Thursday, December 24, 2009

No, Let's NOT Bomb Iran!

Marc Lynch makes a good point: the appearance of this op-ed in the New York Times may signal a movement toward mainstreaming the idea of bombing Iran. When I read the op-ed this morning, I thought it was so old and stale that it needed no refutation. But I think Lynch is right: we've got to push back. He's covered most of the bases, although I can think of one or two more.
His argument is like a caricature of such war advocacy, hitting each predictable theme like a sledgehammer.

* Does he rule out the alternative policy be default? Yes he does! "peaceful carrots and sticks cannot work"

* Does he reduce the policy options to two extreme positions, one of which is guaranteed to be rejected? Yes he does! "the United States faces a stark choice: military air strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities or acquiescence to Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons."

* Does he warn that Saddam, um, Ahmedenejad will give WMD to terrorists? Yes, yes he does. "if Iran acquired a nuclear arsenal, the risks would simply be too great that it could become a neighborhood bully or provide terrorists with the ultimate weapon, an atomic bomb." (the "neighborhood bully" is a nice touch.) Will, pray tell, the smoking gun be in the shape of a mushroom cloud?

* Does he exaggerate the prospects for success? Yes, he does. Well, first he says "As for knocking out its nuclear plants, admittedly, aerial bombing might not work." But he quickly moves on from that, since that will not do. Oddly, his main example of success comes from Iraq, where he claims that the first Gulf war led to the uncovering of the Iraqi nuclear program --- not the Osirak raid -- which is accurate, but rather completely contradicts his argument.

* Does he minimize the risks of military action? Yes, he does. "Yes, Iran could retaliate by aiding America’s opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it does that anyway." Try telling that to U.S. military commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan, or to leaders in the Gulf, who are slightly less cavalier with the lives of their people.

* Does he suggest that if all else fails regime change would be easy and cheap? Yes, dear lord, he does. "If nothing else, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the United States military can oust regimes in weeks if it wants to." Truly, this was the lesson to be drawn from Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm still marveling over how easily we overthrew Saddam and the Taliban and got out of Iraq and Afghanistan more or less costlessly. That was special. On the other hand, as Matt Duss helpfully points out, "if we don't have an Iran war, how are we supposed to have an awesome Iran surge?"

* Does he accuse those who oppose military action of appeasement? Yes, yes, of course he does. "in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement."
To which I would add that we don't know that Iran is working toward a bomb. Even if it is, it is still years away from one. I'm not sure that Iran's waffling on the latest negotiations can be taken as a refusal, although it sure can look that way, if that's the way you want to see it.

Then there's the whole problem of (yes, his word!) "surgical" strikes on seventy-five or more targets, some of which are located in cities. Lynch notes this, but it's worth emphasizing. The basic premise is crazy, as any number of reports have said.

And words fail me on the idea of bombing a nation to prevent nuclear proliferation. I'll let Walt Kelly (via Phila) say it:

Update: Marc Lynch said that he thought this op-ed was the first in the New York Times advocating military action against Iran. I would offer this one, by Benny Morris, published in July 2008, in contradiction.

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