Potential War of the Week: Iran

Iran, or more specifically President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, is posturing: a new nuclear reactor and missile drones shown off expo-style. They think America is weak.

Some say we should do some preemptive blustering and tell them what we’ll do should they initiate a hostile act such as sponsor a terror attack or mess with the oil in the Persian Gulf. As a deterrent, we must posture ourselves. Though if we picked up on nothing else from the Cold War, hopefully we learned that posturing is a tactic often employed by those with little to back it up. The posturing argument is based on the correct assessment that neither the U.S. nor Israel should ever preemptively strike Iran—and only ever strike after direct provocation.

While threatening Iran isn’t the worst idea, any preemptive strike by the U.S. or Israel is. Obama knows this, so a serious debate on this question has no merit. The Bush Administration wasn’t even willing to pull the trigger; we have two wars going on. For all the other reasons we’ll never draw first blood, see Foreign Policy and Foreign Policy. This is not to say that a USS Maine–like incident set off by Israel to provoke Iran or Hezbollah into doing something stupid could not occur (a rather long shot better suited to conspiracy theorists).

Nothing is more fun when writing about potential war than looking at a list of an intellectual/journalist’s past headlines announcing the dire immediacy of the inevitable catastrophe that never comes. The reality of the status quo works fairly well, yet by nature of being the status quo, it is not really that interesting. This is why punditry about our dramatic Iranian enemy is often divided between war and maybe war. The act of continually besieging Obama with arguments against attacking Iran assumes that the administration is even considering it. The Atlantic Monthly’s cover story tries to imagine a case for a preemptive strike. And it tries to imagine that Israel will attack without our consent. Ironically, Jeffrey Goldberg’s detailed reporting and interviews only serve to undermine his primary conceit by the end of the comprehensive story.

Our relationship with Israel, for anyone who reads the papers, has been waning. Now is the exact time Israel cannot securely count on the U.S. to back it up. Yet certain people who make news assume that Israel will act. Why? Because it’s exciting to imagine, especially now that the cutoff date for an Iranian bomb is estimated at a year. And the article states that we should expect an Israeli strike on nuclear facilities in Iran by next July. Timing is the major hook for Goldberg’s piece. But the intelligentsia are known for encouraging the emphasis of short-term time limits to enhance their arguments, see the Friedman unit.

Never mind that we already support disruptive Sunni terrorist cells in Iran and that the U.S. has been actively engaged in black market ops to slow down the old Safavids’ nuclear “threat.” (Goldberg touches on U.S./Israel covert operations in Iran, but apparently that poses absolutely no danger as an instigator of real war.)

Pundit journalists get paid to make something appear scarier than it is. The downside is that it gives Hawks a way to frame military debates to their advantage and allows self-fulfilling war prophecies a chance to gain traction.

Addendum: I fully support a unified U.S. and Israeli ultimatum given to Iran if and when all else fails and Iran tests a nuclear weapon. We must weigh all other options until then.

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