Republicans are making their case for war in Iran

Since the national leadership of the Republican Party moves only in a lock-step approach, recent events make it clear that they are attempting to make the case for another war.

By now, it is almost cliche to suggest that Republican freshman Sen. Tom CottonThomas (Tom) Bryant CottonTrump set to have close ally Graham in powerful chairmanship McConnell: Criminal justice bill unlikely this year Cotton opposes Trump-backed criminal justice bill MORE of Arkansas created a storm of protest over his letter to the Ayatollahs of Iran. Forget for the moment the seditious element of the gesture and that 46 fellow Republicans felt it was within their purview to circumvent the president on issues of foreign policy. Pair the message of this letter with the Speaker of the House's invitation to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Republican Party strategy becomes abundantly clear: The United States needs to take a hard-line policy toward Iran and its nuclear ambition; and since a hard-line policy will not work, the U.S. needs to remove the nuclear threat using military means.

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One of the blatant flaws in Netanyahu's presentation to the joint session of Congress was his argument that international sanctions have forced Iran to its knees and, therefore, Iran needs a deal with the West so desperately that a complete ban on all nuclear capability is within the grasp of the negotiators. The fact that this contradicts Netanyahu's earlier assessment seems to have disturbed no one, other than his detractors. To them, it seems incongruous to argue that Iran is weakened to the point of desperation, when one has just argued that Iran has taken over the region, controlling the capitals of Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Gaza. Perhaps this was all accomplished while on its knees?

It is important to note that the Cotton letter was signed by virtually all of the Republican luminaries in the Senate. Added to this and following almost immediately in The Washington Post was an opinion piece, "War With Iran is Probably Our Best Option," by a research fellow at John Hopkins University, Joshua Muravchik. He argued that since Iran's leaders are ideologues, they will only accept a deal that will allow them to pursue their mission. As he states, "Ideology is the raison d'etre of Iran’s regime, legitimating and inspiring its leaders and their supporters. ...  Iran aims to carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond."

It seems apparent that one way the Republican Party can oppose this lame-duck president and his "executive overreach" is to take a hard line of issues, where confrontation rather than diplomacy is the red meat the voting base will like. You can be sure all the potential presidential candidates (other than Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky) will jump on board. We already have Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and former Gov. Jeb Bush (R-Fla.) weighing in. They appear impervious to the destructive elements of their actions. As The New York Times stated in a recent editorial, "Besides being willing to sabotage any deal with Iran (before they know the final details), these Republicans are perfectly willing to diminish America's standing as a global power capable of crafting international commitments and adhering to them."

While it may appear that this is a policy stance that does not seek military action, there is virtually no logic to support the illusion. Sanctions have restricted economic and financial transactions and done a credible job of isolating the country, but Iran is by no means bankrupt. The admission of its muscular reach into other countries is compelling evidence that Iran's military strength and financial support has continued unabated. We are even told these days that in fighting the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in Iraq, the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is the only viable military force (other than the Kurds).

There is a further indicator as to the motivation of Republican leaders. It was reported that shortly after Cotton posted his letter, he lunched with lobbyists from the defense manufacturing business. We can only guess at that conversation — as he refused requests for comments — though the footprints of war are the overall pattern.

This rather abrupt hardening of the Republican Party line now requires partisans to make some choices that, startlingly, seemed far-fetched as recently as two weeks ago. Do voters in support of the Republican Party really want this muscular approach to the Middle East? Having spent the past 12 years in a seemingly unending war, are they prepared to once again up the ante to determine how the U.S. might dictate the terms? After all, don't we generally define insanity as doing the same thing over and over expecting a different outcome? Doesn't this posture take us to that place?

Cotton's move is being dismissed as a boneheaded gesture. Conservative columnists like Michael Gerson of The Washington Post have even suggested that it raises the question as to the Republican Party's capacity to govern. There have been a few mild retreats by some of the signatories, but it is quite clear where Republicans are headed. The question is solidly on the table for Republican supporters: Are they ready to go to war?

Russell is managing director of Cove Hill Advisory Services.