Has Hagel revised his view of military action against Iran? [UPDATED: Hagel Out?]

Yesterday, I noted several instances in which Chuck Hagel denounced the option of attacking Iran in response to its development of nuclear weapons. Hagel’s supporters will point, however, to a more recent op-ed in the Washington Post of September 28, 2012 that Hagel signed. The other names on the op-ed are Retired Adm. William J. Fallon, former Indiana congressman Lee Hamilton, former undersecretary of state Thomas Pickering, and Retired Gen. Anthony Zinni.

The op-ed is a weak reed upon which to claim that Hagel has undergone a conversion — whether of the confirmation variety or some other. The op-ed is a spin-off of an analysis by TheIranProject, released the same month, called “Weighing Benefits and Cost of Military Action Against Iran.” Hagel was one of a group of a few dozen individuals who supported publication of that analysis.

TheIranProject’s analysis is essentially a brief against the option of attacking Iran as a response to its development of nuclear weapons. The analysis concludes that the objective of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear “is unlikely to be achieved through a military action that relies on aerial strikes supplemented by cyber attacks, covert operations, and perhaps special operations forces.” To accomplish that objective would likely require the occupation of Iran, which would entail “a commitment of resources and personnel greater than what the U.S. has expended over the past 10 years in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.”

The analysis goes on to discuss other costs associated with attacking Iran. They include direct Iranian retaliation against the U.S., strikes against Israel, damage to America’s global image, and the “increased likelihood of Iran becoming a nuclear state.”

If a U.S. attack on Iran will increase the likelihood of Iran obtaining nukes, it would be insane for the U.S. to attack Iran. That, behind all of the standard-issue policy speak, is the finding of the analysis that Hagel backs.

To be sure, the op-ed authors say that they “do not agree with every word in the report.” But they do not disavow any of its findings. Rather, they affirm that they “have shared understandings of its message.” That message is clear: “Don’t attack Iran.”

As to whether the nuclear option should be on the table, the Op-ed Five won’t say. They note that “the U.S. government has indicated that if Iran were to produce weapons-grade enriched uranium and build a weapon, the military option must be considered.” But Hagel and company don’t say whether they agree with this “indication.” Instead, they state that if Iran makes “a dash for a nuclear weapon” there will be “sufficient warning time to decide how to respond.”

The Op-ed Five also say: “Our position is fully consistent with the policy of presidents for more than a decade of keeping all options on the table, including the use of military force, thereby increasing pressure on Iran while working toward a political solution.” But that’s not the same thing as saying that the use of military force SHOULD be on the table. It would have been easy enough to make that statement, if that’s what Hagel and the others believe. Instead, it sounds as if someone worked overtime to formulate language that can be viewed as favoring keeping the military option on the table without actually saying that it should be.

In any event, the key point is Hagel’s support of a report concluding that the use of military force makes no sense. To say that the option should be kept on the table in order to help push Iran into a political settlement (which Hagel and company stop short of saying), while at the same time arguing that a military attack is a fool’s errand, would be absurd. Iran won’t be influenced by the possibility of a military option that analysts believe would have huge costs and would, if anything, be counterproductive.

If Hagel wants to execute a confirmation conversion on the military option, he’ll need to do better than this. And while he’s at it, he should consider converting on the host of other issues as to which he has taken a pro-Iranian line.

UPDATE by JOHN: The Washington Free Beacon is reporting that Hagel may no longer be Obama’s pick for Secretary of Defense, on account of the negative reaction his proposed nomination has received.

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