On the coattails of President Obama’s commencement address at the United States Military Academy, the White House released its 2010 National Security Strategy this afternoon. This 52-page document offers the American people a comprehensive view of the current administration’s approach to national security. What is strange — and frankly, disconcerting — is the lack of a coherent strategy for dealing with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
While the NSS does discuss Iran in its extensive section on nonproliferation, it does not offer any policy priorities on how it seeks to prevent the Islamic Republic from proliferating nuclear weapons. In the section called “Advance Peace, Security, and Opportunity in the Greater Middle East” (pg. 24), Iran is addressed under the auspices of “Promoting a Responsible Iran.” The section reads:
For decades, the Islamic Republic of Iran has endangered the security of the region and the United States and failed to live up to its international responsibilities. In addition to its illicit nuclear program, it continues to support terrorism, undermine peace between Israelis and Palestinians, and deny its people their universal rights. Many years of refusing to engage Iran failed to reverse these trends; on the contrary, Iran’s behavior became more threatening. Engagement is something we pursue without illusion. It can offer Iran a pathway to a better future, provided Iran’s leaders are prepared to take it. But that better pathway can only be achieved if Iran’s leaders change course, act to restore the confidence of the international community, and fulfill their obligations. The United States seeks a future in which Iran meets its international responsibilities, takes its rightful place in the community of nations, and enjoys the political and economic opportunities that its people deserve. Yet if the Iranian Government continues to refuse to live up to its international obligations, it will face greater isolation.
At first glance, this section appears to be authored by an administration speechwriter instead of the President’s national security staff. What exactly are Iran’s “international obligations”? If these obligations include ending state support for international terrorism, Iran is unlikely to “live up to” those obligations, because Tehran does not perceive it to be in Iran’s national interest to do so.
So far, the administration’s approach to Iran has been bipolar. On the one hand, President Obama is trying to extend an unclenched fist and rely on vigorous diplomacy to repair relations. On the other, the administration is seeking to build international support for ‘crippling’ sanctions that will further isolate Tehran. The end result has been a strategy that is unfocused, and, thus far, unsuccessful in addressing most of its policy goals.
This update to the National Security Strategy presented an opportunity for the Obama administration to outline a clear and focused strategy for engaging Iran. Unfortunately, the document that was released this afternoon offers only platitudes and rhetoric.
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