More Voices Demand Full Public Debate on Iran War
September 30, 2012 • 4:31PM

More voices are joining the war-avoidance chorus, demanding thorough public debate before any military action is taken against Iran. In a signed oped in the Washington Post on Friday, retired Admiral William Fallon, former U.S. Senator Chuck Hagel, former Congressman Lee Hamilton, former ambassador Thomas Pickering and retired General Anthony Zinni all demanded that before any military action is taken against Iran, the American people must be drawn into a comprehensive debate over the pros and cons of such action. "War with Iran is not inevitable, but U.S. national security would be seriously threatened by a nuclear-armed Iran," the oped began. Noting the recent United Nations General Assembly discussions about the Iran situation, the authors declared, "Public discussion of military action, however, is often reduced to rhetoric and partisan politics. We propose a nonpartisan, reasoned debate about the implications for the United States of another war in the wider Middle East." The authors cited the recent report of the Iran Project, "Weighing Benefits and Costs of Military Action Against Iran," noted that they fully concur with the demand for full public debate. "We believe a fact-based discussion of the objectives, costs, benefits, timing, capabilities and exit strategy should govern any decision to use military force... Since the consequences of a military attack are so significant for U.S. interests, we seek to ensure that the spectrum of objectives, as well as potential consequences, is understood. The authors ended by warning of the likely prospects that an attack on Iran would trigger a regional war and would ultimately accelerate Iran's commitment to obtain a nuclear weapon.

A day earlier, also writing in the Washington Post, Jeffrey H. Smith, former General Counsel to the CIA, and John B. Bellinger III, former Justice Department official, wrote that there must be a firm constitutional basis for any military action against Iran. "The Constitution gives Congress the responsibility to 'declare war;" they wrote. "Congressional approval is important. A military strike on Iranian nuclear facilities might require multiple sorties over several days and would surely be regarded by Iran as an act of war. Like all military actions, the outcome is not certain and where it leads is not within our control. Congress should hold hearings to consider the implications of an attack—which include possibly provoking terrorist attacks against the United States, a wider regional war and damaging the U.S. economy—as well as the resulting costs and how to pay for them. An explicit congressional mandate authorizing the use of force unless Iran meets specific requirements would demonstrate to all our resolve to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons." Referring to Obama and Romney, the authors concluded, "They should publicly commit to seeking specific congressional authorization to bolster the president's constitutional authority to defend the United States. And they should explain how using force against Iran would be justified under international law and under what circumstances."

These two articles appeared at the same time the New York Times was publishing William J. Broad's "How to Help Iran Build a Bomb," which quoted ex-CIA Director Gen. Michael Hayden and other security experts, who all said that an attack on Iran's nuclear facilities would not destroy their program, and would only drive them to conclude that possession of a nuclear weapon was an existential requirement.