While one expert after another has concluded that military action against Iran’s nuclear program would only embolden hardliners in Tehran and strengthen domestic Iranian support for an Iranian nuclear weapon, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates’s remarks today made it crystal clear that the administration shares the experts’ viewpoint.
Gates, as reported by Reuters, told an audience today:
“A military solution, as far as I’m concerned … it will bring together a divided nation. It will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons. And they will just go deeper and more covert,” Gates said.
“The only long-term solution in avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it’s not in their interest. Everything else is a short-term solution.”
Now we must ensure that sanctions are aggressively enforced. We must also work together to send a clear message to the Iranian regime that the U.S. is unified and determined to prevent it from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability—through peaceful means if we possibly can, by other means if we absolutely must.
Or Sen. Lindsey Graham’s remarks from November 6, when he went further than even most U.S. or Israeli hawks in his call for a full-scale war against Iran that would “neuter the regime’s ability to wage war.”
While a realist consensus has formed around the notion that a military strike — be it Israeli or American– on Iran’s nuclear facilities (as Jeffrey Goldberg pushed in his Atlantic cover story in September) would be disastrous for U.S. regional strategic interests, a small yet vocal group of hawkish politicians and pundits appear determined to push the Obama administration into pursuing a policy of combative rhetoric and violent threats.
My colleague Ali Gharib’s piece for Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel, “Do neoconservatives really care about the Iranian opposition?,” tackles this question about why neoconservatives, who claim to support the Green movement and members of the opposition, also advocate for sanctions and military strikes which opposition activists have publicly opposed.
[Reuel Marc Gerecht] called for communications support for Iran’s would-be opposition, and endorsed passive support for those who “are willing to risk their lives for the case of democracy.” But those same people who “risk their lives” on the ground are almost universally against Gerecht’s policy proscriptions for Iran. To couch one’s unabashed support for bombing Iran as a vital security interest for the U.S. and its allies despite the warnings of current and former top Pentagon brass is one thing (and raises issues not discussed herein). But to simultaneously endorse war and those who insist it will hurt them is quite another.
Ali is probably right that discussing why certain politicians, such as Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham and pundits like Jeffrey Goldberg and Reuel Marc Gerecht, so openly mention the possibility of bombing Iran despite warnings from Pentagon brass and realist analysts, raises a broad range of issues. When the Secretary of Defense defines the administration’s position on discussing “the military option” so unequivocally, it shows that–for the moment–the administration isn’t giving in to the campaign for war. But neoconservatives are used to being a small yet vocal minority. And from their perches at think tanks and editorial boards, they aren’t leaving the verbal battlefield any time soon.