Iran Hawk Watch

In response to a worrying trend in U.S. politics Lobe Log has launched Iran Hawk Watch. Each Friday we will post on notable militaristic commentary about Iran from a variety of sources including news articles, think tanks and pundits.

It’s the holidays and unfortunately not all the hawks took a break from agitating for confrontation with Iran. Here’s to giving all we’ve got in the New Year to working for peaceful means of conflict resolution.

*This week’s essential reading is “Hawks who learned Nothing” in Salon. Matthew Duss of the Center for American Progress reminds us that many of the same people who pushed for war with Iraq are calling for escalation with Iran.

Mainstream Media and Pundits:

Wall Street Journal: The hawkish editorial board says yet again that war is the answer (emphasis is mine):

The Hormuz threat is another opportunity to set boundaries on Iran’s rogue behavior. Washington, along with London, Paris and Riyadh, should say plainly that any attempt to close or disrupt traffic through the strait would be considered an act of war that would be met with a military response

The article ends by echoing Bush-era preemptive war rhetoric:

Would the U.S. dare resist Iranian aggression if it meant putting American forces at risk of a nuclear reprisal? Better to act now to stop Iran before we have to answer that terrible question.

The WSJ’s logic with respect to Iran’s behavior is curious. Iran is accused of being irrational and having a “tantrum” but it’s unlikely that it would close the Strait or threaten to do so without feeling seriously threatened itself. It’s worth keeping in mind that Iran has had more than 30 years to block this vital supply route and has never done so.

Washington Post: Jennifer Rubin (who almost always quotes the hawkish Foundation for Defense of Democracies when writing about Iran) does three things in this blog post. First she criticizes Leon Panetta for making “a mess of things” by expressing U.S. reservations about going to war with Iran. Then she asserts that there is only two options with Iran: punitive sanctions or war. Finally she repeats an argument regularly touted by pro-Israel hawks: the U.S. needs to save Israel from itself by preemptively going to war with Iran:

Ironic, isn’t it, that Obama should find himself in the same predicament as his predecessor: Preemptively strike a rogue regime or run the risk of regional and global catastrophe? There is one big difference, however. In Obama’s case, the Israelis will act if we don’t. And the margin for error, the degree of risk Israel is willing to incur, is much smaller than for us. Its existence and the entire Zioinist concept of a safe refuge for Jews is at stake.

Rubin also says “it’s impossible to know with certainty what the Iranians are up to” and yet she continues to make the case for confrontation. Like Iran’s authoritarian adjudicators, Rubin seems to be using guilty until proven innocent logic.

New York Times: John Vinocur’s alarmist article suggests war with Iran is just on the horizon. He quotes the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’s Mark Dubowitz who provides a quickly approaching deadline for sanctions (which he’s been aggressively pushing for) even though all success stories took years to bear results. Moreover, while analysts and Israeli officials doubt Israel’s strike capability and Israeli officials say an Iranian nuclear weapon does not pose an existential threat, Vinocur still suggests that Israel would go to war with Iran alone (by going over Iraq’s unsecured airspace!):

By some time next June, said Mr. Dubowitz, “If there’s no impact on Iranian oil revenue, then you’re at the end of the sanctions road.”

That’s 2012 ticking. The volume changes over the weekend.

With the end of 2011, the United States no longer holds responsibility for policing Iraqi airspace. Iraq has no replacement aircraft for now, and the shortest route for long-range Israeli F15Is to attack Iran’s nuclear sites will be wide open to them beginning Sunday.

Fox News: This panel discussing the Strait of Hormuz situation features Charles Krauthammer (who made last week’s posting) and Chuck Lane of the Washington Post. Their basic argument: impose a crippling embargo and more sanctions on Iran and go to war with it if it reacts by doing one of the only things it can do. Interestingly, Krauthammer admits that the Iranian government is reacting rather than acting unprovoked and is “weak”:

It’s doing it because the Obama administration is on the verge of imposing very serious sanctions on Iran which will essentially shut down at least gradually its oil exports and the Europeans are considering a boycott. That will really hurt the Iranian economy. The regime is already a weak one and worries about that, so it’s threatening.

