By Mike M. Ahlers
Former CIA acting director John McLaughlin said the U.S. can engage Iran through diplomacy, sanctions or military action, but said military action "would be a very bad option."
Speaking during a panel discussion in Washington, McLaughlin, who served as acting director of the CIA in 2004, said direct military action with Iran could grow to involve Hezbollah, the militant group based in Lebanon.
"One of the reasons (military action is a bad option) is that Iran does have this relationship with Hezbollah. Hezbollah has not attacked American interests in recent years, but has lots of plans on the library shelf for doing that in the event we got into a confrontation with Iran," McLaughlin said.
"And Hezbollah of course has been present in the United States, at least in fundraising. And so one of the big problems with Iran is if you get into an open confrontation, a military confrontation, you risk a cycle of retaliation and response with great difficulty seeing where the end point is," McLaughlin said.
Speaking at the same forum, President Obama's former National Security Advisor said he believes 2012 will be a pivotal year in dealing with Iran, which experts believe is creating materials for a nuclear weapon.
"I think 2012 has seen itself as the year that Iran has got to be dealt with one way or the other," said James L. Jones, who served as National Security Advisor from January 2009 until October 2010.
The Iranian nuclear threat jeopardizes Israel, could spark a nuclear arms race in the region, and could provide a way for a non-state actor to get a nuclear weapon, Jones said. "And if that happens, I think that the world that we live in changes dramatically," Jones said.
Jones said the U.S. has successfully rallied nations to take economic sanctions against Iran, and that other nations also are beginning to "really tighten the screws on Iran."
"I think Iran knows that. I think that's one of the reasons that we're seeing the bellicose behavior of Iranian forces in the Arabian Gulf, or threatening the Strait of Hormuz," he said.
McLaughlin and Jones spoke during a panel discussion sponsored by the Aspen Homeland Security Group.