The multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran is now grinding through its 60-day congressional review period – a process made all the more fun by the fact that four sitting U.S. senators are currently in the mix for the Republican presidential nomination. The hearings into the Iran deal offer a fine platform for would-be Republican presidents to thump their chests and bang their shoes on their desks and demonstrate to GOP primary voters – a mere week before the first primary debate – that they will be the toughest and most militaristic commander-in-chief the world has ever known.
At yesterday’s Armed Services Committee hearing on the Iran nuclear agreement, Sen. Lindsey Graham – candidate for president and longtime proponent of omnidirectional bombing – seized his opportunity and gave an earful to the Obama administration officials in attendance. His most noteworthy exchange was with Defense Secretary Ash Carter. After haranguing Carter about the Iranian regime’s obvious intentions to attack Israel and the United States, Graham demanded to know who will win “the war” between the U.S. and Iran.
“Who wins the war between us and Iran? Who wins? Do you have any doubt who wins? We win!”
Hooray! We win! If there’s one thing the past decade of U.S. foreign policy has made abundantly clear, it’s that when the U.S. goes to war in the Middle East, we win glorious and decisive victories. So good job, everyone. Mission Pre-Accomplished.
War with Iran is something that Graham has had his eye on for some time now. Back in 2013, as the U.S. was weighing whether or not to intervene militarily in the Syrian civil war, Graham said he was going to bring together a group of bipartisan lawmakers to “put together a use-of-force resolution allowing our country to use military force as a last resort to stop the Iranian nuclear program, to make sure they get a clear signal that all this debacle about Syria doesn't mean we're confused about Iran.” It’s all part of Lindsey Graham’s terrifying worldview, which supposes that a cataclysmic doomsday scenario is forever just around the corner and that the only way to head it off is to send American soldiers and warplanes to every far-flung warzone.
But what about war with Iran specifically? Graham seems to believe that a military conflict with Iran would be a neat little affair that can’t but result in American victory. You’d think the Iraq and Afghanistan examples might have given him just a moment’s pause, but alas, his faith in military adventurism remains unshaken after all these years of unforeseen outcomes and unintended consequences. Our real-world experiences with war in the Middle East make clear how difficult it is to confidently game out what a war with Iran would look like. But some people have tried, and the results aren’t encouraging.
Back in 2009, the Brookings Institute’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy conducted a simulation to see what would happen if Israel were to preemptively strike Iranian nuclear facilities. It found that an act of war against Iran would set off a chain of escalating responses as Iran struck back at Israel and drew the U.S. into a direct conflict. A few years later, Brookings ran another war game to see what might happen if the U.S. were to respond militarily to an Iranian terrorist attack – once again, the two powers went back and forth with an escalating series of attacks until things got completely out of hand and both powers were preparing to launch massive military campaigns against the other.
And that’s to say nothing of Iran’s likely non-military response, which would be to exercise the regional influence it obtained through our mismanagement of Iraq and expand a military conflict with the U.S. into a regional war:
Iran’s political options are more intriguing than its strictly kinetic tools. When the United States removed the Baathist regime in Iraq, it effectively conceded Iranian influence on the country. Tehran will undoubtedly step up its efforts to destabilize both Iran and Afghanistan. Iran is unlikely to begin supporting ISIS, but it can certainly curtail the cooperation we’ve seen over the past months. It remains well within Iranian capabilities to increase support for Iraqi Shiite militias, as well as for the Assad regime.
So that all sounds like a hellacious disaster. And, of course, a military strike on Iran wouldn’t actually stop Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon – even the most hawkish of the Iran hawks, John Bolton, says that a vigorous bombing campaign against Iranian nuclear facilities would only buy “three to five years.” Not quite sure you can call any of this “winning,” but maybe Lindsey Graham has another definition of victory in mind.