How will the Obama administration respond to the Iranian plot to commit acts of terror in the US? Joe Biden said that the consequences will be “serious,” but basically says that the Obama administration doesn’t want to go beyond a few new sanctions “yet.” Instead, Obama wants to “unite the world” in isolating the Iranians, even though Biden acknowledges that the plot went at least as high as senior leadership in the Revolutionary Guard:
In other words, the same approach that gave Iran the notion that it could attack the US on its own soil will somehow deter Iran from doing so in the future. Yeah, that’ll work. Perhaps the Obama administration doesn’t realize this, but when a country commits an act of war against the US, we are allowed to respond in kind. That’s the way nation-states ensure that other nation-states don’t commit acts of war in the first place. And let’s not forget that it is the Obama administration that insists that Iran’s military backed this plot.
If all of this seems depressingly familiar, it should. The US got challenged by an act of war by the Iranian regime at almost exactly the same point in another Democratic presidency — Jimmy Carter’s. The Iranians seized our embassy and took our diplomatic staff hostage, an attack recognized as an act of war for practically as long as diplomacy has existed. Instead of responding in kind and making a point about attacking a superpower, Carter instead encouraged more attacks by negotiating for 444 days.
We’re now at risk of sending the exact same message. An insistence on global consensus that Iran is a bad actor as a consequence of a terror plot is no deterrent at all. Slapping a few sanctions on individual Iranians is an act of impotence when a demonstration of power is needed, not to deter just Iran but any other nation who thinks that they can gain something by attacking embassies in the US. That doesn’t mean we need to go to total war with Iran, but we do have to make their plot cost the regime enough so that no one will consider such a plot a low-cost, high-reward option. Bill Clinton got it right when he bombed Baghdad in 1993 in response to the plot to kill George H. W. Bush during his visit to Kuwait — a plot that didn’t involve attacking on US soil. It was a measured, appropriate response to the provocation.
Perhaps the Obama administration wants to keep its real response quiet until delivery. I hope that’s the case, but Clinton also made it clear that a response would be forthcoming. The window for making it clear that we will respond with appropriate and deterring power is rapidly closing, while the window for vacillation and impotence will remain wide open for a long time to come. So far, it looks like we’re getting Carter II on this act of war, but we’ll hope for something more significant — quickly.
Update: In an ABC interview, Biden said that nothing was off the table, but shied away from calling it an act of war:
Despite the ABC News headline, Biden this time explicitly says that the US won’t go it alone if need be in responding to an act of war. “It can’t just be the US versus Iran,” Biden says. It sounds as if John Kerry’s global approval initiative is alive and well. I hope that this is just a smokescreen for an actual response, but it’s not looking too promising.