Robert Bolton is not one to mix his words. The former U.S. representative to the U.N. link and intermittent think tank appointee - including JINSA, AEI, and PNAC - was brutally honest at a AEI event held a couple of Tuesdays ago on the question of Iran going nuclear saying, “We are going to have to deal with a nuclear Iran … We have lost this race”.
In so saying, Bolton -- among the hawkiest of hawks from the now neoconservative-movement-in-exile -- broke ranks with many of his neocon colleagues. Most of them haven't given up on stopping Iran, as evidenced by a raft of new reports from neocon-linked think-tank’s. In addition, they're busily calling for stepped-up sanctions, making bellicose threats, and warning of military action by the United States and Israel. But Bolton is folding his cards.
Too late for sanctions
According to Bolton, the idea that Iran can be deterred from going forward by applying economic sanctions won't work. Had it been tried earlier, he said, it might had an impact. "Sanctions could have dissuaded Iran," he said. "But that time is past." Europe doesn't have the will to impose tough sanctions, he said. He lamented his encounters with the German ambassador to the United Nations, during Bolton's tenure as US ambassador there, and he said that the Germans and other European countries won't take action to cut off their lucrative trade with Tehran.
No chance of military force
Bolton also said that neither the United States nor Israel will attack Iran to stop its nuclear program. "Neither one is willing to use military force," he said. Bolton said that until recently he believed that there was a small chance that Israel, on its own, might attack Iran before January 20, when Barack Obama becomes president. But Israel is mired in political confusion in advance of its coming elections, and there is no political will in Israel to go to war against Iran, he said. Bolton also said that the likelihood of a US attack on Iran under Obama is nil. "Under an Obama administration, that possibility is essentially zero," he said. "After January 20, the chances are zero.
We are therefore left with an unappealing question; can we live with a nuclear Iran? Michael Rubin thinks not:
It may be comforting to Abizaid, Mullen, and the electorate to believe that the United States can deter or contain Tehran's worst ambitions, but absent any preparation to do so, Washington is instead signaling that the Islamic Republic has a green light to claim regional dominance and, at worst, carry out its threats to annihilate Israel. At the same time, absent any effort to lay the groundwork either for containment or deterrence, Washington is signaling to its allies in the region that they are on their own and that the U.S. commitment to protect them is empty. Arab states and Iran's other neighbors may calculate that they have no choice but to make greater accommodation to Tehran's interests. Should Israeli officials believe that the West will stand aside as Iran achieves nuclear capability and that a nuclear Islamic Republic poses an existential threat to the Jewish state, they may conclude that they have no choice but to launch a preemptive military strike--an event that could quickly lead to a regional conflagration from which the United States would have difficulty remaining aloof.
I cannot think of any peaceful instrument that is likely to dissuade Iran from pursuing its nuclear ambitions aside perhaps from providing only improvements of a secondary or marginal nature. A multipolar nuclear Middle East is hardly in the West’s and above all, in America’s interests. Looking ahead, any efforts to contain a nuclear Iran would pose significant challenges in light of both the Islamic Republics inherent nature, its continuing support for terrorism and present regional political order. Aside from the military question, the U.S. will be severely tested as it attempts to manage the instability and insecurity fashioned by a nuclear Iran. By fashioned we mean actual security threats such as terror and subversion, limited military operations under the protection of an Iranian nuclear umbrella and lord forbid, the actual use of nuclear weapons. As hideous as this sounds, and notwithstanding major developments beforehand, Iran may soon become part of the international engine room for the design of a new regional architecture in the Persian Gulf and Southern Asia. Unquestionably, any hopes that Operation Iraqi Freedom would result in the U.S. building on its military success by establishing new regional security architecture actually capable of generating stability have long passed.
Related: Iran: The penultimate step is now within sight