Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.
In the long-running Western debate over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program, fresh language has been as rare as fresh ideas. But here’s a novel phrase worth noting: “Striking Iranian nuclear sites is like mowing the grass.” How so?
The man who coined the simile, Middle East scholar Aaron David Miller, argues that no strike, or series of strikes, could permanently cripple the Iranian capacity to produce and weaponize fissile material. Absent complete success in wiping out Iran’s hardened and widely dispersed nuclear sites, “the grass would only grow back again.” The Iranians would “reseed” the grass “with the kind of legitimacy that can only come from having been attacked by an outside power.”
The presidential hopefuls of America‘s Republican Party could do worse than take note of that assessment. In the first foreign policy debate of the Republican primary race on November 12, all but one of the nine would-be presidents supported an attack — by the United States or Israel — on Iran to stop it from getting the bomb, if sanctions failed, as they have done so far.
Unlike the presidential candidates, Miller is familiar with the subject. Now a public policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center, a Washington think tank, he worked for 25 years in senior roles at the State Department as a Middle East negotiator and adviser. He is not alone in arguing that an attack on Iran would only delay, but not end, Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
In the United States, a long list of prominent experts on Iran and nuclear proliferation share that view and in Israel, Meir Dagan, the former head of the Mossad, the foreign intelligence service, has called bombing Iraq “a stupid idea” and repeatedly warned that an attack would have disastrous consequences for Israel.