Although I’m not as convinced as a lot of progressive bloggers that Bush is about to launch a military campaign against Iran, there’s certainly enough smoke out there to legitimately worry about fire.There are actually two separate reasons to worry.On the one hand, you’ve got renewed saber-rattling in Israel about the intolerability of a nuclear Iran. Israeli fears about Iran were nicely summarized last week in a New Republic piece by Yossi Klein Halevi and Michael Oren. I’m not about to tell Israelis what they should think or do about defending their own country, but still, the apparent conviction of 66% of Israelis that Ahmadinejad would happily sacrifice half his population (a realistic assessment, given Israel’s own massive nuclear arsenal) in order to hit Israel with a nuclear strike is, well, a bit counter-intuitive. Missing from this scary calculus is the virtual certainty that Ahmadinejad would be strangled in his bed if he made a single move in the direction of wiping out his own people.I’m not one to dismiss Ahmadinejad’s anti-semitic ravings as just some sort of “populist” claptrap, but we might as well remember that the very model of anti-semitic madmen, Adolph Hitler (who unlike the Iranian really did enjoy total personal power over his state) refrained from using chemical weapons during World War II out of fear of Allied retaliation.Even if Israelis are in fact losing faith in the power of their nuclear deterrent, you do have to wonder if some of the war talk is in fact aimed at psychological deterrence. A quick Google search produced reliable-sounding articles from 2005 and 2006 (here and here) reporting that an Israeli attack on Iranian nuclear facilities was imminent. Perhaps Israelis are trying to convince Iranians that if they are unwilling to halt their nuclear program, they’d better find a leader who doesn’t threaten the destruction of Israel every other day.If indeed Israel is on the edge of attacking Iran, you could understand why the Bush administration might be looking at what it would do in that contingency. But that’s the really weird thing: reports are now coming out that Bush and Cheney are considering a military confrontation with Iran that has nothing to do with its nuclear program.Check out this report yesterday from U.S. News:
The US News Political Bulletin has learned Democrats on Capitol Hill are increasingly concerned that President Bush will order air strikes against targets in Iran in the next few months or even weeks. They cite as evidence the tough warnings from senior Administration officials, including the Commander in Chief, that Iranian help for insurgents in Iraq is leading to the deaths of US troops and Iraqi civilians. Democratic insiders tell the Political Bulletin that they suspect Bush will order the bombing of Iranian supply routes, camps, training facilities, and other sites that Administration officials say contribute to American losses in Iraq. Under this scenario, Bush would not invade Iran with ground forces or zero in on Iranian nuclear facilities.
If true, this is a much crazier idea than anything being contemplated in Israel. Whatever Iran is up to in Iraq, the reality is that its primary agents in Iraq are SCIRI and its Badr Corps militia, which the Bush administration has called the great hope for marginalizing the Mahdi Army and building a “unity” government. And for that matter, the Maliki government is unmistakably pro-Iran as well. It’s hard to overestimate the extent to which a shooting war with Iran could destroy what little influence the U.S. still has in Iraq, unless we’re going to make the Sunni insurgency our new base of support. To risk all that, and not even make Iran’s nuclear facilities the target, makes absolutely no sense.Moreover, and this is the factor that neither Israeli nor American anti-Iranian saber-rattlers seem to want to talk about, any military confrontation with Iran would almost certaintly unite the Iranian people behind their government. While hardly a perfect democracy, Iran does have elections; that’s how Ahmadinejad gained power in the first place. His party recently got waxed in local elections, a fact that seems to elude those who view Iran as a theocracy where elections are entirely rigged. The simplest and least dangerous path to a less dangerous Iran is to encourage its people to get rid of Ahmadinejad. An attack on Iran would likely take this option off the table, perhaps forever.There’s already growing paranoia among progressive bloggers that “cowardly” DC Democrats would go along with the above-described plan for military strikes against Iran over its role in Iraq. I guess I would qualify as a “liberal hawk”‘ by the standards of many such bloggers, and when it comes to this crazy plan, let me say: not me, buddy. It would be a strategic disaster, and Democrats along with sane Republicans ought to fight it tooth and nail.