A leading warmonger—for the purpose of spreading democracy and peace, of course—Abrams's latest argument is that tough talk on Iran coming from tough talkers like fellow neo-conservative Dennis Ross and former Israeli military intelligence Gen. Amos Yadlin just isn't tough enough.
Abrams isn't suggesting the United States bomb-bomb-bomb Iran tomorrow. He just wants Congress to pass an authorization to use military force resolution. You may recall two recent AUMFs and what's been done with them. There was (and is) the AUMF passed on Sept. 18, 2001, for the president to use force against the terrorists of Sept. 11 and those who aided or harbor them, and the AUMF passed Oct. 16, 2002, for the president to use force to "defend" the United States from Iraq.
An AUMF laid out against Iran, Abrams says, is the only way, short of an actual attack, to prove to both the Tehran government and the Israeli government that the United States will definitely stop Iran from gaining the capacity to build nuclear weapons. Negotiations and sanctions have not accomplished that, he says. Israeli officials, who have stepped up their talk of striking Iran's nuclear facilities—possibly before the November election, but certainly before mid-2013—will only be persuaded of U.S. seriousness by passage of an AUMF. And Iran, too, will only be persuaded by such a move.
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Anything less—such as more statements from President Obama that "I don't bluff" and "all options are on the table" or, as Yadlin has suggested, a visit by Obama to Israel right before the election along with a letter to Congress saying he reserves the right to use force against Iran—won't cut it, Abrams says. What's needed, in his view, is an AUMF along these lines:
“The President is authorized to use the Armed Forces of the United States as he determines to be necessary and appropriate” to achieve the goal. In this case, that goal would not be to counter “the continuing threat posed by Iraq” or “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001…in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States.” It would be to prevent Iran—the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, in violation of countless U.N. Security Council and IAEA board of governors resolutions, and under international sanctions—from obtaining nuclear weapons.Abrams concedes that many Democrats would oppose such a resolution. But he says, if it failed, it would prove to everyone, particularly the Israelis, that the United States is not going to act against Iran, so Tel Aviv can stop delaying and take action on its own under what has been predicted to be an "imminent" strike for nearly 10 years. Israel wants the U.S. to take that action because its own attack would put it at the edge of its military capability and to at least soften the blowback to Israel that such an attack would bring diplomatically and militarily.
Abrams, of course, accepts the view that Iran is on a path either to build nuclear weapons or to create the intellectual and physical infrastructure—the capacity—to build such weapons. Whether Iran is actually doing either has been much in dispute for a long time. Iran denies it and often points to the fatwa of Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, which says nuclear weapons are "unIslamic."
The view of intelligence officials who put together the 2007 National Intelligence Estimates on Iran concluded that Tehran was working on nuclear weapons up until 2003, but that it halted such work and has not, based on the evidence obtained, restarted it. A still-classified update of the 2007 NIE in 2011 did not change those conclusions. Israeli intelligence sources have claimed in past three weeks that the Obama administration now has in hand a fresh NIE "which shares Israel's view that Iran has made surprising, significant progress toward military nuclear capability." But U.S. officials disputed this report a week later, with a National Security Council spokesman saying: "We believe that there is time and space to continue to pursue a diplomatic path, backed by growing international pressure on the Iranian government. We continue to assess that Iran is not on the verge of achieving a nuclear weapon."
The International Atomic Energy Agency has said in numerous reports that it has no evidence pointing at a nuclear weapons program, but its inspectors continue to complain that they have not received full cooperation. The Institute for Science and International Security, which provides detailed and useful reports and analysis on the subject, leans heavily toward the view that Iran is pursuing a dual-purpose nuclear industry that would be at least capable of building a nuclear weapon a few months after a decision was made to do so.
Both the Bush and Obama administrations have stood together on one matter: Iran should not be allowed to get the Bomb. And while the Bush administration was, to say the least, reluctant to negotiate with Iran, its leading neo-conservative supporter of bombing Iran's nuclear facilities, Vice President Dick Cheney, could never persuade President Bush to take that step.
President Obama has pushed negotiations and heavier sanctions, getting the Europeans to join in those. And he hasn't rattled any sabers. But he has also said, repeatedly, that all options, including the military ones, are on the table to stop Iran if it's firmly believed that Tehran is on the verge of being able to build a Bomb.
That option continues to be considered even though every analysis since 2004 indicates that taking out the known nuclear facilities in Iran would be no simple matter, generate thousands of Iranian casualties and unite Iranians against the U.S., including the large portion who despise their authoritarian theocracy and want to see it ousted. Most Iranians believe that they have the sovereign right to operate the full nuclear-fuel cycle (including uranium enrichment), which is a key sticking point with the United States and Europe and one of the sources of current sanctions. Many Iranians also believe they have every right to have the Bomb, at least as long as Israel does.
Whether the Obama administration would actually opt for an attack is unclear. It has not been shy about taking military action elsewhere, as proved by its escalation of the armed drone program and two troop surges in Afghanistan. That gives credence to the president's statement that he doesn't bluff. Given the administration's moves so far on Iran, however, it seems apparent that if a military attack were chosen, it would be done reluctantly.
Since the Team Romney campaign's cabal of neoconservative ultra-hawks are already calling the foreign policy shots, what is clear is that a Romney-Ryan administration could be expected to move quickly to "deal with Iran." That would make for another prodigious addition to the pile of skulls credited to the moral ledger over the past three decades of their prominence.