Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Obama, Hagel, and Iran

by Elliott Abrams
December 18, 2012

As President Obama enters his second term, his policy with respect to Iran has been spelled out many times.

In a March interview with The Atlantic, he described his policy this way:

It means a political component that involves isolating Iran; it means an economic component that involves unprecedented and crippling sanctions; it means a diplomatic component in which we have been able to strengthen the coalition that presents Iran with various options through the P-5 plus 1 and ensures that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is robust in evaluating Iran’s military program; and it includes a military component. And I think people understand that. I think that the Israeli government recognizes that, as president of the United States, I don’t bluff. I also don’t, as a matter of sound policy, go around advertising exactly what our intentions are. But I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say.

Pasted at the bottom here are some long excerpts from his speech this year to AIPAC, where he made most of the same points. Here was his conclusion:

Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power: A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.

So the President insists that crippling sanctions are a key part of America’s policy toward Iran; that Iran must be prevented from getting a nuclear weapon; that containment is not an option; and that force will be used if necessary.

And those policies are not only his: they have very broad support in both parties in Congress, which has actually moved several times to tighten sanctions on Iran even beyond administration preferences.

All of this is worthy of note this week because the President appears poised to nominate someone for secretary of defense who does not agree with any of it. Former senator Chuck Hagel is well-known for his opposition to sanctions in general and for having opposed sanctions on Iran in particular. As an article in Foreign Policy notes, “In 2008, Hagel was blamed for blocking an Iran sanctions bill that Senate Democrats supported…. As early as 2001, Hagel said that sanctions on Iran and Libya were ineffective. He was one of only two senators that year to vote against renewal of the Iran-Libya Sanctions Act….”

If Mr. Hagel is nominated one hopes that senators, and above all Democratic senators who support Mr. Obama’s policy toward Iran, will ask Mr. Hagel all about this. Does he now support “crippling sanctions” against Iran and will he work to promote them? If so, when did he change his mind about this and why? Does he fully accept that containment is not American policy and must be rejected, and that the United States would use military force if needed to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons? If so, when did he adopt this view? In 2013 the United States may be forced to act on its “policy of prevention,” and Iran is clearly the most dangerous problem we face right now. To have the American military headed by someone who does not agree with the President’s views, or gives them lip service while arguing behind closed doors for their abandonment, is a prospect that should alarm those members of the Senate who have spoken out strongly to support what is now American policy. It isn’t clear whether Mr. Hagel’s views have changed, but it is clear that senators must determine if any nominee for defense secretary holds views that are outside the very broad bipartisan consensus about Iran.

 

 

 

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Remarks by the President at AIPAC Policy Conference

Washington Convention Center, Washington, D.C., March 4, 2012

….Let’s begin with a basic truth that you all understand:  No Israeli government can tolerate a nuclear weapon in the hands of a regime that denies the Holocaust, threatens to wipe Israel off the map, and sponsors terrorist groups committed to Israel’s destruction.  And so I understand the profound historical obligation that weighs on the shoulders of Bibi Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, and all of Israel’s leaders. A nuclear-armed Iran is completely counter to Israel’s security interests.  But it is also counter to the national security interests of the United States.

Indeed, the entire world has an interest in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.  A nuclear-armed Iran would thoroughly undermine the non-proliferation regime that we’ve done so much to build.  There are risks that an Iranian nuclear weapon could fall into the hands of a terrorist organization.  It is almost certain that others in the region would feel compelled to get their own nuclear weapon, triggering an arms race in one of the world’s most volatile regions.  It would embolden a regime that has brutalized its own people, and it would embolden Iran’s proxies, who have carried out terrorist attacks from the Levant to southwest Asia. And that is why, four years ago, I made a commitment to the American people, and said that we would use all elements of American power to pressure Iran and prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapon.…

Because of our efforts, Iran is under greater pressure than ever before.  Some of you will recall, people predicted that Russia and China wouldn’t join us to move toward pressure.  They did.  And in 2010 the U.N. Security Council overwhelmingly supported a comprehensive sanctions effort.  Few thought that sanctions could have an immediate bite on the Iranian regime.  They have, slowing the Iranian nuclear program and virtually grinding the Iranian economy to a halt in 2011.  Many questioned whether we could hold our coalition together as we moved against Iran’s Central Bank and oil exports.  But our friends in Europe and Asia and elsewhere are joining us.  And in 2012, the Iranian government faces the prospect of even more crippling sanctions….

