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Bracknell and Tiffen: The Iranian nuclear dilemma: choosing statecraft over strikes
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PREVENTING A NUCLEAR IRAN

Bracknell and Tiffen: The Iranian nuclear dilemma: choosing statecraft over strikes

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Serving in the U.S. armed forces during a time of conflict was a real honor. It also gave us front-row seats to one of the most significant foreign policy blunders in American history: Operation Iraqi Freedom.

A little more than a decade after the invasion, with its disastrous consequences, some war hawks are calling for yet another preventive war — this time against Iran. Starting such a conflict without exhausting all diplomatic options would repeat the Iraq miscalculation.

Instead, tough U.S.-led diplomacy to reach an enforceable, verifiable agreement preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon is essential to ensuring more of our fellow service members and frontline civilians are not placed in harm’s way in yet another ill-defined Middle East conflict.

It is vital to U.S. interests that Iran be prevented from acquiring a nuclear weapon, which would pose an unacceptable threat to U.S. allies, increase Iranian influence in Baghdad and Damascus, and potentially spark a regional nuclear arms race. Opponents of diplomacy often point to these threats as reasons not to negotiate; they would have Americans believe unilaterally imposing more sanctions will bend Iran to our will. But unilateral sanctions ultimately would threaten — not enhance — our ability to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Iran is at the negotiating table because of sanctions, not in spite of them. Rejection of diplomacy by the U.S. at this point would undermine the strict and unprecedented multinational sanctions regime that has been carefully constructed, bringing together not only our traditional allies, but also China and Russia. Sanctions levied by the U.S. alone cannot effectively replace the broad multilateral sanctions regime that has brought Iran to the negotiating table.

By walking away from negotiations without exhausting all diplomatic options first, we would be left with only two options: allowing Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, or going to war to try to stop them from doing so. The first option is absolutely unacceptable. The second should be only one of last resort. War should never be initiated lightly, especially given the enormous human, political and fiscal costs such a conflict would incur.

Consider the implications of the military option. The U.S. risks becoming ensnared in yet another conflict with no clear end state and wide-ranging implications. Iran and its proxies, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, would respond with military strikes against both military and civilian targets of the U.S. and its allies, risking a wider conflict. A strike on Iran’s nuclear program would strengthen the Iranian regime’s resolve and destroy any hope of future negotiations. The hawks are advocating for the military option, with all of its implications, without first exhausting diplomacy.

Whereas most U.S. military experts agree a military strike would set back the Iranian nuclear program no more than two years, a negotiated settlement would prevent the Iranians from acquiring a nuclear weapon for at least 10 to 15.

During this time, the U.S. can continue to work prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon — while always keeping the military option on the table as a last resort. The Iranian nuclear problem is a long-term challenge that must be managed rather than solved, via continued, robust diplomacy backed by credible enforcement measures.

The only acceptable agreement will not be based on trust. Current negotiations include the most intrusive inspection regime in the history of arms control. Under the current proposal, if the Iranians attempt to acquire nuclear weapons after signing an agreement, the international community will be aware in time to take decisive action and more likely to support American military efforts. Without exhausting diplomatic options first, we risk losing political high ground, with little to show in return. While international support does not seem necessary to go-it-alone demagogues, it is fundamentally essential in 21st-century statecraft.

Some members of Congress have made serious attempts to undermine these successful negotiations, even though Americans support an agreement over military action by a 2-1 margin.

As veterans who served through a decade-long war in the Middle East with little to show for the sacrifices of our fellow service members and the nation, we urge the entire Virginia congressional delegation to support continued negotiations.

Only after all tough diplomatic options have been exhausted should we consider the use of force to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.

Butch Bracknell is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer; veteran of Bosnia, Iraq and Afghanistan; and former International Security Fellow at The Atlantic Council of the United States. He is a Sorensen Institute Political Leadership Program fellow and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. Contact him at Rob.Bracknell@gmail.com.

Adam Tiffen is a veteran of three tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. Contact him at AdamTiffen@hotmail.com.

The opinions herein are their own.

War should never be initiated lightly, especially given the enormous human, political and fiscal costs such a conflict would incur.

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