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 1998s Operation Desert Fox, in which US aircraft carried out four days of airstrikes on Iraq.
Setting aside the fact that theres just no reason for such an exercise P5+1 negotiation theater aside, Iran doesnt 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 1991s 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, didnt 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, whats 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, its time to take war limited or not off the table.
Note: The Cato Institutes 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 doesnt cite or quote Carpenters commentary, it was certainly informed by that commentary, so credit/linkage is very much in order.