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March 14th, 2012
07:16 PM ET

Letters to the President #1150: 'The waiting game in Iran'

Reporter's Note: I write to President Obama each day.

Dear Mr. President,

Understand please that I am not wrecking on the idea of economic sanctions as a way of putting the squeeze on the Iranians over their suspected wishes for a nuclear weapon. I fully get the notion of this sort of indirect pressure, and I appreciate how much less dramatic and problematic it is compared to a military strike.

Speaking of which, I’m also, by the way, not convinced a military strike would achieve the desired effect either. Let’s set aside political and/or humanitarian considerations for a moment. Just in a practical sense, it seems wildly uncertain that Israel, NATO, or anyone else could launch the kind of precise, devastating attack that would be necessary to end Iran’s nuclear hopes. It might slow them down by forcing them to rebuild... but make them abandon their nuclear dreams? Not likely.

So, all of that said, I do want to bring up a certain concern about this idea of sanctions: The clock. Sanctions take time, and the evidence suggests that the Iranians are so close to having the weapon they want, that if they can simply stall one, two, or three years more, they’ll have it. Sanctions and all the diplomatic talk that surrounds them (the posturing over inspectors, time tables, and access) all add up to more time for the Iranians to scramble toward the nuclear finish line.

Sure, sanctions might make a lot of normal folks angry, maybe enough to cause them to rise up in protest. But Iranian leaders have faced angry populations before. The bosses there have shown a remarkable ability to shrug off and swat down uprisings.

What if sanctions keep the Iranian nuclear experts from getting some parts or supplies they need? Again, so what? They’ll find a backdoor way to obtain what they need from someone like the North Koreans.

See what I mean? Like I said, I truly don’t know what solution might work now, but I wonder if sanctions can truly be effective... with the clock steadily ticking toward the day when I fear Iran will simply tell the world, “Hey, we have the bomb. Get used to it.”

Call if you can. Busy week, but I’ll make time to talk.

Regards,

Tom

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