Within the last few days, neo-conservative pundit Bill Kristol and the Ayatollah's pen pal, Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) have added their names to the list of people seriously suggesting airstrikes on Iran might better constrain that country's nuclear programs than negotiations. They join Senator John McCain, UN Ambassador John Bolton ("To Stop Iran's Bomb, Bomb Iran") and Josh Muravchik ("War with Iran is Probably Our Best Option") in touting the benefits of military action.
Cakewalk Cotton's Easy War
In a radio interview Wenesday, Tom Cotton argued that stopping Iran's nuclear programs could be achieved through "several days of air and naval bombing." He went on to say that the attacks would be easier to pull off because they wouldn't require "150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq."
Cotton also cited an interesting historical analogy:
"It would be something more along the lines of what President Clinton did in December 1998 during Operation Desert Fox. Several days air and naval bombing against Iraq's weapons of mass destruction facilities for exactly the same kind of behavior. For interfering with weapons inspectors and for disobeying Security Council resolutions. All we're asking is that the president simply be as tough as in the protection of America's national security interest as Bill Clinton was."
Picking apart this analogy has too many angles to cover here. But suffice it to point out that Desert Fox backfired. Many analysts believe that the four days of bombing were less about Iraqi weapons programs and more about weakening Saddam Hussein's regime. One thing is for sure: the attacks meant that all the inspectors were pulled out and sent home. We lost any sense of what was really happening with Iraq's WMD programs. The result -- with a lot of help from Cotton's neoconservative allies -- was the Iraq war.
For purposes of space, we'll also ignore all the reasons military analysts think that bombing Iran's nuclear sites could spiral out of control and lead to what Secretary of Defense Robert Gates called a catastrophe. In fact, Cotton's historical analogy offers yet another reason to have inspectors on the ground in Iran.
Kristol Joins the Pro-War Drum Circle
Speaking of Cotton's neoconservative allies -- or in this case Cotton's patron. Bill Kristol just penned a "special editorial" in the Weekly Standard titled simply "Kill the Deal." Kristol is candid in ways most of the deal's opponents are not:
"We opponents of the deal disdain to conceal our views and aims. We urge Congress to stop this bad deal. We urge Congress to kill it. We believe sanctions, sabotage, and the threat of military force can better constrain the Iranian regime's nuclear weapons program than this bad deal. But we will also say openly that, if it comes to it, airstrikes to set back the Iranian nuclear weapons program are preferable to this deal that lets it go forward."
Yet the Deal's Critics Keep Asking: "Why this talk of war?"
Many of the deal's opponents continue to accuse the talks' supporters of setting up a false choice between diplomacy and war. A recent Wall Street Journal article argues that war versus diplomacy frame was pushed by the White House as part of their lobbying efforts. Shortly before the framework was announced and widely heralded as "better-than-expected", the same article quotes the Israel Project's Josh Block about the war versus diplomacy choice:
"The pro-Iran, deal-at-any-price crowd is quite organized in falsely portraying things as a binary choice," said Josh Block, chief executive of the Israel Project, which promotes U.S.-Israel relations. "But as details emerge on how dangerous and destabilizing this potential framework and final agreement would be by securing Iran's path to nuclear weapons capability, their arguments are increasingly seen as out of touch with reality."
Unfortunately for Josh Block, with a strong framework getting support from even the toughest of audiences, it is Josh Block who looks out of touch with reality.
Did someone not get the memo?
So what's going on here? Why are some Iran hawks playing up the war option while others are accusing the deal's supporters of concocting the war story out of whole cloth? Free-agent agitators like Kristol and Bolton are the one's who can tell the truth. Members of Congress who go for broke and take the "firebrand" role, like Tom Cotton, can also follow suit.
But many members of Congress will want to play it safer. They'll say they're just asking for more Congressional oversight and deflect the warmonger label. Then these members of Congress -- both Democrat and Republican -- can vote for the bills the administration is opposing like the Corker-Menendez bill. But a closer look reveals that the artificial timetables in the Corker bill won't increase deliberative oversight. Instead, it simply creates a rushed process destined to lead to a politicized vote where opponents can, in Kristol's words, "Kill the Deal."
It's time for diplomacy's critics to stop blaming the negotiations' supporters for bringing up the possibility of war. Now that the heavyweights of the neoconservative world have all weighed in on "a few days" of military strikes on Iran, does anybody doubt what Plan B looks like?