Hawks restart campaign for war with Iran With negotiations to rejoin the nuclear deal showing promise, JCPOA opponents are going all in.
Hawks restart campaign for war with Iran
With negotiations to rejoin the nuclear deal showing promise, JCPOA opponents are going all in.
By Joe Cirincione and Geoff Wilson
January 14, 2022
The crusade for a war with Iran continues.
Just weeks into the new year, war hawks are again calling for the U.S. military to prepare plans for a comprehensive strike against Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.
Foundation for the Defense of Democracies CEO Mark Dubowitz and the Atlantic Council’s Matthew Kroenig — longtime advocates for a preemptive war with Iran — argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed last week that “the red line for military action will come when Iran’s timeline to sprint to a nuclear weapon shrinks to less than the Pentagon’s response time,” which they clam “could happen early this year.”
“If and when it does,” they say, “the president should order military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities to prevent Tehran from building the bomb.”
In addition to casually calling for another preemptive war in the Middle East, these authors arrive at this conclusion by distorting the facts and ignoring sound military strategy.
To convince policy makers to consider yet another regional military misadventure, proponents of war with Iran must promote two great falsehoods: that diplomacy cannot resolve the crisis and alternatively that war could.
Thus, Dubowitz and Kroenig begin by claiming negotiations “have stalled.”
It is true that talks with the Iranians have been slow. Yes, they are enriching uranium above the thresholds set by the Iran nuclear deal negotiated in 2015. But the United States, under President Donald Trump, violated the deal in 2018, imposed more than 1,000 new crippling sanctions on Iran and publicly assassinated Iran’s top military commander in 2020. While President Joe Biden began negotiations for a mutual return to compliance with the deal, he has kept all of Trump’s sanctions in place. It is little wonder that the process has been slow and the Iranians are cautious.
Still, far from stalling, the talks show signs of progress this month with both Western and Iranian diplomats expressing cautious optimism that a deal could be finalized in the coming weeks. It is perhaps the prospect for a restoration of the deal that has caused critics to dangle, once again, the illusion of a theoretical “better deal” in the media.
The JCPOA is one of the strongest non-proliferation agreements ever negotiated. It closed all of Iran’s pathways to a bomb for decades. Iran agreed to rip out more than two-thirds of its centrifuges, ship out all but a token amount of its once huge stockpile of uranium gas, remove the core of its plutonium reactor, drill it full of holes and fill it with concrete. It then agreed to put its entire nuclear complex under the most intrusive inspection regime ever negotiated.
Many of these restrictions expire after 15, 20 or 25 years, but the inspections and the pledge never to obtain a nuclear weapon enshrined in the agreement are like diamonds — they last forever. And the door is open to negotiate follow-on limitations, as is the norm under most arms control agreements, including all the strategic nuclear deals between the United States and Russia.
To beat this record of success, proponents of war have to claim that U.S. military attacks would be an almost magical solution, requiring minimal effort but achieving maximum effectiveness.
Dubowitz and Kroening have been supporting this view for years.
Kroenig, for example, has penned several articles calling for an attack and devoted an entire book to starting a preemptive war with Iran while the deal was actually being negotiated. His talking points have remained unchanged with their new opinion piece claiming that, “Washington has effective military options,” and that “there is little doubt the Pentagon can destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities (even those that are deeply buried and hardened), as several defense secretaries have stated.”
While, yes, defense secretaries have said that the United States could destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities (at least temporarily), none have said that it would necessarily be the smartest idea.
On the contrary, Robert Gates, the former Secretary of Defense under both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, said in 2007 “it would be a strategic calamity to attack [Iran]” and that such an attack would only set back Iran’s program by at most two years. He added in 2012, “If you [thought] the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe.”
Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen agrees. He said in 2015 “it is worth remembering that any strike, even if successful, would by all accounts only delay a nuclear breakout capability by one to three years at most while fully galvanizing the Iranian people against the U.S. and in favor of developing nuclear weapons.”
Even President Trump’s secretary of defense Jim Mattis famously said that when it came to Iran, “the United States should buy time to keep peace and stability and allow diplomats to work diplomacy on how to keep peace for one more hour, one more day, one more week, a month or a year… the military must work to buy time for diplomats to work their magic.”
How much time do diplomats need? Dubowitz and Kroenig claim that Biden must launch a military strike “early this year” because “Iran is striding towards a bomb.” But the U.S. intelligence community, as CIA Director Williams Burns said again last month, “doesn’t see any evidence that Iran’s Supreme Leader [Ali Khamenei] has made a decision to move to weaponize.”
Meanwhile, a growing number of Israeli military and intelligence officials support a return to the JCPOA as do Iran’s regional rivals in the Gulf Cooperation Council. In the region, Trump’s torpedoing of the JCPOA is widely seen as “a delusional decision,” as former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak put it. Rather than forcing Iran to collapse or comply with U.S. demands, he said, it “allowed the Iranians to move forward quickly in the direction of becoming a nuclear threshold state.”
Dubowitz and Kroenig ignore all this expert judgment, and instead push a fantasy vision of low-cost military actions (similar to those who were calling for war with Iraq), claiming that “Tehran’s response would likely be muted.”
Retired CENTCOM commander and four-star Marine General Anthony Zinni disagrees, having once detailed just how bad things could get if Iran decided to respond to U.S. military strikes:
After you’ve dropped those bombs on those hardened facilities, what happens next? What happens if they decide, in their hardened shelters with their mobile missiles, to start launching those? What happens if they launch them into U.S. bases on the other side of the gulf? What happens if they launch into Israel, or somewhere else? Into a Saudi oil field? Into Ras Laffan, with all the natural gas? What happens if they now flush their fast patrol boats, their cruise missiles… and they sink a tanker, an oil tanker? And of course the economy of the world goes absolutely nuts… Just tell me how to deal with all that, okay?
Zinni concludes, “eventually, if you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere. And like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.”
War is never simple. And we should always remain wary of those who promise that it will be, even more so when there are still active diplomatic talks ongoing.
Kroenig and Dubowitz promise that escalation with Iran could be limited by “issuing an explicit threat that if Tehran escalates, the Pentagon will destroy more than the nuclear facilities,” and we think this belies the author’s true motive: another forlorn hope at regime change.
After more than 20 years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, 54 percent of Americans agreed with the decision to pull troops out of Afghanistan — even if they disapproved of the way that the situation was handled. Moreover, 69 percent of Americans think that the United States mostly failed to achieve anything in the two decades U.S. forces were there.
Indeed, despite the dysfunction in Washington, there has been widespread and bipartisan support to repeal the 2002 Authorization for Use of Military Force that President Trump used as the justification for his targeted assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani in 2020.
The Biden administration has been very clear that it will never allow Iran to possess a nuclear weapon, and that, if necessary, all options are on the table.
But let’s not delude ourselves into thinking that launching another preemptive war in the Middle East would somehow be clean, easy, cheap or effective.
Let’s just call it what it is — nuts.