‘Knowing’ That Preventive War on Iran is Counterproductive
Via Micah Zenko, this short excerpt from New York Times reporter David Sanger’s new book, Confront and Conceal: Obama’s Secret Wars and Surprising Use of American Power:
And the core of the American argument [to Israel] was simple: attack Iran, and you set the program back a few years, but you solve nothing. “We wanted to make it abundantly clear that an attack would just drive the program more underground,” one of the key participants in the talks that day told me later. “The inspectors would be thrown out. The Iranians would rebuild, more determined than ever. And eventually, they would achieve their objective.”
Indeed, an aerial assault would embolden, not subdue, Iran. As former CIA analyst Paul Pillar writes in the March issue of Washington Monthly, overly optimistic war proponents think “the same regime that cannot be trusted with a nuclear weapon because it is recklessly aggressive and prone to cause regional havoc would suddenly become, once attacked, a model of calm and caution, easily deterred by the threat of further attacks.”
More than any other argument, this one (which has been repeatedly emphasized here at Antiwar.com) should be the most persuasive to the pro-war crowd. That there remain significant calls for a military strike on Iran, I think, has a little to do with psychology and a little to do with grand strategy.
Studies show that when political partisans are presented with evidence that is contrary to their own beliefs, they rarely change their minds, and many times will become even more strongly set in their beliefs. So the partisans who have been arguing for bombing will continue to do so because that’s what they know how to do.
But the smarter set of the pro-war crowd will disregard the insight in the above excerpt because nuclear proliferation per se isn’t really what they care about. They are concerned about America’s ability to rule the world by force. They refer to it as “credibility,” that is, being able to signal to adversaries that our euphemistic threats of all options on the table aren’t just empty words. Enemies must fear actual attack, or else they’ll operate on something other than fear and subservience.
This clears up what seems to be a mystery of why the US would impose supposedly punitive sanctions on Iran despite the intelligence consensus that they have no nuclear weapons program and have demonstrated no intention of getting one. If Iran can ever quickly develop a nuclear deterrent through know-how and technological capability, this constrains Washington’s power to overthrow the regime and replace it with an obedient client (not a first in the case of Iran, of course). That is an unacceptable amount of power to afford an adversary. The threat to Israeli security and the notion that Iran would use nuclear weapons for anything other than to deter aggressive adversaries is quite simply a manufactured concern.
All that said, if the Obama administration knows that an attack on Iran would provoke them to recommit to a weapons program in earnest, why don’t they see that garrisoning Iran’s surroundings, persistent economic warfare, and the Israeli double standard are also provoking Iran?