In the first week of 2012, President Obama finally approved tough sanctions on Iran’s central bank, aiming to cripple Iran’s oil trade and thwart its advanced efforts to possess a nuclear weapon. Iran’s armed-forces commander, Gen. Ataollah Salehi, threatened military action against the USS John C. Stennis, an aircraft carrier operating in international waters: “We warn this ship, which is considered a threat to us, not to come back . . . ” The next day, Iran’s parliament began to prepare a bill that would prohibit all foreign warships from using an international waterway, the Strait of Hormuz, to enter the Persian Gulf without the Iranian navy’s permission. Although recently validated analyses by the U.S. Navy confirm that Iran could not maintain a disruption of oil flows through the Strait for more than a few days, the same studies acknowledge that even a temporary loss of predictability in the movement of roughly 15 million barrels per day to the global market would send the price of crude to more than $200 a barrel for a prolonged period of time. Such a price increase could soon lead to renewed recession or the collapse of the global economy. In 1812, we went to war to preserve freedom of the seas. Two centuries later, faced with a modern threat of the same character, what should we do?
We know from long experience that if the administration continues merely to criticize Iran’s behavior, Iran will respond as it has for over 30 years, by simply ignoring us. Those who advocate relying solely on a resumption of negotiations with Iran over its nuclear-weapons program are essentially suggesting we repeat the failed approach of virtually every president since Jimmy Carter. The only sure result will be to provide Iran, yet again, with more time to complete its nuclear-weapons program. Indeed, responding with one more empty statement to yet another threat to close the Strait is likely to prove counter-productive, confirming what the regime in Tehran believes: that the U.S. does not have the will to use significant force. The regime in Tehran is not worried about losing a few small missile-armed boats if it can intimidate the world into easing sanctions by damaging or sinking a U.S. vessel. Even the new, tougher sanctions on the Iranian Central Bank, while essential, may be too late to weaken Iran enough to get us through the near-term crisis effectively.
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