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Remind Iran of U.S. military option


The "Delight", a Hong Kong-flagged vessel. operated by the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines is seen on the river Trave, near Herrenwyk, Germany. An Iranian-led shipping venture with India that predates the 1979 Islamic Revolution is unraveling under pressures from international sanctions and U.S.-driven efforts to drive wedges between Tehran and its key trading partners. (Oct. 13, 2008) Photo Credit: AP

As we write, negotiations on Iran's nuclear program have been extended through Monday. We do not yet know whether there will be an actual deal, but we know what that deal should look like: President Barack Obama has announced a framework and that he would accept nothing less.

Now is not the time to hash out new ideas, but for the United States to exert all of its influence to get Iran to sign on the dotted line. A reminder that the United States maintains a credible military option of last resort against Iran's nuclear program might be just the push Tehran needs to agree to give up its nuclear ambitions peacefully.

The president has maintained that he would "use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon." As military officers, we were taught that there are four elements of national power: diplomacy, information, military, and economics. The first and last have been applied to lead us to this current diplomatic opportunity. Now is the time for President Obama to deploy the remaining two elements of national power to seal the deal with Iran.

The largest remaining hurdle facing negotiators is -- numerous reassurances that "all options" remain on the table notwithstanding -- America's aching lack of credibility and leverage. Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei pinpointed this in a June 23 speech, observing that "Our opposing side -- the current administration of America and decision-makers in that country -- need these negotiations." Emboldened by this observation, he went on to dictate new "red lines" for a final deal that fly in the face of an agreed-to framework.

Khamenei made clear that Iran would no longer accept even the agreed-to 10-year limit on Iranian nuclear activity, insisted that Iran's research into new, advanced nuclear technology continue unabated, demanded that all sanctions be lifted immediately, and rejected wide-ranging international inspections. His reading of American desperation for a deal -- coupled with the understanding that the only form of leverage the United States has exercised against Iran, economic sanctions, is effectively useless in such a short time frame -- allows him to dictate the terms of negotiations.

But it is not too late for the United States to regain a position of strength in these negotiations, exert leverage on Iran, and back up President Obama's assertion that he is ready to "walk away" from a bad deal and that there will be consequences for Iran if the talks fail.

Coordinated messaging and action on a number of fronts can communicate to Iran that what it has discounted -- a U.S.-led military strike against its nuclear facilities -- is not as far-fetched as it imagined. Any reassertion of U.S. military power and will can help return peace and stability to the region.

The United States has lost credibility because it has failed to back up its word and protect its interests in Syria -- where Iran is bloodily propping up its client President Bashar al-Assad -- and Ukraine. Taking a more muscular stance in those conflicts would demonstrate to Tehran that the United States won't shirk its global responsibilities. The United States could increase airstrikes and missile fire against tactical targets in Syria and Iraq, perhaps even hitting, without necessarily admitting a change in policy, some of Assad's assets. Similarly, it could announce a willingness to consider providing the Ukrainian government with military training and equipment to counter Russian aggression.

Another hit to U.S. leverage has been its perceived abandonment of its allies in the Middle East in pursuit of a strategic partnership with Iran. This perception could easily be reversed if: the United States makes clear that it will stand by its partners in the Persian Gulf against Iranian subversion, commits to major military exercises in the region, directs a second battle carrier group to the vicinity of the Gulf, and declares it is providing Israel with advanced weapons, such as the 30,000-pound, bunker-busting Massive Ordnance Penetrator (MOP).

Finally, the United States needs to visibly demonstrate that it maintains the ability and resolve, should negotiations fail to yield an acceptable deal, to resolve the threat of Iran's nuclear program militarily. Publicizing the capabilities of the MOP, which can destroy Iran's fortified nuclear installations, would communicate the latter. A public demonstration of the capabilities of the MOP, which can destroy Iran's fortified nuclear installations, would communicate the latter. A forceful declaration by the chairman of the Joint Chiefs that with this awesome weapon the United States believes it could set back Iran's nuclear program not months, as some assert, but years, would make clear that a military strike remains a viable option of last resort.

To win the peace, now is the time for President Obama to deploy the remaining elements of American power that he's been holding in reserve.

William B. Caldwell IV is a retired lieutenant general U.S. Army, a former commander of U.S. Army North and a member of Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs' Gaza Assessment Task Force. Charles Wald is a retired general in the U.S. Air Force, the former deputy commander of U.S. European Command and senior advisor to JINSA's Gemunder Center for Defense and Strategy.