Debate Club

Threat of U.S. Strike is Vital to Deterring Iran

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The credible threat of military force is essential to achieving the U.S. objective of preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons capability. This threat is vital to affecting the Iranian regime's calculus. Absent such a threat, the regime may believe that persevering against sanctions will result in American acquiescence to an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. Conversely, having staked so much on resisting external pressure, Iran's leaders likely view succumbing to sanctions as highly unpalatable.

With a credible threat of force in place, however, this calculation changes—dismissing sanctions leads not to Western acquiescence, but to a military strike. Yielding to pressure and taking up the international offer of negotiations, however undesirable to the regime, becomes the route to avert a confrontation which could threaten the regime's survival.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Iran.]

For this reason, publicly downplaying or discouraging a strike—whether by the United States or Israel—undermines U.S. efforts. This strategic reality was recognized by Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey in a Jan. 8, 2012, interview. When asked by Bob Schieffer of CBS to discuss the difficulty of a military strike on Iran, Dempsey demurred, saying, "I'd rather not discuss the degree of difficulty and in any way encourage them to read anything into that." Pressed by Schieffer as to whether the United States had the capability to destroy Iran's nuclear weapons capability, Dempsey responded, "I absolutely want them to believe that that's the case."

Making Iran believe it, however, requires disciplined, consistent, words and actions which convey American seriousness. Instead, U.S. officials have been sending mixed messages, and in public have appeared almost as worried about Israel as they are about Iran. The message Iran is likely to take from this is not that "all options are on the table," as the president asserted in his most recent State of the Union address, but that the United States is deeply conflicted about the military option and determined to rein in Israel. These perceptions are more likely to encourage Iranian nuclear ambitions than deter them.

[See pictures of Iran participating in war games.]

Public messages aside, U.S. officials may privately believe that if military action against Iran is ultimately necessary it is better that the United States—with our superior capabilities and broader international support—conduct the strike. Here too, U.S. credibility is critical—it is not just Iran that must believe we are serious in our willingness to use military force, but Israel as well.

Michael Singh

About Michael Singh Managing Director of The Washington Institute

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Iran
Israel

Other Arguments

#1
34 Pts
U.S. and Israel Should Push for Regime Change in Iran

No – U.S. and Israel Should Push for Regime Change in Iran

Raymond Tanter Founder of the Iran Policy Committee

#2
18 Pts
If America Won't Lead Against Iran, It Should Get Out of the Way

No – If America Won't Lead Against Iran, It Should Get Out of the Way

Ilan Berman Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council

#3
6 Pts
Obama Should Pressure Iran, Not Israel

No – Obama Should Pressure Iran, Not Israel

Jamie M. Fly Former Director for Counterproliferation Strategy at the National Security Council

#4
-3 Pts
U.S. Should Discourage Israel From Striking Iran

Yes – U.S. Should Discourage Israel From Striking Iran

Brian Katulis Senior Fellow at Center for American Progress

#6
-14 Pts
U.S. and Israel Need to Agree on Strike Against Iran

Yes – U.S. and Israel Need to Agree on Strike Against Iran

James Dobbins Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State

#7
-17 Pts
An Israeli Attack on Iran Could Become a Religious War

Yes – An Israeli Attack on Iran Could Become a Religious War

Daniel J. Gallington Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute

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