Take one look at the chaos in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan and it’s hard to imagine why any American leader would be itching to put the United States into another foreign war. But that’s what could be happening right now, as the hawkish advisers to President Donald Trump walk us toward conflict with Iran. Americans need to know the risks of this dangerous game of escalation, and raise their voices against another disastrous Middle Eastern conflict.
We are both frequent critics of President Trump. But the president seems to understand that dropping American troops into foreign quagmires rarely ends well. That’s why presidential whisperers such as national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are taking the small steps that could eventually lead, not by accident, to war with Iran.
Make no mistake: The Iranian regime is a vile one. The two of us have voted for practically every single measure and sanction to punish Iran’s sponsorship of terrorism, its development of prohibited weapons and its abhorrent human rights abuses. The ayatollahs of Tehran are in a category with the brutal regimes of Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi. But no matter how much Hussein and Gadhafi deserved to be removed from power, our military actions to take down those regimes ended up creating more misery than they prevented.
We need to guard against another mistake in the Middle East. Here’s how the march to war has begun.
Break with Europe, Russia and China and withdraw from a nuclear deal that had completely stopped Iran’s work to build a nuclear bomb? Check. Unilaterally reimpose sanctions designed to cripple Iran’s economy, without buy-in from our allies? Check. Take the unprecedented step of designating the Islamic Revolutionary Guard as a terrorist organization, a move consistently opposed by U.S. military leaders? Check. Move the USS Abraham Lincoln strike group and a bombing wing into Iran’s backyard? Check.
Pushing Iran to the breaking point
Predictably, we are now in a very dangerous place. Iran is threatening to restart some nuclear activity. Iran’s military is on high alert and in easy shooting distance of U.S. forces in the Persian Gulf, Syria and Iraq. Tehran’s moderate leaders have been discredited, and the country’s ultraconservative hard-liners are ascendant.
And what if this is exactly where the Iran hawks in the administration and throughout Washington want us to be? They understand that the American people would not support a preemptive, considered attack on Iran. But they might support retaliation if a nervous Iranian sailor points a weapon at nearby American naval forces. Or if a rogue Iranian-backed militia plants an improvised explosive device outside an American installation. Or if the Israelis decide to strike restarted Iranian nuclear development, as they did in Iraq and Syria, and there is a response from Iran.
As tensions rise and military forces gather, all these scenarios become much more likely.
Bolton, Pompeo and their allies harbor a deep-seated hatred for Iran and a dangerous belief that if the Iranian regime can be destroyed by the U.S. military, it will be replaced by an Iranian government more to our liking.
Stop US military brinkmanship now
We’ve seen precisely that movie before with Saddam Hussein and Moammar Gadhafi — and it doesn’t play out like we script it. U.S. military action against Iran is perhaps the one thing that can rally the Iranian people to the side of their awful leaders. While the Iranian military is no match for the United States, it has the capability to create immense chaos in the region. Terrorist attacks around the world, huge disruptions in energy markets, an attack on Israel and U.S. casualties are near certainties.
It is not too late to stop this mistake. Military brinkmanship, designed to provoke or cause an aggressive reaction, can be stopped. We ask that the administration brief Congress on the situation in an open and transparent way and acknowledge that the Constitution grants war-making authority solely to Congress, not the Oval Office. Critically, President Trump must understand that the authorization for the use of military force that Congress passed in 2001 against al-Qaeda does not authorize hostilities against Iran, no matter how much Pompeo would like to link Iran and al-Qaeda.
The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us nearly $6 trillion and over 14,000 U.S. lives, with success still on the distant horizon. Tragically, war is sometimes necessary to protect America and our interests. But picking a fight with Iran now is neither necessary nor remotely a good idea. We know how it ends. We are watching it begin. Now is the time to choose a wiser course.