Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) raised eyebrows this past weekend when he told an audience at an international security conference that the United States should consider “neutering” the theocratic regime of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Speaking in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Graham told the assembled group that the United States could neuter Tehran by a large air campaign directed not just against its nuclear program but also its military. In Graham’s words, American planes should “…sink [Iran’s] navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard.”
The comments, reported around the world, were spun by the media to sound more provocative than was the case. Graham was not proposing a sneak attack against Iran, but speaking to the fact that if sanctions do not prove effective, and military action were to become necessary, then that action should be directed against the regime in its entirety, not just one part of it. That is simply common sense. It is generally accepted that an attack against Iran would provoke a range of asymmetrical counter-attacks by Iran against the West, with attempts to block oil shipments through the Persian Gulf, attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and increased support for Israel’s terrorist tormenters considered likely reactions.
Given that, Graham is simply speaking the truth when he says that if military action must come, it must be comprehensive, aimed at the head and heart of the regime, and all its arms, not just one particular program. Graham was similarly correct when he said that a viable military option was an essential component of keeping up America’s diplomatic pressure on Iran, and also of satisfying Israel’s need to know that they have a dependable ally in Washington. As dangerous as an American attack on Iran would be, it would be even more risky to allow Israel to feel cornered and alone.
So Graham’s comments, while noteworthy, are hardly revolutionary, and perhaps owe more to effective spin by the media than any fair assessment of their true meaning. All the same, for the sake of argument, it’s instructive to consider whether or not the most extreme interpretation of Graham’s comments — that America should hit Iran with a broadly targeted surprise attack — would even be possible. In short, no. Despite the Republican gains in the recent midterms, there is unlikely to be any significant change in America’s stance with Iran.
Indeed, the Obama administration’s stance has been outwardly similar to that of the Bush administration, based around diplomacy and sabotage. There is little sign that Washington is leaning towards a more aggressive posture, preferring instead to continue gently pushing the international community for economic sanctions and working behind the scenes to isolate Iran from the world community. That latter goal has enjoyed some modest success of late; on Wednesday, the United States, Canada and Australia blocked an Iranian attempt to secure a seat on the United Nation’s new agency to promote women’s rights (a self-evidently ridiculous idea given Iran’s appalling record on human rights, particularly for women). But economic sanctions have clearly not deterred Iran’s drive to develop nuclear weapons, nor are they likely to unless seriously revamped.
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