By Jonathan Adelman


Despite the rhetoric of the Obama administration and tougher sanctions, hard realities suggest a likely American policy of not attacking Iran but seeking to contain it.

For Iran, the benefits of nuclear weapons are significant: becoming the ninth member of the world’s exclusive nuclear club, spurring nationalist ardor at home, potentially dominating the Middle East, enhancing its leadership of the world’s neutralist bloc, offsetting the likely loss of their main Arab ally Syria and deterring an American attack. America’s desire to stop Iran, meanwhile, is constrained by many factors: withdrawal of an aircraft carrier battle fleet from the Persian Gulf, $80 billion in Iranian hard currency reserves, opposition from Russia and China, foreign efforts to help Iran evade international sanctions, American war weariness, economic malaise, Congressional hyper partisanship and the Obama policy of leading from behind.

Trying to contain a nuclear Iran avoids an unpopular military strike, regional war and harsher sanctions. And most appealing of all, containment succeeded for 40 years with the Soviet Union, culminating in its dissolution in 1991.

There is only one critical problem with the alluring temptation of containment —the Islamic Republic of Iran is no Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was a global superpower, with a vast military-industrial complex and Red Army whose World War II victories helped defeat Nazi Germany. During the Cold War the Soviet Union had several thousand strategic nuclear weapons capable of destroying the United States. The Red Army dominated Eastern and much of Central Europe and threatened Western Europe.

By contrast, Iran is a second rate military and economic power. It reactivated its nuclear program in 1984 and has still not exploded its first atomic bomb. In the 1980s, even after eight years, it could not defeat Iraq, a task that the United States accomplished in three weeks in 2003. With only several hundred atomic scientists, Iran relies heavily on foreign help for its nuclear project.  It possesses a modest missile force, weak army and no modern navy. Iran lags far behind Israel, with its strong air force and 100 to 200 atomic bombs, and NATO stalwart Turkey. Iran’s $13,000 GNP/capita lags far behind the United States ($49,000), United Arab Emirates ($49,000) and Israel ($32,000). Read more…

Jonathan Adelman is a professor at the Josef Korbel School of International Studies at the University of Denver.

As published in www.cnn.com on April 8, 2013.


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