Shaping Opinion on Iran Nuclear Program

A month ago, I argued that “[g]etting Iran to reimplement the Additional Protocol, and not the suspension of its uranium enrichment, should become thefocus of American policy moving forward.” If this Financial Times article is any indication, it looks as if the first efforts to shape public opinion in that direction have now officially begun.

Tom Barnett responds with his inimitable sangfroid:

The slim hope here that Obama clings to is that, if we acceptenrichment, Iran will stop short of weaponizing, taking a sort of Japanapproach to the question.

I honestly don’t think that will be enough for Iran in the end,given its ambitions within the Muslim world. Plus, Israel’s manywarheads will be a useful excuse.

As such, I do expect Israel to eventually strike in order to buy time.

Two things. First, Barnett’s probably right that it is a slim hope. But it beats opening negotiations with a position that offers no hope.

Second, the Iranians have already signed the Additional Protocol that would go a long way torwards making IAEA inspections a considerable obstacle to any weaponization ambitions Tehran might harbor. Implementing those inspections would not only represent a meaningful restraint on those ambitions, it would also make any eventual military strike even more effective. An immediate strike, on the other hand, might extend the operational timeframe needed to prevent Iran from obtaining weaponzation capability. But it would almost certainly fast forward what is now an ambiguous (and perhaps ambivalent) Iranian political consensus directly to a weaponization stance, effectively ending any negotiation timeframe.

So the fact that the new approach might not work does not necessarily make it a bad approach. From having read his previously comments on the issue, I don’t think Barnett would argue otherwise. But the fatalism he expresses is not necessarily the only possible outcome that might emerge from a very opaque Iranian political decision-making apparatus.