On Sunday, The New York Times reported that Defense Secretary Robert Gates had sent a secret memo to the White House that warned that the administration does not have an effective policy to deal with the threat of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapon. Gates responded by asserting that his memo intended “to contribute to an orderly and timely decision-making process.”

Supporters of President Obama’s engagement policy argued that if Tehran rejected U.S. diplomacy, Iran’s belligerence would become obvious to the international community, justifying a more aggressive policy that would have strong international backing. There are two flaws with this thinking.

First, the White House apparently lacks a long-range strategy to deal with Iran now that engagement has clearly failed.

Second, the international community – including Washington – has backed away from the crippling sanctions supposedly meant to follow the rejection of American engagement with Tehran.

The Heritage Foundation believes an effective strategy toward Iran must dissuade Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons and work to advance liberty for the Iranian people by discrediting the radical regime.

James Phillips and Baker Spring argue that the U.S. must modernize its nuclear arsenal, deploy a robust missile defense system, and uphold the principle of nonproliferation to show that the U.S. and its allies are capable of defending themselves against a nuclear Iran:

The Obama Administration should develop a long-range strategy for protecting and defending the U.S. and its allies and establish a robust framework of augmented deterrence to mitigate the threat posed by a nuclear Iran. Strategic planning that assumes a nuclear-armed Iran, even if Iran does not have such weapons at this time, is necessary to develop policies that could help diminish Iran’s appetite for nuclear weapons

The U.S. should also impose and enforce the strongest possible sanctions, even if doing so requires action outside of the U.N. framework. And it would help if the Obama Administration dropped its opposition to the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act, which awaits a conference committee after both houses of Congress passed it with overwhelming bipartisan majorities.

On the human rights front, the U.S. should use public diplomacy to discredit the regime’s legitimacy and offer support to opposition groups, such as the Green Movement.

If Washington is finally moving beyond engagement, the Administration must decisively adopt a new strategy that prevents Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon, protects America and its allies, and advances the freedom of the Iranian people.

Co-authored by Jim Phillips.

Jeffrey Chatterton currently is a member of the Young Leaders Program at the Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm