The plot thickens regarding Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ memo to Obama on Iran. According to the NYT, Gates wrote to Obama in January essentially pointing out that the administration had no coherent policy to deal with the possibility of Iranian nuclear capability. In the words of the NYT: ‘the absence of an effective strategy should Iran choose the course that many government and outside analysts consider likely: Iran could assemble all the major parts it needs for a nuclear weapon — fuel, designs and detonators — but stop just short of assembling a fully operational weapon.’
Gates is now denying this – or rather, denying that this was the tone or conclusion of the memo. An unsurprising move given the volatility of the issue or the tenuousness of Obama’s position regarding Iran. But Gates has a reputation for speaking frankly to Obama and for not making statements lightly – it seems unlikely that the NYT could have misinterpreted him that wildly. And while the lack of a solid US plan for Iran isn’t ideal, it’s not unexpected. The Obama administration has China and Russia sitting on one shoulder and Israel on the other; keeping a balance between the two, whilst trying to advance its own interests in the region, is almost impossible. Obama’s image of the overthinker who can’t arrive at a policy decision (remember the dithering over Afghanistan) is only confirmed by this – but perhaps that’s not necessarily a terrible thing. To proceed blindly while ignoring one side of the argument over Iran would alienate key allies and upset the balance of power in the region, already so precarious. Nevertheless, Obama needs a plan – and it’s good that key advisers are pointing these things out, though they may deny it.