Dalia Dassa Kaye at the Foreign Policy website argues that bombing Iran is a “bad idea.” She’s absolutely right. It’s a bad idea, except all the others are worse. As Prof. Kaye observes,
The aftermath of an attack could be devastating militarily and politically. It could unleash a wave of Iranian retaliation against U.S. forces, allies, and interests. Iran maintains a wide array of levers across the region, including militia groups it has trained and funded, that it could employ to retaliate against U.S. forces or diplomatic personnel, particularly in countries like Iraq. Iranian missiles have ranges that can reach Israel and all its Gulf Arab neighbors, including those hosting U.S. military forces.
There’s nothing new about this danger. The estimable Adm. Mike Mullen made a similar warning in a March 16, 2009, interview with Charlie Rose. Mullen said: “What I worry about in terms of an attack on Iran is, in addition to the immediate effect, the effect of the attack, it’s the unintended consequences. It’s the further destabilization in the region. It’s how they would respond. We have lots of Americans who live in that region who are under the threat envelope right now [because of the] capability that Iran has across the Gulf. So, I worry about their responses and I worry about it escalating in ways that we couldn’t predict.”
That’s right: our nation-building campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan put tens of thousands of American soldiers in places where Iranian-backed terrorists could hurt them. And as Lee Smith wrote last week at the Tablet webzine, Iran has effectively deterred the United States, and America thus has become Iran’s “key ally” in its campaign to acquire nuclear weapons. How about a 9/11 with a nuclear weapon in a major American city? It was misguided to turn American soldiers into potential hostages to Iranian terror. It’s a hundred times MORE misguided now to pull our forces out of Iraq: we need the capacity to deter Iran from swinging its weight in Iraq and turning it into a Persian satrapy. (The Baghdad government might not like this, but if we really want to, we have ways to persuade regimes like this to cooperate.)
Iran has terrorized the United States, and inevitably will acquire nuclear weapons — unless it’s stopped. At that point its terror capacity will multiply a thousand-fold, because its terrorists will operate under a nuclear umbrella. So the argument boils down to this: Iran is a terrorist state ready to murder American citizens and American allies all over the Middle East and around the world. Which means that we had better not stop them from acquiring nuclear weapons, because then they might be mad at us, and hurt us. What does that imply about what a nuclear-armed Iran might do?
But let us return to Prof. Kaye’s argument. She continues:
Such an attack could also backfire by fomenting nationalist sentiment within Iran (particularly if large numbers of civilians are killed) and boost support for more hard-line elements within the regime that current policies are attempting to marginalize. It could also increase Iranian incentives to obtain nuclear weapons to avoid such attacks in the future, while undermining painstaking U.S. efforts to bolster international and regional support for economic and diplomatic pressure against Iran. In short, there are serious risks associated with this option with little potential to actually solve the problem, and possibly making it harder to solve in the future.
No-one can make such assertions with assurance. Nothing succeeds like success. If Britain and France had drawn the line at the Sudetenland in 1938, the German generals likely would have overthrown Hitler. But Kaye misses the point. Yes, the nuclear facilities are deeply entrenched. No, a surgical strike is out of the question. To destroy nuclear weapons capability means to decapitate the regime and the military leadership, with a lot of collateral damage. Five years ago we could have done it cleanly, when cancer was easily operable. Now we will have to make a mess.
Kaye’s final objection is trivial if not disingenuous:
A military strike would be particularly damaging in a post Arab spring environment, in which public opinion is already hostile toward U.S. policies. Even if Arab governments may quietly welcome forceful U.S. actions, Arab publics are far more sympathetic to Iran’s anti-Western positions. Despite Iran’s waning regional influence as Arab revolts and Turkish activism have decreased its relevance in the resistance narrative, Arab publics would likely rally behind Iran in the face of an attack. Additionally, they could constrain their governments’ ability to support US-backed efforts to isolate Iran.
She neglects to mention that the Saudis, now by far the most important Arab power, have been screaming at America for years to take action against Iran. The Syrian opposition, whose people are dying in the streets at the hands of Iranian thugs, won’t particularly mind, one would think.
Above all, it’s critical to keep in mind that Iran is a dying nation. As I report in How Civilizations Die (and Why Islam is Dying, Too), Iran is suffering the fastest fertility decline on record, any time, ever. The average Iranian has six or seven brothers and sisters, but will have one or two children. The population pyramid will invert: within a single generation, it will go from having 7 children to take care of elderly parents, to just 1.5. And in a country where the average person has $4000 to spend per year, that means starvation. The Iranian leadership knows it. They’ve been screaming about it in public for years. Like Hitler, they think they have one last chance at empire before the curtain comes down. If they’re not stopped, millions of Americans might die.