Currently Browsing

US-Iran War

  • 23 September 2013
  • Posted By Bharat Vasudevan
  • Diplomacy, Events in Iran, Iran Election 2013, US-Iran War

Iran and the Unthinkable

At a forum at the Brookings institution on Monday, September 16, Kenneth Pollack discussed his new book, “Unthinkable” with Robin Wright, addressing prospects for Iran’s nuclear program, Israeli security, and American strategy. The book, mostly written before the election of Rouhani, focuses primarily on the question of what to do if diplomacy fails to dissuade Iran from pursuing a nuclear weapon.  At such a juncture, the United States would be forced to choose between military strikes aimed at destroying Iran’s nuclear program or containment of a nuclear-armed Iran. “When I weigh the costs and risks”, Pollack asserts, “the costs and risks of containment are more bearable and more practical than the costs and risks if we do military strikes.”

Given that one of Pollacks previous books, “The Threatening Storm,” helped build the case for the invasion of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, Pollack is considered somewhat of a unique messenger to push back against military options against Iran.

Pollack argued that diplomacy is the far superior choice for preventing a nuclear-armed Iran. However, he identified two major reasons to be skeptical about the prospects for a diplomatic solution. First, hardliners in Iran could block Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, from obtaining a nuclear deal. Second, America has overwhelmingly relied on sticks over carrots in diplomatic negotiations. The only carrot the Obama administration has offered is to “stop using sticks.” Without a significant carrot for Rouhani to sell a nuclear deal as a win, a deal cannot be achieved. More significant concessions need to be put on the table.

However, if diplomacy fails, Pollack asserted that containment would be far more prudent than military action.  Strikes would be costly and would only, at best, delay Iran’s nuclear program and increase the likelihood that they pursue one. Meanwhile, containment carries far fewer risks – the United States has, in essence, been doing it since 1979 by limiting Iran’s influence and power through isolation and ensuring that the costs of military escalation are too high.  If Iran obtains a nuclear weapon, additional steps would be needed to shore up regional allies and prevent further proliferation. The United States would also need to prevent perverse incentives for nuclear escalation from emerging, as happened during the Cold War when hawks on both sides pushed for first strikes to knock out their adversary’s nuclear arsenal.

According to Pollack, Iran would continue to demonstrate rational behavior if it obtains a nuclear weapon, meaning that Iran could be deterred from using them. Contrasted with Pakistan, which became more aggressive after gaining the bomb, and Israel, which showed more restraint, Iran would largely behave the same way. Despite support for groups including Hezbollah, Iran has never toppled foreign governments.  Further, Iran is in a weak state given the impact of sanctions on its economy and currently has few reliable allies: Hamas has turned away from Iran and Syria is embroiled in a civil war.

Israel has a military option as well, but Pollack asserted that it is not a good one.  Israel could attempt to destroy Iran’s nuclear facilities, as it did in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. However, neither America nor Israel would prefer such an option. Israel, which typically pursues a military option when it is viable, has proven that it wants to leave military strikes to the United States by debating the option publicly for the last fifteen years.

The House Gets Bad Advice

When it comes to crafting law, Congress seeks input from outside experts to help inform and guide their decisionmaking. The type of experts the body seeks out can say a lot about why Congress does what it does. Last Wednesday, the House Foreign Affairs Committee invited some particularly revealing “expert witnesses” that say a lot about the body’s priorities.

The Middle East Subcommittee held a hearing on the “Iran-Syria Nexus and its Implications for the Region,” featuring Mark Dubowitz, the Executive Director of the Foundation of Defense and Democracies (FDD), a major pro-sanctions lobby that has  been in the spotlight thanks financial filings that indicate it is primarily sponsored by far-right wing millionaires like Sheldon Adelson. Also testifying was John Bolton, a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute who has called for the U.S. to bomb Iran for years now, going back to his days as UN Ambassador under the Bush Administration.

Dubowitz and Bolton, both representing the neo-conservative hawks in Washington, urged the Members of Congress in attendance to escalate sanctions, dismiss negotiations, and carry out preventative war on Iran.

Dubowitz called for “massively intensifying sanctions on Iran to bring it to the verge of economic collapse.” According to him, Washington was not doing enough to send the message to the Supreme Leader that the U.S. means business. He claimed that the U.S. has been granting sanctions relief to Iran through its “unwillingness to entertain new sanctions [and] non-enforcement of existing sanctions.”

Bolton sided with Dubowitz but added that negotiations with Iran are worthless and that the U.S. should ultimately aim for regime change within Iran. As predicted, Bolton argued yet again that the “only option is a pre-emptive military strike against Iran’s nuclear program.”

