The Necessity of Restraint in Dealing with Iran
Restraint in dealing with Iran is absolutely necessary. No one imagines that Islamic theocracy is peace-loving, that their intentions are benign in the Persian Gulf or regarding future weapons development – but level heads are now essential when dealing with this rogue state.
The effort to compel diplomacy through stringent sanctions may produce an opening, a potential renegotiation of limits on Iran’s nuclear program and new pull-back from regional and global terrorism. But the smart money says not without a flashpoint, some incident of enormous geopolitical concern.
That is why a clear, strong public expectation of extreme restraint is so important right now. Going to war is easy to say and hard to reverse. Maybe no one wants war; let us hope that is the case. But in most historical conflicts, war was only a possibility – often one not foreseen, not expected or not much wanted – before it is an all-consuming, horrific reality.
We have time to discuss options, suggest ways forward short of war, and build a national and international consensus around reasoned, seasoned, incremental and intentionally non-reactionary responses to Iran’s many possible responses to sanctions.
Iran is a bad actor, and few will contest that fact. They have been so since 1979, having gone to war with Iraq in the 1980s, underwritten global and regional terror, mined the Persian Gulf 30 years ago, and periodically put free transit of the Strait of Hormuz at risk.
Today, they are in another conflict with U.S. allies in the region, increasingly European allies, and with the U.S. itself. They have tied to split Europe from the U.S., just as Russia is trying to do. They have now seized three oil tankers, shot down a U.S. drone, attempted to mine other tankers, pushed civil wars in Yemen and Syria, and threatened – as they are wont to do – a "mother of all wars."
Smart policy is not to ignore, underestimate, or fail to prepare. But it is also not to incite, invite, provoke, or accidentally trigger a major confrontation. The U.S. has placed sanctions on Iran's oil sector and continues to push for a diplomatic reconnection. We should work harder to find that way forward.
The concern of many is that we are slipping – either by errors of omission, misjudgment, geopolitical miscalibration or the idea that war would be fast or easy – into a war footing. To be clear, that would be a mistake. Being ready to respond to a major event is one thing, but seeking that event is another.
Our goal should be acting as the only adult in this face off, pressing peaceably and consistently for a diplomatic re-engagement, on terms that all Americans would find defensible, seeking long term stability for the region and ourselves, not a quick and dirty war. Wars are never quick and always dirty.
In short, responsible, level-headed, thoughtful leadership is always important – but in dealing with a ranting rogue state, equipped with considerable conventional firepower, ballistic missiles and bombastic, theocratic leadership, needed most is an uncompromising focus, steadiness of purpose and preparedness. Needed least is incitement.
No one can predict with any certainty the direction an Islamic theocracy, one which oppresses its people, promotes terror and seizes tankers without cause may go. No doubt, Pentagon planners are running contingencies, preparing options and briefing Congress.
Our job as citizens is to be clear with those who could take us to war – that this is not the favored option, not likely to be the most proportional option, and that diplomacy remains the best way forward.
Only time will tell what Iran does next, and if they act in a way that precipitates a need for decisive, coordinated, allied economic, cyber or military U.S. action, but keeping a level head – and keeping Congress in the loop as events unfold – should be a priority.
Incremental steps toward a solution are more often possible than not, even if painful. That is the burden of leadership. Restraint in many areas these days would be advisable, but restraint in dealing with Iran is absolutely necessary.
Perry Gershon is a widely recognized business leader and national commentator on business, trade, policy and politics. A congressional candidate for New York’s first district, he holds a B.A. from Yale and an M.B.A. from the Univ. of California, Berkeley.