House Republicans push for military buildup with focus on countering Iran

Top Republicans on the House Armed Services Committee are looking to ensure the Pentagon is ready for military action against Iran and will use the upcoming fiscal 2013 budget to do it. 

Committee Chairman Buck McKeon (R-Calif.) is spearheading an effort to pump defense dollars into a specific slate of weapons and programs that could be used in a potential conflict with Tehran. 

On Tuesday, the California Republican refused to back down from that plan, even if it could further inflame tensions between the two countries. 

“We are doing what we can to make sure [the United States] is protected … and that is what we are going to do,” McKeon told reporters during a briefing on Capitol Hill. 

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Iran’s recent saber-rattling and its refusal to open its nuclear program to international scrutiny is “reason [enough] to be concerned” about a potential war between Tehran and Washington or its regional allies such as Israel, Rep. Michael Turner (R-Ohio) said Tuesday during a breakfast with reporters. 

Last week, McKeon said Congress must begin to “allocate resources for contingencies like Iran.” 

The upcoming fiscal 2013 defense spending bill will reflect “appropriate resourcing” for those programs designed to counter the Iranian threat, he added in his speech, delivered at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library in Simi Valley, Calif.

Turner, chairman of the committee’s Strategic Forces sub-panel, added that the United States cannot afford to bet against Iran turning bellicose rhetoric into action. 

Iran’s ongoing military buildup — including the possible addition of a nuclear weapon to its arsenal — and its recent aggressive actions in the Strait of Hormuz, constitute proof enough that Tehran could be gearing up for a fight, Turner said.

“Perhaps we should believe them,” he said, dismissing criticism that fast-tracking weapons programs for a possible Iranian conflict could increase the likelihood of that conflict actually happening.

For his part, McKeon said he was “not the first one to bring attention” to Iran’s growing aggressiveness in the region and the threat that poses, and likely would not be the last. If the Obama administration wants to “remain credible,” in terms of keeping all options regarding Iran on the table, McKeon’s plan is the way to do that, committee spokesman Claude Chafin added. 

U.S. naval forces in the Persian Gulf have already beefed up their fleet to deter a possible Iranian attack. The Navy has doubled the number of mine-hunting vessels in the region and outfitted its warships with powerful Gatling guns to counter Iran’s small, fast-moving patrol boats. 

McKeon and Turner declined to comment on what specific weapons systems or programs committee Republicans were targeting under the plan. But Chafin noted the Pentagon would soon be submitting its annual reprogramming lists — outlining the department’s current defense priorities — to the committee. 

Those lists, he added, would shed more light on the direction the defense panel is headed.