Last week, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Senator John McCain (R-AZ), and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) visited Israel. During their trip, all three made statements regarding the suspected covert Iranian program to develop nuclear weapons, indicating that an American military strike on Iran as a distinct possibility.
Such an attack would not only be unwise. It would be insane.
It is highly probable that Iran is, indeed, engaging in a covert nuclear weapons program, and no one can deny that Iranian nuclear capability would be a matter of grave concern both to the nations of the Persian Gulf, the United States, and the world as a whole. America should work with its allies and partners, using every diplomatic and economic means at its disposal (carrots as well as sticks) to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons. But an actual military strike would lead to consequences potentially far worse than a nuclear-armed Iran.
First, there is no way of being sure that an American strike would be able to destroy Iran's nuclear program. The Iranians aren't stupid, and have doubtless studied with great interest the American air campaigns that have been waged against Iraq and Serbia in the last decade or so. Whatever nuclear facilities exist in the country are undoubtedly deep underground, dispersed over wide areas, with heavy redundancy built in. It's extremely unlikely that even the most successful air campaign would be able to destroy them all.
Second, an American attack on Iran would shatter the domestic opposition to the ruling Iranian regime and cause wavering Iranians to rally around their government. Last year, the domestic opposition within Iran came close to toppling the Iranian regime, and they are surely the best hope for those who dream of a free and democratic Iran. If America were to attack Iran, the ruling regime will be able to crush its domestic opponents by painting them as American cronies, and the reform movement's potential for ultimate success would be all but ended. The ruling Iranian regime is far more afraid of its domestic opponents than it is of the United States. If America launched a military strike, it would effectively be doing the Iranian regime a huge favor.
Third, any attack of Iran could not be limited to a mere air strike, but would immediately result in a full-scale war in the Middle East which the United State can ill afford to wage. Every Iranian missile would be fired at every American base within range, and Iranian special forces troops would doubtless be unleashed against us in Iraq and perhaps Afghanistan as well. Our present military operations leave us with few available forces to deploy against Iran, and the present fiscal crisis means that we would be unable to pay for a war that would likely be far bloodier and more costly than either the war in Iraq or the war in Afghanistan.
Fourth, all the progress America has made in extracting itself from the Iraqi morass and in defeating the Taliban in Afghanistan would immediately be thrown away. The Shia elements within Iraq would side with the Iranians, who have long been their allies and friends, and we could expect a massive uprising against American forces in response to the attack on Iran. Such a scenario would make the dark days of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006 look like a picnic, and we could easily see thousands of American casualties within a very short time. Even worse, a direct attack on Iran would possibly make the Iranians ally themselves with the Taliban, with whom they have previously been on very dubious terms. The Taliban continue to resist American forces in Iran with surprising effectiveness; imagine how much more effective they might become if they began receiving shipments of Iranian money and weapons.
Fifth, an attack on Iran would instantly throw the global economy into a tailspin, as Iran can easily stop all oil shipments out of the Persian Gulf by blocking the Straits of Hormuz. Iran is well-equipped with self-produced Silkworm anti-ship missiles, which are easily transported and hard to find. With the ease of flipping a switch, Iran can cut the world off from one-third of its oil supply. It's not hard to imagine what this would do to oil prices around the world, or what effect it would have on already jittery global markets. Even the threat of this happening would be a disaster. Considering the still-fragile nature of the global economic recovery, such a disaster might be enough to plunge the world into an outright depression.
Sixth, such an attack would be a violation of both international law and American law. Article Two of the United Nations Charter, which was signed by President Truman and ratified by the Senate, clearly states that no state can attack another state except in clear cases of self-defense. Article Six of the Constitution makes it clear that treaties signed and ratified by the United States are part of the supreme law of the land. Therefore, an attack on Iran would be illegal. You can't just throw away international treaties, much less the Constitution itself, whenever you feel like it.
While America should not openly declare that military action is off the table, so as to lend necessary weight to our diplomatic efforts, it must be obvious to any rational person that attacking Iran would be the act of a madman. Another solution to the Iranian nuclear issue must be found.
I think it's also worth pointing out that American concern over this issue would be greatly reduced, it not made wholly unnecessary, if our nation adopted common sense energy policies that eliminated our dependence on foreign oil. If we did that, then we could simply say good riddance to the Middle East, leaving it to solve its own problems. From the standpoint of 21st Century Jeffersonianism, the less we have to do with the Middle East, the better. But that's a subject for another blog post.