The Wall Street Journal seems determined to reclaim the “most hawkish newspaper on Iran” title for 2011. On Veterans Day (of all days!), it featured an unsigned editorial urging the U.S. to bomb Iran regardless of the costs. That same day, deputy editorial page editor, Bret Stephens, repeated this on CNN, claiming that all other “semi-plausible options” had been “exhausted.”
Those who haven’t read “If Iran Gets the Bomb” need to take a deep breath before doing so because its bellicosity will in fact take your breath away. Judging by the style and arguments, it was likely written by Stephens too.
The piece begins with willful distortion of the latest IAEA report which experts say repeats old informationthat was suspicious in the first place. Have people already forgotten about the disastrous Iraq War and the faulty claims that led to it? Are we really going to be fooled with rehashed arguments that were used by the neoconservatives during the George W. Bush administration? Stephens and the WSJ hope so:
The question for the world, and especially for the Obama Administration, is whether those dire consequences are worse than the risks of a pre-emptive strike.
We think we know what the Israelis will decide, especially if they conclude that President Obama stays on his current course.
The U.S. should bomb Iran, Stephens says, because Israel’s bombing of Iraq left it vulnerable to a devastating war years later and because Iranians would be so grateful for the breach of their sovereignty that they would overthrow their regime.
Opponents of a pre-emptive strike say it would do no more than delay Iran’s programs by a few years. But something similar was said after Israel’s strike on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981, without which the U.S. could never have stood up to Saddam after his invasion of Kuwait. In life as in politics, nothing is forever. But a strike that sets Iran’s nuclear programs back by several years at least offers the opportunity for Iran’s democratic forces to topple the regime without risking a wider conflagration.
What about the fact that the majority of Iranians regard Iran’s nuclear program a national right and that strikes against it could easily rally the population behind the regime?
Finally, Stephens’s concluding argument is a hawkish Catch-22 warning that reads like a threat against the Obama administration:
No U.S. President could undertake a strike on Iran except as a last resort, and Mr. Obama can fairly say that he has given every resort short of war an honest try. At the same time, no U.S. President should leave his successor with the catastrophe that would be a nuclear Iran. A nuclear Iran on Mr. Obama’s watch would be fatal to more than his legacy.
American politics, especially amid a presidential-election campaign, exacerbate these unfortunate tendencies. We see it most obviously in Republican presidential candidates falling over each other in an effort to declare their love for Israel and their toughness on Iran.
The latest round in the national discourse about Iran contains several gaping holes, the biggest of which is any serious and careful consideration of what danger an Iranian nuclear weapon actually would pose. The closest things to a serious effort to posit such a danger ultimately come up short. The direction the discourse has taken has meant that any questioning of this supposedly grave danger is already outside the mainstream. But being in the mainstream does not make something valid.