Peter Beinart asks:
How can it be, less than a decade after the U.S. invaded Iraq, that the Iran debate is breaking down along largely the same lines, and the people who were manifestly, painfully wrong about that war are driving the debate this time as well?
Beinart must know the answer to his question. The simple answer is that there has been zero accountability for any public figure or politician that agitated in favor of the invasion of Iraq, so all of the unrepentant advocates of the Iraq war know that there is no professional or personal cost attached to advocating for equally or more irresponsible foreign policy decisions. Inside the GOP, the opposite continues to be true. Even after Iraq, refusal to endorse irresponsible and reckless foreign policy views is still the bigger liability among Republicans. Democratic supporters of the Iraq war may have mostly repudiated their support for that war, as Beinart has done, but many of them have failed to learn from the mistake of Iraq. Just look at the list of co-sponsors for S. Res. 380. There are fourteen Democrats in the Senate already on board with the absurd demand to reject containment of Iran as an alternative. Irrationality on Iran is a truly bipartisan affliction.
Advocates of preventive war drive these debates because they are the ones most interested in the issue, their arguments appeal to the desire to take action and “do something,” and they are usually successful in framing the debate in terms of doing what they recommend or doing nothing. Another reason that advocates of preventive war retain the advantage in the debate is that even many skeptics of military action accept that Iran’s nuclear program poses a threat that needs to be countered in one way or another. Preventive war supporters offer the illusion of “quick” and “decisive” action, even though a preventive war would be neither quick nor decisive, while those promoting containment and deterrence necessarily cannot pretend that their alternative will “solve” the problem, because their alternative is an attempt to manage Iran’s nuclear program rather than holding out the unreasonable hope of ending it. Arguments for containment have the advantage that they are far more realistic, but that is because they do not minimize the costs and risks involved. Advocates for preventive war minimize costs and risks of their preferred course of action as a matter of course, and they always grossly exaggerate the dangers of inaction, so their horribly skewed presentation of costs and benefits makes an irrational policy appear much more appealing to those who aren’t paying very close attention.