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War with Iran Would Be a Disaster for the Region

Dan Drezner writes [1]:

Take the “deal or war” perspective. The prospect of the U.S. having to use air power against Iran does sound pretty bad. Well, it did sound bad, back before the U.S. was using air power in Iraq. And Syria. And providing support for others to use air power in Yemen. And lengthening the stay of U.S. forces in Afghanistan.

When you think about it that way, does adding another country to the bombing list really matter all that much? [bold mine-DL]

The answer, from a foreign policy perspective, is that of course it does. Bombing Iran is an order-of-magnitude difference that what the U.S. is doing in Iraq, Syria and Yemen. But my point is that the optics of greater U.S. use of force in the Middle East doesn’t look as problematic as it did, say, in January 2014. The disastrous counterfactual does not look too far removed from reality.

Well, yes, it does matter quite a bit. A war with Iran would be a huge change for the worse for the entire region, and would be a major new burden for the U.S. to take on. If the region appears horribly chaotic and violent now, it might seem hard to imagine how it gets worse, but bombing Iran would make us see how much worse it can get.

For one thing, there are the U.S. forces present in Iraq and Afghanistan that could be attacked in reprisals by Iranian proxies if the U.S. “added” Iran to “the bombing list.” The air war against ISIS stays out of the headlines and remains popular here in the U.S. because it doesn’t involve any American casualties. The U.S. also has at least the nominal approval, if not support, of the rest of the world in fighting ISIS. War with Iran wouldn’t be like that. It would be much more costly and dangerous for U.S. forces, and it would be an illegal war condemned all over the world. Attacking Iran would invite retaliation against U.S. forces and clients in the Gulf, and according to the Iran hawks that argue for bombing this would just be the start of a series of attacks on Iran. That would destabilize the region even further, and it would turn the Persian Gulf into a war zone with negative consequences for the global economy. Robert Farley describes [2] this scenario:

And the core argument is this: the United States should regard itself on more or less permanent war footing with the Islamic Republic, and should expect to regularly use air and sea power in order to curtail Tehran’s ambitions.

If the United States launches a major strike on Iran, it can expect to launch another strike in a few years, and another strike a few years later. Each time, Iran will improve the security of its nuclear facilities, and each time, it will build sympathy within the international community.

Attacking Iran’s nuclear facilities would be the beginning of a new open-ended military commitment and the start of a prolonged war with Iran whose effects will probably surprise us by being even worse than we imagined beforehand. On top of all that, it is likely that such a “preventive” war wouldn’t stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, but would virtually guarantee that outcome. As Geoff Wilson explained [3] over the weekend, attacking Iran would just drive their nuclear program deeper underground. Iran hawks like to invoke Osirak as proof that military action can halt another country’s nuclear program, but Wilson reminds us that the attack on Iraq in 1981 produced the exact opposite result:

Both Bolton and Cotton’s accounts of the strikes on Iraq in 1981 are completely wrong.

Those strikes actually drove the program underground, where it expanded. This is just what Gates warns would happen with Iran. As Deputy National Security Advisor Colin Kahl wrote in 2012, “new evidence suggests that Hussein had not decided to launch a full-fledged weapons program prior to the Israeli strike.”

So in addition to making the region’s problems even worse, the war would likely produce the result it was intended to stop. I understand that Drezner wants to make advocates of both positions reconsider their arguments in light of regional events, but regional instability and U.S. involvement in these other conflicts make the awful case for starting a war with Iran seem far worse than it already did. If a quarter of a neighborhood is already on fire, that doesn’t make setting the rest of it ablaze any less abhorrent or foolish.

10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "War with Iran Would Be a Disaster for the Region"

#1 Comment By John On March 30, 2015 @ 10:16 am

What we would all be better off admitting:

1. For obvious reasons, America respects the sovereignty of countries with a known or presumed nuclear capability (e.g., North Korea) much more than it does the sovereignty of countries without one (e.g., Iraq). Once you have a nuclear capability, the Americans will not invade.

2. Only invasion and permanent occupation of Iran, or nuclear strikes on all its population centers, can prevent Iran from developing a nuclear capability if it really wants one.

3. If we are forced to choose between reassuring the Israeli settlers’ lobby or the Saudi royal family, we will choose the latter every single time.

#2 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On March 30, 2015 @ 12:39 pm

Disaster for the region, no doubt, but what about us?

The war party gabbles about leadership and invokes Churchill, but I hear nothing about “blood, toil, sweat, and tears,” let alone a war surtax,
conscription, or austerity. Each of these might be required for a war with Iran.

Visiting the local mall and watching “Homeland” on the TV won’t cut it.

Winston was a war-lover but he knew it required more than a bomb down a smokestack or some slogans on Fox.

