By Ambassador (ret.) Yoram Ettinger
The contention that there are only two options in dealing with the rogue Ayatollahs' regime – negotiation or military option, which supposedly amounts to war – defies reality. Such a contention is either mistaken or misleading.
The threat of a limited surgical naval or air force bombing of critical nuclear installations – with no ground troops - would not amount to a war, would deter the Ayatollahs, possibly moderating their nature, and – if activated - would permanently cripple their pursuit of nuclear capabilities, and could be repeated if necessary from US military bases in Qatar, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman and the Indian Ocean or from US aircraft carriers.
Recent precedents document that there are many military options, which are dramatically short of war, but are critical to moderate the nature of rogue regimes and prevent war. On the other hand, the removal of a military option from the table – while negotiating with rogue regimes – whets their appetite and fuels war.
For example, on December 19, 2003, Libya's President Gaddafi announced a drastic moderation of his modus operandi: the dismantling of his chemical, nuclear and long range ballistic missiles capabilities. Gaddafi's stunning decision was induced by the high visibility of the US military option. He was traumatized by the December 13, 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein, which upgraded the US posture of deterrence, convincing the Libyan tyrant that the US was determined to leverage the military option in its battle against additional rogue regimes.
In fact, Iran's Ayatollahs suspended their nuclear program, in 2003, due to their fear of the US military option. Alas, the Ayatollahs resumed, expanded and accelerated their nuclear program, upon realization that there was no threat of an imminent US military operation against them or against their ally, Syria's Assad. They were emboldened by President Bush's embrace of Secretary of State Colin Powell's May 3, 2003 statement that the military option against Syria "was not on the table.”
On July 20, 1988, following eight years of intransigence, Iran accepted a ceasefire agreement, ending its eight year war against Iraq – including full retreat from occupied Iraqi territory – in response to a surgical US attack on sensitive Iranian installations, and the unintentional downing of an Iran Air Airbus by the US Navy.
However, on July 25, 1990 – one week before the August 2 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait – Secretary of State Jim Baker removed the US military option from the table, misleading Saddam Hussein into believing that he could get away with the murder of Kuwait, thus unintentionally paving the road to the First (1991) and Second (2003) Persian Gulf Wars. Secretary Baker instructed the US Ambassador to Baghdad, April Glaspie, to tell Saddam Hussein: "We have no opinion on the Arab-Arab conflicts, like your border disagreement with Kuwait.... Secretary of State Jim Baker has directed our official spokesmen to emphasize this instruction [that the Kuwait issue is not associated with America].”
Secretary Baker assumed that the overwhelming US military edge would deter Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait. He underestimated Saddam's megalomaniac ideology and the erosion of the US posture of deterrence. Currently, the US Administration applies similar assumptions towards the supremacist, Islamist, repressive, violently intolerant, megalomaniacal, expansionist, anti-US Ayatollahs. Unlike Saddam, the Ayatollahs are apocalyptic, undeterred – but energized - by mutual assured destruction (MAD), the prospect of a nuclear confrontation. They are emboldened by the dramatic decline of the US power projection in the Middle East and beyond.
The removal of the military option from the table – when dealing with the Ayatollahs – would be similar to a police chief removing guns, tasers, rubber bullets and tear gas from policemen dealing with violent criminals. Intensified crime will follow.
The removal of the military option from the table projects the intent to ignore precedents, or to learn from precedents by repeating – rather than avoiding – devastating mistakes.
When dealing with the rogue Ayatollahs' regime, the stick/threat of military (not war) optionconstitutes a most effective, and humane, means to spare humanity the wrath of a global nuclear war. The absence of such an option brings the globe closer to an unprecedented tectonic chaos.