The Corner

Re: The U.S., Israel, and Iran

Dan, in an editorial, the Wall Street Journal makes the same points that I made on the Corner over the weekend, here and here. The only way to convince Iran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons is to convince it that the risks of pressing on are prohibitive. Almost certainly the only way to do that is to convince them that military strikes are coming if they don’t pull back. If the goal is to deter from getting the bomb in the first place, then we should be giving Iran the impression that we’re prepared for a showdown, with or without Israel. 

But we’re very clearly doing the opposite. And this is why: The liberal pacifist Obama administration, along with a war-weary top brass, has decided that the short-term consequences of Israeli (or U.S.) strikes would be more of a headache than the long-term consequences of letting Iran have nuclear weapons. So the U.S. priority has become to deter Israel, even at the cost of failing to deter Iran.

Strategies that minimize short-term risks while maximizing long-term ones are by definition the most reckless in the long run. That is why General Dempsey’s appearance last Sunday on CNN was so worrisome. Tom Clancy fans (and I’m one) would be happy to learn that the administration’s real strategy is a good-cop/bad-cop tandem with Israel, meant to maximize deterrence. But that isn’t the truth. The truth is precisely what General Dempsey communicated on Sunday: That we’re so afraid of the consequences of strikes on Iran, that we want Iran to know they have nothing to fear from continued uranium enrichment. We might as well gift-wrap a nuclear warhead and send it to them as a goodwill gesture in honor of the Persian new year.  

If you’re still not convinced, consider this: The current U.S. stance is actively increasing the political penalty to Israel in its confrontation with Iran. In other words, we are trying to defeat Israel’s deterrent threat in public. How can our publicly undercutting the government of Israel possibly strengthen its hand in the deterrent balance? This can’t be subterfuge.    

This situation is not analogous to the 1991 Gulf War, which at its core had nothing to do with Israel. Here, Israel’s most vital interests are implicated — along with those of the Gulf Arab kingdoms. It may well be that Arabs there hate Israel more than anything, but their governments clearly fear Iran more than they dislike Israel. Sure, they would rather not find themselves in a tacit alliance with Israel, but a tacit alliance with Israel is precisely where they are, and they seem to be getting along quite well there. Saudi Arabia has made no secret of the fact that it would welcome strikes on Iran’s nuclear facilities, and has even promised to make up for any shortfall in supply caused by the loss of Iranian oil, a declaratory policy that is overtly hostile to Iran.  

As for military options, I’d refer people to Edward Luttwak’s excellent recent piece in the Wall Street Journal. As for how such a conflict would end, we appear to have lost sight of one very important fact. We have escalation dominance in any conflict with Iran, without having to resort to full-scale war. Under no conceivable scenario could such a conflict lead to “full-scale invasion.”   

Mario Loyola — Mr. Loyola is a fellow at the National Security Institute of George Mason University School of Law and a former defense-policy adviser at the Pentagon and in the U.S. Senate.


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