Forfeiting America's Military Leverage

International diplomacy, it is said, is the art of letting the other party have your way.  While there are numerous diplomatic strategies to accomplish that, one of history’s more effective means of pursuing foreign policy goals was for a superior power to conspicuously display naval forces in the waters of the weaker power, posing a military threat until satisfactory terms with the weaker nation could be reached. Such “gunboat diplomacy” could be remarkably persuasive.

But if there is such a thing as the opposite of gunboat diplomacy, we are witnessing it in the nuclear negotiations with Iran.  There will be repercussions.

The United States and other leading nations taking part in the negotiations have military capabilities that dwarf those of Iran, at best a second-rate power. Yet, in spite of the huge military advantages -- not to mention the moral gulf between the U.S and Iran, or the huge stakes of allowing Iran to go nuclear -- negotiations have proceeded as if between equals.

U.S. military spending is greater than that of the next seven countries combined. Superpower America has a near-monopoly on those gunboats, as well as military aircraft and cruise missiles. But that power is only useful if there is a willingness to use it -- or, more precisely, if America’s enemies believe that that there is such a willingness.

If there were ever thoughts that the U.S. under Obama would lay down the law with Iran and order, under overt military threat, the “voluntary” dismantling of the mullah’s nuclear program, they have passed quietly. Sure, President Obama occasionally makes some perfunctory mention that the military option is still on the table, but no one takes his half-hearted warning seriously, least of all the Iranians. 

It doesn’t help matters when Obama says, as he did on Israeli TV this week, “A military solution will not fix [the Iranian nuclear problem]. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it.”

Obama has effectively forfeited America’s military leverage. He has taken the position that the only alternative to his Iranian appeasement approach is war, and that war is not an outcome acceptable to him under any circumstances. 

No Iranian misconduct disrupts Obama’s pacifism. Against American interests and those of America’s allies, Iran has expanded its reach into Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, ethnically cleansing Sunni communities in Iraq. It has seized a cargo ship under U.S. protection, and holds several Americans hostage (complete with an ongoing farcical “trial” against Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian for espionage). It has increased its nuclear stockpile and violated its existing international agreements, including regarding type and number of centrifuges it may operate, and announced that it will build additional reactors with the help of China and Russia.

In fact, America’s gunboats notwithstanding, it is Iran that has been dictating the terms of a prospective agreement. Iran’s intransigence in the nuclear negotiations has been rewarded: the U.S. has already backed off demands regarding Iranian nuclear enrichment, centrifuges, missile technology, and duration of the prospective agreement -- and gotten nothing in return.  

Not only is the United States administration going along with all this, but it has released some $11 billion in cash assets to the Islamic Republic. On top of that, it is offering a “signing bonus” of tens of billions of additional dollars to Iran for coming to a nuclear agreement, irrespective of Iranian behavior, support for terror or holding Americans prisoners.

In this context, with no credible American military threat on the table, we should not be surprised that Iran is getting everything it wants from the negotiations at no cost and no risk. As a bonus, it gets to show the world how unserious its American arch-enemy has become.

For the last century, the United States has asserted a global foreign policy, the core of which is being ready, willing, and able to impose its military might to protect its vital interests. Is there a more compelling current American interest than to keep nuclear weapons out of the reach of a rabidly anti-American, anti-Semitic, destabilizing, theocratic, apocalyptic regime, which also threatens the world’s major oil suppliers and is the world’s greatest supporter of terror? If Obama cannot even consider the military protection of that interest, he has rendered American foreign policy impotent, and its military capabilities irrelevant.

That abandonment of longstanding American projection of military power to protect global interests does not go unnoticed, by either friend or foe. The American military’s deterrent effect has been eroded; its security umbrella to its allies looks a lot less secure. The effect on alliances both current and future is corrosive.

From Riyadh to Taipei to Jerusalem, from Moscow to Beijing to Pyongyang, the world is paying close attention. As much as these nuclear negotiations are about Iran, they are even more about America.

Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Jerusalem. More of his work is available at AbeKatsman.com.

