EDMOND — If the United States continues its current posture in dealing with Iran, it will almost inevitably lead to war, a former U.S. State Department official said Tuesday.
Retired Army Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, spoke Tuesday at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Wilkerson said he's concerned about the course President Barack Obama is pursuing in his dealings with Iran, particularly his position that Iran must not possess a nuclear capability of any kind — either civilian or military.
“It is arguably right now staring us in the face as another potential war in western Asia,” Wilkerson said.
Last week, the U.S. further tightened sanctions against Iran, which have already slashed the country's oil revenue by 45 percent. The new measures seek to cut deeper into Iran's ability to get oil revenue. It calls on countries that buy Iranian crude — mostly Asian nations including China and India — not to transfer money directly to Iran and instead place it in local accounts.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, on Thursday rejected the idea of bilateral talks with the United States, saying Tehran wouldn't negotiate under pressure.
"The U.S. is pointing a gun at Iran and wants us to talk to them,” Khamenei said. “The Iranian nation will not be intimidated by these actions."
Wilkerson, now a visiting professor of government at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va., said he's concerned about the tone adopted by Obama administration officials.
Course of action
Officials have said all options are on the table for dealing with Iran, but the current course of action is diplomacy. At the moment, diplomacy appears to be limited to sanctions that have an undue impact on Iran's children and the sick, Wilkerson said.
One of the factors that could lead the United States to invade Iran is its close relationship with Israel, Wilkerson said. In his discussions with members of Congress and staff, few have been willing to have a realistic public discussion about the strategic situation with Iran because so little political room to maneuver exists on the issue.
That's a dangerous position for the U.S. to maintain, Wilkerson said. No matter how closely allied two countries may be, he said, their interests are never completely aligned.
When most discussions about American foreign policy in the Middle East center on Israel, it becomes difficult to adopt a realistic position toward Iran, which Israel regards as an existential threat, he said.
“This is not a tenable position for the United States to be in,” he said.
If an all-out conflict ever erupted between Iran and Israel, the United States would be obligated to begin bombing Iran, Wilkerson said, and would likely follow up with a ground invasion.
At that point, he said, Iranian officials would likely throw International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors out of the country and begin building a nuclear weapon — something the international community hopes to avoid.
To avoid that outcome, Obama administration officials must engage in an open dialogue with all the leaders in the region — not just allies. It's critical that officials rebuild trust with Iran, and that begins by exercising a empathy.
“It's time we changed our whole approach,” he said.