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Declaring War on an Iran without Nuclear Weapons

July 27, 2010

Amidst the uncertainties surrounding Iran’s nuclear program, we can be sure of at least one thing: if and when the U.S. gives the green light for an Israeli attack on Iran, or attacks itself, Iran will have no weapons of mass destruction.

This assurance comes from, among others, Michael Hayden, who served as director of the CIA in the George W. Bush administration. Hayden told CNN’s “State of the Union” recently that a military strike against Iran now “seems inexorable.” Yet he characterized the goal of Iran’s nuclear weapons program to be to “get itself to that step right below a nuclear weapon, that permanent breakout stage, so the needle isn’t quite in the red for the international community.”

[July 30, 2010 Update:  The Associated Press reports that they misquoted Michael Hayden’s remarks to CNN.  Hayden did not intend to imply that war with Iran “seems inexorable,” but rather that Iran’s nuclear program “seems inexorable,” inexorable, that is, to “that step right below a nuclear weapon.”  This is a welcome clarification, as it seems to remove Hayden from the chorus urging military action against Iran.  The point remains that any military action against Iran will be, if Hayden’s estimate of Iranian intentions is correct, an attack against an Iran without a nuclear weapon.]

In other words, Iran will not go so far as to produce a nuclear weapon, but either Israel or the United States, driven by some sort of grim determinism to which apparently only they are subject, will bomb Iran, anyway, never mind that the needle “isn’t quite in the red for the [rest of] the international community.”

For Hayden, the inexorable is acceptable, even desirable, because if Iran only reaches the breakout stage (as Sweden and Japan did decades ago, for instance) the result would be “as destabilizing to the region as actually having a weapon.” In other words, the potential that Iran could build a bomb is seriously destabilizing, but an actual war is not. War would stabilize the region. Just like Iraq and Afghanistan. Can anyone really believe this?

Yes, they can.
The answer to this question, unfortunately, is yes. Last week 47 members of the House introduced a resolution that could prove in retrospect—if it is not stopped—to be the declaration of war against Iran.

The resolution, H. Res. 1553, voices support for Israel to use “all means necessary… including the use of military force” to “eliminate nuclear threats” posed by Iran. The sponsor of the resolution is Rep. Louie Gohmert (TX), who is sometimes a champion of far-fetched causes. He introduced a resolution, for example, to deny foreign aid to any country that opposes the U.S. at the U.N. For that resolution, he had no cosponsors. This time, however, 46 House members, including the third-ranking member of the Republican caucus, Mike Pence, have joined to cosponsor the resolution.

If this resolution gains enough cosponsors it could generate the political pressure to “green light” an Israeli assault on Iran in the months ahead—despite administration misgivings, despite Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s declaration that a nuclear Iran would not pose an “existential threat” to Israel, despite the catastrophic consequences of another Middle East war, and years before Iran could possibly obtain a deliverable nuclear weapon if it decided to try.

An attack on an Iran that does not possess a nuclear weapon in order to counter a “nuclear threat” seems preposterous, and from any realistic assessment it is. Yet published accounts make it clear that Israel actually pressed the Bush Administration in the spring of 2008 for permission to attack. We and the peoples of the Middle East can be grateful that the administration said no. The cosponsors of H. Res. 1553 are trying to reverse that wise decision.

An Israeli attack is almost certain to draw in the United States either because Iran retaliates against U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Persian Gulf, or because Israel’s assault falls short of its objectives and pressure builds for direct U.S. intervention. Even if the U.S. does not become directly involved, an attack with U.S.-supplied weapons, by a country with a “special relationship” with the U.S. and a history of mounting major military attacks with U.S. permission will be seen by much of the world as an attack by the United States. An attack will throw the region into turmoil and initiate a protracted period of hostilities. It will inspire a new generation of jihadis bent on doing harm to satans big and small. Inside Iran, an attack will set the reform movement back for years, if not for a generation.

Rep. Gohmert and co. are doing all they can to make war with Iran inexorable. We must do everything we can to make it unthinkable.  As former Secretary of State Colin Powell and many others have said, the only solution that will work is a diplomatic solution.  Iran has plenty of incentive to escape the stifling impact that sanctions have long had on its economy.  What is missing is a credible signal from the United States that it is interested in resolving the nuclear issue and other differences with Iran through negotiation.  Brazil and Turkey appeared to achieve a breakthrough when they persuaded Iran to agreed to a nuclear fuel exchange deal on U.S. terms, but the U.S. abruptly rejected the agreement and dismissed Brazilian and Turkish mediation.  Getting Iran and the U.S. back to the negotiating table, and getting the U.S. to acknowledge that third-party mediation can be an asset in the world of the 21st Century, is the only way to solve the nuclear problem and bring stability to the Middle East.

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