Opponents of military action against Iran assume a U.S. strike would be far more dangerous than simply letting Tehran build a bomb. Not so, argues this former Pentagon defense planner. With a carefully designed attack, Washington could mitigate the costs and spare the region and the world from an unacceptable threat.
Matthew Kroenig’s recent article in this magazine argued that a military strike against Iran would be “the least bad option” for stopping its nuclear program. But the war Kroenig calls for would be far messier than he predicts, and Washington still has better options available.
Bombing Iran's nuclear program would only be a temporary fix. Instead, the United States should plan a larger military operation that also aims to destabilize the regime and, in turn, resolves the Iranian nuclear crisis once and for all.
(U.S. Navy / flickr)
Matthew Kroenig's argument for preventive military action to combat Tehran's nuclear program -- "Time to Attack Iran" (January/February 2012) -- suffers from three problems. First, its view of Iranian leaders' risk calculations is self-contradictory. Second, it misreads nuclear history. And third, it underestimates the United States' ability to contain a nuclear Iran. When these problems are addressed, it is clear that, contrary to what Kroenig contends, attacking Iran is not "the least bad option."
Kroenig's view of the way Iranian leaders are willing to take on risks is deeply incongruous. In his view, a nuclear bomb will push Tehran to block U.S. initiatives in the Middle East, unleash conventional and terrorist aggression on U.S. forces and allies, and possibly engage in a nuclear exchange with Israel. This would mean Iranian leaders are reckless: given the United States' conventional and nuclear superiority, any of these actions would provoke considerable retaliation from Washington. And, of course, a nuclear exchange with Israel would invite annihilation. At the same time, Kroenig suggests that Tehran would remain remarkably timid after a preventive strike from the United States. Presented with clear redlines, Iran would not retaliate against U.S. troops and allies or attempt to close the Strait of Hormuz. Kroenig's inconsistency is clear: If Iranian leaders are as reckless as he seems to believe, a preventive strike would likely escalate to a full-blown war. If they are not, then there is no reason to think that a nuclear Iran would be uncontainable. In short, a preventive attack on Iran can hardly be both limited and necessary...