Do you know who the real war lovers are? Peaceniks. Without wars, what would they do with their moral sanctimony? After Vietnam they suffered a long dry spell, positively horny for a war to oppose; Iraq finally let them scratch their itch. That felt so good, but now Iraq is over and Afghanistan is winding down. So now they’re ginning up indignation about a war that hasn’t happened – and won’t.
In past situations, the “give sanctions time to work” line was a feckless bleat. But in this situation, there really is no alternative. Past sanctions tended to be slaps with a wet noodle; but now the prospect of an Israeli attack on Iran seems to have frightened the civilized world more than the prospect of an Iranian bomb ever did. So that, at long last, hoping to forestall the Israelis, they’ve gotten serious and imposed a set of sanctions that will really bite (including locking Iran out of the international money transfer system).
If air strikes could actually destroy Iran’s bomb program, I’d be all for it. But they can’t. Iran’s nuclear infrastructure is too dispersed, hidden, and well-protected. At most bombing would damage it temporarily, while actually redoubling the regime’s commitment to it. And while some sensible Iranians might blame such an attack on regime recklessness, there would also be a “rally round” effect. Indeed, an attack would be a godsend to a regime struggling to sustain loyalty, seemingly proving that its propaganda invoking foreign bogeymen was not paranoid nonsense after all.
Meantime, an attack would itself be a reckless gamble, with unforeseeable but potentially terrible follow-ons. The huge risks outweigh any possible gains. I think that’s true for the Israelis as well.
Better to let sanctions grind away at the mullahs, who will certainly be blamed for the economic toll. Iran’s economy is already a shambles due to the regime’s incompetence; because of that, together with the stolen 2009 election and the bloody crackdown that followed, the mullahs know they’re skating on thin ice and can ill-afford even more economic pain. The hope is that they will be forced to give up on the bomb; or else they’ll fall.
If neither happens, and Iran does get the bomb, that will be bad, but we’ll have to live with it. Don’t be fooled by the mullahs’ messianic religious pose. In truth this is just another gang of thugs ruling by gangster methods, for their own aggrandizement, cloaked in phony religious camouflage. It’s to secure their power that they want the bomb – not to actually use it and risk everything.
American policy makers understand all this perfectly well, and while some saber-rattling is (rightly) part of our repertoire in dealing with Iran, an actual U.S. attack (let alone a full-scale “war”) is out of the question. Except of course in the fevered minds of peaceniks thirsting for a war to be against, and who love to condemn their own country as a warmonger nation toward which they can feel morally superior.