The Corner

National Security & Defense

A Debate about War Where One Side Hasn’t Shown up Yet

Flight operations aboard USS Abraham Lincoln in the Mediterranean Sea, April 25, 2019. (Mass Communication Specialist Third Class Amber Smalley/US Navy)

Just a quick point or two to add to David’s assessment about the high cost of a potential war with Iran.

Just as generals always fight the last war, official Washington and pundits tend to re-argue the last one, too. A lot of Democratic big names voted for or otherwise supported the Iraq War, and ended up regretting it: John Kerry, Hillary Clinton, and Joe Biden come to mind. Having convinced themselves that they were tricked into supporting the biggest foreign policy mistake of the post-Cold War era, Democrats are eager to re-play the same drama again, but this time with their feet firmly planted on the antiwar side.

The irony is that there is not much of a pro-war side at the moment, or on the horizon. Trump says he doesn’t want a war with Iran. National Security advisor John Bolton says, “The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime.” Congressional Republicans aren’t clamoring for war with Tehran. Even the most convenient bogeyman of the Iraq War, the so-called “neocons” at the American Enterprise Institute, don’t want war with Iran. Kenneth Pollack, writing today: “A war with Iran makes no sense to me and I say this as someone who would like to see the United States making a much more determined effort to push back on Iranian aggression and expansionism in the Middle East.”

Even by the standards of an administration as unpredictable and erratic as this one, the idea of starting a war as consequential as this without making the case to the public or getting congressional approval is unthinkable. Furthermore, when the United States military goes to war, it does not go lightly or quickly. The U.S. military deployed to Saudi Arabia about six months before the Persian Gulf War. Almost a month went by between the 9/11 attacks and the launch of the war in Afghanistan. And months of military buildup preceded the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

No, the real question is not war or no war but what should the United States do if, in the near future, Iran or it proxies do something dangerous and stupid that kills Americans? The administration (and likely a majority of the the public) would like a retaliatory option somewhere in between “nothing” and “invade Iran and topple the regime.”

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