The Democratic platform on Iran has a mix of pleas for a diplomatic solution combined with the ever-present threats and vows of military force if required. It acknowledges straight-out that “Iran has yet to build a nuclear weapon” but adds that the country has “failed to meet its obligations under the NPT (Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty). It commits the President to “using all instruments of national power to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.” While it stresses that “a diplomatic outcome remains the best and most enduring solution,” it follows that up by saying that “the window for diplomacy will not remain open indefinitely and that all options – including military force – remain on the table.”
The conclusion is that there is still time and space to “put increasing pressure on the Iranian regime to live up to its obligations and rejoin the community of nations, or face the consequences,” kind of a merging of the diplomacy/military force themes. The best indicator of the Administration policy is that Joe Biden has said a couple times recently on the campaign trail that Mitt Romney would get us involved in wars in Iran and Syria, implying that Obama-Biden would not.
But what’s missing here is the simple acknowledgement of reality, that a military intervention short of a regime overthrow would not actually divert the path of Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon, if they actually seek one. In fact, while currently it’s ambiguous whether or not Iran will ever want a nuclear weapon – the Supreme Leader claims there are Islamic prescriptions against it, and the consensus of the US intelligence community is that Iran has no active nuclear weapons program – striking at the country militarily will almost certainly push them in that direction.
You don’t have to take my word for it. Just take a look at this quote from former Bush-era CIA and NSA Director Michael Hayden:
“I do not underestimate the Israeli talent, but geometry and physics tell us that Iran’s nuclear program would pose a difficult challenge to any military, as it is not a raid, and Israel’s resources are more limited than those of the U.S.,” Hayden told Haaretz.
“There is no absolute certainty that all targets are known,” he added. “They will have to be revisited – which only the U.S. Air Force would be able to do – and the operation will only set the Iranians back some time and actually push them to do that which it is supposed to prevent, getting nuclear weapons.”
Hayden was saying this in the context of Israel, for an Israeli audience. And he tried to make a distinction between the Israeli capacity to take out Iranian nuclear sites, and the capacity of the US Air Force. But I’m not sure the distinction is all that great. If the targets aren’t all known to Israel, they’re not all known to the United States. Yes, the US could commit to a more sustained bombing campaign, but at that point you’re talking about a full-on war. And I don’t think Hayden would suggest that the US could pull off regime change solely from the air. Meaning that there would still be a power apparatus in place in Iran, one which is now besieged from the skies, and which will have two reactions: 1) lashing out with strikes against US interests all over the world; 2) building a deterrent through a nuclear capacity, which is simply the logical response.
US officials agree that an Israeli strike would at best buy the world a few years. And that’s true of a US attack as well, unless we’re prepared to invade and overthrow the government of another country in the Arab world. The threats of military force are frankly empty and more of a negotiating ploy. An actual military intervention would be complete insanity.