Sen. Bayh: Force should be on the table in stopping Iran from getting nukes

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) said Sunday that the White House needs to consider the use of force against Iran to keep the country from getting nuclear weapons.

Bayh, speaking at a roundtable discussion on the opening day of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference, said that the administration should go through the motions of proceeding with planned tougher sanctions against the Islamic Republic, but cautioned that they probably wouldn't work and that the White House should be prepared for the worst-case scenario.

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"We need to go forward with aggressive sanctions that are likely to hurt the regime... but that's unlikely to work," Bayh said. "Now we have to turn to contemplate the final option -- the use of force to prevent them from getting a nuclear weapon."

"...In the long run, you have to do what you have to do," he said.

On the risk of Iran acquiring a nuclear weapons capability, "the State of Israel can't run even a 5 percent chance of that happening and neither can we," Bayh added.

Bayh predicted that Iran would not "moderate behavior" as a result of the sanctions -- which he advocated against financial and even energy sectors, though he didn't think oil sanctions would come to fruition -- and "the clock will continue to tick."

"The moment of truth will be within 12 months," he said when asked about the prospects for the upcoming year.

Bayh, whose retirement at the end of his term has raised speculation about a possible 2012 presidential run, earned the first standing ovation of the conference when he commented on the U.N.'s Goldstone report on the Gaza conflict. "The truth of the matter is that the Israeli Defense Forces risked their lives to avoid civilian casualties," he said.

After telling the conference "our relations with our allies are actually not in good shape right now," Bayh told The Hill that President Barck Obama "inherited an incredible set of challenges" on the foreign policy front, from Afghanistan and Iraq to Iran.

"Considering all that, I think they've done well," he said. "There's obviously challenges that remain but I think that they're learning as they go along. But you've got to remember that it's an incredibly difficult, challenging world, and I think in some respects there are a lot of hard decisions that still remain, Iran foremost among them."

Bayh told the AIPAC crowd it could be "damaging" if Iran sees the current disputes over settlements between Israel and the United States as a "lack of resolve."

He told The Hill afterward that he was "pleased that we're in the process of putting that behind us."

"I think the timing of the housing announcement was unfortunate and some of the rhetoric on our side was probably too aggressive, but the main thing is the relationship is strong and unshakable and we should now move forward and build on that," Bayh said.

Bayh's fellow panelists were generally critical of the Obama administration's foreign policy thus far, marking a shift from the hopeful tone of last year's conference, which was held in the early days of the Obama presidency.

Panelist Robert Kagan, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, criticized the White House for dragging its heels on Iran and not backing the opposition enough, and said the administration likely found the mass protests after the disputed June 12 elections "inconvenient" in its efforts to engage in dialogue with Tehran.

"I think it would pack an enormously powerful punch for Barack Obama to say in capitals around the world that I am a Zionist," said Robert Satloff executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Outside the plenary hall, Bayh was greeted by conference attendees who mugged for photos with the first lawmaker to address the conference, and asked him the same 2012 question. The senator patted on the shoulder and thanked one man who told Bayh he should run for the Oval Office.

"I don't know what my future will involve," Bayh told The Hill. "I care about public policy and I care about helping people and I care about our country, so I hope in whatever capacity I hope to continue to make a contribution even if it's in the private sector, but I obviously have no idea what I'm going to be doing.

"But I've had a great relationship with AIPAC and that will continue," he said. "I do plan on continuing to come to conferences like this."