Peter Beinart observes what I’ve been writing here for some time now: the military and intelligence community understands that launching a war on Iran is irrational, but the hysterical political debate is making war more and more likely. The problem with his analysis is that even those rejecting war are being irrational and leading us down the road to war, albeit at a slower pace.
The pretext for war with Iran is that its nuclear enrichment program may have a military dimension to it. Embarrassingly for the hawks, there is a broad consensus throughout the military and intelligence community that Iran is not developing nuclear weapons and has not demonstrated any intention of doing so. Even the Israelis can’t deny the evidence on this, but they have been insisting a preemptive strike is necessary in order to disable Iran’s enrichment activities before entering a “zone of immunity.” This, again, is irrational because underground facilities like Fordo are beyond the reach of Israeli bombs and Iran, if attacked, would be likely to quickly reconstitute its nuclear weapons program, making a strike counterproductive indeed. In fact, Iranian policy for some time now has been to abstain from developing nuclear weapons while having the know-how needed to get there; this essentially is an attempt to have a deterrent without having a deterrent.
Despite all this, the rhetoric from most politicians and the news media is all fire and brimstone. Israel or the U.S. – or both – are inching closer and closer to preemptively striking Iran and creating another catastrophic war in the Middle East. That’s what Beinart points out; that’s essentially the boilerplate.
But those who recognize that this war would be senseless, irrational, and “not prudent” as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey said, are still patently irrational on the Iran issue. Here’s one example:
Today I attended an event on Capitol Hill hosted by the National Iranian American Council. The speakers included Former Director General of the IAEA Hans Blix, Former U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East Colin Kahl, and Former Chief Inspector for the IAEA in Iraq Robert Kelley (moderated by Trita Parsi). Much was talked about as to some viable negotiated settlements, a peaceful way forward, etc. Amazingly, it was revealed that there is a peaceful settlement, an easy fix that would solve Israel’s supposed security concerns and erase the pretext for attacking, or even sanctioning, Iran. It’s workable, it’s enforceable. There’s one problem: Israel rejects it.
Hans Blix brought up the proposal of a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East. “The idea would be that Israel would do away with their nuclear weapons,” he said, “which are of doubtful military value anyway, Iran would stop enrichment…and the other countries in the region…would pledge themselves that they would not go for enrichment.” He continued: “That would give the Israelis the assurance that no one will threaten them in the future. If they bomb the Iranians now, well they could delay some things, but things will come back at them. But this would be the longer term solution. For the Iranians, this would mean the loss of the investment, but at the same time they would get the credit of having eliminated the Israeli nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and also they have world peace. But that’s not for today.”
When I asked him to expand on the viability of this, he said it is a consideration only “for the longer term.” Trita Parsi followed up, saying “Even public opinion polls in Israel have pointed out that the population actually overwhelmingly would support this. And it brings us to a situation in which there is not necessarily a lack of solutions to this, but there seems to be a lack of political will on almost all sides.”
Here we have a political solution that is viable, that Iran has repeatedly and publicly voiced support for, but that cannot happen because Israel will not relinquish its nuclear weapons. Obama administration officials from Leon Panetta, to James Clapper, to Gen. Martin Dempsey and beyond have publicly parted ways with Israel on their march to war with Iran. But they and everyone on their side of this debate advocate crippling economic sanctions, cyber attacks, proxy wars, and continuing to encircle Iran militarily. As I wrote in a post on the limits of debate on Iran: “The limits of debate are so narrow so as to only allow room for (1) advocates of war and (2) advocates of policies that will probably lead to war.”
It’s also important to note that such a Grand Bargain like a nuclear weapons-free zone isn’t the only option for peace. Simply opening up diplomatic relations with Iran would mean progress. Indeed, the Iranians – with the Turks and the Brazilians – gave the Obama administration exactly what it “demanded” in the fuel swap deal originally proposed by Obama himself, and Obama rejected it.
It’s hard to believe that these Sober Experts calling the hawks irrational actually want peace when they refuse advocate for it. The irrational posture is not unique to those irrational hawks Beinart identifies, but rather extends to those now branded as urging caution. And the notion that these reluctant U.S. officials don’t have more leverage over Israel is absurd: simply stop giving them $3 billion in taxpayer money every year and stop sending them the most advanced military equipment on the planet. Surely war with Iran could be avoided then, right?