Judd Gregg: The dangers of the Bolton Doctrine

Judd Gregg: The dangers of the Bolton Doctrine
© UPI Photo

There is an awakening sense that a conflict with Iran is a real possibility.

Our aircraft-carrier battle groups are steaming into the Persian Gulf and our Air Force is sending B-52 bombers to forward bases on the Arabian peninsula.

National Security Adviser John BoltonJohn BoltonDiplomacy is still the best option for dealing with Iran North Korea praises Trump for call for 'new method' in talks Trump job approval rises amid record partisan gap: Gallup MORE, who appears to be leading foreign policy in the Trump administration, has a dark and foreboding view of Tehran.


Responding to the 2015 deal reached by President Obama and Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren shows signs of broadening her base Let's not play Charlie Brown to Iran's Lucy The Memo: Democrats struggle to find the strongest swing-state candidate MORE with Iran, which was intended to slow the Iranian nuclear weapons program, Bolton wrote an op-ed in the New York Times headlined “To Stop Iran’s bomb, bomb Iran."

Maybe Bolton has convinced President TrumpDonald John TrumpJulián Castro: It's time for House Democrats to 'do something' about Trump Warren: Congress is 'complicit' with Trump 'by failing to act' Sanders to join teachers, auto workers striking in Midwest MORE that now is the time to execute this “Bolton Doctrine.”

The Iranians have also taken up a confrontational stance.

They have officially withdrawn from the deal reached on monitoring their nuclear weapons program. They are confronting not only our Navy in the Persian Gulf but they also were probably responsible for the recent sabotage of Saudi oil tankers.

The language of their leaders continues to call for the end of Israel. Admittedly this is not a new tack, but the intensity of their chants has been heightening considerably.

Israel, under its recently reelected Prime Minister Benjamin NetanyahuBenjamin (Bibi) NetanyahuMORE, is not inclined to sit back and accept the Iranian threats. Netanyahu is not naïve. He understands that the dangers posed by Iran may, from Israel’s perspective, require preemptive action.

The world has been on this road for a long, long time. It leads with disconcerting consistency to violent confrontations.

Israel versus all the Arab nations; Israel versus Egypt; the United States versus Iraq; Saudi Arabia versus Yemen, the list of wars goes on. The only thing more consistent than their occurrence is the predictable fact that they will occur again.

For 70 years, American policy in the Middle East has been dominated by our efforts to avoid the obliteration of Israel at the hands of its neighbors.

Since the attacks of September 11, 2001, our policy has taken on the additional strain of protecting us from fundamentalist Islamic terrorists who are being nurtured in nations like Iran.

Underpinning these purposes in American policy has been the need for Middle Eastern oil.

These three themes: Israel’s survival, defeating Islamic terrorism, and oil supply for the west have driven our policy in the region. They have caused the United States to become entangled in almost every conflict there of any size.

The issue today is whether these historic purposes are still critical enough to our strategic needs to draw us into another conflict in the region, this time with Iran.

Israel is now a well-established nation with an economy and a military capability that dwarfs its Arab neighbors.

To the extent that it needs or wants our help in defending itself, it is primarily in the arena of supplying advanced weapon systems and sharing intelligence.

The threat to Israel of a nuclear-capable Iran is real. It is, however, muted by the fact that Israel is already a nuclear power. Such an exchange would lead to a cataclysm for both sides.

Netanyahu’s policy may be to pursue a preemptive strike. This should not be our policy. We should not be positioning forces to imply we would be supportive of such a strike.

America is now energy-independent. We can produce more oil and gas then we need and we have identified more reserves than has Saudi Arabia.

The availability of oil is still a prime concern to the Europeans.

But to a great extent the geopolitical influence of Middle East oil, which has made the region so critical to western economies, has been mitigated. Protecting this oil supply should no longer be the tail that wags the dog in the Middle East.

The one issue that remains of paramount importance is the threat of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

The legacy of 9/11 should vibrate today as strongly as it did almost twenty years ago when we were attacked.

There are people who seek to do deadly harm to western nations and especially the United States. They are fanatical, they are dangerous and they are numerous.

Iran and its theocracy have a national policy of fostering and promoting Islamic fundamentalist terrorism.

We must continue to be engaged in the region to address this threat.


But that engagement should recognize that our role there has evolved with Israel’s rising strength and reduced reliance on Middle East oil.

This engagement also should learn from our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. Countries in this part of the world do not take easily or well to our efforts at nation-building.

Any actual war with Iran is a bad idea if history is any guide — and it is unnecessary, given our primary goal should be to defeat cells of Islamic terrorists based there.

In fact, since we are rightly reluctant to get mired in an extended ground engagement in Iran such as we have pursued in Iraq and Afghanistan, any direct military action there will likely be primarily an air war.

Such an engagement will significantly harm Iran and possibly even affect its timetable for obtaining nuclear status.

But the other likely result will not be a more compliant Iran but rather an Iran where the forces of hate and anger towards the West, such as the Revolutionary Guard, will gain even greater sway.

The Bolton Doctrine could easily end up being a ‘cut off your nose to spite your face’ policy.

If our goal is to continue to find and destroy fundamentalist terrorist threats before they can harm us here in America, a show of naval and air power will not accomplish this purpose.

It is a bellicose approach with a great deal of downside for us and our dwindling number of allies in the region and in Europe.

The Bolton Doctrine will not create more stability in the region. It will not mute the mullahs who control Iran. It will cost lives and resources without a clear or predictable outcome.

It will probably be an extremely counter-productive approach to our primary cause, which should be to protect America from another 9/11-type of attack on our soil.

The Bolton Doctrine is not something President Trump should embrace.

Judd Gregg (R) is a former governor and three-term senator from New Hampshire who served as chairman and ranking member of the Senate Budget Committee, and as ranking member of the Senate Appropriations Foreign Operations subcommittee.