A small number of House Republicans are threatening to undermine U.S. strategy in Iran by encouraging military strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities.
On May 23, 2011, Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX)) introduced House Resolution 271, a bill expressing support for “the State of Israel’s right to defend Israeli sovereignty…[and the use] all means necessary to confront and eliminate nuclear threats posed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, including the use of military force if no other peaceful solution can be found within reasonable time to protect against such an immediate and existential threat to the State of Israel.” To date 44 Republicans have co-sponsored the bill. It has been referred to the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
This is not the first time the U.S. House and Senate have expressed such support for Israeli military strikes. In 2007, the House put forth a similar bill expressing support for Israeli strikes on nuclear facilities in Syria occurring in 2007 and in Iraq in 1981, but that bill expressed support after Israel’s strikes, not before.
Rep. Gohmert’s 2011 bill is vague and dangerous. The bill states that “if no other peaceful solutions can be found within a reasonable time” strikes are acceptable, but “reasonable time” is not defined. Libya pursued a nuclear weapons program for 25 years before finally abandoning it in 2004. Since no solution has yet been found to the Iranian nuclear impasse, does that mean military action is viable now?
Despite the threat Iran poses, the argument for using military force against Iran has never been compelling, as our own Lt. Gen. Robert Gard and Laicie Olson documented last year. Military and foreign policy experts have warned that strikes on nuclear facilities can be counter-productive for non-proliferation efforts. According to the Deulfer Report by the Iraq Study Group and reports by some Iraqi nuclear scientists, the Israeli strike on Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 encouraged Saddam to ramp up its nuclear weapons program and work more secretively.
In Iran, “[i]t’s possible [a strike] could be used to play to nationalist tendencies,” General Petraeus told reporters early last year. Iran’s rulers are divided over whether to build nuclear weapons, especially because they do not know if the public will accept the costs – sanctions and international isolation. Were Israel to strike Iran’s facilities, it could unify the leadership and rally the public in support of an Iranian bomb.
Pursuit of this bill is also a challenge to regional U.S. foreign policy. Polls conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in March and April 2011 showed a significant decline in U.S. popularity among most Arab publics, a reversal of the increase that followed President Obama’s election. As the Arab Spring removes American allies, such as in Egypt and Yemen, there is concern that the U.S. will lose support and influence in the Middle East.
Internationally, the Obama administration’s dual track approach of diplomatic engagement and pressure has strengthened the U.S. hand against Iran and led to international support for the toughest ever sanctions against Tehran. Rep. Gohmert’s bill undermines diligent Pentagon efforts to dissuade Israel from a military attack and the growing international support for tougher non-military measures against Iran.
Additionally, a simulation of an Israeli strike on Iran conducted by the Brookings Institution demonstrated that military strike, even if conducted by Israel, would have direct consequences for the U.S. Such an attack would likely create a conflict that engulfs the region and draws in the U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, warned that a military attack on Iran would be as destabilizing as Iran becoming a nuclear state. Moreover, the Brookings simulation found that the strike would merely set the Iranian nuclear program back, not destroy it.
Considering the costs of such strikes, Gohmert’s bill is a brash and shortsighted proposal. If the intent is to show public support for Israel, it is possible to do so without offering U.S. support for a potentially illegal and certainly a disastrous military attack on Iran. Gohmert’s bill even lacks the support of the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee, the pro-Israeli lobby in the U.S. Hopefully, Israel will show restraint and this bill will go the way of its 2010 predecessor, quietly disappearing at the door of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.