The first rule of arms control, as in medicine, is to do no harm. This is not the approach taken by the Obama Administration. Whether it is through its failure to create a new era of engagement with the Muslim world, the inability to impose meaningful sanctions on Iran, its policy of hostility towards Israel, the decision to support Arab-Iranian efforts to drive a wedge between the United States and Israel over the latter’s nuclear program, or its commitments to Russia not to deploy effective missile defenses in Europe, the Obama Administration is on a direct course towards a proliferated Middle East or the weakening of U.S. conventional military capabilities. The Obama Administration is doing positive harm to the security situation in the Middle East and virtually guaranteeing an explosion of nuclear programs in the next few years.
The Obama Administration has gone out of its way not only to give Iran the time it needs to complete its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs but the political cover and strategic justification to do so. It has allowed Iran to equate its own illegal program with that of Israel. Washington’s efforts at sanctions are just enough to incentivize Teheran but not enough to stop that country’s proliferation. It has allowed a host of side issues to divert its attention from the one thing that would truly undermine stability in the region: an Iranian nuclear weapon. Indeed, the Obama Administration practically made a gift to Iran in the form of its fight with the Israeli government and the claim by various high U.S. government officials that a Palestinian-Israeli peace was important to furthering U.S. interests in the region.
It is also clear to those in the region that U.S. military power globally is a waning asset. The White House is reported to have refused a request by the coalition commander in Iraq, General Odierno, to retain a U.S. brigade in northern Iraq past the August deadline for withdrawal. This is a clear signal to one and all that the U.S. is going home no matter what.
U.S. news sources are full of reports of the eroding state of U.S. conventional military capabilities. The repeated statements by Secretary of Defense Gates and others in the administration that no country would think of taking the United States on conventionally is undermined by stories that emphasize, for example, the decline in the size of the U.S. Navy, the aging of the U.S. fighter fleet, the inability to acquire a new tanker aircraft and the impact of the rising cost of military entitlements (pay, retirement and health care) on procurement budgets. In a decade, the U.S. military will be a shadow if its current size and capability. Thus, the administration’s promise to respond to aggression using weapons of mass destruction with conventional retaliation is looking increasingly incredible. Military leaders in the Middle East (and elsewhere) know that they will have to look elsewhere for their security in the decades to come. Hence, once Iran goes nuclear, so will everyone else in the region.
The administration’s approach to a nuclear-free Middle East is, if anything, likely to make the situation worse and even risks a major war. Israel, seeing itself as the sacrifice for administration policy towards the Muslim world and its drive for nuclear disarmament is increasingly likely to strike Iran. If it doesn’t go for broke, the Israeli government could conclude that it must remove any ambiguity about its nuclear arsenal in order to deter Iranian aggression. That would spell the end to Obama’s dream of a nuclear-free world and peace in the region.
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