The Obama Administration appears to be confused about its own policies regarding Iran’s nuclear challenge. Yesterday Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell denied that the administration had taken the military option off the table, contradicting a previous statement made by a high ranking Pentagon official. Undersecretary of Defense Michelle Flournoy had told a press conference in Singapore on Wednesday that “Military force is an option of last resort” and “It’s off the table in the near term.”

Morrell maintained that the administration had not changed its policy on Iran. “I don’t think that’s anything new,” Morrell said of Flournoy’s remarks. “It clearly is not our preference to go to war with Iran, to engage militarily with Iran.” He awkwardly added that “Nobody wishes to do that, but she also makes it clear it’s not off the table.”

The Obama Administration’s clumsy effort to allude to the possible use of force while it simultaneously backpedals away from the actual use of force has undermined its Iran policy. Even before the most recent confusion, The Washington Post had criticized the administration’s ambivalence in an editorial on Tuesday: “President Obama’s official position is that “all options are on the table,” including the use of force. But senior officials regularly talk down the military option in public — thereby undermining its utility even as an instrument of intimidation.”

The Bush Administration had developed a “good cop/bad cop” strategy on Iran in which Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held the door open for diplomatic talks while Vice President Dick Cheney made sure that the military option was clearly on the table to give Tehran added incentives to reach a diplomatic solution. Unfortunately, the Obama Administration’s strategy is closer to a “good cop/confused cop” approach. This muddled policy is guaranteed to have little impact on the bellicose Ahmadinejad regime.

In contrast, Iran remains smugly confident in its own military power. Today the elite Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps launched a three-day military exercise that involved naval, air, and ground forces. The exercise included simulated attacks by more than 300 ships and high speed boats operating near the mouth of the Persian Gulf near the Strait of Hormuz, the strategic waterway through which passes approximately 40 percent of the world’s oil exports.

The Deputy chief of the Revolutionary Guards, Brig. Gen Hossein Salami, warned that the military exercises were aimed at demonstrating Iran’s “strength, will and national resolve to defend independence and territorial integrity.” Clearly, Iran’s regime has no second thoughts about the usability of military force. This makes it all the more important to prevent Iran from attaining nuclear weapons.

For links to all Heritage Foundation publications on Iran, see: Iran