Secretary of State Clinton’s statement earlier today that the U.S. would consider extending a “defense umbrella” over the Middle East if Iran continues down the path toward developing a nuclear capability were met with unhappiness in Israel:
Dan Meridor, Israel’s minister for secret services, told Army Radio that the comments imply a willingness to reconcile with the eventuality of a nuclear-armed Iran.
“I heard, unenthusiastically, the Americans’ statement that they will defend their allies in the event that Iran arms itself with an atomic bomb, as if they have already reconciled with this possibility, and this is a mistake,” Meridor told Army Radio. “Now, we don’t need to deal with the assumption that Iran will attain nuclear weapons but to prevent this.”
Interesting that Meridor was upset by Clinton’s language, given that Israel’s entire Iran policy seems to be based around the idea of assuming, and preparing for, the worst. But there’s no reason to think that Clinton is changing policy here — she’s acknowledging the possibility of a bad outcome, and letting Iran, and U.S. allies, know that the U.S. prepared for that eventuality. Certainly, language and signaling matters in politics, especially in international politics, but it seems pretty silly to insist that U.S. government officials simply refrain from publicly addressing the possibility that Iran continues down it’s current uncooperative course.
The New York Times reports Clinton as saying “We want Iran to calculate what I think is a fair assessment that if the U.S. extends a defense umbrella over the region, if we do even more to support the military capacity of those in the Gulf, it’s unlikely that Iran will be any stronger or safer, because they won’t be able to intimidate and dominate, as they apparently believe they can, once they have a nuclear weapon.”
“[Iran] faces the prospect, if it pursues nuclear weapons, of sparking an arms race in the region,” Mrs. Clinton said. “That should affect the calculation of what Iran intends to do, and what it believes is in its national security interest.”
Clinton was making clear that, whatever benefits the Iranian regime hopes to realize from the development of a nuclear weapons capability, the United States is prepared to make sure the costs will be far higher.
Meanwhile, the offer of engagement remains on the table, and it can’t be stressed enough that President Obama’s outreach to the Middle East, and to Iran specifically, has been essential to making clear that it is not the U.S. that is the recalcitrant party, and making stark the choice that faces the Iranian government right now.