Congress Can Avoid Iran War By Supporting Negotiations

The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Wednesday, March 12, 2014.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
The U.S. Capitol is seen in Washington, Wednesday, March 12, 2014. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

If you don't want Iran to have the bomb and you don't want to bomb Iran, a diplomatic agreement is the solution. Yet some on Capitol Hill are already trying to wreck negotiations.

Right now in Vienna, U.S. negotiators and their partners from other world powers are in the delicate, late stages of negotiations with Iran. If we succeed, Iran would lock up its nuclear program and put it under constant monitoring. If talks collapse, the options are bleak, and some folks are likely to start clamoring for war.

There's reason to be optimistic. All sides appear committed to getting an effective deal and making progress toward getting one. But some in Washington are preparing to trash the deal -- even before it is finished.

Senators Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham are moving a letter around the Senate, setting out impossible demands upon our negotiators and positioning themselves for opposing the deal. This is shortsighted and unhelpful.

People in Congress who root for the deal to fail have not thought through the alternatives: an Iranian bomb or starting a war to prevent one.

As an Iraq war veteran who served two tours, at the beginning and end, I can tell you that I understand the alternatives. They scare the living hell out of me.

The Middle East is teeming with violence, especially in Syria and Iraq. Centuries-old rivalries between Sunni and Shia continue to boil over. The last thing you want to introduce into this region is an Iran with nuclear weapons.

A nuclear Iran would trigger a new arms race in the region. Sunni Arab states, feeling threatened by the balance of power tipping towards Shia Iran, would chase their own nuclear ambitions. Israel, now surrounded by nuclear powers, would be on a permanent heightened state of alert. Caught in the middle would be Iraq -- currently still fighting its civil war, but with a Shia majority, which naturally align it with Iran.

The United States would almost certainly get sucked in, by Arab states, many of which we depend on for oil. At the start, it would be for protection -- defense against the new Iranian threat. But what if one side or the other fires that first shot of war, and it explodes? American forces would be caught in the middle of the start of World War III.

What about pre-emptive strikes, to disable Iran's nuclear capability? Any attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would quickly descend into a full-blown regional war. Iran would respond by attacking U.S. allies and interests in the region, and in their defense the U.S. would escalate the broadening conflict. What might have started as a "surgical airstrike" would soon require putting boots on the ground. And if you thought that Iraq and Afghanistan were hard, going to war with Iran would make the last decade of war look like a cakewalk.

So, Congress has the responsibility to do everything it can before putting American troops in harms way -- as a last resort. Right now, that means letting diplomacy work and not undermining our negotiators.

Senators like Robert Menendez and Lindsey Graham played a big role in bringing Iran to the table by creating a strong sanctions regime. But now they need to work with our negotiators to ensure that the U.S. secures an effective deal. Publicly undercutting negotiators with political posturing does the exact opposite.

Washington loves to quote Ronald Reagan about nuclear deals, saying, "Trust, but verify." Certainly, any deal that is struck with Iran will have a strict verification regime. But I would like to cite two other quotes from Reagan.

"The challenge of statesmanship is to have the vision to dream of a better, safer world and the courage, persistence, and patience to turn that dream into a reality," and, "I would much prefer to get 80 percent of what I want than to go off the cliff with the flag flying."

It's unclear if negotiators will get a deal by their deadline on Sunday or if they will need to go into extra innings with Iran. We also might not get everything we want right away. Regardless, diplomacy is our best way to prevent an Iranian bomb and avoid another war in the Middle East. Congress should do everything it can to help our diplomats succeed.