US hawks see strikes on Iran as less likely now
Earlier this month when House leader Nancy Pelosi struck a provision from a $100-billion spending bill that would have specifically required President Bush to seek congressional approval before any military strike on Iran, it was seen as a victory for the hawks in Washington.Skip to next paragraph
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After all, the Democrats took control of Congress last year in large part because of voter anger over the Iraq war. If they were saying that Bush doesn't need their permission to take action against Iran, then his "all options are on the table" rhetoric looks stronger, and raises the possibility of expanded conflict in the Middle East.
But war with Iran, or even targeted air strikes at presumed nuclear facilities, is looking less and less likely. Despite tough rhetoric from both sides and increased tension over Iran's move to detain 15 British sailors last week, a variety of influential thinkers who championed the US-led invasion of Iraq are now saying that containment, not confrontation, is the best approach to Iran.
"I think the discussion has really shifted," says M. J. Rosenberg, the director of analysis for the Israel Policy Forum, a pressure group in Washington that favors diplomatic efforts to resolve the Middle East's problems and worries that the Iraq war has made Israel and America less safe. "The conventional wisdom in Washington has changed," says Mr. Rosenberg. There were influential people who thought that thought military action could be possible this year, he says. "Now, hardly anyone does."
Mr. Rosenberg says continued tough talk – and the Democrat climbdown over the spending bill – largely serve two functions: to hopefully soften up Iran in ongoing diplomatic negotiations over inspections of its nuclear facilities; and as a sop to hard-line groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which advocates continued political and economic sanctions on Iran until it gives up its nuclear program, and whose lobbying was largely seen as leading Ms. Pelosi to take her action. [Editor's Note: The original version mischaracterized AIPAC 's position.]
But it's not just doves like Rosenberg. The more hawkish forces in Washington – from neoconservatives who believe the Middle East should be remade by force to pro-Israel lobby groups that say military strikes would prevent Iran from advancing its nuclear ambitions – have taken a step back.
The logistics of a strike, with an expanded US military role in Iraq and the fact that the two US carrier groups in the Gulf can't stay there indefinitely, are growing ever more difficult. And polls show a large majority of Americans prefer diplomacy, at least for now.
"If Bush attacked Iran tomorrow, the great majority of Americans would think he was nuts,'' Patrick Clawson, deputy director for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said last week at a conference in Washington on America's options with Iran.
Mr. Clawson, a vigorous proponent of invading Iraq, sees the Islamic Republic of Iran as an intractable enemy of the US, and has repeatedly urged that the US focus on regime change there by supporting exiled dissidents and democratic opponents inside the country.
But he has recently written that military action against Iran "is clearly undesirable" and thinks war is out of the question, unless it is triggered by a "much more aggressive" stance from Iran, for instance a withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty or the testing of a nuclear weapon.