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Outside editorial: Plenty of time to let diplomacy, sanctions work in Iran

Posted: March 16, 2012 - 12:15am

The following editorial appeared in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch:

Despite the demonstration in Iraq and Afghanistan that there are limits to what military might can accomplish, there remains a seductive gung-ho streak in the American body politic.

It was on display last week as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Washington, D.C., and as Republican presidential candidates toured primary states, offering simplistic military solutions for complex problems.

Netanyahu wanted assurances that the United States would back Israel if it decides to attack Iranian nuclear sites. The Israeli air force is not believed to have the necessary long-range strike capability, so the United States would have to be a full partner.

President Barack Obama assured Netanyahu that “all options are on the table,” and that the prospect of an Iranian bomb remains “unacceptable.” But the president also said there was too much “loose talk” of war.

He got that right. U.S. intelligence agencies are not fully convinced Iran is working on a bomb. Some analysts argue that Iran would be no more likely to use such a weapon — or give one to a terrorist group — than any other nuclear nation. Nuclear weapons leave particle evidence that pinpoint where their plutonium comes from.

Despite the mad rhetoric of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran is not suicidal. Ahmadinejad is now out of favor with Iran’s supreme leader, the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who last week welcomed Obama’s statement that a diplomatic “window of opportunity” exists to deal with the issue.

Economic sanctions are beginning to pinch Iran: Trade and banking restrictions are in place, and inflation stands at 20 percent. Iran needs a solution to this problem as much as the Israelis do. Patience and diplomacy have not been exhausted.

Speak not of diplomacy on the Republican campaign trail. Except for the isolationist Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, the remaining candidates are employing Ahmadinejadian-style rhetoric.

On Friday, GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney was asked in a radio interview whether he’d support a first strike on Iran by a U.S.-Israel coalition. “Yes, and I think you actually have to act before they had a weapon, a deliverable weapon. They have to understand that we will take military, kinetic action if they continue to pursue a nuclear option.”

Earlier in the week, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, whose campaign is on life support funded by hawkish pro-Israel billionaire Sheldon Adelson, said that if Israel decides to attack, “I wouldn’t give this (Obama) administration one minute’s notice, because someone will leak it.”

Not to be outflanked, Rick Santorum mocked Gen. Martin Dempsey’s assertion that the United States is not convinced Iran is building a bomb. Gen. Dempsey is chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Mr. Santorum is a former senator from Pennsylvania. Who knows better?

“If they do not tear down those facilities, we will tear them down ourselves,” Mr. Santorum said, adding, “This is not bellicosity and warmongering.”

No? Well, it’s not particularly presidential, either. In the real world, things are complicated. The United States has been to war too often, losing too many lives and spending too much treasure without knowing why we got in or how we get out.

There may someday be a case for intervention in Iran. Sooner than that there may be a case for intervention in Syria. But as a last resort, not the first one.

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