Two senior Senators criticized the Obama administration late Thursday for failing to present Iran with a credible U.S. military threat as Tehran inches toward a nuclear weapon.
"We have to make sure our threat of military action … is credible to them [and] I’m still not sure it is," said retiring Sen. Joe Lieberman (I., Conn.) during a discussion organized by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies.
"They have to believe the U.S. will use our immense power to disable their nuclear program if they don’t on their own," Lieberman said.
Sen. Jon Kyl (R., Ariz.) concurred.
"I think the Iranian are probably nervous, but not nervous enough," said Kyl, who is also retiring from Congress. "The threat probably isn’t credible enough."
The candid words from two of the Senate’s top foreign policy voices indicate that frustration among lawmakers could be rising as Iran continues to ignore Western demands for Tehran to disable its nuclear enrichment program.
Economic sanctions, the Senators added, have effectively crippled Iran’s economy but have not had an impact on insulated Iranian leaders and military officials.
"The sanctions have been unprecedented and are having an effect on the Iranian economy, but so far not an observable effect on the Iranian regime at all," Lieberman said.
"It’s unacceptable for us to allow Iran to become a nuclear state," he said. "Containment is not an accept alternative. It changes the whole balance of power in the Middle East, emboldens terrorists," such as those affiliated with Hezbollah and Hamas.
Lieberman also had some pointed words for Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohamed Morsi, who has come under fire in recent days from secular dissidents for implementing authoritarian rule.
"We should be telling Morsi, ‘Look, there’s already a lot of skepticism about you in America because we’ve read the Muslim Brotherhood documents and they’re not consistent with American values,’" Lieberman said. "We’re going to judge you not by your title with the Muslim Brotherhood but your actions."
If Morsi continues his authoritarian crackdown, the Obama administration should make it clear that "we’re not going to be able to have normal relations with you," Lieberman added.
Lieberman also criticized Team Obama for its failure to fully support opposition forces fighting against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
"I’ve been increasingly frustrated, angry, disappointed that the U.S. hasn’t been more proactive in support in the dissidents," he said. "This is a case where there’s an awful lot of values of strategic interests coming together."
America could deal a blow to the Iranian regime if it helps oust Assad, one of Tehran’s closest allies.
"Assad is the number one friend of our number one enemy, Iran," Lieberman said, adding that Assad’s fall would "be a significant body blow to the regime in Tehran."
The fall of Assad’s regime would "increase our leverage over Iran when it comes to our nuclear program, maybe as much as sanctions do," he said.