Speaking at an event yesterday hosted by the Arms Control Association, former Rep. Joe Sestak (D-PA) said that even if the U.S. launched airstrikes against the Iranian nuclear program, the eventual outcome of the conflict could lead to further commitments of U.S. resources.
Sestak, who retired from the Navy as an admiral after more than 30 years of service and became the highest ranking military officer elected to Congress, emphasized engaging with Iran on issues ranging from the nuclear program to an agreement that would allow communication between Iran and the U.S. should there be an incident between the two countries, particularly in the Persian Gulf where both put ships to sea.
But Sestak’s focus was on the dangers of a military attack, which he said should not be taken off the table but nonetheless denounced as irresponsible. He quoted former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who said that anyone who aims to launch another U.S. land-war in Asia should “have his head examined.” But most pundits who press for an attack on Iran’s nuclear program usually call for “surgical air strikes,” as if this is a simple solution. But military analysts often disagree, as did Sestak. He said attacking Iran — whether by invasion or air strikes — “is not a responsible option in terms of offering a solution to the problem, certianly not without opening up even more challenges to our national security”:
A military strike, whether it’s by land or air, against Iran would make the aftermath of the Iraqi invasion look like a cakewalk with regard to the impact on the United States’ national security. [...]
[A]n airstrike would be problematic, extremely challenging, requiring many multiple runs of assets, and not be of any permanent consequence for stopping the pursuit of nuclear weaponry. [...]
There are of course the unintended consequences. Iranian strikes from costal batteries at sea, … mobile missions on other nations where our forces are today. But it would also release terror by networks that are supported by Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah.
So as a result, avoiding mission creep is unlikely. It is simply hard to know — in fact, I would argue one can’t know how such a conflict ends, nor the final dimensions of the consequences of such an attack by us.
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Sestak was joined on stage by nuclear non-proliferation experts Greg Theilmann and Mark Fitzpatrick, both of whom placed emphasis on keeping Iranian nuclear progress in perspective and working towards engagement to head off a conflict.