Mark Dubowitz is executive director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington, D.C.-based organization focused on national security and foreign policy issues. He has testified before Congress and advised United States administrators and foreign governments on Iran sanctions issues.
Dubowitz spoke to the Trib regarding the possibility of the United States engaging in one-on-one talks with Iran over that country's fledgling nuclear program.
Q: Is bilateral negotiation with Iran a good or bad idea?
A: In my mind, it's probably neither. It's good in the sense that it's always useful to give diplomacy a chance (and) exhaust all peaceful alternatives before considering a military response to the problem. But I have no confidence that this regime is going to cry uncle in any way and agree to a compromise on its program. These are hard-core, dedicated revolutionaries who are committed to developing nuclear weapons.
Q: Given that, is it absurd to think that Iran ever could be convinced that it can protect its national interests without a nuclear weapon?
A: Well, I think Iran can absolutely protect its national interests without a nuclear weapon, (but) I don't think Iran is developing nuclear weapons to protect its national interests. I think it's building a weapon to advance its regional hegemony.
This is a country that was built on a fundamental ideology of expansionism, and that's why it (wants) nuclear weapons — to use as an essential tool to threaten its neighbors, to threaten Israel and to expand its global ambitions.
Q: With the economic sanctions against Iran proving effective, why not just maintain that strategy?
A: I think there is no doubt they should continue to sanction. I mean, they should absolutely intensify them.
But I think the reality is that Iranian nuclear physics is beating Western economic pressure. Right now it's a race between two timelines — the economic cripple date and the nuclear threshold date. And I think, by all accounts, the nukes are beating the economics.
So let's continue (sanctioning), but let's be cognizant of the fact that this is an economy not on the verge of collapse, it still has sufficient foreign exchange reserves to last at least a couple more years — certainly well beyond the point at which they will develop nuclear weapons capacity.
Q: What strategy do you think would be most effective in preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear capabilities?
A: The strategy has to be a comprehensive one. We can't rely on any one instrument.
It has to include sanctions, but massively intensifying sanctions. It has to include diplomacy, because I think it's always important to see if there is an opportunity to reach a compromise and to test your adversaries at that level.
But the sine qua non here is the credible threat of U.S. military force. I think if the threat was more credible, you would be less likely to have to use military force because I think that it then becomes likely that this regime would actually (capitulate).
(The Iranians) are great negotiators, but they are brinkmanship negotiators. They negotiate right up until the last second, and we should be under no illusions that (U.S.) concessions or generous offers are going to be interpreted as signs of strength. They are going to be interpreted as signs of weakness. I think the only thing that would be interpreted as a sign of strength is the United States committing to stopping the Iranian nukes (through) a much more credible threat of military force.