed to create an atomic bomb),’ he said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

‘But we don’t enrich (to this level) because we don’t need it…’

‘When we say we do not manufacture the bomb, we mean it, and we do not believe in manufacturing a bomb,’ he told the crowd. ‘If we wanted to manufacture a bomb we would announce it.’

I hope that lets you sleep soundly at night.

The major problem with the sanction strategy is that Iran really has only one goal in mind; delaying.  They appear to be using a strategy of delay as long as possible, in the hopes that they can enrich the uranium faster than the international community can respond.  And they understand the simple equation that Iran plus nukes = freedom from the Security Council.  Look at North Korea and Pakistan, for example.

Some would argue that we can live with a nuclear armed Iran, considering they are half way around the world.  Maybe, but arguable.  In any case, that decision likely won’t be left up to us, because another ally is going to push the discussion forward:  Israel.

Isreal looks at Iran as an existential threat to their existence, unlike any its 60 year history.  And rightfully so.  A single nuclear warhead likely would wipeout Israel; it wouldn’t even take multiple hits to succeed.  Considering that Israel has seen fit to militarily hit the Iraq nuclear facility in the eighties, and the Syrian nuclear facility in 2006,  we have to believe that Israel is plotting such an attack on Iran.  Moreover, we know as fact that Israel requested bunker-buster bombs from the U.S. the year before last, and were refused by President Bush.  Israel has also requested fly-over rights over Iraq, and has been rebuffed.

This likely will not stop the Israelis.  In an interview conducted shortly before he was sworn in as prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu laid down a challenge for Barack Obama. The American president, he said, must stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons—and quickly—or an imperiled Israel may be forced to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities itself.  And does anyone believe Netanyahu is bluffing?  That is a dangerous wager.

There was real potential for change last year, if you believed Iran was a democracy…well, so much for that.  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s election victory over contender Hossein Moussavi by a large margin is thought by many to prove the sham that Iranian democracy is.  Ultimately the mass protests have led the Revolutionary guard and  Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, to consolidate power.  Right now, Iran is more a military state than a islamic one.

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Eventually, Obama will have to make a decision.  Since the mullahs and army now control the country, the path toward peace is much more difficult.  They base their entire political fortunes on needling the U.S., and peace gains them nothing.  Additionally, there is a group of the Iranian leadership that feels that they will only be safe if they have nuclear weapons.  Obama is quickly coming to a moment where he will have to decide where to draw the line, because ultimately, Israel is likely to make that choice for him.