Everyone who is concerned that yet another war in the Middle East could wreck what remains of the United States economy and probably strip away even more of our liberties should be troubled by the numerous calls for war against Iran. No one believes that Iran is anything but a nation that is one small step away from becoming a complete religious dictatorship, but the country has a small economy, a tiny defense budget, and, as far as the world’s intelligence services can determine, neither nuclear weapons nor a program to develop them. Labeling the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as a new Hitler and describing the regime as "Islamofascist" is convenient but hardly conveys the reality of the complex political interaction taking place inside today’s Iran. Ironically, the animus directed against Tehran relates not so much to what it is doing as to what its government might do, hardly an adequate pretext for going to war and a standard of behavior that many countries in the world would fail.
A resolution (HR 1553) is making its way through Congress that that would endorse an Israeli attack on Iran, which would be going to war by proxy as the US would almost immediately be drawn into the conflict when Tehran retaliates. The resolution provides explicit US backing for Israel to bomb Iran, stating that Congress supports Israel’s use of "all means necessary…including the use of military force." The resolution is non-binding, but it is dazzling in its disregard for the possible negative consequences that would ensue for the hundreds of thousands of US military and diplomatic personnel currently serving in the Near East region. Even the Pentagon opposes any Israeli action against Iran, knowing that it would mean instant retaliation against US forces in Iraq and also in Afghanistan. The resolution has appeared, not coincidentally, at the same time as major articles by leading neoconservatives Reuel Marc Gerecht and Bill Kristol calling for military action. Both Gerecht and Kristol insist that action by Israel or the US would be better than doing nothing and both downplay the ability of Iran to counter-attack effectively. One might note that both Kristol and Gerecht have been dramatically wrong in the past, most notably in their analyses of developments in Iraq.
Kristol is a poseur, a foreign policy wannabe, framing policy around his own Straussian beliefs. Gerecht, who actually does know quite a bit about Iran and its internal politics, is the more dangerous of the two as he is able to use his knowledge, which he sprinkles throughout the article, to appear credible. But as is so often the case with the neoconservatives, the thinking is based on false assumptions, optimistic assessments, and leaps of the imagination about what might occur. One might recall neocon predictions of a "cakewalk" in Iraq, a war that still embroils tens of thousands of US troops and that kills Americans nearly every day.
In his article entitled "Should Israel Bomb Iran? – Better Safe than Sorry" Gerecht begins with three paragraphs outlining what might happen if Iran is attacked, to include attacks on US troops, shock oil prices, terrorist attacks worldwide, tumult in the Muslim world, and a rush by Iran to develop a nuclear weapon to defend itself. He concludes, however, that "These fears are mostly overblown."
Why Gerecht thinks that Iranian retaliation would be minimal is not completely clear, but he spends the next seven pages explaining why an attack on Iran might be a positive step. He opines that bombing Iran "remains the only conceivable means of derailing or seriously delaying Iran’s nuclear program…" Bombing would also result in "traumatizing Tehran." And he provides a second reason for staging an attack, his argument that "Iran has already embraced terrorism against Israel and the United States" and that its regime supports the "indiscriminate killing" of Jews. He presumes that Iran is hell bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon and would use it against Israelis "who must live with the Middle East’s merciless power politics…" or give it to terrorist groups to accomplish the same end. Gerecht recommends that Israel should attack Iran to "rock the system" to make the regime "lose face" and suffer a military defeat that could have fatal consequences for its survivability. He returns to the theme, mentioning oddly that "American fear of Iranian capabilities in Iraq and Afghanistan has been exaggerated" and then excoriates "an ugly anti-Israeli reflex" on the part of many Europeans when Israel uses lethal force to defend itself.
Gerecht is doing two things. First, he is ignoring any role that Israel might have had in creating its own predicament vis-à-vis Iran and its other neighbors. Israel is, for him, always the victim and never the instigator meaning that whatever it does is always self-defense and justifiable. Second, he assumes that Iran is manifestly evil and will always choose the most despicable option for its own behavior while he simultaneously only assumes the best motives and best possible outcome for any Israeli or American military action. He ignores the fact that Iran has no nuclear weapons program and assumes that Tehran is willing to bear the enormous expense and risk to develop a nuclear device and use it on Israel or give it to a terrorist even though that would be national suicide. He reflexively judges every group in the Middle East that is opposed to Israel as a terrorist and lumps them in as enemies of Washington as well as of Israel whether or not they have actually carried out attacks against the US. If Iran reacts to being bombed, he notes that "It is entirely possible that Khamenei would use terrorism against the United States after an Israeli strike," an asymmetrical response using available resources that many might consider self-defense against an attacker but which Gerecht chooses to dismiss as terrorism. Gerecht dismisses any legitimate criticism of the actions of the state of Israel as anti-Semitic or "ugly."
The reality is that an Israeli attack on Iran will trigger an all-out war in the region, which will quickly include the United States. It might or might not eliminate Iran’s technical ability to build a nuclear weapon and it would almost certainly accelerate that process. It would not bring down the Iranian regime and usher in reformers who would embrace Israel and the United States while singing "Kumbaya" around the campfire. It would be extremely nasty, would not solve any problems in the Middle East, and would kill tens of thousands of innocent people, if not more. It could easily lead to the use of nuclear weapons by either the United States or Israel. For the neoconservatives, it is easy to dismiss the possible downside while emphasizing the upside that they perceive, which is protecting Israel by damaging Iran’s nuclear program and possibly bringing about some version of regime change. But we have seen too many times in the past how the neoconservatives can be wrong — think only of the "cakewalk" that has been Iraq now seven years on and still running. A new war in the Middle East would be an unmitigated disaster for Iran, the United States, and even for Israel. It must be avoided at all costs.