The New York Times reports today that, "American officials who have assessed the likely Iranian responses to any attack by Israel on its nuclear program believe that Iran would retaliate by launching missiles on Israel and terrorist-style attacks on United States civilian and military personnel overseas."
Just what we need. According to the front page piece, Israelis might have to endure a missile onslaught from Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon while we could see car bombs exploding in our cities and our troops coming under renewed terror attacks in Afghanistan and throughout the Middle East.
An increase in car bombs set off against civilian targets in world capitals would also be possible. And Iran would almost certainly smuggle high-powered explosives across its border into Afghanistan, where they could be planted along roadways and set off by surrogate forces to kill and maim American and NATO troops -- much as it did in Iraq during the peak of violence there.
Nonetheless, according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA), AIPAC has decided to make the Lieberman-Graham-Casey resolution that would ban containment of Iran in favor of attacking its nuclear sites the centerpiece of its Washington conference, which starts Sunday. JTA reports that the "resolution, which now has 35 co-sponsors, is expected to top the agenda of items that AIPAC activists will take with them to Capitol Hill on March 6, the conference's last day."
There has been some speculation that AIPAC's inability to attract more than 35 co-sponsors on the resolution is a sign of weakness. I doubt it. I think it wants to start with a low number and then, following its conference, trumpet the spike in sponsorship from 35 to 80 or 90.
The resolution is an unprecedented infringement on President Obama's power to make peace rather than war. Although it's only a resolution, it is expected that its sponsors will convert it into binding legislative language later. After all, once a Senator has endorsed the non-binding version, how does he or she bail when the lobby re-introduces it as a proposed law.
Just to recap:
According to its sponsors, the resolution rejects "any United States policy that would rely on efforts to contain a nuclear weapons-capable Iran; and urges the President to reaffirm the unacceptability of an Iran with nuclear weapons-capability and oppose any policy that would rely on containment as an option in response to the Iranian nuclear threat."
The sponsors made their intent clear: "All options must be on the table when it comes to Iran -- except for one, and that is containment." They added that "the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be 'contained' like the threat of the Soviet Union" -- or China, or North Korea, or Pakistan.
The senators are telling the president that if Iran develops "nuclear weapons capability," we must go to war.
The good news is that it is now beginning to look like President Obama has no intention of going to war with Iran, nor of letting Israel bomb first and drag us in later. And there is also some significant congressional pushback.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chairwoman of the Senate Intelligence Committee favors Iran diplomacy and opposes the resolution, saying that "I really believe that negotiations should proceed without any resolutions from us right now. This is a very sensitive time. Candidly, I think diplomacy should have an opportunity to work without getting involved in political discussions about a resolution."
And in the House, a conservative Republican, Walter Jones of North Carolina, and a liberal Democrat, Keith Ellison of Minnesota, also have written a letter to the president urging that he reject the AIPAC approach in favor of negotiation (they are seeking co-signers).
The letter concludes:
A military strike against Iran could lead to a regional war in the Middle East and attacks against U.S. interests. Even worse, such a strike would likely compel Iran to abandon the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, eject international inspectors, and rapidly pursue a nuclear deterrent.
Top military and civilian leaders have repeatedly issued warnings about the consequences of a military strike on Iran. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta cautioned that the United States "could possibly be the target of retaliation from Iran, sinking our ships, striking our military bases," and that "would not only involve many lives, but I think could consume the Middle East in a confrontation and a conflict that we would regret."
Former Israeli Mossad chief Meir Dagan made a similar prediction when he said that attacking Iran "would mean regional war, and in that case you would have given Iran the best possible reason to continue the nuclear program."
Retired General Anthony Zinni said, "If you follow this all the way down, eventually I'm putting boots on the ground somewhere. And, like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you'll love Iran."
To avoid war, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen, called for the United States to utilize "any channel that's open" for engagement with Iran, noting, "Even in the darkest days of the Cold War, we had links to the Soviet Union."
We strongly encourage your Administration to pursue bilateral and multilateral engagement with Iran. While we acknowledge that progress will be difficult, we believe that robust, sustained diplomacy is the best option to resolve our serious concerns about Iran's nuclear program, and to prevent a costly war that would be devastating for the United States and our allies in the region.
Those who ask what they can do to prevent another horrific Middle Eastern war should ask their senators not to cosponsor the Lieberman-Casey-Graham resolution and ask their representatives to sign the Jones-Ellison letter.
Obviously these efforts are uphill battles. Having worked on Capitol Hill for 20 years, I can tell you that saying no to the lobby is a very difficult proposition. Unless the legislator has a totally safe seat, the lobby will make the legislator and his or her staffs miserable until they sign. He is forced to ask himself: is it really worth it to say "no" to a lobby that can make my life so miserable, and maybe even defeat me. The answer is usually: no.
A better question a legislator can ask himself is whether it is worth losing American lives in an unnecessary war because a president is constrained from utilizing diplomacy to prevent it? Is it worth it to even consider another Iraq when we are just wrapping the first one up? Is it worth it to get into another war without knowing how it will end or how much it will cost? And if it is, precisely how many American lives is it worth.
Similarly, I would ask how many Israeli lives is a strike on Iran worth. Given that no one knows if Iran is actually pursuing a nuclear weapon, with the U.S. government clearly of the belief that it isn't, why would Israeli leaders even consider attacking Iran when an attack would rain missiles down on Haifa, Tel Aviv and more. How many kids would die in a move that would evoke the old adage "we destroyed the village in order to save it."
As for us.
Last night on the Washington metro, I saw a young man, maybe just beyond teenage, with a prosthesis below one knee. I wanted to thank him for his service but I wasn't sure he actually was a veteran. The only indication was his camoflauge shorts.
I asked, "were you in the war?"
He said that he was: Afghanistan. We talked a little and I did thank him for his service. He said: "There is no need to thank me, sir. I didn't have a bad war, except for this. It still hurts some but I've only had it a month."
I was awe-struck as I invariably am by these heroic soldiers. But most of all, I felt determined to do whatever I can to prevent another Middle East war. I can't see how anything we can possibly achieve in Iran through war, rather than diplomacy, is worth a brave kid's leg. Let alone his life.