Retaliation against US personnel overseas. $8-a-gallon gas. A spreading Middle East War. An Iranian regime driven to pursue a nuclear weapon.
Experts recognize all of these as likely consequences of a military attack on Iran. Most people of sound mind are not gunning for a military confrontation with Iran, as much as they might throw around “all options on the table” rhetoric.
Unfortunately, despite all the potential consequences, several major players in US-Iran relations have made counterproductive moves that undermine diplomacy and push us forward on the path toward war.
I have railed against Congress many times on this issue, as their actions on Iran are usually far more likely to hurt the situation than help. The Senate lived up to those expectations last week by passing, 90-1, a resolution that rejects the possibility of containing a “nuclear weapons capable” Iran. As we pointed out when the House took up this bill, this is a dangerous move that sets a vague red line for military action. The legislation does not offer a definition of what a nuclear weapons capability is—by some definitions, Iran could already be there. This votes comes at an especially sensitive time on this issue, essentially putting the Senate in agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rather than President Obama, who has set his red line at an actual nuclear weapon.
“With regards to the red line, I would imagine Prime Minister Netanyahu is referring to a red line over which if Iran crossed it would take military action. And for me, it is unacceptable or Iran to have the capability of building a nuclear weapon, which they could use in the Middle East or elsewhere,” Romney said. “So for me, the red line is nuclear capability. We do not want them to have the capacity of building a bomb that threatens ourselves, our friends, and the world.”
“Exactly where those red lines [should be drawn] is something which, I guess, I wouldn’t want to get into in great detail, but you understand they are defined by the Iranian capability to have not only fissile material, but bomb making capability and rocketry,” Romney said.
Romney already demonstrated that he shouldn’t be anywhere near Iran policy with his spectacularly ignorant comments on Iran in the infamous fundraiser video:
If I were Iran, and a crazed fanatic, I’d say let’s get a little fissile material to Hezbollah, have them carry it to Chicago or some other place, and then if anything goes wrong or if America starts acting up, we’ll just say, “Guess what, unless you stand down, why we’re gonna let off a dirty bomb.” This is where we head, where American can be held up and blackmailed by Iran, by the mullahs, by crazy people. So we really don’t have any option but to keep Iran from having a nuclear weapon.
If we’re going to live in Mitt Romney’s fantasy world where you need a nuclear weapons program to make a dirty bomb and the Iranian regime has no instincts for self-preservation, we can probably just call Jack Bauer to clean it all up and save the day. If we’re dealing with reality, we are going to need an actual understanding of the issues and better policy proposals than being tougher and refusing to apologize.
While Barack Obama at least seems to have a much firmer grasp on that reality, and has helpfully pushed back against “loose talk of war,” his administration committed a major blunder last week that also pushed us toward military confrontation. After an extensive lobbying campaign that spent thousands of dollars buying high profile support from people like Rudy Giuliani and Howard Dean, the State Department removed the Mujahedin-al-Khalq from the list of foreign terrorist organizations. The MEK has killed Americans and Iranians in the past, and has no legitimacy within Iran as an opposition group. Robert Wright explains why what might seem like a bureaucratic detail is so detrimental to a peaceful resolution of tensions with Iran:
A government official said the U.S. will remove the “terrorist” label from the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, a group that got onto the list of terrorist organizations decades ago by, among other things, killing Americans. I’ve argued before that such a “delisting” of MEK would empower hardliners in Iran who want to block a negotiated solution of the nuclear issue. After all, not only is MEK devoted to overthrowing the Iranian government, and not only did it side with Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq war–MEK has recently, according to NBC News , served as Israel’s proxy in murdering Iranian scientists. So America’s delisting of MEK will be used by Iranian hardliners as evidence that America is too hostile to be a reliable negotiating partner–just as American hawks highlight evidence of Iranian hostility to argue that negotiations are futile.
If government officials truly want to avoid war with Iran (and I believe most of them do), it’s not enough to just say military action is a last resort. They must actively promote alternative policies that can resolve the conflict (and at the very least not undermine them). We don’t want them finding themselves suddenly backed into a corner by their own rhetoric and short-sighted actions, left with no options but the dangerous and expensive military one.