Solving the Iran nuclear puzzle

Diplomats took an important step towards resolving the Iran nuclear crisis in the recent Geneva negotiations. U.S. politicians need to refrain from actions that could squander this important opportunity. The American public expects our political leaders to listen to military and regional experts, but some of U.S. politicians have instead chosen to put our national security at risk to scoring cheap political points. This is dangerous and not what Americans want.

There is a difference between healthy skepticism with Iran and a dangerous dismissiveness. Iran has clearly shown that it is taking these talks seriously. The Geneva talks were preceded by a series of positive signs: a meeting between Secretary of State Kerry and the Iranian nuclear negotiator, the election of a “moderate” new president in Iran who campaigned on improving relations with the West, and an historic call between President Obama and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, breaking thirty-four years of silence. 

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In Geneva, Iranian and Western negotiators discussed an initial agreement that freezes Iran’s most dangerous nuclear activities. Negotiators will meet again tomorrow, and hope to move one step closer to a comprehensive deal. 

The Geneva talks show what can happen when we give diplomacy a chance. U.S. diplomats and our allies believe the opportunities for a peaceful resolution of Iran’s nuclear program are greater than ever. This revival of nuclear diplomacy is all the more important because the alternative – war with Iran – poses significant risks to U.S. interests in the Middle East.

Unfortunately, some members of Congress have written off this important step towards a peaceful resolution and are already moving to undercut future negotiations. Some in Congress are pushing for new sanctions, a slap in the face to the first effort in decades by Iran to operate under international oversight and laws. And Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), backed by fringe group of lawmakers, recently introduced a bill to authorize the U.S. to preemptively attack Iran. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) is poised to introduce a similar bill in the Senate.

If we have learned anything from this past decade, it should be that America suffers when politicians use calls for war to score political points.  Americans understand this, as shown by the public’s strong opposition to the use of military force against Syria. Americans’ preference for a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear challenge has also remained clear and consistent over time.  

The American people have it right. As General James Mattis (ret.) former CENTCOM commander, recently noted, “the military can buy our diplomats some time, but it cannot solve this problem.” Ultimately, the only long-term solutions to these security challenges, will be political solutions, achieved through diplomatic negotiations.  

Portraying military action as the easy way out is irresponsible, unwise and wrong. Air strikes would almost certainly begin a new war in the Middle East, with retaliation against Israel.  They also run the very real strategic risk of driving the nuclear program underground and uniting Iran, which has not yet decided to pursue a weapon, behind an active effort to obtain nuclear weapon out of self-defense. In short, military action would not only fail to prevent a nuclear Iran – it would make a nuclear Iran more likely.

As nuclear negotiations move forward, the U.S. must make every effort to test Iran’s willingness to accept transparent, verifiable limits to its nuclear program.  

But war with Iran comes at a high cost – something that military leaders and the American public fully understand. We’d all be much better served in our political leaders spent more time listening to voters and our generals and less time posturing on issues so central to our nation’s national security.

Blunt commanded the 97th Army Reserve Command and has been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal. He served with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and held the career designator of Atomic Energy Officer and has been a registered nuclear engineer for over 40 years.