by Kenneth Jones
Last week U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R, AR) argued that air attacks and naval bombardment were a viable option to keep Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Senator Cotton served as a platoon leader in the Army’s 101st Airborne Division in Iraq in 2009. As a former army officer the Senator should know that any military action or even the threat of military action against Iran is foolish. There are several reasons that Senator Cotton’s suggestions are ill-advised.
First, bombing Iran will only harden the position of the Iranian government. The leaders of Iran have consistently stated that they pursue nuclear technology only for power generation. Iran has immense oil reserves, but it has little capacity for refining that oil into gasoline and fuel oil. If the Iranians are indeed seeking to develop nuclear weapons, they may be doing so for defensive purposes. Iran is a Muslim nation, but it is a Shia nation. In Islam, Shia Muslims are a minority, and they have been age old enemies of the Sunni majority. Iran is surrounded by Sunni nations such as Saudi Arabia to the west and a nuclear armed Pakistan to the east. It is easy to understand why Iran would want nuclear weapons.
Second, airstrikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities would do little damage. As a former army officer, Senator Cotton should realize that Iran’s most sensitive nuclear facilities are probably underground. Any member of the military can tell you that one of the best ways to protect yourself is to “dig in.” In basic training at Parris Island, South Carolina, we were taught to get underground or under cover to protect ourselves against artillery and air strikes. If the Iranians are as smart as I think they are, then most of their nuclear sites are underground, most likely hundreds of feet under the mountains in the north of the country. Even Senator Cotton should realize that such underground facilities are deep enough underground to withstand a direct nuclear strike. Even our nation’s most sensitive nuclear sites are underground. Our Air Force has a conventional bomb known as a bunker buster that is designed to penetrate several feet of reinforced concrete, but it cannot penetrate several hundred feet of mountain. To be sure, airstrikes would cause some damage, but any damage would most likely be to the above ground superstructure that nuclear facilities need. The risk here is creating a “dirty bomb,” a radiological explosion that would cause numerous deaths over a wide area. These so-called “dirty bombs” are one of our government’s worst fears, a fear that some terrorist organizations could take radioactive material wrapped in explosives and use it on one of our cities. An airstrike on a nuclear facility (even one conducting peaceful research) could turn the Middle East into another Chernobyl.
Third, Iran sponsors terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah. As a Shia organization, Hezbollah has received much of its weapons and money from Iran. Any military action against Iran would be a cue for Hezbollah to launch attacks against Israel and possibly American and European targets. Isn’t this outcome what we want to prevent? Don’t we want to ensure Israel’s safety? Iran’s sponsorship of terrorists organizations is one reason I too wish to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But I also believe the leaders in Tehran are intelligent enough to realize any nuclear attack on Israel or any other nation will only bring about the destruction of Iran.
Finally, Senator Cotton’s suggestion is foolish because the nuclear “genie” was let out of the bottle in July 1945 when the first atomic bomb was tested at Alamogordo, New Mexico. Since then the Soviet Union, China, Great Britain, France, North Korea, South Africa, Pakistan, India, and, probably, Israel have successfully developed nuclear weapons. We were not able to prevent any of those nations from acquiring nuclear weapons, so why does Senator Cotton think military threats and attacks can or will prevent Iran from acquiring them?
I truly wish no country one had nuclear weapons. I agree with Senator Cotton that we should try to prevent Iran from gaining them. But preemptive military action is not the solution. I think Cotton may be playing to his voting base by showing that he is tough on foreign policy. Maybe he is a true warmonger. I don’t know what is in his heart, but as a war veteran, he of all people should know the true cost of war. He thinks that President Obama is appeasing Iran, but the negotiations currently being conducted by the Obama administration are preferable to a preemptive military strike against Iran. Wars, regardless of their origin, produce unintended and unpredictable consequences. Senator Cotton’s plan of attack would produce unintended consequences, some of which are quite predictable. I hope his rhetoric never becomes reality.
Kenneth Jones is a senior history major and will graduate this May.