Hawks on Iran

In response to a worrying trend in U.S. politics, Lobe Log publishes “Hawks on Iran” every Friday. Our posts highlight militaristic commentary and confrontational policy recommendations about Iran from a variety of sources including news articles, think tanks and pundits.

Weekly Reads/Watch:

News: U.S. Iran Hawks in Congress in Some Disarray
News: Iran nuclear talks: negotiators cite progress ahead of Baghdad meeting
News: U.N. nuclear agency to push Iran on military site access
News: U.S. Ambassador to Israel Speaks of Military Option for Iran
News: Iran sanctions bill coming to Senate floor again
News: Clinton: We don’t want the Iranians to say “We’ll get back to you”
News: Iranian Dissident Group Seeks to Shed Terrorist Label
News: Top U.S. think tank warns against Israeli, American strike on Iran
News: Ex-Israeli spy chief Meir Dagan headlines motley group pressing for tougher sanctions against Iran
Opinion: For Iran ‘Breakthrough,’ Coalition Cannot Break Down
Opinion: Spinning Up For Baghdad
Opinion: Sticks now, carrots later
Report: Iran’s Threat to the Strait of Hormuz
Report: How to Defuse Iran’s Nuclear Threat
Watch: Inside Iran’s inner circle

UANI, Wall Street Journal: You can argue that sanctions aid diplomacy, certainly, that’s the broken record we’ve been hearing for years. But the reverse argument–that sanctions can lead to war or fail to prevent it while harming the sanctioned country’s population–is equally valid or more so when we consider the case of Iraq. Enter United Against a Nuclear Iran (UANI), a private sanctions-enforcement group that strives to market itself as bipartisan but includes several prominent Iran hawks and neoconservatives on its advisory board. It believes Iran is led by “radical rulers seeking nuclear weapons” and “threatening the world”, so surely they would agree that a seriously threatened Iran might fight for its life in aggressive ways when being strangled? Yet there’s no acknowledgement of that in a WSJ op-ed penned by a number of well-known hawks from UANI urging “liked-minded nations” to “immediately…deliver a potentially decisive economic blow to the regime” by “passing the most robust sanctions against Iran in history.” They are not convinced that this extremely confrontational approach will bring about positive results, but say it’s a final step that needs to be taken before war:

… it’s common sense that before undertaking military action against a country, we should first try to dissuade it from its current course by applying decisive economic pressure. Doing so will show the regime that the world is serious and committed, willing to do whatever it takes to stop Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Dan Shapiro/Shmuel Bar, New York Times: At a time when hopes are high for any kind of diplomatic progress with Iran and the West, Dan Shapiro, the U.S.’s ambassador to Israel, reminded the world that the military option is not only on the table, “necessary planning” has also been done “to ensure that it’s ready.” That wasn’t adequate for Shmuel Bar, director of studies at the Institute for Policy and Strategy in Herzilya, also quoted in the NYT piece:

“Saying it is not enough,” Mr. Bar said. What would have more significant effect, he said, is to show actual preparations for a military option by, for example, increasing deployment in the Persian Gulf.

“What actually the U.S. administration is doing is blowing hot and cold,” said Mr. Bar, who previously worked as an intelligence officer in the Israel Defense Force and in the prime minister’s bureau. “Actions do speak louder than words. The actions say the U.S. has a very strong aversion to any kind of military action.”

Mr. Bar pointed to a recent post on the Web site of the Iranian supreme leader that he described as “an analysis of why the U.S. cannot and will not go to war.”

“That is their candid evaluation of the situation,” he said. “When the Iranians see this, they say the Americans are doing everything they can to prevent Israel from attacking.”

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post: Never one to be shy about her militant support for Israel, the Washington Post blogger paints a picture of the people who are pushing for hawkish measures against Iran in Washington (be sure to read Jim Lobe’s report for context) and reinforces her hawkish views at the same time. First is a quote from a regular source on her blog, Mark Dubowitz of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, who warns against the potential easing of crippling sanctions during negotiations:

As eager, however, as President Obama is for a deal that will get Iran off the front pages — and all but eliminate the possibility of an Israeli strike ahead of the November election — he cannot take the political risk of offering too much relief for too few concessions. Once sanctions start to unravel, the fear of U.S. penalties that held them together will become difficult to reestablish, and the multilateral sanctions regime — the centerpiece of the president’s Iran strategy — will be gone. This may also persuade the Israelis that the time for diplomacy has passed, and only military action can stop Iran’s development of nuclear weapons.

She then gratefully reminds us that Congress is pushing confrontational measures against Iran in spite of the “wimpy” U.S. President. (Thanks to Israel lobby organizations like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee):

Precisely because Congress feels Iran is engaged in a rope-a-dope game and/or Obama will make a foolhardy deal that fails to halt the Iranian nuclear weapons program, efforts are underway to craft maximalist sanctions in advance of May 23. The House passed such a bill by a lopsided vote of 410-11.

But the problem is that some people want to prevent bills that bring the U.S. closer to war with Iran from being passed:

The Senate is a different matter. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) who says he is in favor of sanctions could have put the House bill on the floor and given it an up or down vote. Instead he opted for a watered down version of the bill. He entertained language from isolationist Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) that would specifically state the bill was not an authorization for use of force. He then proceeded to shut Republicans out of the process.

A senior GOP congressional aide with close knowledge of Iran sanctions legislation told me, “Neither Leader Reid nor Chairman [Sen. Tim] Johnson’s staff ever agreed to a single meeting with Sen. [Mark] Kirk’s office to address the senator’s proposed amendment. E-mails and phone calls went unreturned for weeks. The first time Democrats ever discussed the Iran bill with Republicans was last night when Reid’s office dropped off the manager’s amendment he negotiated with himself.” The Democrats characterized the Republicans as refusing to move forward; Republicans explain they are not about to pass toothless sanctions bill that would be buried in the conference committee.

Elliott Abrams, Council on Foreign Relations: The well-known neoconservative and former key mideast advisor to George W. Bush worries that France’s new President may waiver from the confrontational path on Iran set by by former President Nicolas Sarkozy:

It is difficult to exaggerate how significant a softening of France’s hard line would be. France has been tougher than Russia and China of course, but has also stiffened the position of the “EU 3? by being tougher than Germany and the UK. More important, it has at many junctures been tougher than the United States, sharply asking the difficult questions, highlighting logical deficiencies in arguments, and slicing through wishful thinking. If France is now to abandon this stance and simply agree with the UK, Germany, and the United States, the negotiations with Iran are more likely than ever to produce an unsatisfactory result that will be labelled adequate by its proponents.

Lindsey Graham, Fox News: Among the U.S.’s top Republican Hawks, the South Carolina senator flouted the “time is running out” card to Fox News viewers and publicly contradicted U.S. intelligence assessments showing that Iran has NOT made a decision to build a nuclear weapon. He also declared that President Obama must be more confrontational with Iran:

“So President Obama, if you are listening out there, please convince the Iranians that all options really are on the table,” Graham said.

“The only way they will stop marching toward a nuclear weapon is if they believe the regime’ life is at stake and their livelihood being at risk, and that means a strike by the United States,” the senator added.

He said it’s time to tell the Iranians, “No negotiations. . . . You are not going to get to enrich uranium any more, period.”

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.