By Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, McClatchy-Tribune News Service
With nuclear negotiations with Iran being extended, it’s hard not to draw parallels to the U.S. experience with Iraq in 2002 and 2003. While most of us would prefer not to revisit or re-debate the run-up to the invasion, the more responsible path is to look at the parallels and learn where we can. At a minimum, we owe that to the men and women who served in the Iraq war.
In that tense prewar time, enormous pressure was being put on Iraq to allow for intrusive international inspections of their alleged nuclear weapons program. Among other things, it was a process driven by artificial timelines. The United Nations inspections team led by Hans Blix requested more time, but the Bush administration had its own timetable. Those calls for further deliberation were rejected, and the public was provided with a steady stream of alarmist messages describing the looming threat that Iraq posed. The words of caution from many of our leading allies were dismissed.
This history is critical to our present deliberations for one simple reason: What we’re doing now is exactly what we should have done instead of invading Iraq.
Without a doubt, an Iranian nuclear program is an issue to take very seriously. The U.S. and Iran have been in conflict since 1979, the Iranians have been a leading state sponsor of terrorism, and the regime in Tehran has willfully misled the world regarding its intentions in the past.
At the same time, there are only two ways to definitively control Iran’s nuclear program. The first is by establishing a rigorous program of on-site inspections supported by the international community and confirming that significant portions of Iran’s program have been dismantled and rolled back. The second is by launching a ground invasion of Iran and literally taking control of the sites in question.
In short, the choice at hand is inspectors on the ground or boots on the ground.
At this point our negotiating team, working closely with Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia, has led tough negotiations that have yielded real results. Since the negotiations began, Iran’s nuclear program has been frozen and their program has been rolled back. A final deal will include a verifiable limit on the number of Iranian centrifuges. It will limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to reactor grade (5 percent) and limit Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium to commercial needs. It will modify their Arak reactor to limit its ability to produce plutonium and it will definitively lengthen the amount of time it would take Iran to develop a weapon.
In the past six months the international community has made more progress containing Iran’s nuclear program than in the preceding ten years. This is a strong argument in favor of continuing the negotiations.
Perhaps most importantly, a final deal will put in place a highly intrusive inspections and monitoring regime with global support. Based on Iran’s prior behavior the international negotiating team is insisting on very stringent inspections. The negotiated outcome will likely be best characterized as “all verify and no trust.”
Congress has played a role as well. The sanctions that they passed have helped bring Iran to the table. And despite the efforts of some in Congress, they ultimately gave our diplomatic team the room they needed to maneuver.
Unfortunately, there are also efforts afoot to sabotage the deal. Some in Congress are working to move the goalposts and add new sanctions on Iran or push for concessions that they know perfectly well Iran will never agree to. This is a bad idea. To be sure, there are other issues to pursue with Iran such as their appalling human rights record and their missile program, but these can and should be handled separately. They should not be used to scuttle the progress that has been made. It will not benefit America’s national security interest if we make every outcome other than war impossible.
Col. Lawrence Wilkerson served as Gen. Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002-2005. He is now a visiting professor at the College of William and Mary. Readers may send him email at email@example.com.
AFP Photo/Kazem Ghane
Want more foreign policy analysis? Sign up for our daily email newsletter!