Iran Hawk Watch

In response to a worrying trend in U.S. politics, Lobe Log publishes Iran Hawk Watch every Friday. Our posts highlight and examine militaristic commentary about Iran from a variety of sources including news articles, think tanks and pundits.

*This week’s must-reads are two pieces in the New York Times: Shibley Telhami and Steven Kull’s “Preventing a Nuclear Iran, Peacefully” and Roger Cohen’s “Don’t Do it, Bibi

Mainstream Media and Pundits:

Mark Helprin in the Wall Street Journal: This week the Journal’s editorial board shared the stage (see the following entry) with U.S. novelist and Israeli military veteran, Mark Helprin. In “The Mortal Threat From Iran”, the Claremont Institute senior fellow touts alarmist, unsubstantiated arguments like the kind we saw during the lead-up to the Iraq war. According to retired Colonel Larry Wilkerson who served as Chief of Staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, Helprin’s claim that if “1,100 metric tons of cocaine were smuggled from South America without interdiction” we can’t dismiss the possibility of “Iranian nuclear charges of 500 pounds or less ending up in Manhattan” recalls an infamous rumor prior to the 2003-invasion of Baghdad that “little Iraqi RPVs” were going to “fly off tramp steamers sailing along the east coast of the U.S., and deliver chemical and biological agents onto unsuspecting crowds in Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland”. Col. Wilkerson added that the article is not only “risible” it’s “disgusting.”

But Helprin concluded his preachment by bellowing that any President “fit for the office” should “order the armed forces of the United States to attack and destroy the Iranian nuclear weapons complex.” A curious statement considering how he admits in the beginning that Iran does not have nuclear weapons. But who needs facts or tangible targets when you are allowed to end an article in a serious news publication with the following:

When [the Iranians] have complied, and our pilots are in the air on their way home, they will have protected our children in their beds—and our children’s children, many years from now, in theirs. May this country always have clear enough sight and strong enough will to stand for itself in the face of mortal threat, and in time.


Wall Street Journal: This unsigned editorial, like last week’s, is carefully worded along with unsubstantiated claims used to justify murder (emphasis is mine):

As a supervisor in the uranium enrichment plant at Natanz Mustafa Ahmadi Roshan was engaged in building a nuclear bombHis death will serve a useful purpose if it convinces a critical mass of his colleagues to cease pursuing an atomic critical mass.  That wouldn’t be a bad way to bring the confrontation over Iran’s nuclear programme to a peaceful conclusion.

If columnist Bret Stephens (rumored to be the author of the unsigned pieces) or the WSJ have evidence that Roshan was “engaged in building a nuclear bomb”, why don’t they present it to the U.S. and Israel, both of whom haven’t come to this conclusion despite their superior surveillance capabilities? To quote nuclear engineer and former IAEA director, Robert Kelley:

Iran deserves tough scrutiny…At the same time, we should not again be held hostage to forgeries and the spinning of data to make the worst case. If Iran is developing nuclear weapons, let it be proved through the analysis of current, solid information — not recycled, discredited data. If there is to be a war with Iran, let’s not have a repeat, afterward, of the anguished articles and books from officials who kept their misgivings to themselves. Let’s get all the facts on the table now.

But instead of evidence, the WSJ repeats a tired argument that appeals to emotion rather than rationality: when it comes to Iran, war is the answer, or else (emphasis is mine):

Much of the world wants to believe that force won’t be necessary to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, but the explosions and killings show that a covert war involving deadly force is already underway. The Obama Administration says Iran plotted to kill a Saudi ambassador in a Washington, D.C. restaurant, and Iran is trying to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan as it previously did in Iraq. Many more people will die if the world doesn’t get serious about stopping this rogue regime.

