While President Barack Obama pursues a carefully calibrated carrot-and-stick policy toward Iran, a gang of hawks is drumming up a drive for another major war instead of merely an option lying on the table.
The most recent example is the red meat thrown to AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, at its annual policy conference in Washington by Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind., Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. Each of them either suggested or said outright that diplomacy has failed and it was time to consider using force to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons. Their words sounded much like the buildup for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, an unprovoked war that is still going on and was actively promoted by AIPAC, probably the most powerful Washington lobby. As widely reported, AIPAC succeeded in getting removed from a recent funding bill for the Iraq war a clause forbidding war against Iran without congressional approval.
Sen. Graham said that “war is a terrible thing.” He went on: “But I do know this: that sometimes it’s better to go to war than it is to allow the Holocaust to develop a second time.” To cheers and applause, he said, “My belief is a military strike stopping the Iranian government from having a nuclear weapon is more effective than trying to deal with the Iranian government after they have one.”
He would not be satisfied with a mere aerial strike to take out Iran’s nuclear plants. He went on: “And if military force is ever employed, it should be done in a decisive fashion. The Iranian government’s ability to wage conventional warfare should not exist. They should not have one plane that can fly or one ship that can float.”
In Prague last week, President Obama said his nuclear arms discussions with the Russians would help achieve “strong, tough” sanctions against Iran this spring. He said they would help to “present to Iran reasonable options that would allow it to clearly distance itself from nuclear weapons and pursue a path of peaceful nuclear energy.”
How should Americans weigh these contrasting approaches? Prepare now to wage total war against Iran, or continue to give diplomacy a chance? The best advice was given a year ago on these pages by columnist Gwynne Dyer. It boiled down to “don’t panic.” He noted that Iran had “basically” abided by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which it (and not Israel) has signed. The treaty allows members to develop nuclear fuel for peaceful purposes, as Iran insists it is doing, and even keep options open to develop nuclear weapons.
He denied that Iran, however difficult in behavior, is a rogue nation, bent on suicidal nuclear war, or a terrorist state. It does supply weapons to “terrorist organizations,” but Hezbollah has seats in the Lebanese parliament and Hamas is seeking diplomatic relations with Washington.
President Obama certainly has a big stick, but he is doing well to walk softly.