Don't Go Baghdad on Tehran

How to Avoid Repeating the Iraq Debacle

Shock and awe over Baghdad, 2003. (Faleh Kheiber / Courtesy Reuters)

The Iraq War might seem a thing of the past. But nearly ten years after combat began, the United States and its allies are using policies to address the Iranian nuclear challenge that are eerily similar to those it pursued in the run-up to Operation Enduring Freedom. Just as they did with Saddam Hussein, concerned governments have implemented economic sanctions, diplomatic isolation, and low-level violence to weaken the Iranian regime and prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons, with the long-term objective of regime change. In Iraq, and seemingly now in Iran, diplomacy and inspections became a means to an end: building up a casus belli. The strategy failed miserably in Iraq a decade ago. It probably will in Iran, too.

This is not to suggest that Iran poses no threat. Tehran has reached the threshold of having a nuclear weapons capability. In August, an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report stated that the country has 2,100 centrifuges in an underground site and has intensified production of nuclear fuel. To curb the Iranian nuclear program, concerned states have applied increasingly severe economic sanctions on the Iranian central bank and its crude oil sector, carried out cyber attacks on Iranian centrifuges, and attempted targeted assassinations of Iranian scientists and engineers. Meanwhile, in Jerusalem and Washington, decision-makers appear to be aligning their time frames for a preventive attack []. At the United Nations in early October, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu argued

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