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Dick Cheney’s comments over the weekend that Iran would face “serious consequences” for its nuclear actions — the same words he used in advance of the war in Iraq — faced a quick smackdown from the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs.
The new chairman, Adm. Mike Mullen, expressed deep concerns that the long counterinsurgency missions in Iraq and Afghanistan have so consumed the military that the Army and Marine Corps may be unprepared for a high-intensity war against a major adversary.
He rejected the counsel of those who might urge immediate attacks inside Iran to destroy nuclear installations or to stop the flow of explosives that end up as powerful roadside bombs in Iraq or Afghanistan, killing American troops.
With America at war in two Muslim countries, he said, attacking a third Islamic nation in the region “has extraordinary challenges and risks associated with it.” The military option, he said, should be a last resort.
Putin is not trying to restore relations with the U.S. and the West to the days of the Cold War, but neither is he willing to waive Russia’s wishes and interests in favor of the West’s. The complexity characterizing Putin’s foreign policy is causing the messages emerging from Moscow on Iran to sound ambiguous and confusing. Russia does not want its Shi’ite Muslim neighbor to have nuclear weapons, but it also sees Iran as an important market for the sale of arms and nuclear power plants for producing electricity. As far as Russia is concerned, Iran has been a target of diplomatic influence throughout history.
Above all, Russia is opposed to solving the crisis of the Iranian nuclear program by military means. It believes the Iranian leaders can still be convinced to postpone, at least for a while, the realization of their right to enrich uranium by themselves on a low level for civilian needs. That means Putin will not agree, at least not publicly, neither by silence nor by a wink, to an American military attack against Iran, not to mention an Israeli one.For several years the European Union countries, backed by the Bush administration, tried to formulate a “carrot-and-stick” policy toward Iran. They offered it benefits and diplomatic, economic and technological incentives, including nuclear ones, if it would agree to stop enriching uranium. This approach worked for a year and a half during the term of the previous president, Mohammed Khatami. But in 2005 Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected president and reshuffled the deck.
In his approach to Iran, Putin is actually improving on the European carrot-and-stick method. When it comes to Israeli and international demands, if there is a chance Iran will listen to anyone, it will listen to Moscow. Russia’s message to Iran is: You have a right to enrich uranium for civilian needs, but you don’t have to do it now. Russia supports you, but you are liable to lose our support if you are too stubborn.
Again, the news out of Iran is much more complex than the brinksmanship coming out of the Administration — and the simpleton approach being pedaled by many in the U.S media — would suggest. And the news all points in the same direction: Now is not the time to lose the world by a needless bombing of Iran.