Former Sen. Chuck Hagel is urging restraint in dealing with Iran's developing nuclear capability while quietly providing the Iranians with "a couple of face-saving ways out of this thing."
Internal changes in Iran also may work in favor of a resolution of the dangerous standoff that has prompted Israel to threaten a military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities, Hagel said.
"Let that play out," he said in an interview with Al-Monitor, a new website founded in the wake of the Arab Spring that bills itself as the pulse of the Middle East.
"We've got some time," Hagel said. "Keep ratcheting up the sanctions, keep the world community with you."
Israel maintains that time is running out before Iran effectively can shield its nuclear facilities from attack. Iran continues to deny it is seeking nuclear weapons capability.
"You cannot push the Iranians into a corner where they can't get out," Hagel said.
Quiet, behind-the-scenes negotiations could find a face-saving solution, he said, one that provides "they get something out of this, too."
"You've got to break into some creative thinking here," he said. "Don't get caught in these damn traps.
"If you listen to the Republican presidential candidates, they can hardly race to say who would bomb Iran first. It's just amazing."
If military action is taken, Hagel said, "there will be a lot of killing."
"These things start, and you can't control. They escalate. They always do, and they always will."
Hagel, a Republican who represented Nebraska in the Senate from 1997 to 2009, is co-chairman of President Barack Obama's Intelligence Advisory Board. In the Senate, he served on the Foreign Relations Committee.
Turning to the turmoil in Syria, Hagel said he believes Obama is "playing this exactly right."
"We cannot be the tip of the spear under any circumstances. This is not Libya, and even Libya was a coalition.
"If there is some military intervention (in Syria), it has to come from the region. The Arab League."
Hagel said he believes Obama has "done a good job overall" as president.
"I think he's one of the finest, most decent individuals I've ever known and one of the smartest.
"I try to remind my Republican friends when they hammer him that this is a guy who inherited the biggest agenda of problems in this country ever inherited by a president since Franklin Roosevelt, and maybe worse.
"Roosevelt didn't inherit two wars that were messes with a global financial crisis."