As tensions mount between the West and Iran over the latter’s nuclear program, hopes that a diplomatic resolution to the crisis — a necessary step to tamp hostility — got a bump this week when U.N. inspectors visited Iran. The talks drew praise from both the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, which said it was a “good trip,” and the Iranians. Both sides said plans were laid for another trip in the near future.
The talks — still far from a breakthrough — coincided with a spate of articles from U.S. experts urging caution about a military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities. So far, many Washington pundits who supported the Iraq war ten years ago have come out against an attack on Iran. As a useful guide by the National Security Network’s Heather Hurlbert shows, a trio of elite opinion-makers buttressed that view with pieces on Monday.
On the website the Daily Beast, president emeritus of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) Leslie Gelb writes:
As Western leaders back Iran into a corner and as they are locking themselves into a war policy they haven’t seriously contemplated and don’t really want, now is the time to offer a deal. …With so much pressure now being applied on Iran, it might work.
With good reason (since it’s happened before), Gelb thinks that the Iranians may not take a deal, but “if we don’t at least try the negotiating track, a war of untold uncertainties and dangers can come upon us.”
Gelb’s article found common cause with a piece in CFR’s journal, Foreign Affairs, outlining one of the possible consequences of bombing Iran. RAND Corporation political scientist Seth Jones writes that the U.S. ought to make more noise about Iran’s links to Al Qaeda, several of whose operatives live (mostly under house arrest) on Iranian soil these days. But that noise, in Jones’s reading, should be directed at minimizing the Al Qaeda threat, since Iran is a theater unlike Pakistan, for example, where the U.S. has more reach. He concludes:
Finally, the United States should think twice about actions that would push Iran and al Qaeda closer together — especially a preemptive attack on the country’s nuclear program. Thus far, Iran and al Qaeda have mutually limited their relationship. It would be a travesty to push the two closer together at the very moment that central al Qaeda in Pakistan has been severely weakened.
Lastly, the New Yorker has a lead-off column this week by Steve Coll. “An attack now by either Israel or the United States would shatter diplomacy’s achievements,” writes Coll, adding that though Iran’s nuclear work has been troubling, no public evidence supports the charge that Iran is hellbent on acquiring weapons. “The burden of proof rests, in any event, with those who would urge war,” Coll writes. He goes on to mention President Obama’s 2009 speech against nuclear proliferation in Prague, noting:
Obama warned against “fatalism” about the nuclear danger, and he prescribed a strategy to defeat it: “Patience and persistence.” That strategy shouldn’t be taken off the table.
So unlike the run-up to the Iraq war, many well-regarded pundits are going public with their opposition to an attack on Iran, at least as things stand now. But, as Gelb mentions, without some kind of diplomatic deal to resolve the nuclear crisis with Iran, the U.S. may still be continuing down a path toward confrontation with the Islamic Republic.