Of course, so long as Iran fails to meet its obligations, this problem remains unresolved.  The effective implementation of our policy is not enough — we must accomplish our objective.  And in that effort, I firmly believe that an opportunity still remains for diplomacy — backed by pressure — to succeed.

The United States and Israel both assess that Iran does not yet have a nuclear weapon, and we are exceedingly vigilant in monitoring their program.  Now, the international community has a responsibility to use the time and space that exists.  Sanctions are continuing to increase, and this July — thanks to our diplomatic coordination — a European ban on Iranian oil imports will take hold.  Faced with these increasingly dire consequences, Iran’s leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision.  They can choose a path that brings them back into the community of nations, or they can continue down a dead end.

And given their history, there are, of course, no guarantees that the Iranian regime will make the right choice.  But both Israel and the United States have an interest in seeing this challenge resolved diplomatically.  After all, the only way to truly solve this problem is for the Iranian government to make a decision to forsake nuclear weapons.  That’s what history tells us.

Moreover, as President and Commander-in-Chief, I have a deeply held preference for peace over war. I have sent men and women into harm’s way.  I’ve seen the consequences of those decisions in the eyes of those I meet who’ve come back gravely wounded, and the absence of those who don’t make it home. Long after I leave this office, I will remember those moments as the most searing of my presidency.  And for this reason, as part of my solemn obligation to the American people, I will only use force when the time and circumstances demand it.  And I know that Israeli leaders also know all too well the costs and consequences of war, even as they recognize their obligation to defend their country.

We all prefer to resolve this issue diplomatically.  Having said that, Iran’s leaders should have no doubt about the resolve of the United States — just as they should not doubt Israel’s sovereign right to make its own decisions about what is required to meet its security needs.

I have said that when it comes to preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, I will take no options off the table, and I mean what I say. That includes all elements of American power:  A political effort aimed at isolating Iran; a diplomatic effort to sustain our coalition and ensure that the Iranian program is monitored; an economic effort that imposes crippling sanctions; and, yes, a military effort to be prepared for any contingency.

Iran’s leaders should understand that I do not have a policy of containment; I have a policy to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon.  And as I have made clear time and again during the course of my presidency, I will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests….

Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by Dean A. Smallwood

    It should be clear to just about anyone by now that Obama has no clear policy toward Iran and frankly doesn’t know what he’s doing . If Obama ” doesn’t bluff ” it’s because he’s not even in the game .

  • Posted by David S. Most

    Is it just possible that this is how Mr. Obama can talk out of both sides of his mouth and get away with it? On the one hand he professes unqualified support for Israel and tough sanctions on Iran while on the other he considers appointed somebody quite in opposition.
    Maybe the signal he is sending is so obvious we refuse to believe it? Why Mr. Hagel has stood in opposition to so many Senate resolutions vis a vis Iran and Israel and may be our Sec Def. doesn’t compute.

  • Posted by George

    The policy of sanctions against Iran has been an utter failure. So, how long should this stupid policy be continued? The purported reason for sanctions is to stop Iran’s nuclear program, which is peaceful from all evidence. In fact, there has been no impact on Iran’s nuclear program.

    In review, how are sanctions that prevent Iran from importing medicines and food products going to help stop its nuclear program? Only a moron can invent a connection.

    The sanctions actually have nothing to do with Iran’s nuclear program. They are intended to destroy the Iranian economy so that people will rise and change the government. The actual results are the opposite. People only blame the West and support the Iranian government more.

    More interestingly, sanctions have led to a great industrial growth in Iran since Iran needs to be self-sufficient now. So, ironically, many Iranians are calling for more sanctions since it will strengthen their country more and will make them more independent of the West.

  • Posted by Jean

    I agree with the Wahington Post that Chuck Hagel would make a very bad choice for Secretary of Defense for many of the reasons stated and that Flournoy is a much better choice.

    I would add that Chuck Hagel’s comments are racist and condescending . Imagine anyone saying the NAACP or LA Raza intimidate many people.

    Defense Secretary is a job that needs someone who is very strong yet diplomatic not a hothead.

  • Posted by Clint

    Chuck Hagel is an excellent choice for Secretary of Defense. He is someone who speaks honestly and would provide the President with valuable advice on matters concerning our military. It bothers me that Mr. Hagel’s reputation is being smeared by Mr. Abrams based on hearsay and an overly sensitive interpretation of comments he’s made in the past.

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