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.

*This week’s must-reads/watch:

– News/Interview: Iran Official Offers ‘Permanent Human Monitoring’ of Nuclear Sites
– Research Publication: Holding Iran To Peaceful Uses Of Nuclear Technology
– Research Publication: Engaging Iran On Afghanistan
– Opinion: Deterring Iran is the best option
– Opinion: Obama Needs to Go Whole Mile on Iran Diplomacy: Vali Nasr
– News: Former Bush official warns against Iran attack
– News: Subtle Signs Obama Diplomacy May Work on Iran
– News: Israeli Attack On Iran Would ‘Ignite Regional War,’ Only Delay Nuke Program

Howard “Buck” McKeon at the the Reagan Presidential Library: The House Armed Services chairman (R., Calif.) made alarmist claims on Wednesday about Iran’s alleged nuclear ambitions while advocating for more spending on weapons (h/t John M. Donnelly). His statement that “Iran’s quest for nuclear weapons is perhaps the gravest threat to the global order…since the collapse of communism” directly contradicted the findings of a report released yesterday by the prominent national security think tank, the Stimson Center. According to experts Barry Blechman and R. Taj Moore (Blechman has nearly 50 years of national security experience), the so-called “threat” from Iran is not even close to that which the U.S. faced during the Cold war. McKeon nevertheless recommends that the U.S. “allocate resources for contingencies like Iran” and “place emphasis on vital weapons, should the Iranians determine that a peaceful, nuclear-free existence is not in their best interest.”

Matthew Kroenig at CSIS: The Georgetown Assistant Professor continues to advocate for “limited strikes” on Iran by the U.S. even though experts acknowledge that the best this would achieve is a few years of setback and could in fact result in an increased desire on the part of the Iranians to acquire nuclear weapons. Kroenig’s analysis (debunked here and here among other places) has inspired more hawkish recommendations by well-known militarists Jamie M. Fly and Gary Schmitt who argue that the U.S. should go much further if the military option is pursued.

Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post: The militarist pro-Israel blogger who regularly displays her contempt for President Obama claims again that the only choices he has with Iran are war or living with a nuclear-armed regime. Her proclamation comes during the same week that the Iranians offered “full transparency” with their nuclear activities in exchange for Western cooperation. Writes Rubin:

In any event, the president — having dismissed a robust policy of regime change, repeatedly talked down the prospect of military action, tolerated Iran’s killing of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, taken no action in response to Iran’s attempted assassination of a Saudi diplomat on U.S. soil and signaled by withdrawal from Iraq and a rush to the exits in Afghanistan our willingness to cede ground to our foes — now faces an Iranian regime that is emboldened and on the verge of acquiring a nuclear weapons capability. He will soon be confronted with the choice: military action (by Israel or the United States) or acceptance of Iran as a nuclear power, something he said he would never do. It’s a Hobson’s choice, largely of his own making due to his unserious and delusional foreign policy.

Bret Stephens, Wall Street Journal: After illustrating an imaginary scenario where Iran (widely regarded as a non-conventional military threat to the U.S.) endangers U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf, the former Jerusalem Post editor says the U.S. Navy should beef up its presence even after Vice Adm. Mark Fox stresses that its “absolutely prepared” for any contingency:

The Navy doesn’t like to advertise this, but it is trying to fulfill its traditional global role with a fleet of 285 ships—the smallest it has been since before the First World War, even if modern warships are more capable than ever before. That number is likely to decline further under President Obama’s proposed budgetary cuts. If you sleep better at night knowing that a powerful American Navy ensures the freedom of the seas in places like the Gulf, the time to start worrying about the Navy’s future is now.

David Ignatius, Washington Post: The widely read columnist suggests that sanctions and “covert actions” should be used to “sink” the Iranian regime. His words run counter to the stated strategy of the Obama administration–to use pressure and diplomacy as a means for getting the Iranians to submit to U.S. demands at the negotiating table. His article also comes at a time when the Iranians are claiming that they’re ready to make serious concessions on their nuclear program. Writes Ignatius:

[Karim] Sadjadpour likes to invoke an old saying about dictatorships: “While they rule, their collapse appears inconceivable. After they’ve fallen, their collapse appeared inevitable.” Iran, he argues, is “at the crossroads of that maxim.”

Now that the squeeze on Iran has begun, there’s a potential risk if it stops too quickly, leaving a damaged but still potent Iran seething for vengeance. That early termination could happen through a quick U.N. cease-fire after a unilateral Israeli strike or because the West calls off sanctions prematurely, leaving Iran’s nuclear toolkit still largely intact.

The West has an additional hidden capability in this crisis, between sanctions and open military conflict. It’s a way of increasing the cost of Iran’s actions, short of war. Officials don’t usually talk about this terrain of “covert action,” for obvious reasons, but it’s easy to imagine what might be possible: Defense-related research facilities could be disrupted; financial and other commercial records could be scrambled. These may sound like extreme options, but they’re just the non-lethal ones.

“You can cause a lot of mischief inside Iran,” says one foreign official. The pressure campaign under way may not force Iran’s current leadership to make a deal, this official notes, but it increases the chance that the regime will sink as a result of its own defiant behavior.


Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.