Dr. Matthew Kroenig, associate professor and the international relations field chair at Georgetown University, spoke at a the Heritage Foundation on Iran’s nuclear proliferation efforts and his newest book, A Time to Attack: The Looming Iranian Nuclear Threat.
Although one may think that Kroenig is advocating for a military option, he said, “I argue that we should try to solve this problem, the Iranian nuclear challenge, diplomatically, if possible.” But, if diplomacy fails, Kroenig suggested that “there will come a time to attack Iran.” And, adding to the discussion, he asked the question, “Are we prepared to live with a nuclear armed Iran?”
If diplomacy does fail, as currently seems likely, he recommended that the U.S. “should conduct a limited strike” when the Iranian government speeds up its nuclear proliferation efforts and program. Kroenig is not alone on his belief because, in his own words he said, “This argument is essentially, America’s stated position on this issue.” Since the Obama administration adopted this very position. The argument is “not controversial, it’s simply America’s approach.”
Now that time has passed, his position is now the “establishment viewpoint” of how to deal with Iran, so much so that those encouraging deterrence and containment are “ostracized as extremists.” He cited Senator Rand Paul’s recent remarks on Iran and noted that he had to backtrack from them. When others countered and asked whether Iran could follow the “Japan model,” or “allow Iran to have an advanced nuclear capability without building nuclear weapons,” Kroenig said it is impractical and is one of several “non-starters.”
Kroenig outlined two parts of evaluating policies toward Iran:
- “First, there are a number of interests, per which, military action is clearly preferable”; and
- “Many interests that seem to be pure toss-ups, it’s really hard to make a clear case that one is better than the other.”
Another potential view of “acquiescing to a nuclear Iran” would make things much worse for the U.S., Israel and the Middle East. “Now is not the time to shirk our responsibility,” said Kroenig. He went on to say, “Iran’s leaders are very clear about this” and their desire to become a “dominant state in the Middle East.” The suggestion that Iran will peacefully use nuclear capabilities for energy, and not war, said Kroenig, is “not consistent with what Iran’s leaders say” about their country’s nuclear proliferation efforts. Kroenig argued, “If they had nuclear weapons, they could deter a major U.S. attack” and could act as “a shield” against potential U.S. military action.
Yet, Kroenig does not believe that Iran and its leaders are “suicidal.” He said, “I don’t think that Iran’s Supreme Leader will ever wake up and think today is a good day for a nuclear exchange.” By obtaining a nuclear weapon, Kroenig said it could lead to Iran “[getting] into crises with other states like a nuclear armed Israel or United States in the future.” He added, “I don’t think Israel’s leaders are exaggerating that it’s an existential threat.” And, there are legitimate fears that Iran’s nuclear weapons could reach American shores. There is little difference in opinion regarding a nuclear Iran between George W. Bush and Barack Obama, Kroenig suggested. “Both said a nuclear armed Iran is unacceptable.” Also, he pointed out that “a nuclear arms race is deeply antithetical” to Obama’s legacy as president.
Yet, “if the president is serious, but nobody else believes him, that’s the worst possible situation” for Obama. Kroenig remarked, “I think the Iranians and the Israelis don’t believe him” and that could lead to serious consequences. For example, “if Iran’s Supreme Leader thinks he is bluffing,” Kroenig believed that Iran will go ahead with an aggressive nuclear proliferation program and foreign policy. Kroenig suggested three things to help deter Iran:
- Clear red lines that would trigger “immediate retaliation”
- “Aggressive outreach” to allies
- A “couple things Congress can do” such as invokingsanctions to “tighten the noose even more,” an armed resolution for military action on Iran and force Iran’s hand
Israel lacks the bunker-busting bombs that the U.S. has, as well as the heavy aircraft to deliver these bombs to destroy Iranian nuclear facilities. If Israel were to strike at the underground nuclear facilities, said Kroenig, “In order to make that effective, we’d had to provide B-2 or B-52 bombers.” But, he admitted, “Because the B-2 has stealth technology, we’d like to keep that secret.” It is not the above-ground nuclear facilities that the U.S. and Israel are worried about, but the “hardened and buried facilities.” A key concession from Iran, during the current negotiations, would be to shut down the underground facilities if the West is “going to allow them [Iran] to have enrichment” of uranium.
“Israel’s preferred strategy is for the United States to solve this” because they will not accept a nuclear Iran. If the Israelis strike, Kroenig said, it would buy the U.S. between two to three years. If the U.S. struck Iranian facilities, it would buy about five to seven years before Iran could revive their program.