This appears to be a case where military action has little or no prospect of success while also being unnecessary and therefore likely to make the situation worse than it is now. If an Iranian war can’t eliminate the perceived threat (and it can’t), there is no reason to expose Israel or the U.S. to the risks it would involve.
What worries me here is the tone. I would expect Mr Larison to dismiss the notion of an attack on Iran out of hand as a foolhardy fantasy brought to us by the same idiots whose foreign-policy record consists of a consecutive string of unmitigated disasters. The fact that he is phrasing himself so cautiously here suggests to me that he thinks he actually needs to make this case in terms that might be convincing to the sort of people who might otherwise consider attacking Iran. Which means he thinks there’s a realistic possibility that this might actually happen. Yikes.
The Robert Farley piece he cites gets the situation exactly right.
For now, the Obama administration seems to believe that pro-war rhetoric is manageable, and that it can tack between the demands of the Israeli government, the sanctions coalition and the presidential candidates of the Republican Party. This process involves pushing back against the idea that an immediate attack is necessary, while reaffirming the general idea that Iran represents a major threat to the United States.
…As a political strategy, this may be viable. It runs the risk, however, of creating a rhetorical trap for the Obama administration. At some point, it may be hard for Obama to step down from the idea that an Iranian nuclear weapon is unacceptable and worth a war to prevent. In that case, saying no may become too politically difficult for the president. The task for hawks, whether in the United States or Israel, will be to draw this box as tightly and narrowly as possible.
This is precisely the way these things play out. But what, then, is the task for non-hawks? (Or, as I would prefer to call them, people with the good sense to recognise that attacking Iran is nuts?) Our job is to prevent that box from being drawn or tightened. We might, as Mr Larison does, talk about the risks of military action. Like Peter Beinart, we could call attention to the consensus of military and intelligence experts that strikes will reinforce Iran’s determination to build a nuclear weapon, which it will eventually succeed in doing if it wants to. We could refer to Scott Shane’s New York Times article laying out those experts’ views. We could point out, as the International Crisis Group does, that punitive antagonistic approaches with no offer of benefits basically never succeed in convincing states to change policy, and that Turkey’s non-antagonistic approach to Iran has been far more successful in winning concessions.
But if we’re talking about the political pressures the Obama administration could face to approve military action, then we’re talking about making the case to average voters. In that case what we need isn’t so much reference to expert opinion as a coherent line that evokes for voters the widely shared and accurate sense that miiltary adventurism in the Middle East has proven calamitous. Mr Shane’s article points out the contradiction: a solid majority of voters are weary of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and pleased we’re leaving, yet a majority also say they would support military action against Iran to stop it from obtaining a nuclear weapon. Voters don’t seem to be cognisant that an attack on Iran’s nuclear sites won’t be a discrete event that stops it from getting a bomb; it will be the start of a new war in the Middle East, and of an indefinite commitment by America to keep bombing Iran wherever it seems nuclear-weapons development sites are being built.
So, American voters: do you want to fight another war in the Middle East? I can’t believe that at this point most of you would answer “yes”. And if that becomes the question in the presidential election this year, I can’t believe that most of you will support a candidate who answers “yes”.