Now that the European Union has agreed to impose a ban on oil purchases from Iran and the U.S. has signed new sanctions against its central bank into law, 60 percent of National Journal’s National Security Insiders said the tough measures are likely to isolate Iran and stave off the necessity of a military response.
“Years — and even months — ago, no one imagined that the EU, racked by institutional and financial challenges, would take such a tough position,” one Insider said. “Iran has also miscalculated in thinking that the West would not dare threaten its oil exports and that its [Persian] Gulf rivals would not step into the breach if the West did.”
Several Insiders said the West’s coordinated pressure is likely to succeed in preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. “[Iranian President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad could not risk a military conflict. But U.S. sanctions, standing alone, could also strengthen his political hold,” one said. “EU intervention was key. Now he risks political as well as economic isolation. Sanctions should now succeed.”
Still, some Insiders advised that there are still more avenues to explore to tighten the economic noose around Tehran. “We have a better chance of forcing Iran to capitulate if we truly choke off Iran’s ability to sell oil,” one Insider said.
Sanctions can only succeed if “wedded to vigorous and comprehensive diplomacy,” one Insider said. Another cautioned that outside pressure won’t be enough to force Iran to give up its nuclear program, stressing that momentum from street protests inside the country are needed for change to take effect: “More robust political opposition in Iran may be required to force an end to Iran’s determined effort to obtain nuclear weapons.”
In Israel, where a flurry of media reports indicated some leaders were pushing to launch a preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear sites, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted that even tougher measures are necessary to curb Tehran's nuclear program. Netanyahu's comments appeared inconsistent, though, coming days after he voiced support for the current raft of sanctions and said there are signs Iran is beginning to fold for the first time.
“Sanctions may succeed in putting off an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran that would draw the U.S. into yet another military adventure with disastrous consequences,” one Insider said.
Sanctions would prevent a military response, according to another Insider, “as long as Israel doesn’t act first.”
The other 40 percent of Insiders said military action will eventually be needed — but several said such a strike would not necessarily be the best course of action. “Military action is a terrible idea and should be avoided,” one Insider said.
On the separate topic of the Republican presidential candidates, two-thirds of Insiders said they most trusted Mitt Romney's foreign-policy views over those of rivals Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum. “Romney represents the sensible center of the Republican Party on foreign policy,” one Insider said. Another Insider felt comfortable with Romney because he represents the “GOP establishment” — and would appoint people like former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates to key posts.
Still, many Insiders said they chose Romney not for his merits, but because he is the “least untrustworthy” of the group. Several said they were nostalgic for the foreign-policy views of Jon Huntsman, the former ambassador to China who dropped out of the race.
“None of the candidates have the ability to inspire seasoned observers of foreign policy,” one Insider said. “Romney may only be the least worst of the bunch.”
Responses were excluded from Insiders who also serve as advisers to GOP presidential candidates.
1. The European Union has agreed to impose a ban on oil purchases from Iran, and the United States has signed into law new sanctions against Iran's Central Bank. Will the heightened pressure on Tehran be enough to prevent the United States or Israel, or both, from taking military action?
- Yes, sanctions will eventually succeed 60%
- No, military action will eventually be needed 40%
Yes, sanctions will eventually succeed
“Ahmadinejad could not risk a military conflict. But U.S. sanctions, standing alone, could also strengthen his political hold. EU intervention was key. Now he risks political as well as economic isolation. Sanctions should now succeed.”
“[Yes], with success defined as no Iranian nuclear weapons tests.”
“Years — and even months — ago, no one imagined that the EU, wracked by institutional and financial challenges, would take such a tough position. The EU is making up for earlier failed international leadership on the Iran nuclear issue. Iran has also miscalculated in thinking that the West would not dare threaten its oil exports, and that its [Persian] Gulf rivals would not step into the breach if the West did. Still, more robust political opposition in Iran may be required to force an end to Iran's determined effort to obtain nuclear weapons.”
“I think sanctions will fail to stop Iran from going nuclear, but they will 'succeed' in that they allow an alternative to military force.”
“We have a better chance of forcing Iran to capitulate if we truly choke off Iran's ability to sell oil. A military strike is unlikely to succeed, and — far more than economic pressure — will only rally the entire population behind the Ayatollah's and redouble Iran's determination to acquire nuclear weapons.”
“They can succeed if, and only if, wedded to vigorous and comprehensive diplomacy.”
“We must push sanctions — they will help, but it will take sanctions in addition to street protests to enact change. The Obama administration must not fail to support the protesters in Iran again.”
“For now. Pressure on this process likely hits a high point in July.”
“Sanctions may eventually produce the ends we want, meaning having Iran place its nuclear programs under IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] oversight and renounce any intention to pursue a nuclear weapon. But there are many other aspects regarding international relations with Iran that must be considered.”
“Sanctions may succeed in putting off an Israeli preemptive strike against Iran that would draw the U.S. into yet another military adventure with disastrous consequences.”
No, military action will eventually be needed
“Sanctions are unlikely to succeed, but military action is a terrible idea and should be avoided.”
2. Which Republican presidential candidate do you most trust on foreign policy?
- Romney 67%
- Paul 16%
- Gingrich 13%
- Santorum 4%
“Since uncertainty about the outcome of the Republican primary contest is dragging on longer than Governor Romney expected and his competitors lie to the right (from the assertive and isolationist wings), he has had to tack to the right to improve his prospects in the primaries. Despite campaign bluster about spending 4 percent of GDP on defense, fiscal pressure will force President Romney to cut much more from the defense budget than President Obama's 8 percent. Romney's leadership will likely to be comfortable for most of out allies and partners and be more realistic than Obama's initial strategy, such as his naive effort to engage Iran.”
“This question should have the option 'none of the above.' That would have been my pick, but of the four, Romney is least untrustworthy.”
“Newt Gingrich is very bright. But he is erratic. He will confuse our friends and, perhaps unwittingly, encourage our enemies. Ron Paul is an isolationist — enough said. Rick Santorum has not demonstrated the depth and breadth that leadership of the free world requires. Mitt Romney will manage international affairs as he has done everythihing else — governed by common sense, not ideology, and a willingness to listen to various points of view and then to decide.”
“None of the candidates have the ability to inspire seasoned observers of foreign policy. Romney may only be the least worst of the bunch."
“Paul realizes America's natural advantages — size, wealth, geographic isolation, and a massive nuclear arsenal — mean that we can steer clear of a lot of the world's troubles. The other three would willfully plunge the nation into those troubles headfirst.”
“He may be wacky, but he is the only one identifying U.S. overstretch as a problem, as opposed to a goal.”
“If trust is defined as an expectation that the candidate will do exactly as he says he will, Ron Paul continues to be by far the most consistent proponent of his views over the years, no matter how outrageous or impractical. Fortunately, that's one reason he will not be elected.”
“All of the others are just competing to see who can love Israel and bash Iran the most.”
“As flaky as he is, Gingrich is more knowledgeable and thinks creatively.”
“Not comfortable with any of these candidates, but Newt is the lesser of evils. Ron Paul would be an absolute disaster; Santorum is a lightweight; and Romney would need to spend his first term learning about international relations.”
“Count Santorum's Senate experience a place in this group. It is easy to lob bombs, rhetorical and otherwise, from the House. The Senate? Not so much.”
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts. They are:
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the January 31, 2012, edition of NJ Daily.