Rouhani Raises Hopes for Diplomacy at First News Conference as President

By Samira Damavandi and Caroline Cohn

At his first press conference as Iran’s new president, Hassan Rouhani indicated his willingness to reengage in diplomatic talks with the West, raising hopes for finding a solution to the current standoff over Iran’s nuclear program.

Rouhani replaced outgoing President Ahmadinejad, whose bellicose anti-U.S. and anti-Israel rhetoric only exacerbated the already tense relationship between the U.S. and Iran. The election of Rouhani, a centrist candidate who pledged “constructive interaction” with the world, was a rare positive sign for a potential easing of tensions between the two estranged nations.

Of Rouhani’s news conference on Tuesday, the Washington Post noted that  “It was certainly a remarkable tonal departure from Ahmadinejad, with lots of talk about compromising with the West.” As Rouhani fielded questions from the media – which included reporters from both inside and outside of Iran, including the U.S. – he made several positive remarks indicating his plans for steering Iranian foreign and domestic policy in a more conciliatory direction.


In response to several questions about his plans for renewing nuclear negotiations, many posed by Western news correspondents, Rouhani reaffirmed his plans to pursue a more diplomatic approach to foreign policy, starkly opposite from the approach of his predecessor.  “As I have said earlier, our main policy will be to have constructive interaction with the world,” said Rouhani.

  • 19 March 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • Diplomacy, US-Iran War

Pew’s False Choice Survey on Iran War

A recent national survey by the Pew Research Center included a question about the use of military action against Iran that distorts rather than reveals what people are thinking when it comes to the potential for war.

The question was posed as what the respondent deems more important: to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if means taking military action; to avoid military conflict even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons; or other/don’t know.

Within this framework, 64% of respondents said it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons even if this means taking military action against the country. Only 25% of respondents responded to this question by saying that it is more important to avoid a military conflict even if Iran may develop nuclear weapons.

The framing of this question–with respondents given a choice between two extremes of taking military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons to not taking military action even if Iran develops a nuclear weapon–is a false choice.

First, the fact is that according to the IAEA and U.S. intelligence, Iran is not currently developing nuclear weapons. If they stay on this course, they will never have a nuclear weapon because building a weapon requires they make a political decision to actually do so. There are of course concerns they will make that decision, and this–rather then whether or not we decide to bomb–is what the entire debate is hinged on. And the way to convince Iran to not make that decision, and to take verifiable steps to prove it, we need to be engaging diplomatically.

When presented with the diplomatic option, Americans overwhelmingly support it. An October 2012 poll asked respondents if they supported the UN Security Council continuing diplomatic efforts to get Iran to stop enriching uranium. The vast majority of those surveyed responded in the affirmative, with 79% of Republicans, 84% of Democrats, and 77% of Independents all saying “Yes”.

Furthermore, this question provides an inaccurate or incomplete representation of the two choices it does provide. Many former government and military officials actually believe that, while Iran is not developing nuclear weapons now, a military strike would actually push them to do so. According to former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, “An attack would make a nuclear armed Iran inevitable. They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.” Former Director of the CIA Michael Hayden has echoed Gates, “[Bombing Iran] will actually push them to getting nuclear weapons.” So the notion that military action means Iran doesn’t get the bomb is actually contrary to what the military crowd is actually saying.

It is clear that ten years after the Iraq war, there is still a lot of misinformation about certain Middle Eastern countries and their supposed pursuit of “weapons of mass destruction.” The false choices and inaccurate representation embodied in the recent Pew Research Survey reflects this culture of misinformation, and can easily be used to nefarious ends such as pushing for war based on public support for it.

  • 15 March 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • US-Iran War

10 years later, is Iran replacing Iraq?

“There is no question whatsoever that [blank] is seeking and is working and is advancing towards the development of nuclear weapons — no question whatsoever. And there is no question that once he acquires it, history shifts immediately.”

If you automatically substituted in Iran for the blank here, you certainly cannot be blamed. The “no question about it” confidence and overly alarmist tone that underpins this quote embodies much of the rhetoric proliferated today in regards to Iran’s nuclear program. Furthermore, this quote even comes from perhaps the biggest purveyor of portraying the Iranian nuclear program in such terms, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu. However, this is not from a speech Netanyahu made in 2013, but from one in 2002, and the blank here is not Iran, but Saddam Hussein.

On this tenth anniversary of the invasion of Iraq, it is apt to review the frighteningly numerous parallels between the run up to that war and the current standoff with Iran. As the above quote demonstrates, many of the same people who warned so insistently about the “threat” from Iraq ten years ago are now warning just as insistently about the “threat” from Iran. In Netanyahu’s case, he has frequently been caught repeating verbatim the same things he said about Iraq over a decade ago about Iran today.

