Hubris Unlimited: Tom Cotton versus Reality

by , April 18, 2015

Freshman Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR) wants the United States to pick a fight with Iran. Not an all-out brawl, he says; just an itty-bitty bout along the lines of 1998’s Operation Desert Fox, in which US aircraft carried out four days of airstrikes on Iraq.

Setting aside the fact that there’s just no reason for such an exercise – P5+1 negotiation theater aside, Iran doesn’t seem to have an active nuclear weapons development program for airstrikes to target – the whole concept of “limited war” is bogus and dangerous.

One big problem with “limited war” is that it seldom produces the results its architects envision and instead becomes a gateway to UN-limited war.

Desert Fox was just one link in a chain of “limited” measures connecting 1991’s Desert Storm to the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, followed by seven years of occupation, civil war, and the rise of the Islamic State.

Vietnam started out with US advisors training and accompanying South Vietnamese troops – “limited,” see? It ended with nearly half a million US troops engaged in all-out combat and 60,000 of those troops dead.

A second problem with “limited war” is the naive notion that the United States alone gets to define its wars’ scope, setting, tempo and duration. The enemy usually has different ideas as to those variables. September 11, 2001, the culmination of a decade of “limited war” against al Qaeda, didn’t feel too terribly “limited,” did it?

US military interventionism in the 21st century sports a sorry record. The twin unwinnable quagmires in Iraq and Afghanistan, sprinkled with smaller fiascoes like Libya, Syria and Yemen, make it clear that neither “limited” nor “unlimited” war in the Middle East and Central Asia will ever produce good results.

Bringing the same failed doctrine to bear on Iran, a country with three times the population and a far more modern military apparatus than Iraq circa 2003 or Afghanistan circa 2001, is pure folly. It would be a bloody and unprofitable investment in an enterprise doomed to failure.

So, what’s the alternative? Peace, of course.

The United States has incessantly intervened in Iran, covertly and overtly, politically and militarily, for lo on 70 years now, with uniformly negative results.

The first step in getting out of a deep hole is to stop digging. Contra Tom Cotton, it’s time to take war – “limited” or not – off the table.

Note: The Cato Institute’s Ted Galen Carpenter addresses this same topic in more depth and from some other perspectives in “A Really Bad Idea: A ‘Limited’ War with Iran.” While this piece doesn’t cite or quote Carpenter’s commentary, it was certainly informed by that commentary, so credit/linkage is very much in order.

Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism. He lives and works in north central Florida.

This article is reprinted with permission from William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism.

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