A slight majority of National Journal’s National Security Insiders say that a military strike on Iran should not be carried out under any circumstances, despite a recent U.N. nuclear-watchdog report providing evidence of Iran’s ongoing pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Discussion about deploying a military option in Iran heated up after the release of the International Atomic Energy Agency report detailing how Iran has carried out computer simulations of nuclear explosions and produced designs to fit atomic warheads to missiles. Israeli media reports maintained that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are pushing to strike Iran.
Still, 52 percent of NJ's national-security experts are not in support of taking military action. “The likelihood that bombing would be successful is very small,” one Insider said. “The damage—especially politically—from such a strike would be catastrophic.”
It’s “too late” to unleash a conventional military strike that could set back the advanced and dispersed Iranian nuclear-weapon and uranium-enrichment programs, one Insider said. “Unless the West is prepared to blockade the export of Iranian oil—an economic sanction far greater in impact than those imposed to date—Israel and the West will have to settle for a longer-term strategy." The Insider argued for expanded multilateral sanctions, covert actions to disrupt more "vulnerable" nuclear activities in the country, and stepped up support for opponents of the Iranian government.
No Insiders called for a unilateral U.S. strike, and only 5 percent said that Israel should launch an attack on its own. But 43 percent said that an attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would be best carried out by a coalition of countries, which could include Israel, the U.S., and Britain.
“A military strike, whether by the U.S., or by Israel, or by both, is still unlikely to succeed in stopping the program, but it will certainly galvanize the Iranian people,” one Insider said, adding that it’s "simply impossible" to ensure Israel will not take action on its own. “The Israelis do believe Iran’s threats…. If indications and warnings point to an imminent attack by Iran, the larger the coalition that preempts militarily, the better.
“Bottom line: All the options stink,” the Insider continued.
There could be unintended consequences of a strike for the U.S. and the stability of the region, one Insider warned. “It should be understood that the likelihood of $300 for a barrel of oil will follow, [as would] a nightmare of asymmetrical responses from Iran. Are we ready for the consequences? Do we even understand what they might be?”
Another Insider added: “A coalition would be best, but only Israel has the chutzpah to do it.”
Even with all the talk about Iran, a narrow plurality of Insiders (34 percent) said that China would be the next president's biggest foreign-policy challenge, but they were split over their reasoning. Some are worried about China's rapidly growing military and its "forceful and belligerent" actions in the Asia-Pacific theater. Another said that the biggest challenge China poses to the the U.S. is not militarily "but in almost every other sphere. China will have even more diplomatic and economic leverage over what we call 'the West' in the coming decade."
With the ongoing war in Afghanistan and simmering tensions with neighboring Pakistan, 31 percent said that this region would be the major foreign policy clash. As one Insider put it:"Pakistan and Afghanistan are urgent challenges with no easy answers."
1. Since sanctions aren’t slowing the Iranian program, a possible military intervention appears to be back on the table. Would such a strike be better carried out:
- No military strike should be carried out 52%
- By a coalition of countries 43%
- Solely by Israel 5%
- Solely by the U.S. 0%
"An attack would set in motion a conflagration, set back the Arab Spring, and destroy what little is left of U.S. credibility as an arbitrator of the Middle East peace process."
"War with Iran would be far more damaging to U.S. interests than any danger from Iranian nuclear weapons."
"Iran is internally weaker than we seem to realize. There are better ways to undermine this regime without resorting to military strikes. Military strikes would be met with Iranian actions to spread the conflict throughout the Persian Gulf region and very likely to Israel."
"A military strike presumes we know where all of the essential components of the Iranian program are, and that a strike would eliminate or slow these programs. Especially in the case of Iran, both of these requirements are questionable at best."
"It's a dream for us to think that a strike will solve this problem."
"Moreover, many Iranians who have grown disillusioned with theocratic and increasingly dictatorial governance would turn against America should it or Israel launch a military strike, easing the task of authoritarian rulers."
"The consequences of failing to keep Iran from getting the bomb will be costly and preoccupying for a long time to come. But trying to solve the problem militarily at this late stage is just too big a leap in the dark."
"Caveat: at this time. This is a binary question and the issue of a strike must be conditions based. Not just the justification but the timing as well. There are issues of access and how the sites are hardened. This is far more complex than the public discussion."
"A coalition would be best, but only Israel has the chutzpah to do it."
"A military strike, whether by the U.S., or by Israel, or by both, is still unlikely to succeed in stopping the program, but it will certainly galvanize the Iranian people. On the other hand, it is simply impossible to ensure that Israel will not strike; the Israelis do believe Iran's threats--they remember that no one took Mein Kampf seriously--and will not stand by if they think that an attack is imminent. If indications and warnings point to an imminent attack by Iran, the larger the coalition that preempts militarily, the better. Bottom line: all the options stink."
"We are a good distance away from this being necessary."
2. Which of these countries is likely to pose the most significant foreign-policy challenge for the next president?
- China 34%
- Afghanistan/Pakistan 31%
- Iran 22%
- Yemen/Somalia/North Africa 7%
- Russia 5%
- Other 1%
"The management of a rising China is the greatest security challenge the next president will face."
"Not militarily, but in almost every other sphere. China will have even more diplomatic and economic leverage over what we call 'the West' in the coming decade."
"A stronger, more nationalistic, and more assertive China can affect U.S. interests more profoundly than any of the less consequential places with which Americans have been preoccupied."
"Chinese actions in the Asia-Pacific theater are becoming more and more forceful and belligerent. Competition for natural resources will also grow. Taiwan could come to a head as well. That said, Iran is a very close second."
"The Afghanistan/Pakistan region is likely to remain the most violent region on earth, and fertile ground for the incubation of new and more fearsome jihadist threats. Compounding this challenge, the region's Islamic extremists may pose the world's greatest 'loose nuke' risk. Especially because of potential insider threats to the security of sensitive Pakistani nuclear materials, technology, and weaponry, the West, Israel, and India face serious risks of nuclear terrorist threats emanating from these sources."
"China is our most complicated foreign-policy challenge, but we have no unavoidable conflicts and as the recent G-20 summit shows, China underperforms in the global policy arena. Pakistan and Afghanistan are urgent challenges with no easy answers."
"The closer the Iranians get to having a bomb and the means to deliver it, the tougher the choices for the next president."
"This is the unknown world. Inexperienced radical leadership. These folks are more likely to miscalculate, make mistakes. That's why they are dangerous."
"China looms large, but the most immediate threats will come from the unstable areas of Yemen and Africa."
"What about Europe? Its economic unraveling will have a huge undertow effect."
"It is a sad commentary on both our time and the decline of U.S. power that 'all of the above' is really the only answer."
National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts. They are:
Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.
This article appears in the November 15, 2011, edition of NJ Daily.