In case you missed it last week, Senator Joe Lieberman provided the missing two-part harmony to Senator John McCain’s famous riff on "Barbara Ann." But when McCain said, "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb-bomb Iran," he was joking, sort of. Lieberman, unfortunately, is serious.
Until now, calls for bombing Iran have been mostly limited to the unelected warmongers of the neoconservative right, led by the redoubtable Norman Podhoretz of Commentary and various denizens of the American Enterprise Institute and other think tanks. But in a September 29 speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, Lieberman joined their ranks, calling on President Obama to use the famous military option that he’s always leaving on the table.
Calling Iran "extreme," "expansionist," and "terrorist," Lieberman praised the sanctions that have been piling up against Iran this year. But he seems to have missed utterly the point of economic sanctions: if they work at all, they take time—years, in most cases. Lieberman seemed almost alarmed at the fact that the "fanatical" regime in Iran is probably going to come back to the negotiating table this month. He said:
"We have now come to the moment in this long struggle when the Iranian regime must understand that we will not wait indefinitely for sanctions to work."
How long is the senator from Connecticut willing to wait? Only until the end of 2010. And then:
"If [sanctions have] not produced meaningful change in Iran’s nuclear weapons policy by then, we will need to begin a national conversation about what steps should come next. This inevitably will involve consideration of military options."
Lieberman went on to wax orgasmic about the pleasure of blowing Iran to smithereens:
"It is time for us to take steps that make clear that if diplomatic and economic strategies continue to fail to change Iran’s nuclear policies, a military strike is not just a remote possibility in the abstract, but a real and credible alternative policy that we and our allies are ready to exercise if necessary. It’s time to retire our ambiguous mantra about all options remaining on the table."
According to the CFR transcript, Lieberman received applause for these comments, rather than laughter, derision, catcalls and shouts of "Get that idiot out of here!"
Nor did any of the questioners in the Q&A that followed suggest that Lieberman was off his rocker. (One questioner, in fact, appears to have been the father of one of the people who advises Lieberman on national security.)
Lieberman’s comments on bombing Iran followed similar remarks from another deranged member of the Senate, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, who mde it three-part harmony, just like the Beach Boys, with McCain and Liberman. Graham, of course, is the third member of the Senate’s Unholy Trinity—dare we call it an Axis of Evil?—whose other two members are McCain and Lieberman. As Fox News breathlessly informs us, Graham recently weighed in on bombing Iran, too, declaring:
"From my point of view, if we engage in military operations as a last resort, the United States should have in mind the goal of changing the regime…not by invading (Iran), but by launching a military strike by air and sea. If you use military force against Iran, you’ve opened up Pandora’s box. If you allow Iran to get a nuclear weapon, you’ve emptied Pandora’s box. I’d rather open up Pandora’s box than empty it."
According to Fox, Graham made it clear that he sees a military attack on Iran as "inevitable."
Inside the government, including at the highest levels of the Obama administration, it’s safe to say that almost no one takes the idea of bombing Iran seriously. (I say "almost," because it’s unclear what Dennis Ross, the senior Middle East policy aide at the National Security Council, thinks.) Equally, the military brass, from Admiral Mullen on down, have been opposed to using military action against Iran, especially while the United States is engaged in simultaneous wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan. By touting sanctions, the administration is punting. When challenged by hawks, Obama can say, "What do you mean I’m soft on Iran? We’re sanctioning the heck out of them!" Of course, he knows that the sanctions can’t have immediate effect. Perhaps, over time, the constriction of Iran’s economy—particularly its oil and gas industry—will lead more and more Iranian power brokers to put pressure on Ayatollah Khamenei, the leader, to oust Ahmadinejad and install a more compromise-minded president. Or, an economic crisis could spark civil unrest, leading to strikes and demonstrations that can’t be contained by paramilitary Basij thugs. If any of this might happen, it’s not likely to be soon.
It’s possible to make the exact opposite case, namely, that economic sanctions will strengthen the regime by causing Ahmadinejad’s militant base to blame the Great Satan (rather than Ahmadinejad) for Iran’s economic problems. Sanctions also strengthen the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps, which reaps billions in profits from sanctions-busting smuggling operations. And, of course, shutting down Western investment in Iran’s oil and gas industry is like putting out a welcome mat for China’s oil industry to move in and set up shop.
But Lieberman’s deadline of the end of 2010 is insanity cubed. Even if the sanctions don’t backfire, it’s not likely that they’ll work by then. They aren’t even designed to work that quickly.