Security

Pentagon Official On Military Action In Iran: ‘We Can Imagine A Number Of Destablizing’ Consequences

Today in Geneva, the United States, along with Britain, France, Russia, China, Germany and the EU, engaged in direct talks with Iran over its nuclear program. The talks produced “constructive” progress, with Iran agreeing to allow U.N. inspectors to visit the newly disclosed uranium enrichment facility. Following revelations about the secret facility last week, the right-wing instantly mobilized for war, calling for military action and “regime change” in Iran.

ThinkProgress asked Dr. Colin Kahl, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, what the consequences might be if the war hawks had their way. “We’re a long ways away from that being an eventuality,” Kahl said, adding that the U.S. “is committed” to the “diplomatic track.” Noting that “military action is not desirable,” Kahl then laid out the sobering ramifications:

KAHL: [I]t will have an unpredictable set of consequences for the region but we can imagine a number of destabilizing ones. Depending on how Iran chose to retaliate, whether they chose to retaliate through the use of proxies in places like Iran or in Afghanistan through incitement of Shia communities in places like Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. Obviously if there was direct retaliation against U.S. forces in Iraq or Israeli interests. They could activate potentially activate or encourage Hizballah and Hamas to engage in reprisals and you can imagine the second and third order consequences of that on the peace process and on our outreach to the Muslim world and all of that.

“We don’t exactly know how it would unfold you have the prospects for unintended escalation and kind of losing control of what’s going on,” Kahl warned, adding that even though any military strike could delay Iran’s nuclear program, it could also “incentivize the Iranians to go all the way to weaponize” their nuclear material. Watch it:

Earlier this year, President Obama made it very clear that “regime change” is no longer the U.S. goal in Iran. When asked if the militaristic right-wing rhetoric undermines U.S. negotiations with Iran, a senior State Department official told ThinkProgress that it “could”:

I just saw the other day a quote from Ahmadinejad that talked about President Obama can’t even get his own job done let alone deal with us effectively. We should not underestimate the sophistication of Iran’s foreign policy apparatus and how they hear the messages from us and again, that’s one of the reasons we spend a lot of time on Capitol Hill is trying to make sure that the message they’re hearing from us are consistent.

Thankfully, Defense Secretary Robert Gates appears to have no interest in taking any advice from the neocons, saying on Sunday that “there is no military option that does anything more than buy time.”

Transcript:

TP: I just had a couple questions about Iran. Obviously we were just talking about how it’s in the news and how with the second enrichment site. And I was wondering if you could talk about the consequences of an Israeli, or U.S., military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities in the Middle East. What would that mean not only for Israel, the U.S. and Iran but for the region as a whole.

COLIN KAHL: Well I mean, the first thing to point out is that, I think we’re a long ways away from that being an eventuality. I think that clearly, we’re committed to and I think the Israelis are committed to giving this some time to explore the diplomatic track. I think that a lot of times people tend to contrast the diplomatic track and the sanctions track but actually they’re part and parcel to a duel track where we’re simultaneously engaging while building leverage in case the Iranians need additional encouragement to negotiate in good faith.

I think you saw an interesting moment of potential leverage with the revelations about the second enrichment facility deeply buried near Qom. So I don’t think that any of us think that a military strike by anybody is eminent.

Both the Secretary and the chairman, Secretary of Defense and the joint chiefs of staff have pointed out that military action is, while no option is off the table, military action is not a desirable course and it should be a last option largely because it will have an unpredictable set of consequences for the region but we can imagine a number of destabilizing ones. Depending on how Iran chose to retaliate, whether they chose to retaliate through the use of proxies in places like Iran or in Afghanistan through incitement of Shia communities in places like Bahrain or Saudi Arabia. Obviously if there was direct retaliation against U.S. forces in Iraq or Israeli interests. They could activate potentially activate or encourage Hizballah and Hamas to engage in reprisals and you can imagine the second and third order consequences of that on the peace process and on our outreach to the Muslim world and all of that.

So there are those types of consequences and I think that one could foresee. There’s also the fact that, because we don’t exactly know how it would unfold you have the prospects for unintended escalation and kind of losing control of what’s going on. I think there’s also one thing to consider is that, you know, the Secretary has said that a strike is likely not to, not something that solves the problem, it pushes the problem off and it delays and it could potentially delay or degrade the Iranian program and who knows, maybe that would be enough. Maybe if you delayed it by three years, in three years you could find a way to solve the problem but I think there’s also the possibility that it would incentivize the Iranians to go all the way to weaponize their nuclear weapons or to drive their program further underground.

So, you know, I think the secretary’s been pretty clear and consistent on this. Nobody’s talking about a military strike at the moment. All options are clearly, they’re always on the table for the secretary to recommend or for the President to decide upon but we’re…

TP: Is that nobody in the United States government or nobody…

KAHL: Let me clarify.

TP: Because the Israelis…

KAHL: No, no. By nobody’s talking about it, I mean, there’s no talk of an eminent strike by anybody and even the Israelis who are much more prone to talking that no options are on the table but to throw them on the table [Laughter] on a fairly regular basis.

I think now that the int’l community has a little bit more consensus behind it on putting pressure on Iran I think that’s put a little bit more time on Israel’s clock. I think you’ve seen a little bit more patience in their statements as well. They’re not optimistic about our ability to resolve this diplomatically but they’re willing to give it some time to try.