How no-nonsense negotiations can prevent a war with Iran.
Peace through strength. It’s a philosophy that guided the United States to victory in the Cold War and a policy that protected us from the calamity of nuclear war. But in the heated debate over Syria, our commitment to this approach has wavered — and it’s time we reasserted its prominence.
Some say that America’s credibility was threatened when President Barack Obama drew a red line on the use of chemical weapons and then allowed the Syrians to cross it without repercussions. We couldn’t disagree more — that would be a profound misreading of Obama’s response to the Syrian civil war. Our nation’s democratic principles give priority to the voice of individual liberties and freedoms. We will defend them with all of our nation’s might. We will not allow any nation or group to terrorize the free world — now or ever.
But foreign policy can often be a jumble of contradictions. Global enemies of the last decade can be our allies in today’s conflicts. Our friends could be our enemies tomorrow. As a result, we need to evaluate each foreign policy situation on its own merits and be open to new ideas — new approaches to resolve old conflicts.
The world is changing quickly. Americans are now targets in Kenya. The great civilizations of the last millennium are descending into chaos. Christians are being attacked in Syria and Pakistan. Jews are being attacked in European cities, and Israelis now don gas masks in preparation of the regionalization of the Syrian conflict.
As the same time, we’ve also seen rapid diplomatic developments in the war in Syria that show the power of blending our military might with aggressive diplomacy. We should seek to repeat this elsewhere — and it should start with Iran.
As Western nations sit down with Iran this week in Geneva, we should vigorously support efforts to negotiate a diplomatic solution that ensures Iran has no nuclear weapon capability and that it does not share its technology with other nations. We should also maintain — and even strengthen — the sanctions that have helped to bring Iran back to the negotiation table. And yes, we should keep all options on the table to ensure that Iran is not just stalling for time, but truly being transparent about its technology and its intentions.
The world should be on notice: the United States will act with overwhelming force if it is attacked — or if vital national security interests are at stake.
In the case of the Syrian civil war, there is no clear American interest. In fact, U.S. intervention might upset the stability of the region and work against our national security interests. By going into a war on the same side as al Qaeda and other Islamic extremists, we might end up aiding the cause that attacked America on 9/11. While Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is clearly a bad guy, there is no clear military objective in Syria.
Still, some argue that North Korea and Iran could be emboldened if the United States elects not to use force against Assad.
This is simply not true. North Korea sits atop a stockpile of weapons in close proximity to tens of thousands of U.S. troops. If Pyongyang ever used these weapons against our troops, they would see a massive response from the United States. The American people would be united, and Congress would declare war in a heartbeat. For anyone to think otherwise — be they a hawkish American pundit or a North Korean despot — is crazy.
Likewise, Iran — or any nation developing nuclear weaponry — should not doubt the military strength and unified approach of the American people toward the terrorizing of U.S. citizens and allies in Asia, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. Nor should these nations doubt that international resolve will coalesce and extract harsh penalties on nations that pursue these activities. Ultimately, the United States cannot and will not take any option off the table in order to protect Israel and other regional democracies, and to deter Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Going forward, the United States should dramatically increase our political and diplomatic efforts to halt Iran’s nuclear weapons program, and we should do so alongside all interested parties. Russia and China both trade with Iran and will be a key part of the solution.
Iran will be the next test for U.S. foreign policy after Syria. The administration should re-engage now — it can’t simply sit back and wait until a military strike is the only option. This will mean employing carrots as well as sticks — like harsher sanctions but openness to dialogue. This will mean transparent inspections of nuclear facilities that yield trustworthy information or additional consequences that guarantee Iran isn’t just playing for time. We need to ensure the Iranian regime gets clear messages about the ramifications of any hostility towards America, Israel, or regional allies.
Peace through strength is not a lonely position. In fact, there are numerous voices in the United States and in Israel calling for more political and diplomatic pressure and engagement. And many are cautioning against an Iranian (or Syrian) policy that focuses exclusively on a preemptive strike — including a former U.S. Army Chief of Staff, a former head of the U.S. Air Force, and recent heads of the Mossad and Shin Bet.
American foreign policy leaders should heed this advice — and learn the lessons of recent entanglements. We can and must use military force when necessary, and be willing to leave the option on the table when our security is threatened. However, we also need to engage politically and diplomatically to further our interests — as well as the interests of our allies — as long and as often as possible.
In the past, America’s winning strategy was to seek peace through strength. It’s a philosophy that served us back then — and one that will serve us again in the future.
Daniel W. Drezner is professor of international politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and a senior editor at The National Interest. Prior to Fletcher, he taught at the University of Chicago and the University of Colorado at Boulder. Drezner has received fellowships from the German Marshall Fund of the United States, the Council on Foreign Relations, and Harvard University. He has previously held positions with Civic Education Project, the RAND Corporation, and the Treasury Department.| Daniel W. Drezner |