In September, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) declared, “It is time to retire our ambiguous mantra about all options remaining on the table,” and tell the Iranians that we will prevent them from acquiring a nuclear weapons capability “with military force if we absolutely must.” Lieberman restated this view in a Wall Street Journal op-ed this morning.
Last week, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) took it upon himself to make U.S.-Iran policy, insisting that “containment is off the table,” and saying that the U.S. should go to war with Iran “not to just neutralize their nuclear program,” but to “neuter that regime.”
Speaking in New Orleans last week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu added his voice to the pressure effort, saying, “If the international community, led by the U.S., wants to stop Iran without resorting to military action, it will have to convince Iran that it is prepared to take such action.”
Speaking today, however, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates knocked back such calls for more aggressive rhetoric, saying that military action is not a long-term answer:
“A military solution, as far as I’m concerned … it will bring together a divided nation. It will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons. And they will just go deeper and more covert,” Gates said.
“The only long-term solution in avoiding an Iranian nuclear weapons capability is for the Iranians to decide it’s not in their interest. Everything else is a short-term solution.”
In a recent article, the Brookings Institution’s Ken Pollack concluded that, in addition to generating a number of other highly negative consequences, “attacking Iran is more likely to guarantee an Iranian nuclear arsenal than to preclude it.” Numerous other defense analysts and officials have reached similar conclusions.
In addition to representing the strong consensus of the national security community, Gates’ aversion to hawkish rhetoric also reflects the view of Iranian human rights activists like Shirin Ebadi and Akbar Ganji, who have said that military threats from the U.S. are harmful to their efforts to challenge the regime internally.