Throughout the P5+1 negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program, we've been treated to constant commentary on why a nuclear agreement with Iran is a terrible idea.
But none have been as ridiculous as this from Joshua Muravchick. According to him, war with Iran is a better way to prevent it from going nuclear. He couldn't be farther from the truth.
The best way to assess the success of a policy is to examine what it's trying to achieve. What would be the goal of a military campaign against Iran? Presumably, to stop Iran getting a nuclear weapon. But military action doesn't guarantee the destruction of Iran's nuclear program. In fact, it makes a nuclear Iran more likely.
Those who endorse strikes against Iran advocate for an air campaign targeting Iranian nuclear facilities. But Iran's nuclear program is no Al-Kibar or Osirak. Iran's nuclear program is far more extensive and spread out than those targeted in the past by the US and Israel. What's more, it bears reminding that some facilities are impenetrable, or at the very least, very difficult to penetrate because they are too far underground. Iranian facilities are also well protected and Iranian air defences are solid.
Total destruction of the program is, to put it mildly, highly unlikely.
If everything hasn't been destroyed, then it can be rebuilt. What then? Can the US or Israel commit to 'mowing the lawn'; striking Iranian facilities every few years? Iran would likely rebuild its facilities further underground and hidden from all. Each successive attack would need more firepower and better intelligence. Not an easy commitment to make.
Now let's assume that all of these obstacles are overcome. Let's assume that a military operation against Iran destroys all of its (known) nuclear facilities. What of the information, data and skills that remain? Knowledge can't be bombed away.
Instead, military action will play beautifully into the hands of the Iranian Government. It will give them a legitimate excuse to forgo its non-proliferation commitments and go hell for leather on the nuclear program. It will encourage Tehran to drive the program underground and cease all transparency. Muravchick argues that if Iran currently has hidden facilities, they'll be hidden from an agreement too. Perhaps, but the aim of an agreement is to ensure that Iran submits to the most stringent inspection regime devised to date. Surely that's a step up from nothing, which is what we would be left with if force is used.
Military action will also give the Iranian Government more ammunition for its anti-American rhetoric. The Islamic Republic thrives off external enemies. What better way to galvanise support for Iran's leaders than to be the victim of airstrikes? That would turn even the most moderate Iranian against the West. And let's not forget the international community; even US allies are unlikely to back military action if there is no obvious Iranian-caused tripwire.
Finally, military action will spark retaliation. Sure, Iran may be deterred from anything too drastic. But the use of force has been on the table for 20+ years, and it hasn't deterred Iran from using its proxies and pursuing its interests. Iran may refrain from closing the Straits of Hormuz, for example, but that's only because it stands to lose the most from closing it.
It's not just that, as Muravchick acknowledges, there 'are risks' to military action, it simply won't work. In fact, it is bad policy because it clearly results in the opposite end-state from the stated goal of stopping a nuclear Iran.
Photo courtesy of Flickr user US Department of State.