International diplomacy, it is said, is the art of letting the other party have your way.  While there are numerous diplomatic strategies to accomplish that, one of history’s more effective means of pursuing foreign policy goals was for a superior power to conspicuously display naval forces in the waters of the weaker power, posing a military threat until satisfactory terms with the weaker nation could be reached. Such “gunboat diplomacy” could be remarkably persuasive.

But if there is such a thing as the opposite of gunboat diplomacy, we are witnessing it in the nuclear negotiations with Iran.  There will be repercussions.

The United States and other leading nations taking part in the negotiations have military capabilities that dwarf those of Iran, at best a second-rate power. Yet, in spite of the huge military advantages -- not to mention the moral gulf between the U.S and Iran, or the huge stakes of allowing Iran to go nuclear -- negotiations have proceeded as if between equals.

U.S. military spending is greater than that of the next seven countries combined. Superpower America has a near-monopoly on those gunboats, as well as military aircraft and cruise missiles. But that power is only useful if there is a willingness to use it -- or, more precisely, if America’s enemies believe that that there is such a willingness.

If there were ever thoughts that the U.S. under Obama would lay down the law with Iran and order, under overt military threat, the “voluntary” dismantling of the mullah’s nuclear program, they have passed quietly. Sure, President Obama occasionally makes some perfunctory mention that the military option is still on the table, but no one takes his half-hearted warning seriously, least of all the Iranians. 

It doesn’t help matters when Obama says, as he did on Israeli TV this week, “A military solution will not fix [the Iranian nuclear problem]. Even if the United States participates, it would temporarily slow down an Iranian nuclear program but it will not eliminate it.”

Obama has effectively forfeited America’s military leverage. He has taken the position that the only alternative to his Iranian appeasement approach is war, and that war is not an outcome acceptable to him under any circumstances. 

No Iranian misconduct disrupts Obama’s pacifism. Against American interests and those of America’s allies, Iran has expanded its reach into Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Yemen, ethnically cleansing Sunni communities in Iraq. It has seized a cargo ship under U.S. protection, and holds several Americans hostage (complete with an ongoing farcical “trial” against Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian for espionage). It has increased its nuclear stockpile and violated its existing international agreements, including regarding type and number of centrifuges it may operate, and announced that it will build additional reactors with the help of China and Russia.

In fact, America’s gunboats notwithstanding, it is Iran that has been dictating the terms of a prospective agreement. Iran’s intransigence in the nuclear negotiations has been rewarded: the U.S. has already backed off demands regarding Iranian nuclear enrichment, centrifuges, missile technology, and duration of the prospective agreement -- and gotten nothing in return.  

Not only is the United States administration going along with all this, but it has released some $11 billion in cash assets to the Islamic Republic. On top of that, it is offering a “signing bonus” of tens of billions of additional dollars to Iran for coming to a nuclear agreement, irrespective of Iranian behavior, support for terror or holding Americans prisoners.

In this context, with no credible American military threat on the table, we should not be surprised that Iran is getting everything it wants from the negotiations at no cost and no risk. As a bonus, it gets to show the world how unserious its American arch-enemy has become.

For the last century, the United States has asserted a global foreign policy, the core of which is being ready, willing, and able to impose its military might to protect its vital interests. Is there a more compelling current American interest than to keep nuclear weapons out of the reach of a rabidly anti-American, anti-Semitic, destabilizing, theocratic, apocalyptic regime, which also threatens the world’s major oil suppliers and is the world’s greatest supporter of terror? If Obama cannot even consider the military protection of that interest, he has rendered American foreign policy impotent, and its military capabilities irrelevant.

That abandonment of longstanding American projection of military power to protect global interests does not go unnoticed, by either friend or foe. The American military’s deterrent effect has been eroded; its security umbrella to its allies looks a lot less secure. The effect on alliances both current and future is corrosive.

From Riyadh to Taipei to Jerusalem, from Moscow to Beijing to Pyongyang, the world is paying close attention. As much as these nuclear negotiations are about Iran, they are even more about America.

Abe Katsman is an American attorney and political commentator living in Jerusalem. More of his work is available at AbeKatsman.com.