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Iran and Our Rotten Foreign Policy Debates
Twenty years after the illegal invasion of Iraq, it is depressing that we are still debating the “merits” of criminal aggression against another Middle Eastern country.
Dennis Ross just can’t get enough saber-rattling against Iran:
Instead, Blinken or President Joe Biden should announce that although the U.S. favors diplomacy for resolving the threat of the Iranian nuclear program, the Iranians continue to demonstrate that they don’t; instead, their actions are drawing them closer and closer to a bomb, something that the U.S. has pledged to prevent, and Iran must understand that its actions jeopardize its entire nuclear infrastructure, including parts that could in theory be used for civilian energy purposes. Declaring this would signal that the U.S. is beginning to prepare the American public and the international community for possible military action against Iran’s nuclear program.
Ross has been banging the war drums against Iran for years, and his latest call for threatening an illegal attack is the least subtle one yet. He still bizarrely assumes that the Iranian government doesn’t believe that the U.S. will attack them, and he thinks that the key is convincing Iran of Washington’s determination to strike. Ross never explains why this would lead them to do anything other than hasten towards developing nuclear weapons, and he simply takes for granted that threatening Iran with completely unjustified aggression is the solution. What would make a deterrent more attractive to their leaders than repeated threats to wage illegal war on their country?
It is worth recalling that Iran’s nuclear program has advanced as much as it has because of U.S. “maximum pressure” sanctions and Israeli sabotage attacks. These policies were sold as the means to thwart Iran from making progress with its nuclear program, but in utterly predictable fashion they provoked and drove the progress that the supporters of those same policies now try to use to start a war. If every previous hawkish “remedy” has backfired so badly, what do you suppose will be the result if the U.S. and/or Israel took direct military action against Iranian facilities? It would, of course, lead to an even worse outcome by triggering both conflict and proliferation.
Ross tries to blackmail the Biden administration by warning that a regional war will start in response to an Israeli attack:
Without a clear show of resolve by the U.S. to act on its own behalf, unilateral Israeli strikes on the Iranian nuclear program will trigger Hezbollah and maybe Hamas missile attacks on Israel, potentially numbering thousands per day.
What exactly does Ross think would happen in response to unilateral U.S. strikes? There would almost certainly still be missile attacks on Israel in response, and there would also be missile attacks on U.S. forces throughout the region and presumably on other regional clients that host those forces. If the Biden administration does what Ross wants, it definitely will face “a regional conflict in the Middle East” because it will be the one starting it. Ross would like to present his constant agitation for an illegal attack as if it were somehow helping to prevent war, but everything he suggests would lead to it.
Instead of setting up a disastrous escalatory spiral that leads to ruinous war, as Ross would have the U.S. do, the Biden administration needs to signal the Israeli government privately and in public that it will not support an attack on Iran. It should further make clear that if the Israeli government unwisely proceeds with such an illegal attack, the U.S. will not bail them out if things get out of control. Given the administration’s rhetoric and actions up until now, we are unlikely to see anything like that, but that is what the U.S. ought to be doing if it hopes to avoid another new conflict.
“To avoid a war with a threatening adversary, that adversary has to believe you will use force,” Ross writes, but there is no one compelling the U.S. or Israel to initiate hostilities against Iran. If one or both of those governments doesn’t start the war, there won’t be a war. When our government is the would-be aggressor, avoiding a war is remarkably simple: don’t threaten an attack, and then don’t launch an attack.
Twenty years after the illegal invasion of Iraq, it is depressing that we are still debating the “merits” of criminal aggression against another Middle Eastern country. It is a measure of how rotten our foreign policy discourse is that advocates for aggression are taken as seriously as they are and their arguments often end up shaping official policies. Perhaps one day support for unjust and aggressive wars will make people politically radioactive, but we are a long way from reaching that point.