At National Review, Mario Loyola offers a pretty succinct summary of the conservative (that is, American conservative) case for attacking Iran:
[I]n an editorial, the Wall Street Journal makes the same points that I made on the Corner over the weekend, here and here. The only way to convince Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons is to convince it that the risks of pressing on are prohibitive. Almost certainly the only way to do that is to convince them that military strikes are coming if they don’t pull back. If the goal is to deter from getting the bomb in the first place, then we should be giving Iran the impression that we’re prepared for a showdown, with or without Israel.
But we’re very clearly doing the opposite. And this is why: The liberal pacifist Obama administration, along with a war-weary top brass, has decided that the short-term consequences of Israeli (or U.S.) strikes would be more of a headache than the long-term consequences of letting Iran have nuclear weapons. So the U.S. priority has become to deter Israel, even at the cost of failing to deter Iran.
Strategies that minimize short-term risks while maximizing long-term ones are by definition the most reckless in the long run. That is why General Dempsey’s appearance last Sunday on CNN was so worrisome. Tom Clancy fans (and I’m one) would be happy to learn that the administration’s real strategy is a good-cop/bad-cop tandem with Israel, meant to maximize deterrence. But that isn’t the truth. The truth is precisely what General Dempsey communicated on Sunday: That we’re so afraid of the consequences of strikes on Iran, that we want Iran to know they have nothing to fear from continued uranium enrichment. We might as well gift-wrap a nuclear warhead and send it to them as a goodwill gesture in honor of the Persian new year.
This is fine as far as it goes. Unfortunately it doesn’t go very far. It lacks imagination. This, alas, often hampers the war party. I remember wargame exercises before th eIraq War which were called off, or rather begun again, when the officers playing the part of Iraq’s commanders, conceded territory and launched a guerilla war that gave the occupying Americans more trouble than they were prepared for. You cant do that! And they wouldn’t do that! So that’s cheating! Let’s start again! So, yes, imagination matters.
The logic of the war party is, I think, that Iran will be given a course of high-explosive therapy so it may discover that having a nuclear weapon is neither in their own interests nor something that can be tolerated. And, sure, if you could be reasonably certain that this might work you might favour such a policy. But how can anyone possibly be so sure it will work? Imagine how you would react if you were Iranian: would you watch the Americans and Israelis bomb your country and conclude from this that, damn it, of course they’re right and we are wrong and Iran must abandon our nuclear project? Or would you think that the best way to protect ourselves from further attacks is to make sure that a) we have nuclear weapons and b) make the cost of attacking us prohibitively high.
I think the second reaction is more likely, don’t you? If it remains true that we don’t know whether Iran has actually decided to build a bomb then you then have to ask: are they more likely to build the weapons that (in their view) they need to defend themselves if they are attacked than if they are not? It may well be that, in terms of risk anyway, a certain ambiguity not a million miles from the present situation is actually, though dangerously delicate, marginally safer than any plausible alternative arrangements. That’s hardly ideal either but nor, I think, is a cheery enthusiasm for starting another war.Tags: Iran, Israel, Nuclear weapons, Washington