Say what, John McCain?
Senator John McCain took to the Senate floor last week to rail against peace talks with Iran. No surprises there. But McCain went beyond blasting the deal. He suggested a surprising and disturbing method of blowing up the talks.
The Israelis will need to chart their own path of resistance. On the Iranian nuclear deal, they may have to go rogue. Let's hope their warnings have not been mere bluffs. Israel survived its first 19 years without meaningful U.S. patronage. For now, all it has to do is get through the next 22, admittedly long, months.
Go rogue? This saber rattling it is not just a momentary fit of John McCain's signature pique. McCain, and his allies like Senators Lindsey Graham and Robert Menendez, have repeatedly slipped language into bills calling for the U.S. to support Israel if Israel attacks Iran's nuclear facilities. One such bill, Senate Res. 65, nicknamed the "Backdoor to War" bill read in part:
[Congress] urges that, if the Government of Israel is compelled to take military action in self-defense, the United States Government should stand with Israel and provide diplomatic, military, and economic support to the Government of Israel in its defense of its territory, people, and existence.
While that language was later watered down, McCain's war talk is part of an effort to normalize the idea of military attacks on Iran as Plan B if Congress torpedoes diplomacy. Legislation like the soon-to-be debated Corker-Menendez bill could create a Congressional veto of nuclear negotiations with Iran. It is anyone's guess what comes after such a veto. But a good indication of Senate hawks' future plans is always what neoconservative think tanks are saying in the nation's leading papers today.
Lo and behold, Former UN Ambassador John Bolton, just wrote a piece in the New York Times bluntly titled, "To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran." Bolton, was one of the main cheerleaders for the war in Iraq and assured the public that: "We are confident that Saddam Hussein has hidden weapons of mass destruction and production facilities in Iraq."
Now Bolton counsels us to embark on another preventative war:
The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel's 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein's Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.
Rendering inoperable the Natanz and Fordow uranium-enrichment installations and the Arak heavy-water production facility and reactor would be priorities. So, too, would be the little-noticed but critical uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan. An attack need not destroy all of Iran's nuclear infrastructure, but by breaking key links in the nuclear-fuel cycle, it could set back its program by three to five years. The United States could do a thorough job of destruction, but Israel alone can do what's necessary. Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran's opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.
So Bolton leaves open both the Israeli and U.S. attack options. He then slyly slips in the goal of regime change. This is the tell that reveals why these folks are so opposed to the current negotiations. While a diplomatic agreement can ensure Iran's nuclear programs are peaceful, they won't bring down the regime.
Old-school conservatives of the non-"neo" variety think the military option is foolish. Former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called the notion of a military attack on Iran a "catastrophe." Gates argued that neither the U.S. nor Israel could obliterate Iran's nuclear facilities. Instead, he says that attacks "would make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable. They would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert."
In fact, one of the many arguments against a military attack is that any damage to Iran's nuclear infrastructure is temporary. Iran could quickly rebuild whatever is destroyed and decide to build a nuclear weapon as a defense against future attacks.
In a recent Washington Post opinion piece titled "War with Iran is probably our best option", neoconservative Joshua Muravchik acknowledged this dynamic and gave another shocking response:
Wouldn't destroying much of Iran's nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary. Of course, Iran would try to conceal and defend the elements of its nuclear program, so we might have to find new ways to discover and attack them. Surely the United States could best Iran in such a technological race.
So the failure of diplomacy wouldn't just pave a path to a military attack. It would pave the way for waves and waves of military offensives couched as a "technological race."
Yep, the hawks' vision for Iran sure sounds ludicrous. But their vision of Americans being greeted as liberators by cheering Iraqis with sweets and flowers was equally ludicrous. A decade later we're still dealing with the tragic fall-out of chasing after that particular pipe-dream. That's why Congress needs to resist the tough-on-Iran rhetoric and give diplomacy a chance.