#3 Comment By cfountain72 On March 30, 2015 @ 12:54 pm

One doesn’t need have to go too far to imagine Iran responding to these attacks by stretching to Israel and even to the US (our real geographical boundaries, not our putative empire). However, these responsive attacks would only serve the interest of the warmongers; they can just apply the misleading, but always effective, “See, Iran is a terrorist state, so must double our attacks!” Sadly, a US attack serve their barbaric desires, no matter the outcome.

Peace be with you.

#4 Comment By Laurelhurst On March 30, 2015 @ 1:51 pm

Orwell alert! We no longer declare war on countries that have not attacked us; they are merely “added to the bombing list”, like a homicidal paperboy.

#5 Comment By NorEastern On March 30, 2015 @ 4:06 pm

I am a staunch liberal and I religiously read AC. Excellent clear headed analysis. If more Republicans read these articles the party would be far better off.

Attacking Iran would be a historic disaster. We have already seen what a completely insane regime, North Korea, does with a few nuclear weapons. Nothing. Iran is not North Korea. The leadership seems to care about its citizens and is not a pariah nation. Poring more munitions onto Middle Eastern soil is not a sane answer.

#6 Comment By Same Old Line On March 30, 2015 @ 5:40 pm

“Regional disaster”?

For interventionists, disaster isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. The more flare-ups, civil wars, military and civilian casualties, and failed states the better. It keeps us involved, guaranteeing more flare-ups, civil wars, military and civilian casualties, and failed states.

Until we wake up, get up, and get out, the cycle will continue.

#7 Comment By Poll Cat On March 30, 2015 @ 9:45 pm

The latest ABC / WaPo poll results:

Americans favor a deal with Iran by a margin of 2 to 1 (59% to 31%).

Americans support a Palestinian state, 39% to 36%.

Americans disapprove of the way Obama is handling Israel, 50% to 38%.

Americans disapprove of the Netanyahu is dealing with America, 44% to 37%.

[4]

The number I’d like to know is how many of those who disapprove of Obama’s handling of Israel did so because he hasn’t hit back hard enough. imo he needs to show he’s serious about the settlements and spying by cutting off economic and military aid and rigorously enforcing our espionage laws.

So far Obama hasn’t made a single move in that direction.

#8 Comment By Kurt Gayle On March 31, 2015 @ 8:25 am

Julian Borger (The Guardian, UK), 11:38 BST) posted this a couple of hours ago (5 hours different between EDT and BST, British Summer Time):

“Iran nuclear talks reportedly close to statement on partial agreement”

[5]

Lavrov could be a key:

“The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who left the talks on Monday afternoon to fly to Moscow, announced on Tuesday morning he was returning to Lausanne, where he said ‘the chances are great, but you can never be 100% confident’.”

“He said a deal could probably be done ‘as long as none of the participants in the negotiations tries to raise the stakes to get something extra instead of maintaining a balance of interests’.”

“In remarks that highlighted the remaining gaps, not just between the six-power negotiating group and Iran but within the group itself, Lavrov said that all UN sanctions should cease to function after a final deal is signed in June. The US and its western allies want UN sanctions to be lifted in steps.”

That’s a big one: “That all UN sanctions should cease to function after a final deal is signed in June.” I agree with Lavrov on that.

#9 Comment By Zech On March 31, 2015 @ 6:47 pm

Well it’s pretty obvious Drezner was being ironic in the way he phrased that.

He’s devoted countless arguments to bemoaning and ridiculing America’s bellicose blundering in the ME and the cluelessness of hawks when it comes to serious analysis of foreign policy.

There’s no way he was using the phrase ‘bombing list’ with genuine flippancy, or suggesting seriously that it wouldn’t matter were it not geopolitical considerations).

#10 Comment By Sophie On April 3, 2015 @ 11:21 am

I also agree with Lavrov’s position.

As someone from the UK, I think an attack on Iran would definitely do America great damage on the international stage.

The aggressive and illegal attack on Iraq was hugely condemned worldwide, but at least Saddam was known for having invaded several neighbours and committed mass atrocities of his own (though I realise there weren’t the reasons given for going to war).

With Iran this is not the case. In fact Iran has not invaded anyone for hundreds of years. Not many outside the US (meaning civilians, not governments paid off by the Israelis) understand why Iran shouldn’t be allowed the same nuclear capabilities that ever other country that is an NPT signatory should be allowed to possess. There is no way we will support an American war on Iran, and though it may try to, our government probably won’t be able to tag along this time.

Lastly, a war on/with Iran could have huge implications for the global economy. I’m unsure whether it was the Iranian government itself or not who said that were there to be a military strike on Iran, they would block the Strait of Hormuz, which at least 20% of the world’s oil passes through.