On April 29, answering a question on ABC's "Good Morning America," Sen. Hillary Clinton warned that if Iran attacked Israel with nuclear weapons, "we would be able to totally obliterate them." On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, Sen. Barack Obama chided Clinton. "It's language reflective of George Bush. ...This kind of language is not helpful," Obama told Tim Russert.
If peace and stability are Obama's goals, one only needs to read the Iranian newspapers to see that he is dead wrong. On Sunday, the economic daily Donya-e Eqtesad declared the most recent diplomatic initiative - a package of incentives offered by the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - to be a validation of Iranian defiance. Then, the next day, Kayhan, the daily newspaper that is the mouthpiece of the Supreme Leader, ridiculed international diplomats' offers of incentives to Iran if it stops its nuclear enrichment, chiding them "for mistaking Iran today with Iran four years ago" and noting that "Iran's bargaining position has strengthened considerably" since it began to accelerate its enrichment.
Obama must confront reality: While everyone wishes for diplomacy's success, it is Iran's nuclear advance, not American "saber-rattling," that is the single greatest danger to international peace and security.
The civilian nature of Iran's nuclear program is fiction. First, there is original sin: Iran experimented with warhead design until 2003. It spent millions to conceal its enrichment capability. It rests on a sea of oil and gas, giving it almost limitless generating capability for a fraction of its nuclear investment. Most damning, Iran does not possess the uranium resources to power its reactors beyond 2023.
Iran's Foreign Ministry officials - basically out-of-the-loop minders for Western diplomats and journalists - deny military ambitions. But those closer to Iran's leadership tell a very different story. On Dec. 14, 2001, then-President Hashemi Rafsanjani raised the possibility that, because Iran has the size to withstand a nuclear response, a nuclear first strike on Israel might be worthwhile.
On May 29, 2005, Hojjat ol-Islam Gholam Reza Hasani, the Supreme Leader's representative in West Azerbaijan, declared possession of nuclear weapons to be one of Iran's top goals. "An atom bomb ...must be produced as well," he said. While University of Michigan Prof. Juan Cole has made acottage industry of denying that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he wished to wipe Israel off the face of the map, the president's official translation affirmed his genocidal intent, as did the missiles paraded through Tehran with banners calling for Israel's demise.
The next U.S. President will confront a very different Iran from that faced by George Bush. That Obama - while not taking military options off the table entirely - seems bent on relying primarily on inspections and negotiations shows ignorance and inexperience.
The International Atomic Energy Agency inspects only Iran's declared facilities. It does so once a month. But if Iran has installed 6,000 centrifuges as Ahmadinejad has claimed, the Islamic Republic could produce a bomb's worth of highly enriched uranium in a matter of weeks.
If Iran goes nuclear, no amount of diplomacy will put the nuclear genie back in the bottle. And while most Iranians are peaceful, they do not control the country's nuclear program; the Supreme Leader and the Revolutionary Guards - the most ideological and reactionary faction within the Islamic Republic - do.
And so, in the face of a saber-rattling Iran, the next U.S. President will have just two main policy options: containment and deterrence. Both are military strategies. Containment requires alliances with regional states, forward deployment and, yes, permanent bases. Deterrence requires all Iranians to understand the collective responsibility that accompanies any use of nuclear weapons.
Clarifying red lines and consequences is not warmongering; it is responsible diplomacy.
Michael Rubin, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, is editor of the Middle East Quarterly.