Think Tanks and Analysts:

Dubowitz & Gerecht in Bloomberg: As pointed out by CIA veteran Paul Pillar in November, it’s easy to be “fooled” by hawks that endorse crippling sanctions against Iran (or in this case a “tsunami of sanctions”) while “preparing more of the battlefield for a later push for war.” Considered all together, policy recommendations by Mark Dubowitz and Reuel Marc Gerecht (a neoconservative Iraq war pusher) of the uber-hawkish Foundation for the Defense of Democracies seem to be doing just that. This week they claimed that through sanctions “a democratic counterrevolution in Persia might be reborn”. While the title of their article suggests a focus on regime change, they also argue for military intervention here:

Yet, as the U.S. and its allies aim to tighten the noose, they have to consider two new realities. First, given the progress we now know Iran has made on its atomic-weapons programs, there is little reason to think the leadership will voluntarily disarm. (Unfortunately, if a nuclear-armed Iran is truly unacceptable, military action is the most likely route to success — and the window for that option is closing fast.)


2012 might not be the year of nuclear- armed theocrats, but it could well turn out to be the last year in which a preventive military strike against Iran’s nuclear sites would possibly still be effective.


An Israeli strike (or an American one) would not necessarily be damaging politically, especially since Obama’s likely challenger, Mitt Romney, has said he won’t allow Iran to go nuclear.

And here while excluding the options of diplomacy and engagement:

So, are we stuck with a choice between two grim options –a military strike or nuclear-armed mullahs? There is a more optimistic long-term option: to use careful, comprehensive sanctions in a way that gives rise to the sort of popular economic discontent that led to the uprisings in the Arab world a year ago.

The notion that Iranians would support foreign-implemented regime change has been debunked time and again. Even anti-government Iranians I spoke to in Tehran in 2010 said they would resist foreign intervention. But it doesn’t take spending long periods of time in Iran to understand that where there’s force, there’s resistance. As the Atlantic’s senior editor Robert Wright noted on Wednesday:

Support for a policy of regime change rests on two major features of America’s national psychology: optimism, reflected in the assumption that democracy would magically ensue; and moral self-confidence, reflected in the assumption that whatever America wants is best for the world and that reasonable people everywhere will see this if given the chance.

The Iranians–whether green or not–don’t seem to see this. But who knows? Maybe if we shut off their gasoline imports and blow up their one refinery, they’ll warm up to us.

Fly and Schmitt in Foreign Affairs: In their “Case for Regime Change in Iran”, key neoconservative Iraq-war hawks Jamie Fly and Gary Schmitt (both of whom now reside at prominent think tanks) criticize Matthew Kroenig’s case for “war with Iran”, not because of his weak and flawed arguments (debunked here, here, here and here) but because Kroenig apparently didn’t go far enough:

Kroenig is correct then to argue that a military strike should be in the cards. But he is wrong to suggest that a limited strike is the only one that should be on the table. If strikes are chosen, it would be far better to put the regime at risk than to leave it wounded but still nuclear capable and ready to fight another day.

Fly and Schmitt don’t consider diplomacy, engagement or containment. Like most Iran hawks, the only choices presented are crippling sanctions (which could easily lead to war as a threatened and struggled Iran feels cornered and hopeless) or war. But those are not the only options, and framing the debate about Iran in this way could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In the words of the Daily Beast’s Leslie H. Gelb who initially supported the Iraq War:

We’re doing this terrible thing all over again. As before, we’re letting a bunch of ignorant, sloppy-thinking politicians and politicized foreign-policy experts draw “red line” ultimatums. As before, we’re letting them quick-march us off to war. This time their target is Iran. And heaven knows Iran’s leaders are bad guys capable of doing dangerous things. But if we’ve learned anything, anything at all, from plunging into war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it is this: we must have a public scrubbing of fighting rhetoric before, not after, the war begins.

Past and Present U.S. Officials and Politicians:

McFarlane and Woolsey in the National Review: Former CIA director James Woolsey and Reagan administration National Security Advisor Robert “Bud” McFarlane (both of whom work with Dubowitz and Gerecht at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies) argue that Iran should be threatened with a “big stick” at a time when Iran and the U.S. seem to be on the brink of war. In response to Iranian threats of closing the Strait of Hormuz (which resulted after Iran learned of a possible embargo on its oil), McFarlane and Woolsey recommend that the U.S. send “at least four carrier battle groups and a substantial number of strategic bombers to locations from which they could carry out operations against Iran.” The two also urge the Obama administration to enable “Syrian and Iranian peoples” who want to “undermine the Syrian and Iranian regimes” Cold War style.

Jasmin Ramsey

Jasmin Ramsey is a journalist based in Washington, DC.


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