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Mock War Game Shows Limited U.S. Options on Iran

One of the first major foreign policy challenges for a new Bush administration will be dealing with Iran. U.S. officials believe Iran is just a few years away from attaining a nuclear weapon and there's growing concern among some in Washington that diplomacy isn't enough to deal with the threat.

The Atlantic Monthly magazine recently arranged a mock war game to examine U.S. options if military force is used to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power. As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the exercise showed how limited the options are.

Retired Air Force Col. Sam Gardiner ran the simulation. Armed with maps and charts in a slideshow, he laid out several options: one night of air strikes against Revolutionary Guard units to punish Iran if it meddles in Iraq; several days of air strikes aimed at Iran's nuclear program; or an all-out war to topple Tehran's clerical regime.

Military expert Michael Mazarr, playing the role of defense secretary, argued that just by starting to talk about military options, the White House closes off diplomatic options in dealing with Iran. Former Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon, playing the role of chief of staff for the president, agreed.

"It's inconceivable that we could come up with a public affairs plan that would explain this, put a bright polish on it, that would bring allies along," Bacon said. "I think the military options have to be part of a broader array of options that we bring to the president."

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United States & World Morning Edition
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.