  • 11 March 2013
  • Posted By Sina Toossi
  • Diplomacy, Sanctions, US-Iran War

NYT Slams AIPAC Resolutions

Two recent measures introduced in Congress received some pretty harsh criticism from the New York Times this past weekend.  The first resolution, introduced in the Senate by Democratic Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee Robert Menendez and Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, would essentially open a backdoor to war with Iran by pushing Israel to start it. The other bill will sharply ratchet up already tough sanctions imposed on Iran.

In a significant move, the New York Times ran an editorial article slamming the bills as harmful to ongoing negotiations and as making war more likely. “Last week, just as Iran and the major powers made some small progress in talks and agreed to meet again, two measures were introduced in Congress that could harm negotiations,” said the New York Times. “It could also hamper negotiations by playing into Iranian fears that America’s true intention is to promote regime change. “

It remains to be seen if this unique criticism from the New York Times will have any effect on Congress. Especially since, as the editorial notes, these bills are being promoted by AIPAC. Regardless, by taking on Congress’ latest Iran hijinks, the NYT is saying to Congress what NIAC has been saying for years: that ratcheting up sanctions and upping the war rhetoric, our elected officials in Washington are closing off political space for the Obama Administration to conduct serious diplomacy, and thereby making war more likely. The NYT piece ended with a stark message,” The best way to avert military conflict is by negotiating a credible, verifiable agreement. It is a very long shot. But Congress needs to give the talks time to play out and not make diplomatic efforts even harder.”

Blocking Iran talks is rerun of Iraq failure

This past weekend, with news that the U.S. and Iran may be planning direct talks soon to address the nuclear standoff, there were swift reactions by some to try to kill the initiative.  Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren warned that Iran should not be “rewarded” with direct talks, and Senator Lindsey Graham–who has pledged the U.S. will join Israel if they choose to bomb Iran–ominously said “the time for talking is over.”

For some, it seems that negotiations with Iran that could resolve the nuclear impasse are a bigger danger than Iran’s nuclear program.

Rolf Ekéus, who headed the UN team charged with eliminating Iraqi WMD infrastructure from 1991 to 1997, makes a compelling case in Foreign Affairs that the international community is indeed headed down the same path with Iran that we took with Iraq.  The piece, co-written with Målfrid Braut-Hegghammer, presents a timeline in which a U.S. policy aimed at regime change prevented sanctions from being removed and made war inevitable:

  • In 1991, after the Gulf War, the UN Security Council requires Iraq to destroy all WMD material and accept international inspections.  
  • From 1991 to 1997, Iraq procedes with disarmament in order to get the international community to honor its end of the deal: to lift UN financial and trade embargoes once Iraq has complied.
  • By 1997, Iraq completes disarmament and the UN has a monitoring system in place.  There are calls in the Security Council to begin lifting the sanctions.
  • But that spring, Secretary of State Madeline Albright announces the U.S. will not lift the sanctions until Saddam is removed.  
  • By the end of 1998, Congress passes the Iraq Liberation Act which makes regime change the official U.S. policy towards Iraq.  President Clinton signs the bill into law.
  • In 1998, with no chance of getting sanctions lifted through cooperation, Saddam obstructs and finally kicks out inspectors after a U.S.-British bombing campaign.
  • Citing the Iraq Liberation Act and allegations of Iraqi WMD programs and capabilities, Congress authorizes war with Iraq and the U.S. invades in 2003.
  • 16 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • Congress, Israel, US-Iran War

Graham proposal pledges support for Israeli strike

Americans don’t want to be dragged into war with Iran by Israel.  According to recent polls:

  • 59% of Americans oppose the United States getting involved if Israel strikes Iran according to the 2012 Chicago Council on Global Affairs survey.
  • 55% of Americans say an Israeli strike on Iran would worsen the U.S. military and strategic position in the Middle East according to an October 8 poll released by the University of Maryland’s Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA).
  • 53% of Americans say Washington should maintain a neutral stance if Israel strikes Iran according tothe PIPA poll.  29% said the U.S. should discourage such action and only 12% said the U.S. should encourage Israel to strike Iran.

But in the Senate, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has a different agenda.  This November he is planning to introduce a resolution providing unconditional backing for Israeli military actions against Iran.  As NIAC’s Jamal Abdi writes in the Huffington Post, “Graham’s planned measure would outsource the decision about whether the U.S. goes to war to the Israeli prime minister, pledging that if Bibi decides to act — regardless of the consequences and our own calculations — the U.S. will provide money, troops, and political leverage”

Graham, who already used a Congressional resolution to endorse Netanyahu’s redline for war over the President’s, is now attempting to undercut the Chairman of the Joint Chief’s of Staffs, General Martin Dempsey, who has warned, “I don’t want to be complicit if [Israel] chooses to [bomb Iran.]”

