Stephen Walt writes: What if our current policy towards Iran actually works, and Tehran gives in to every one of our demands? You’d think that would be a crowning diplomatic success, wouldn’t you? Think again. In fact, a one-sided triumph over Iran might solve little, because a deal dictated by Washington probably wouldn’t last.
Given where U.S. policy is today, there are two paths to a resolution of the Iranian nuclear issue. Both are inherently coercive. The first path is the one we are currently on: The United States and its allies keep ratcheting up economic sanctions until the Iranian economy collapses, accompanied by a fair amount of human suffering and untold deaths due to economic hardship. At that point, the clerical regime either says “uncle” or gets overthrown. In either case, whoever is in charge in Iran subsequently agrees to abandon all nuclear enrichment, get rid of all their current stockpile of enriched uranium, and dismantle all their centrifuges, with compliance to be verified by the United States and the IAEA.
In this scenario, a tightening vise of economic pressure will convince Iran to do what the late Muammar Qaddafi did in Libya in 2003 and abandon any interest in a nuclear capability. Unfortunately for us, Tehran has probably noticed what happened to him, which makes it less likely that they’d ever surrender in quite the same way.
The second path is the military option: The United States attacks Iran and destroys as much of its nuclear infrastructure as it can find. We also manage to convince Iran that we’ll keep coming back to repeat the job if they try to rebuild. In response, the clerical regime ignores the popular outrage that our attack would provoke and agrees to remain a non-nuclear power in perpetuity.
Let’s ignore for the moment the fact that U.S. intelligence services still believe that Iran is not actively seeking nuclear weapons at all, a view that our allies in Great Britain apparently share. Let’s also leave aside the question of whether either of these two paths is likely to succeed. Instead, let’s suppose one of them did, and Iran capitulated to our current demands. Would that be a good thing? I’m not so sure. [Continue reading…]