US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates delivers remarks regarding his US Defense Department budget recomendation for 2010, on April 6, 2009 at the Pentagon in Washington,DC. Gates announced Monday that his recommended defense budget would "profoundly reform" military spending, calling for cuts to major weapons programs such as F-22 fighter jets. "If approved, these recommendations will profoundly reform how this department does business," Gates told a news conference.

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates yesterday sought to “correct” what he called “mischaracterizations” about the three-page memo that he had written on U.S. Iran policy last January after it became clear that Iran had rejected the Obama Administration’s efforts to resolve the nuclear issue through diplomacy.  While The New York Times previously had reported that some administration officials considered the memo to be a “wake-up call” about the weaknesses of the administration’s Iran policy, Gates denied that was his intent, explaining that the memo “presented a number of questions and proposals intended to contribute to an orderly and timely decision-making process.”

Gates sought to reassure U.S. allies, particularly Israel and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, that the Obama Administration does have a strategy to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.  He maintained that “There should be no confusion by our allies and adversaries that the United States is properly and energetically focused on this question and prepared to act across a broad range of contingencies in support of our interests.”

But the administration has added to the confusion by clinging to its engagement strategy long after Iran has made it clear that it rejects a diplomatic solution that would be minimally acceptable to the United States. Moreover, President Obama last week convened a high profile global summit on nuclear terrorism without devoting any significant attention to Iran’s nuclear program, despite the fact that Iran is the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism.

The administration’s policy on Iran sanctions also has been confusing. It seeks strong sanctions at the U.N. Security Council, where Russia and China remain determined to use their veto power to prevent any effective sanctions, while it opposed strong sanctions proposed in the U.S. Congress, such as the Iran Refined Petroleum Sanctions Act. Restricting Iran’s imports of gasoline and other refined petroleum products is more likely to pressure Tehran than the watered-down version of sanctions that is likely to emerge from the Security Council. Yet the Obama Administration still prefers to put all its eggs in the weak U.N. basket.

The administration also has missed an opportunity to support Iran’s Green Movement opposition and other Iranian dissidents to discredit the radical Iranian regime. Targeting public diplomacy efforts to highlight Tehran’s human rights abuses, corruption, and economic mismanagement would further erode the government’s crumbling legitimacy in the eyes of the Iranian people.

Gates himself acknowledged last week that Iran is only a year or more away from building a nuclear weapon. Unless Washington takes much stronger action, then Iran’s belligerent regime soon will gain a nuclear option. Perhaps a “wake up call” wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

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: