“The time for action grows near. Congressional leaders should seriously consider a resolution authorizing use of force…” – Bill Kristol – August 2002
“It’s time for Congress to seriously explore an Authorization of Military Force to halt Iran’s nuclear program.” – Bill Kristol – June 2012
Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney recently returned from his first foreign policy tour, in which he visited Israel and again argued that he would use all measures to dissuade an Iranian nuclear weapon. But even though there seem to be very few differences between the policy prescriptions of President Obama and candidate Romney, at least one Romney foreign policy advisor, John Bolton, publically wishes that diplomacy with Iran would fail, so that the U.S. could pursue a military option. Meanwhile, Bolton’s neo-con colleague, Bill Kristol, is back in the war-lobbying business, calling on Congress to authorize military force against Iran, 10 years after imploring Congress to do the same for Iraq. As you may remember, Bill Kristol is the same person who assured us that “there are no deep sectarian divisions [in Iraq], there would never be a civil war or anything approximating it once we removed Saddam, and the smallest of forces and lowest of costs would be needed for turning the place into a beacon of democracy.”
However, Bolton and Kristol’s positions simply represent the next step on the march to war with Iran that is led by hawks inside and outside of Congress. Buck McKeon, the Chair of the House Armed Services Committee (HASC), recently held a hearing to propagate his belief that the US isn’t moving quickly and clearly enough towards war, while Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that he is ready to seek the very authorization Kristol is calling for. By moving us closer to war, Congress risks repeating the same mistake it made ten years ago, when a lack of oversight allowed Kristol and co. to drag our nation into war through a series of lies, misinformation, and deception. In 2002, many in Congress failed to ask some basic questions, which would have exposed the reality that we were rushing into a war that never needed to be fought. So before we commit our military to yet another war of choice in the Middle East, we should discuss those very questions.
1. Is Iran really our most pressing national security threat?
Bill Kristol would like us to believe that our response to Iran’s nuclear program mirrors Britain’s procrastination in dealing with the Nazi threat in the late 1930s, while many in Congress accept the idea that Iran is the United States’ biggest national security threat. While it is clear that Iran poses significant difficulties to US security interests, American intelligence officials do not believe that Iran is actively pursuing a nuclear weapon, despite its ongoing nuclear program. Moreover, as the witnesses in the HASC hearing repeatedly testified, Iran is probably years away from enriching enough Uranium to actually build a bomb, it faces significant challenges of delivering such a weapon, and the U.S. would likely know if and when Iran decided to make that final push. Meanwhile, the U.S. faces some pressing national security concerns – the ongoing war in Afghanistan, addressing a rising China, and responsibly trimming its budget. In fact, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, said two years ago that “Our national debt is our biggest national security threat”. All this begs the question: must we really gear up for a war of choice against a threat that doesn’t yet exist?
2. What will a military strike actually accomplish?
Nowhere in his recent op-ed does Bill Kristol offer any clues about the likely outcomes of a military strike against Iran. Perhaps that is because even the most optimistic estimates suggest that an American attack would only delay – and certainly not stop – Iran’s nuclear program by a handful of years. Even worse, an attack would only harden Iranian resolve to continue its nuclear pursuits and convince the regime to bury all of its facilities, making them nearly impossible to monitor and harder to stop. Finally, a military attack would shatter the international consensus currently aligned against Iran, severely hamper reformist movements inside Iran, and strengthen hardliners within the regime.
3. What are the costs of an attack?
Wars incur painful costs, both human and fiscal, and one with Iran would be no different. A recent Pentagon war simulation found that an attack on Iran (even by Israel) would quickly escalate into a regional war, possibly leading to hundreds of American fatalities. And considering that the Persian Gulf houses the first, fourth, eighth and ninth largest oil producers, it is easy to imagine the devastating economic consequences of turmoil in the region. Oil could spike above $200/barrel, sending gas prices soaring and harming our fragile economic recovery. As President Obama himself said this past spring, “If … folks think that it’s time to launch a war, they should say so and they should explain to the American people exactly why they would do that and what the consequences would be.”
4. Can diplomacy succeed?
No one should expect decades of conflict and minimal communication to be overcome in a few hours of negotiations. Diplomacy with Iran will take time, especially since we have not had formal relations with the country in over 30 years. However, unlike a military attack, which would only delay Iran’s nuclear program, diplomacy is the only tactic that can permanently convince Iran to forfeit its program. It would be extremely shortsighted to give up on diplomacy now, when Iran is clearly reeling from the effects of devastating sanctions and as a united international community leaves Iran more isolated than ever. Moreover, it is worth asking whether the U.S. and its allies are approaching the negotiations in good faith, and whether the P5+1 demands are simply too strict? As international relations scholar Stephen Walt writes: “I can see why the P5+1 would like Iran to agree to [their] demands, just as I’d like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett to each write me billion dollar checks. But I don’t expect either of them to do this, yet the U.S and its allies seem to think this deal-breaking demand is a reasonable opening bid. In fact, their position sounds like a complete non-starter to me…”
As Walt nicely articulates elsewhere, those who push for war with Iran like to emphasize the stark consequences of inaction, while offering “bulletproof optimism about how the war will play out.” However, our experiences in Iraq teach us that the threat may not be as severe as expected and that war is rarely as rosy as predicted. So until Bill Kristol can actually answer these basic questions, please feel free to do what we should have done in 2002: ignore him.