Negotiations grind on toward a fourth U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution against Iran's nuclear weapons program, even as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad arrives in New York to address the Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference. Sanctions advocates acknowledge that the Security Council's ultimate product will do no more than marginally impede Iran's progress.
In Congress, sanctions legislation also creaks along, but that too is simply going through the motions. Russia and China have already rejected key proposals to restrict Iran's access to international financial markets and choke off its importation of refined petroleum products, which domestically are in short supply. Any new U.S. legislation will be ignored and evaded, thus rendering it largely symbolic. Even so, President Obama has opposed the legislation, arguing that unilateral U.S. action could derail his Security Council efforts.
The further pursuit of sanctions is tantamount to doing nothing. Advocating such policies only benefits Iran by providing it cover for continued progress toward its nuclear objective. It creates the comforting illusion of "doing something." Just as "diplomacy" previously afforded Iran the time and legitimacy it needed, sanctions talk now does the same.
Speculating about regime change stopping Iran's nuclear program in time is also a distraction. The Islamic Revolution's iron fist, and willingness to use it against dissenters (who are currently in disarray), means we cannot know whether or when the regime may fall. Long-term efforts at regime change, desirable as they are, will not soon enough prevent Iran from creating nuclear weapons with the ensuing risk of further regional proliferation.
We therefore face a stark, unattractive reality. There are only two options: Iran gets nuclear weapons, or someone uses pre-emptive military force to break Iran's nuclear fuel cycle and paralyze its program, at least temporarily.
John R. Bolton, a former ambassador to the U.N., is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a Fox News contributor. He is the author of "Surrender Is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations and Abroad" (Simon & Schuster, 2007). To continue reading his column in The Wall Street Journal, click here.
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