Former Senators Voice Institutional Opposition to War Against Iran
March 20, 2012 • 8:12AM

Former Republican Senators Chuck Hagel (Neb.) and Judd Gregg (N.H.) are two of the latest institutional voices against Iran war. On March 19, The Atlantic Council of the U.S., a semi-official NATO think tank in Washington, chaired by Hagel released a report today, joining the war-avoidance chorus against attacking Iran. The report by the Council's Iran Task Force (headed by Stuart Eizenstat with Hagel) assessed the internal political situation in Iran following the recent Majlis [parliament] elections, and added strongly worded warnings against military action or threats against Iran at a delicate moment.

The authors of the report, Yasmin Alem and Barbara Slavin, argued that the Supreme Leader Khamenei had consolidated power and turned President Ahmadinejad into a lame-duck for the next two years, but that the power base of the Khamenei-Larijani faction was narrowing and a majority of the population still wanted reform and were terrified of the prospect of a war, at a moment when the domestic economy is in horrible shape. The authors suggested that Khamenei might seek to broaden his base of support by reaching out to "pragmatists" like former President Rafsanjani and even the Green Movement, noting that Khamenei had recently re-appointed Rafsanjani as the head of the Expediency Council, an important body that mediates between different elements of the Iranian government.

The authors then recommended: "How all of these factors will influence Khamenei's willingness to compromise over the nuclear issue is unclear. Iran has agreed to new talks with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, plus Germany. However, even though Khamenei may feel more confident about negotiations having won the parliamentary elections, he appears to have backed himself into a corner by constantly stressing Iran's right to nuclear capabilities that could give it the ability to make weapons, even as he denies that nuclear weapons are his goal. When combined with the cautious politics of a U.S. presidential election year, the chance for progress toward a resolution of the crisis in the near future appears slight. The Obama administration, nevertheless, should put forward face-saving proposals that respect Irans rights while constraining its ability to make nuclear bombs. The United States should refrain from military action—and convince Israel to abstain from striking Iran—since a war would have dire consequences for the global economy, U.S. forces in the region, Israelis, and the Iranian people. The United States and its allies should seek other means, short of direct intervention, to help reopen Iran's political space so that eventually, Iranians can find a way to change their political system by themselves."

Hagel is not only the chairman of the Council's Iran Task Force, and President of the Atlantic Council, he is co-chair of Obama's President's Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (PFIAB).

Writing in The Hill, the Congress-oriented newspaper, Judd Gregg, the former Governor and U.S. Senator from New Hampshire, warned against being dragged into an Iran war in an article called "The U.S. Does Not Need Another War in the Middle East." Denouncing Obama, Netanyahu, and the Republicans for their performances at the AIPAC conference, Gregg says he sees a dangerous "axiom," that is: "If Israel is threatened, Israel's foreign policy becomes America's foreign policy in a time of presidential elections."

"The question is," Gregg writes, "are our national interests so overlapped that this is good for America?" He says, "no." The stability achieved in Iraq or Afghanistan is "marginal," and, "it is not in the United States interest to join in or pursue military action in the Middle East if it once again involves the costs in both blood and dollars of nation-building."

Writing in Foreign Policy, Bruce Ackerman, a Yale professor and author who opposed "Obama's Unconstitutional War" in Libya, proposes "new diplomacy" with Iran, along the lines of what Richard Nixon did with China in the 1970s. "The present confrontational strategy isn't working," Ackerman says. The Israeli strike against Iran, if it happened, would only delay a nuclear capability, and Israel would be hurt in the long run. The current escalation must be stopped says Ackerman, and his solution is to negotiate a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East and put Israel and the rest of the region under a U.S. nuclear umbrella against any nation that builds a bomb.