Thursday, December 24, 2009

Another Bad Argument For Iran Strike: 'The Worst Might Not Happen!'

Today, Iran's leading daily newspaper featured an op-ed by a conservative Iranian university professor insisting that there is only one way to deter the American war on Iran that all serious Iranian analysts believe is coming: A massive wave of guerrilla attacks on American military facilities.

This tells us a lot about Iran. They really are a bunch of crazies intent on blowing up the Middle East. Look at what they publish their leading newspapers!

Oh, wait -- the op-ed is actually in this morning's New York Times, and it's written by an American conservative, Alan Kuperman, who argues that there's "only one way to stop Iran": by bombing them. Trotting out the most overworked noun in the conservative foreign policy vocabulary, Kuperman writes "in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement."
We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.

Kuperman doesn't bother to mount an argument about Iran's intentions or capabilities -- he simply presupposes that Iran wants a weapon, will get one soon, and that nothing short of military action can change this:
Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try. They should be precision attacks, aimed only at nuclear facilities, to remind Iran of the many other valuable sites that could be bombed if it were foolish enough to retaliate.

Ah, yes, "precision attacks" that wonderful salve for the modern, sophisticated warmonger's conscience. This paragraph, by itself, should have disqualified Kuperman's op-ed from running in any serious publication. The amount of work that "relatively" is doing is here is pretty staggering. One can argue that the benefits of a strike outweigh the risks and costs. I think that's clearly wrong, but one could argue it. But stating that those costs and risks would be "little" -- even "relatively" -- is a flat out, bald-faced admission that you just haven't bothered to do the work.

Kuperman uses Israel's 1981 attack on Iraq's Osirak nuclear facility as an example of a strike that worked to delay a regime's nuclear program. He says nothing about the fact that the Osirak example is one of the reasons that Iran has dispersed and buried its nuclear facilities around the country, though he does suggest that "Iran’s atomic sites might need to be bombed more than once to persuade Tehran to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons."

Considering the consequences of such a strike for American troops and allies in the region, and for Iran's domestic opposition, Kuperman's argument amounts to: "Hey, the worst might not happen!" In Kuperman's defense, he's not alone here. I have yet to hear any advocate of an Iran strike do better.

Kuperman has a history of providing intellectual cover for policy choices that result in huge numbers of deaths. In a 2000 Foreign Affairs essay, he argued that humanitarian intervention in Rwanda would've just made things worse. In 2006 op-ed, he suggested that Darfur's victims kind of had it coming. It is utterly unsurprising that he should now apply his brand of human bean-counting to the thousands of Iranian (and American, and Iraqi, and Israeli) casualties that would very likely result from the action he advocates.

It is, however, deeply discouraging that the New York Times would choose to run it. The Weekly Standard and National Review already exist for promoting this sort of harebrained militarism. The Washington Post's editorial page, too, has, at least in regard to foreign policy, long since devolved into a neoconservative rat's nest. If we're not to repeat the tragic mistakes of the very recent past, then the Times needs to start insisting on quite a bit more intellectual rigor from its guest opinionators.

Cross-posted from the Wonk Room.

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