All bark no bite

The media has been busy broadcastingthe latest news on the “Iran saga” following the International Atomic Energy Agency’s report on the nuclear developments supposedly under way in the Islamic Republic.

This was preceded by a veritable storm of media commotion in Israel, as top leaders reportedly discussed launching a military strike on Iran to punish it for having nuclear aspirations. Then, Western officials began making statements concerning other types of punishment, using some form of sanctions.

The hard-line component of this rhetoric, which focuses on a military solution, appears to be a case of all bark and no bite.

Israel alone can’t undertake such a maneuver without the blessing of Washington. American policy-makers are in a specific frame of mind at the moment. The United States is trying to exit gracefully from Iraq. It must also safeguard its presence in the Gulf and it is facing a dreary situation in Afghanistan. Moreover, the White House is ultimately concerned with the re-election battle next year, which means it is difficult to contemplate military action that involves less than 100 percent guaranteed positive results. If there’s a four-letter word that American officials are preoccupied with these days, its “jobs,” and not “Iran.”

The Iran-centered media commotion – is there going to be a military strike? – is an exercise in reaping short-term political gains. It’s easy to be tough on Iran, in this simplistic fashion.

If the West really wants to be tough on Iran, it could force its hand by responding to what the Iranians want: a seat at the negotiation table, to discuss a range of matters. Waving the nuclear issue in Iran’s face also lets it play the trump card of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and question why this issue is not being discussed as well.

The Iranians can be expected to continue their denials of having any military nuclear ambitions, but the issue will not go away. A negotiation process could settle many outstanding issues, but without the paper tiger of the United Nations. The influential countries that are leading this campaign against Iran, namely the U.S., will have to play a robust, direct role in the negotiations, if they are to lead to anything viable.

If Washington moves events in the direction of a creative solution, such as a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction, it would probably do more to bring down the kind of regimes it claims threaten world peace.

With less money to spend on such costly and unbeneficial arms programs, governments in this part of the world would be pressured to spend more money on civilian objectives, possibly enhancingthe lives of their people. The money that is wasted now on expensive military activities should go instead to solving deep-rooted economic and development problems. Making noise about war might divert attention from the global economic crisis, but it’s not the solution.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 10, 2011, on page 7.




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