Bomb Iran=A Nuclear Armed Iran?

By Geoff Wilson

Iran hawks are playing with fire. We are close to a nuclear deal with Iran, but opponents continue to step up attacks aimed at torpedoing efforts to reach a settlement. They insist that we must walk away from the negotiating table, and that there’s a better deal to be had.

That belief is a fantasy.

The reality is that if negotiations with Iran fail, the wreckage will leave the United States without any good options. “If we undermine negotiations now, we’ll have only two choices — Accept the reality of an Iranian nuclear bomb, or use military force to attack Iran’s nuclear program,” former Sen. Carl Levin wrote in a recent op-ed for U.S. News & World Report.

There is hardly a nation in the world that wants a nuclear Iran. But the United States should only consider a war with Iran to be a last resort. “If you think the war in Iraq was hard, an attack on Iran would, in my opinion, be a catastrophe,” former Defense Secretary Robert Gates said in 2012.

Furthermore, he added that such a quixotic attack would only “make a nuclear-armed Iran inevitable, [as] they would just bury the program deeper and make it more covert.”

Yet the reality of this no-win scenario has done little to deter hawks, both in and out of Congress, from continued attempts to undermine negotiations. Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton’s letter, signed by 46 of his Republican colleagues, is only the most recent example of their continued campaign of political brinkmanship.

Even more worrisome though, is the cavalier attitude toward the use of U.S. military force that underlies this approach.

In his recent op-ed for The New York Times, former Bush administration official John Bolton backed up the idea of using U.S. military force against Iran.

“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,” he wrote.

“Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed,” Bolton added. “Such action should be combined with vigorous American support for Iran’s opposition, aimed at regime change in Tehran.”

These comments echo Cotton’s statements from earlier this month. “Israel struck Iraq’s nuclear program in 1981 and they didn’t reconstitute it,” Cotton said.“Rogue regimes have a way of getting the picture when there is a credible threat of military force on the table.”

Both Bolton and Cotton’s accounts of the strikes on Iraq in 1981 are completely wrong.

Those strikes actually drove the program underground, where it expanded. This is just what Gates warns would happen with Iran. As Deputy National Security Advisor Colin Kahl wrote in 2012, “new evidence suggests that Hussein had not decided to launch a full-fledged weapons program prior to the Israeli strike.”

“By demonstrating Iraq’s vulnerability, the attack on Osirak actually increased Hussein’s determination to develop a nuclear deterrent and provided Iraq’s scientists an opportunity to better organize the program. The Iraqi leader devoted significantly more resources toward pursuing nuclear weapons after the Israeli assault. As [political scientist Dan] Reiter notes, ‘the Iraqi nuclear program increased from a program of 400 scientists and $400 million to one of 7,000 scientists and $10 billion.’”

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Geoff Wilson is the special assistant to the president at Ploughshares Fund, a global peace and security foundation.

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