A Republican U.S. senator, who authored an open letter to Iran asserting Congress’ ability to override a nuclear accord, now says a military strike against Tehran’s atomic facilities, could be achieved quickly through a bombing campaign lasting only “several days.”
Tom Cotton of Arkansas has been a senator for barely four months, but has made a name for himself as the most outspoken member of a Republican faction that is not just skeptical of a nuclear agreement with Iran, but openly scornful of it.
President Barack Obama has never ruled out U.S. military action against Iran, but sees it as a final option, as he made clear in his State of the Union address in January.
“The American people expect us only to go to war as a last resort. And I intend to stay true to that wisdom,” he said.
Such thinking is flawed, according to Senator Cotton, the chamber's first Iraq War veteran. He criticized the president’s assertion last week that only three options exist for containing Iran’s nuclear ambitions: a negotiated settlement, continued sanctions pressure and military action.
“He [Obama] presented the ultimate false choice last week when he said it’s either this deal or war,” he said.
Cotton appeared on a radio program produced by a conservative Christian advocacy group, Family Research Council. The senator said the United States could hold out for “a better deal,” as has been suggested by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Then, he went on to say that military action against Iran need not be a painful or protracted venture.
“Even if military action were required - and we certainly should have kept the credible threat of military force on the table throughout which always improves diplomacy - the president is trying to make you think it would be 150,000 heavy mechanized troops on the ground in the Middle East again as we saw in Iraq, and that’s simply not the case,” said the senator.
Cotton said a military strike could mirror U.S. aerial bombardment of Iraqi facilities ordered by President Bill Clinton in the late 1990s that, as the senator put it, lasted “several days.”
A Pentagon spokesman declined to comment to VOA on the senator’s assertions, but U.S. officials have cast doubt on the ability of surgical airstrikes alone to eliminate Iran’s nuclear capacity.
Cotton’s skepticism about a nuclear deal is hardly unique among lawmakers, but talking up the military option for dealing with Iran sets him apart from most Republicans on Capitol Hill. That said, his views are in line with hardline conservative commentators. Writing in The New York Times newspaper last month, John Bolton, who served as former president George W. Bush’s United Nations ambassador, said, “The inconvenient truth is that only military action ...can accomplish what is required” and “a strike can still succeed.”
Others warn of grave risks in bombing Iran. George Perkovich is a nuclear nonproliferation expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“The question you have to ask yourself is: how long would that [military strike] set back Iran’s nuclear program, and under what circumstances? A lot of people who have looked at it have said it would set it back for a short time, but it would drive it underground, take away whatever monitoring has been there, and remove the sanctions regime that has been useful. And so the calculation has been that it isn’t as good an option as trying the diplomatic option,” he said.
A new poll shows slightly more Republican voters support the framework accord than oppose it, with 40 percent unsure. Fifty percent of Democrats back the deal, with nearly 40 percent unsure.