Deter Iran, But Don't Go to War

By Daily Editorials

May 24, 2019 4 min read

The Islamic Republic of Iran is an enemy of the United States. It poses a constant threat to American interests.

Iran was responsible for the murder of hundreds of American service personnel in Iraq between 2003 and 2011, as they sought to support Iraq's transition to a multisectarian democracy. Iran killed them for the same reason it killed Americans in Beirut in 1983 and has killed Americans across the world for the last 40 years. Our soldiers, Marines, and sailors stood in the way of the authoritarian Shiite empire that Iran's theocratic leadership seek to create.

The U.S. must constrain Iran's construction of that empire. That's why we've cheered President Donald Trump's efforts to renegotiate the flawed Iran nuclear deal of 2015, and we've cheered robust U.S. intelligence and political activity to restrain Iranian malevolence. The Obama administration's appeasement of Iran with billions of dollars and a blind eye to aggression only emboldened the hard-liners.

But war with Iran, the risk of which appears to be growing, would be a terrible policy mistake, certain to cause the loss of thousands of American service personnel and civilians as well.

Iran's leaders are increasingly desperate. Facing relentless U.S. sanctions pressure but the absence of clear American interest in nuclear-focused negotiations, the Iranian hard-liners are winning influence over Iranian leader Ali Khamenei. They might soon force America's hand by launching a reckless attack on U.S. interests. At that point, the U.S. will have to respond, and the risks of escalation will grow immensely.

A major war would be a disaster for America and the region.

Laptop generals like to paint a picture of war as easy, as if the U.S. could wage war by air power alone. The regime's removal would necessitate large numbers of U.S. ground forces fighting in a country whose population is twice that of Iraq and whose inhabitable land area is vastly larger. Considering Iran's apex-capability in asymmetric or insurgent-based warfare, U.S. ground forces would suffer appalling casualty rates.

Conversely, if the U.S. employed a major air campaign merely to decapitate the Iranian leadership, Iran would lash out with all its power. The Iranian hard-liners may be patient strategists, but they are also fanatics. They serve a theological project motivated by the perception of duty to God. They would not surrender. And as American bombs and missiles rained down on them, they would do all they could to strike back.

That would mean terrorist attacks on American citizens, possibly also inside the U.S. It would mean ballistic missile attacks on U.S. allies including Israel, perhaps armed with chemical warheads. It would mean attacks on shipping throughout the Persian Gulf. It would mean Iran's unleashing of unrestrained sectarian warfare in Lebanon, Iraq and Bahrain. It would unleash a world of unpredictability defined by ferocious and brutal violence.

The possibility runs sharply against Trump's stated foreign policy vision of maintaining U.S. interests first and avoiding stupid wars.

Trump has a better course of action here. Rightly aware of the need to deter attacks, he should clarify to Khamenei that any attack on U.S. interests will result in a significant retaliatory response. But Trump should also make clear to President Hassan Rouhani that he is interested in negotiating an improved nuclear agreement and that he has no interest in invading or initiating a war with Iran.

Trump will do well so long as his preference is for diplomacy from a position of strength and against a war that would damage or destroy diplomacy, world stability, lives and American interests.

The Washington Examiner


Photo credit: Military_Material at Pixabay

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