With Iran’s leaders shaking their fists defiantly in his face, U.S. President Barack Obama is presented with a test of will – and wisdom. It is a conundrum worthy of a Greek legend. Anything he does to address the problem is likely to make matters worse.
In Obama’s position, you or I might be tempted to attack Iran, to bomb its known nuclear facilities, or at least to give the OK to Israel, which has been straining at the bit, its bombers poised for takeoff.
We would be wrong.
Iran is torn apart by internal unrest (photos at right). Attacking the country would unite its people against a common enemy. Even imposing harsher sanctions on Iranians would be counterproductive. It would ignite more widespread hostility toward the west. Iran’s hard-line leaders would become even more obstinate. And the rest of the world would not benefit from making Iranians suffer more than they already do.
Besides, Russia and China are obviously reluctant to damage their traditional relationships with Iran by joining an economic blockade. They might go along with the sanctions but they would do so halfheartedly and resentfully. And, like it or not, it is in America’s best interests to keep on the good side of both Russia and China.
Obama’s most promising path is to issue stern warnings to Iran’s leaders and drag his feet while the protests rage. With luck, the protesters will drive Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad from office, and more tractable leadership will emerge.
Naturally, such inaction would provide ammunition for the president’s critics. Mischief-makers like Dick Cheney, John McCain and Joe Lieberman would portray him as a weakling and a fool. But being portrayed as a bumbler is better than bumbling. And to “bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” would be bumbling indeed.