(This is an item from our new blog: Unofficial Sources.)
After leading an effort to derail the nuclear negotiations between the U.S. and Iran, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said earlier this month that the U.S. could significantly damage Iran’s nuclear capabilities in a short bombing campaign lasting only “several days.”
I spoke to many declared and potential Republican presidential candidates this weekend in New Hampshire and found mixed sentiments on Cotton’s assertion that an attack on Iran would be quick and easy.
“Now, I don’t know if Tom is right that a military action to take out the nuclear facilities would be a couple of days or if it would be a week,” said Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tex. “I think he is correct that it would be a limited military engagement that could be done primarily with overwhelming air power.”
The strongest disagreement came from Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who argued that although the U.S. would prevail in any conflict with Iran, such a course of action would be dangerous. “I think a military attack on Iran opens up Pandora’s box,” said Graham. “You’ve got to assume the worst, not the best. They could attack our bases in the region. They could cause disruption in the Gulf of Hormuz [sic — the Strait of Hormuz connects the Persian Gulf and Gulf of Oman]. It would be a messy affair.”
Former Hewlett-Packard Chief Executive Carly Fiorina said, “I think a bombing campaign would be very difficult … as you may well know it’s not clear we could even reach a lot of the facilities.” Fiorina stressed that she would prefer increased unilateral sanctions over a military strike. Ohio Gov. John Kasich declared, “I don’t think anything is quick and easy there but to me this deal is unacceptable.”
In addition, Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal asserted that while he is “a strong supporter of Senator Cotton,” when “it comes to this specific issue, I don’t know what the military believes in terms of how long it would take them,” emphasizing that such a call would be determined by classified intelligence.
Former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton strongly agreed with Cotton, declaring that he is “exactly right.” Similarly, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee said he believed a bombing campaign against Iran could be short and limited. He added, “I have a lot of respect for Tom Cotton and I’m glad someone is speaking out against the Iranian deal because it’s absolutely one of the worst proposals I’ve ever seen ever because that puts Israel, that puts America, and puts the whole world in a very, very dangerous place.”
Both Cruz and Graham signed Cotton’s open letter to Iranian leaders earlier this year. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., another signatory to the letter, did not respond to my question as he left the First in the Nation conference in Nashua on Friday.
Most military experts disagree with Cotton’s assessment, and believe an attack on Iran would carry “significant costs and dangers.” In 2009, the Center for Strategic and International Studies found that “Any strike on the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.”
Photo: Matthew Putney/AP