Daily Beast/Commentary: Matthew Kroenig, the Georgetown Assistant Professor who wrote a poorly argued warmongering piece in Foreign Affairs (see responses here, here and here) finds fame with Eli Lake and Evelyn Gordon.

Past and Present U.S. Officials:

John Yoo: In case you missed it, the George W. Bush administration official who authored the infamous “torture memos” invokes Iraq war logic while pushing for war with Iran in the National Review. Writes Jim Lobe:

…his “case” for attacking Iran strikes me as extremely weak unless you believe, as his aggressive nationalist and neo-conservative colleagues do, that Washington can really do just about anything it likes and should, in any event, not be bound by silly concepts or institutions like international law or the UN Charter. Hence, his argument for ignoring the UN Security Council:

Just as national governments claim a monopoly on the use of force within their borders and in exchange offer police protection, the U.N. asks nations to give up their right to go to war and in exchange offers to police the world. But the U.N. has no armed forces of its own, has a crippled decision-making system, and lacks political legitimacy. It is contrary to both American national interests and global welfare because it subjects any intervention, no matter how justified or beneficial, to the approval of authoritarian nations.

John Bolton: George W. Bush’s UN ambassador is a favorite of Fox News and journalists soliciting a bellicose view from a former official. This week Bolton told Fox’s Jon Scott that the U.S. would crush Iran if it blocked the Strait of Hormuz while making some questionable claims:

Bolton: I’ve had many conversations with military officials here in this country over the years and it’s not bluster and it’s not boast, it’s a fact that if the Iranians tried to block the Straits of Hormuz [sic] it would be a matter of 2 or 3 days before the Straits [sic] were reopened. And the damage caused to Iran would not just be to its navy which would be on the bottom of the sea, but to a lot of land-based air and air defense mechanisms.

Scott: But if I’m in the Pentagon or if I’m advising the President and I’m presented with two scenarios, one, try to go after those hardened nuclear facilities that we know exist but that are very deep underground or potentially take out their navy in one swoop and maybe some anti-aircraft and military facilities along with it, I think I’d opt for option two.

Bolton: Well I’d opt for both options but I think it’s important to understand that those nuclear facilities that we know of at Natanz and Isfahan and Arak are not so deeply buried that they’re not very vulnerable, certainly to us, but even vulnerable to the Israelis as well and that really is what I think is most acute in Iran’s thoughts.

A check-in with Iran analyst Patrick Disney clarifies some misleading statements made by both Scott and Bolton. First, the Isfahan and Arak facilities are actually above ground. Second, Bolton seems to be exaggerating Israel’s strike capability. According to Disney:

Natanz is buried about 75 feet underground, but (as Matthew Kroenig said this week) could be destroyed with bunker buster bombs known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator which is capable of busting through 200 feet of concrete. So the US could destroy Natanz, but there’s a real doubt about Israel’s ability to destroy it alone, even with the bunker buster bombs that the Obama administration sent in 2009.

Disney also points out Kroenig’s problematic logic in his attack Iran piece:

Kroenig said multiple times this week that one of the red lines the US should have is any move by Iran to install advanced centrifuges (whether IR-2, IR-4 or some other variant) in the Fordow facility — something that strikes me as a very low standard for triggering military action. Iran already is operating advanced centrifuges at Natanz. Iran is already operating first-generation centrifuges at Fordow. It’s unclear why the introduction of advanced centrifuges into the Fordow facility would pose such a threat as to trigger military action. Not to mention…it’s kind of bizarre to say we should attack AFTER Iran puts next-generation centrifuges into Fordow, since one of the reasons we’d be concerned about them doing so is because the facility is invulnerable to attack.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.