Would a war against Iran take “only a few days“? According to Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, a few days of precision bombing would be enough to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability. Oh, there might be a few (thousand) innocent Iranians killed. And perhaps some radiation spread about. But wouldn’t some dead and irradiated (Iranian) bodies be worth it?
Despite his military experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, Senator Cotton is a proponent of imaginary war. You know, war like in a video game, where you drop bombs on target, witness a few explosions, and then it’s game over, with victory for Play Station America. When you view war like this, as a game, it’s easier to think of it as “inevitable,” which is precisely the word Cotton uses: War with Iran, he says, is inevitable, so let’s flatten them now before they have nukes.
Let’s consider, for a moment, the worst-case scenario: Iran conspires successfully to gain a nuclear weapon in seven years. What would Iran do with such a weapon? Iran would face a regional neighbor, Israel, which possesses roughly 200 nuclear weapons. Iran would face a superpower, the United States, which has more than 2000 active nuclear warheads with another 3000 or so in reserve. Any use of nuclear weapons by Iran would lead to overwhelming retaliation by Israel and/or the United States, so it’s extremely unlikely that Iran would ever use such weapons, unless Iran itself was faced by invasion and destruction.
And there’s the rub. Relatively weak countries like Iran know that acquiring WMD is a potential game-changer, in the sense that such weapons can deter aggression by the United States. An Iran with a nuclear weapon is a country that’s less easy for the U.S. to bully. And Iran has regional rivals (India, Pakistan, and of course Israel) that already possess nuclear arsenals.
Look at what happened to Gaddafi in Libya. He gave up his WMD (chemical weapons and nerve agents) and the next thing he knew he was being overthrown by a U.S.-led coalition. We came, we saw, he died, cackled Hillary Clinton. But would “we” have come if Gaddafi could have threatened a coalition with WMD?
(This is not an argument for WMD or for nuclear proliferation. As I’ve argued elsewhere, I’d like to see the complete elimination of nuclear weapons on our planet. They are genocidal weapons, pure and simple.)
It’s all well and good for the U.S. and its partners to work to eliminate any chance of Iran acquiring nukes, but the U.S. needs to go one giant leap further and work to eliminate all nuclear weapons everywhere. If we did that, maybe Iran wouldn’t want one so much.
In the meantime, Senator Cotton needs to stop imagining how clean and simple it would be to destroy Iran’s nuclear program. Dropping lots of bombs on Iran while hoping for an imaginary “happy ending” for the U.S. is more than facile thinking. It’s lunacy.
Update (4/17/15): After I wrote this, I came across Jon Schwarz’s “Seven Things You Didn’t Know the U.S. and its Allies Did to Iran” at The Intercept. Schwarz also makes the point about the Iranian desire for a nuke as a deterrent against U.S. aggression, and he notes other prominent American leaders who’ve threatened Iran with bombing and/or obliteration. From his article:
U.S. leaders have repeatedly threatened to outright destroy Iran
It’s not just John McCain singing “bomb bomb bomb Iran.” Admiral William Fallon, who retired as head of CENTCOM in 2008, said about Iran: “These guys are ants. When the time comes, you crush them.” Admiral James Lyons Jr., commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet in the 1980s, has said we were prepared to “drill them back to the fourth century.” Richard Armitage, then assistant secretary of defense, explained that we considered whether to “completely obliterate Iran.” Billionaire and GOP kingmaker Sheldon Adelson advocates an unprovoked nuclear attack on Iran — “in the middle of the desert” at first, then possibly moving on to places with more people.
Most seriously, the Obama administration’s 2010 Nuclear Posture Review declared that we will not use nuclear weapons “against non-nuclear weapons states that are party to the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty] and in compliance with their nuclear non-proliferation obligations.” There’s only one non-nuclear country that’s plausibly not in this category. So we were saying we will never use nuclear weapons against any country that doesn’t have them already — with a single exception, Iran. Understandably, Iran found having a nuclear target painted on it pretty upsetting.”