But Graham’s not stopping there.  He has suggested that, in 2013, he is lining up plans to pass a formal authorization for the use of military force against Iran.  And the supporters of such action are already setting that plan in motion.  A September 27 Washington Post op-ed advocates that an “explicit congressional mandate authorizing the use of force unless Iran meets specified requirements would demonstrate to all our resolve to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.”  The twist? It was written by Jeffrey Smith and John Bellinger III, two lawyers who work for Arnold and Porter, a registered foreign agent serving as Israel’s largest and longest serving lobbying firm in United States. The firm received over $1.2 million from the Israeli government in 2010 alone.

Barely two weeks later, according to Philip Weiss, there is speculation that Israel’s U.S. embassy may have planted a false story suggesting that the U.S. and Israel had agreed on a plan for limited strikes on Iran.  In a recent piece for Foreign Policy, the magazine’s CEO David Rothkopf quotes an unnamed source describing collaborative discussions between the U.S. and Israeli governments regarding a possible joint strike on Iran. The source describes the discussed strike in detail, saying that it would last between “a couple of hours” and a “day or two,” and that it would have a “transformative outcome: saving Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, reanimating the peace process, securing the Gulf, sending an unequivocal message to Russia and China, and assuring American ascendancy in the region for a decade to come.”

But the “scoop” immediately triggered broad skepticism in Washington and accusations that it was planted by Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren.  According to the Philip Weiss, U.S. and Israeli military officials have denied the entire conversation about joint strikes.  Weiss notes that, following the publication of the story, Israel’s #2 diplomat in the U.S.–Baruch Bina, whom the White House preferred to deal with over Oren–was transferred to Denmark.  Weiss speculates that the “joint strikes” story was planted against Bina’s objections. Allegedly, Bina argued “that it was inappropriate of the ambassador to feed such a line to Rothkopf, because it could only damage U.S.-Israeli relations.”

  • 10 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • Nuclear file, Panel Discussion, Sanctions, US-Iran War

Why is the pro-war crowd lying about their own studies?

Within 45 minutes of the release of the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s (BPC) report, “The Price of Inaction: Analysis of Energy and Economic Effects of a Nuclear Iran,” pro-war pundits were  spinning its results.

The neoconservative Washington Free Beacon breathlessly announced, “REPORT: Nuclear Iran would ‘double’ oil prices, cost millions of U.S. jobs.”

The problem here is that the BPC report doesn’t say this.  It says that if there were a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran or Saudi Arabia and Iran, oil prices would double.  Yes, it is shocking–if a nuclear war broke out in the Middle East it would likely cost more to fill up your tank.

Given the Bipartisan Policy Committee’s track record of pro-war hyperbole on all things Iran, its stunning to see neoconservative rags spinning the BPC’s message even further.  But the Free Beacon’s Adam Kredo  ignores the report’s findings and instead fabricates his own conclusions in an attempt to rebut warnings about the significant economic costs of military strikes on Iran (including $7 gas).

*Update: Now the Drudge Report has gotten into the act, reposting the Free Beacon piece with the same erroneous headline*

  • 4 October 2012
  • Posted By Dylan Zehr
  • Israel, Nuclear file, US-Iran War

Shredding the NPT

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty gets bandied about on both sides of the Iran negotiations. Iranian officials often use the fact that Israel is not a signatory of the treaty to question Israel’s nuclear arsenal while defending their own right to a civilian enrichment program.  At the same time, U.S. and Israeli politicians use it much like Ambassador Stuart Eizenstat did today, at an Atlantic Council event, Rethinking Policy Toward Iran:

“[If Iran obtained a nuclear weapon it] would shred what remains of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. If a country can ignore a half-dozen UN resolutions with impunity and continue down this road then there is very little left of the Nonproliferation Treaty.”

This position is certainly not wrong. A treaty that continues to be left or broken on a regular basis will shortly lose its meaning. But there’s yet another side to this coin, which Ali Vaez, Senior Iran Analyst at the International Crisis Group, illuminated later in the event:

“I often hear this argument in Washington, that if Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it would be disastrous for the integrity of the NPT. But another thing that would be disastrous for the NPT is actually attacking Iran. Because just imagine that a country that is not an NPT member, and has nuclear weapons attacking a country that is an NPT member and does not have nuclear weapons. I think that would equally undermine the NPT. And my biggest fear is the day that the Iranians, in the aftermath of an attack, just turn off the lights, and start building a nuclear weapon, and weld on it the same thing that the Israelis wrote on their first nuclear warhead, which is ‘Never Again.’”