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The Appalling Case for an Unnecessary War with Iran

An attack on Iran would poison U.S.-Iranian relations for generations.

Joshua Muravchik drops any pretense to being interested in a diplomatic solution with Iran:

Does this mean that our only option is war? Yes, although an air campaign targeting Iran’s nuclear infrastructure would entail less need for boots on the ground than the war Obama is waging against the Islamic State, which poses far smaller a threat than Iran does.

Wouldn’t an attack cause ordinary Iranians to rally behind the regime? Perhaps, but military losses have also served to undermine regimes, including the Greek and Argentine juntas, the Russian czar and the Russian communists.

Wouldn’t destroying much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure merely delay its progress? Perhaps, but we can strike as often as necessary.

Muravchik’s argument for attacking Iran works very well to support the case against doing something so unnecessary and reckless. On the one hand, he pretends that starting a war against Iran will be less risky than the relatively small air campaign against ISIS, but wants us to believe that Iran is a much greater threat than ISIS. It doesn’t make sense for both of those claims to be true at the same time. Attacking Iran carries with it the risk of retaliation not only against U.S. forces in the Gulf and against Gulf state clients, but would probably expose U.S. forces now in Iraq to Iranian reprisals. A war with Iran has obvious potential to escalate into a larger regional conflict, and the chances of such a conflict increase each time that the U.S. bombs Iran.

He more or less concedes that an attack on Iran will help to shore up the regime, but throws out some examples of regimes that have been brought down by military failure. Muravchik fails to acknowledge that all of the defeated regimes he cites chose the wars that contributed to their downfall. Iranians would not see a war with the U.S. as one that they chose, since the U.S. would be responsible for starting it, and they would act accordingly. If the U.S. attacked Iran, Iranians would respond no differently than any other people when attacked without justification by another state: they would rally to the side of the government against the foreign attacker. Besides the short-term harm that this would do to Iran’s political life, an attack on their country would poison U.S.-Iranian relations for generations. No matter how long the current regime survives, the one that followed it would be no less suspicious of the U.S.

Muravchik dismisses the ineffectiveness of an air campaign by saying that the U.S. can “strike as often as necessary,” but that just underscores how completely unnecessary all of this would be. Even if Iran were engaged in a “drive for nuclear weapons,” as he falsely claims, that would not merit waging a “preventive” and illegal war, not least since a war would ensure that Iran would sooner or later acquire the weapons that the war was meant to “prevent.” Muravchik is treating an attack on Iran’s nuclear program as something comparable to Israel’s periodic bombing of Gaza. He doesn’t use the hideous euphemism “mowing the lawn,” but the attitude is much the same. He assumes that the U.S. will be able to keep launching repeated attacks on Iran more or less indefinitely. That overlooks the extent to which almost all other nations will condemn and reject an attack on Iran as an act of aggression, and it overestimates how patient the public will be with multiple military campaigns with ever-growing costs. The public has been conditioned to think of air wars as low-cost, relatively risk-free efforts, and they have been frequently led to expect that bombing Iran can “stop” Iran’s nuclear program. Public support for such attacks will fade quickly as American casualties and costs increase. He also responds to the objection that the U.S. won’t be able to locate and destroy all of Iran’s nuclear facilities by saying that the U.S. “will hit wherever and whenever necessary to stop Iran’s program,” but that just confirms that he has no idea how long or costly the campaign would have to be.

War is definitely not the “only” option with Iran, and it is by far the most costly and pointless of the available options. Whenever anyone concludes that war is the “only option,” we can safely assume that this was his preference all along and his conclusion should be viewed with extreme skepticism. The U.S. can easily live with a limited Iranian nuclear program, and the best remaining way to get that is for the P5+1 and Iran to conclude an agreement. Muravchik’s “alternative” is appalling and unnecessary, and should be derided as such.