“It would be unconscionable to go to war if we haven’t had such discussions,” said Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state in the Bush administration, of reports the Obama White House has agreed to one-on-one talks with Tehran over its nuclear program.
Sen. Lindsey Graham dissented Sunday: “I think the time for talking is over. … We talk, they enrich. It needs to stop. We need to have red lines coordinated with Israel and end this before it gets out of hand.”
Clearly, Graham believes an ultimatum, followed by an attack if Iran denies us “access to their nuclear program,” is the way to “end this.”
What kind of attack?
According to David Rothkopf, writing in Foreign Policy magazine, U.S. and Israeli military authorities are discussing a joint attack, and the idea getting the most traction is “a U.S.-Israeli surgical strike targeting Iranian enrichment facilities.”
“The strike might take only ‘a couple of hours’ in the best case and only would involve ‘a day or two’ overall, the source said, and would be conducted by air, using primarily bombers and drone support.”
Smashing the enrichment facilities at Natanz and Fordow, writes Rothkopf, would mean “setting the Iranian nuclear program back many years, and doing so without civilian casualties.”
This would have “region-wide benefits,” writes Rothkopf.
“One advocate asserts it would be a ‘transformative outcome: saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the (Persian) Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.’”
Thus, according to Rothkopf and his source, a U.S. attack on Iran’s enrichment facilities would produce the same glorious benefits we were promised if only we would invade and occupy Iraq in 2003.
Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates has another view. “The results of an American or Israeli military strike on Iran could … prove catastrophic, haunting us for generations in that part of the world.”
What consequences might Gates have in mind? Iran might mine the Persian Gulf, sending ships to the bottom, halting traffic, doubling the price of oil and plunging Europe into the economic abyss on the edge of which the continent stands today. U.S. ships might face swarm attacks from Iranian speedboats, forcing us to sink the Iranian Navy’s surface ships and destroy the hundreds of fast missile boats in the gulf and Iranian ports. Iran could send its submarines out and fire its anti-ship missiles to sink a U.S. warship. Iranian missile attacks on U.S. bases in Bahrain and the Gulf region could ignite an all-out air and sea war, with the U.S. having to destroy Iranian air fields, antiaircraft and missile sites, and Iran’s remaining nuclear facilities. The U.S. could face the kind of attacks across the region that Ronald Reagan confronted when he put Marines in Beirut, with the U.S. embassy blown up and 241 Marines massacred by a suicide truck bomber.
And if after months we had smashed Iran as we did Iraq in Desert Storm, would the regime give way to a pro-Western democracy? Or would the result in Iran look like what exists today in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Afghanistan?
Syria is breaking apart into Sunni and Alawite, Arab, Kurd and Druze, Christian and Muslim, Islamist and secular. Afghanistan is dissolving into Tajik and Uzbek in the north, Hazara in the center, and Pashtun in the south and east. Iraq is losing Kurdistan and reverting to civil-sectarian war.
A U.S. defeat of Iran could bring to power revanchists bent on payback through terrorism and propel that half of the population that is Arab, Baluch, Kurd and Azeri to try to break away.
Who would benefit from a breakup of Iran, other than jihadists?
Iran would surely stir up Hezbollah to rain down rockets on Israel and incite the Shia in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to rise against the regimes there.
Would Shia in Iraq attack the U.S. embassy in Baghdad? We cannot know, but Gates is surely right that the consequences could be catastrophic.
Which raises the question. Why are we even talking about war?
Sen. Graham notwithstanding, the sanctions are working. The Iranian economy is sinking into recession, oil revenues have fallen, and hard currency reserves are being depleted. And what is the grave threat that justifies a war?
While Iran is enriching uranium to 20 percent, it has not enriched to weapons grade. Should they do so, we would know it. Ayatollah Khamenei has called nuclear weapons anti-Islamic, and the U.S. intelligence community says Iran has no nuclear bomb program.
America’s position as of today is: We do not want war with Iran, but will tolerate no Iranian bomb. Iran’s official position is: We want no bomb, and we are willing to negotiate, but we have a right to have a peaceful nuclear program.
Can we find no common ground here?
Gates and Burns are right. Before we go to war, let us find out, in face-to-face talks if need be, if we really have to go to war.