If a peaceful solution to the Iranian nuclear problem is to be found, it is time for Washington to plan for war. Diplomats cannot break the current impasse simply by trying more aggressive diplomacy. Tehran will only change course if it believes it faces a credible threat for defying the will of the world.
Think about it. In recent months, as international diplomatic deadlines have come and gone - and the threat of sanctions has remained a possibility - Iran has only been emboldened. At the UN last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told Secretary General Kofi Annan that "Britain and America won the last world war, but they wouldn't win the next one, Iran would."
If the U.S. is serious about stopping Iran's nuclear program in its tracks, it should adopt the Turkish model. For years, Turkish diplomats begged and pleaded for Syria to stop hosting Kurdish terrorists. Despite the promises of Syrian diplomats to engage, nothing happened. Then, in 1998, the Turkish Army staged military exercises along Syria's border. Within weeks, the Syrian regime reversed course.
Iraq is another case in point. Prior to the Iraq war, then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice delayed establishing a postwar planning office for fear of undermining UN diplomacy. But then, when diplomacy failed, the U.S. was forced into action with inadequate preparation. The truth is, war preparation is itself a form of diplomacy.
Some U.S. realists say that Libya's 2003 decision to halt its nuclear program demonstrates that talk alone works. But it was not years of negotiations, but rather the demonstration of resolve - the interception of Libya-bound freighters and the invasion of Iraq - that led Moammar Khadafy to change course.
Indeed, the greatest threat to peace in the Middle East may be underestimation of Western resolve. On Aug. 27, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said of kidnapping Israeli soldiers that, had his militia known how fierce Israel's retaliation would be, "we would definitely not have done it."
The Iranian leadership's misreading of Washington could prove just as disastrous. With the U.S. Army tied down in Iraq, Iranian officials believe the U.S. military is hamstrung. But the U.S. Navy and Air Force are not hamstrung.
Perhaps it is time to stage war games and exercises in the Persian Gulf and on Iran's borders. The Iranian government should know what it is up against. Only the threat of force, and not the threat of UN finger-wagging, can persuade Tehran to stop spinning its centrifuges.
Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.