Recent showdown over the Strait of Hormuz shows that credible threat of force is necessary complement to sanctions and diplomacy
[ Page 62 ]
The strenuous American efforts to ease the tensions and reassure Iran, while understandable, were counterproductive. If Iran’s intention in issuing its threats was to gauge the U.S. appetite for conflict, it can only have been comforted by the response. It revealed a superpower not girding itself, even reluctantly, for a military conflict, but scrambling to avoid one, seemingly bent on convincing itself and others that a war would be futile. This episode likely only underscored what Iran may see as the United States’ diminishing appetite or capacity for conflict, a perception fueled by the U.S. withdrawal fromIraq, its impending withdrawal from Afghanistan, large planned cuts to the U.S. defense budget as well as the size of U.S. forces, and the backseat approach the United States took (and celebrated) in Libya.
Ironically, downplaying the threat of force may increase the odds that the United States will be left with little choice but either to employ force or accept an Iranian nuclear weapons capability. While Washington and its allies clearly and appropriately see military action as a last resort, this should not imply that establishing the credibility of the threat of force be left to a later, final phase of their approach to Iran. Indeed, the threat of force is not an alternative to sanctions or negotiations, but a complement to them in forming a coherent Iran strategy.