The Consequences Of A Strike On Iran

During the 2008 presidential campaign, one of Sen. John “Bomb, bomb, bomb Iran” McCain’s favorite bons mots was that “There is only one thing worse than military action [against Iran], and that is a nuclear armed Iran.” As with so much else that McCain said during that campaign, it’s really not clear that this is actually true, but its tone of belligerence posing as analysis was very much in keeping with the sort of “tough and stupid” foreign policy that Fareed Zakaria refers to in his op-ed this morning. (“Tough and stupid” was, I believe, one of the taglines originally considered for The Weekly Standard.)

For all the conservative bluster being leveled at Obama’s engagement policy, you’d think that we hadn’t actually just come off of eight years wherein their ideas were tried and shown to be a complete failure, but of course we have. The administration of George W. Bush, especially its first four years, was about as pure an application of hard line conservative foreign policy principles as one could ever hope for, and it was a disaster. It resulted in an Iran that was far more dominated by hardliners, far less inclined to compromise, in a far more secure and influential position in the region, and much closer to a nuclear weapons capability.

Former ambassador John Bolton, who works in this vein of clueless conservative bluster the way some artists work in oils or watercolors, told Fox News this morning that “the only real way to be sure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons, unfortunately, is the unhappy alternative of military force against its nuclear program.”

I don’t see the Obama administration doing that. I think that leaves the decision with Israel. I think President Obama is committed to diplomacy and I think the outcome of that strategy is a world where Iran has nuclear weapons.

As with McCain’s claim about nuclear Iran, Bolton’s isn’t true either. Military strikes would not ensure that Iran does not get nuclear weapons, they would, in even the best case scenario, merely delay it. But what’s more disturbing is the way Bolton raises, with obvious relish, the possibility of an Israeli strike on Iran, something that is becoming increasingly common among the Cheneyite set.


In an op-ed on Saturday, Anthony Cordesman focused on the difficulties that the Israelis would face in a strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities (as well as the difficulties that Iran would create for itself by choosing to create a nuclear weapon.) What Cordesman doesn’t discuss, and what has been far too little discussed in the debate over how best to deal with Iran, are the likely consequences that a military strike on Iran would have for the region, and the world.

During remarks at the New America Foundation earlier this month, retired Gen. Anthony Zinni gave a very good — and chilling — overview of those consequences. Zinni said that he liked to respond to advocates of such strikes with “And then what?”

After you’ve dropped those bombs on those hardened facilities, what happens next? What happens if they decide, in their hardened shelters with their mobile missiles, to start launching those? What happens if they launch them into U.S. bases on the other side of the gulf? What happens if they launch into Israel, or somewhere else? Into a Saudi oil field? Into Ras Laffan, with all the natural gas? What happens if they now flush their fast patrol boats, their cruise missiles, the [unclear] full of mines, and they sink a tanker, an oil tanker? And of course the economy of the world goes absolutely nuts. What happens if they activate sleeper cells? The MOIS, the intelligence service — what happens if another preemptive attack by the West, the U.S. and Israel, they fire up the streets and now we got problems. Just tell me how to deal with all that, okay?

Because, eventually, if you follow this all the way down, eventually I’m putting boots on the ground somewhere. And like I tell my friends, if you like Iraq and Afghanistan, you’ll love Iran.

The Carnegie Endowment’s Karim Sadjadpour has also said that he thinks that “Khamenei and Ahmadinejad would actually welcome a military strike; it may be their only hope to silence popular dissent and heal internal political rifts.” It’s hard to think of a more efficient way to extinguish Iran’s reform movement than by either an Israeli or U.S. strike on Iran.


These are, to say the least, very serious consequences. But given the way they have resolutely ignored the catastrophe that ensued the last time their foreign policy ideas were tried, we probably shouldn’t expect conservatives to honestly address them as they prepare the ground for their latest war.