Make no mistake: Military action must be regarded as the last resort. It would expose our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan to deadly reprisals from Iranian agents and proxies. It would destabilize the Middle East and encourage anti-Americanism throughout the world. It would continue to distract us from Afghanistan and Pakistan. And there is no guarantee that even sustained airstrikes would do more than delay Iran's nuclear program. We should not be deluded, as we were six years ago with Iraq, into thinking that military strikes would be welcomed by the Iranian people. On the contrary, an attack would drive a moderate, pro-American population into the waiting arms of the most anti-Western elements of the Iranian government and security apparatus.
The Middle East's security challenges are interrelated, which requires a comprehensive regional strategy. Progress in the Arab-Israeli conflict can reduce regional tensions and pay dividends in our engagement with Iran. A diplomatic breakthrough with Syria wouldn't sever its relationship with Iran, but it would undermine Hamas and Hezbollah and put Tehran on the defensive.
By engaging rather than bullying Iran, by listening rather than threatening, we have our best shot at averting the creation of a new nuclear power and at opening the door to lasting stability in the region. By exercising responsible global leadership rather than walking away from a threat to international security, we can reclaim the moral high ground and the strategic initiative.
John Kerry is a senator from Massachusetts and chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee