Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Anne Applebaum writes that Obama won't initiate military action against Iran for the usual reasons, "because we don't know exactly where they all are, because we don't know whether such a raid could stop the Iranian nuclear program for more than a few months, and because Iran's threatened response -- against Israelis and U.S. troops, via Iranian allies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine and Lebanon -- isn't one we want to cope with at this moment. Nor do we want the higher oil prices that would instantly follow. No American president doing a sober calculation would start a war of choice now, while U.S. troops are actively engaged on two other fronts, and no American president could expect public support for more than a nanosecond".

Yet every single reason Applebaum cites falls apart with just a bit of thinking... provided of course, that the thinker has his or her priorities straight.

And yes, I'll explain:

Going to battle is not something done lightly, it should be done only when (1) there is no other reasonable way of accomplishing one's goal and (2) the consequences of not doing so are worse than the consequences of doing so.

And so far, it is pretty apparent, at least to anybody who isn't dreaming, that diplomacy and sanctions are not going to deter Iran from continuing to develop nuclear weapons... which removes the first block to military action, the ability to attain one's goals via non-military action, from the list of possible outcomes.

This then leaves only the second block, the negative consequences of taking military action, as something to consider... but this too falls short as all of the negative actions Applebaum cites are far less serious than the negative consequences of not taking action against Iran. Is she really arguing that Iran stepping up its support for terrorism against the United States and Israel is more of a problem than Iran having nuclear weapons? Is she really arguing that higher oil prices are so onerous a consequence that we would be better off letting Iran have nuclear weapons? And while conflict against Iran would likely have some negative effects on our goals in Iraq and Afghanistan, who would rate a bunch of backward terrorists, who for the most part are limited to car bombs, as more of a threat than a terrorist-supporting dictatorship with nuclear weapons at its disposal? If in fact we have determined that it vital to keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons, that means there aren't too many things that are more important... and none of the reasons Applebaum cites rank high enough to justify not taking military action.

Nor is the difficulty of ensuring military success a legitimate block to taking action... and for two reasons. One, we're no worse for trying and failing than by not trying in the first place. If we don't act, we're presumed to not have the capability. Trying and failing would only confirm that belief. Second, opponents of taking military action are defining the sphere too tightly, by limiting military action to air strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. Yes, a major element of military action would be to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities and capabilities. But that is a mere element of the larger strategy: use the military to impose a high enough price on Iran that they give up what they haven't yet been willing to give up. Thus, military action shouldn't target only suspected nuclear sites, it should also target ANY facility that we feel the loss of would weaken the resolve of Iran's leadership. Our military should take out their conventional military facilities, denying Iran the ability to use their military to beat down protesters. And we shouldn't take ground forces off the table. We wouldn't look to occupy Iran, but we would use 'boots on the ground' to strike targets that can't be attacked effectively via aircraft. We isolate a target, land troops who destroy the facility and we leave.

What the whole issue comes down to is a simple question: is it critical that we keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons? If so, we use every tactic at our disposal and we put up with the negative consequences flowing from such. If not, we treat the issue as a nuisance, something we don't like, but don't dislike enough to ratchet up the efforts.

And the latter is how Obama (and Bush before him) are treating this whole matter: as the equivalent of a mosquito bite.