Less than a year after publicly lecturing Barack Obama on the subject of Palestinian statehood, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was back in Washington over the weekend, determined to convince the American president and congressional lawmakers that a preemptive military strike offers the last, best hope for stopping the Iranian regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Bibi’s full-court press included a speech before the powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) where—to the sound of rattling sabers—he drew parallels to the Holocaust and insisted: “I will never let my people live in the shadow of annihilation.”
Pro-Israel groups, meanwhile, are using the debate over what to do about Iran’s nuclear program to delegitimize President Obama while waging a smear campaign against critics of a preemptive strike. They’re joined by three of the four Republican candidates for president, who interrupted their Super Tuesday campaigning just long enough to engage in a bit of politicized fear-mongering. Mitt Romney took the cake with his ludicrous assessment that, “If Barack Obama gets re-elected, Iran will have a nuclear weapon.”
From the rhetoric you’d think the President was not only resolved to wash his hands of the Iranian nuclear situation, but was considering supplying plutonium to the mullahs himself. Of course nothing could be further from the truth; in his own speech at AIPAC on Sunday, President Obama reiterated America’s unconditional support of Israel, saying that under no circumstances would Iran be allowed to get the bomb and promising that he “will not hesitate to use force when it is necessary to defend the United States and its interests.”
But it seems that nothing short of a blanket commitment to bomb will satisfy the president’s detractors, who are intent on making war with Iran a campaign wedge issue in 2012.
Gives you a warm fuzzy feeling, doesn’t it?
The thing is, just about everyone agrees that Iran is years away from procuring a nuclear weapon, if they’re trying to do so at all, and dropping bombs would make things worse, not better. But you wouldn’t know that from the small but vocal (and powerful) minority that’s trying to bully the President into unsound military action.
In case you’re not sold, here are five simple reasons why U.S. support for bombing Iran would be premature and shortsighted.
1. There is no hard evidence that Iran is building a bomb.
The most recent round of anxiety over Iran’s nuclear program stems from a November report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that suggests the Iranians are not being completely forthcoming about their uranium enrichment program and have blocked investigators from visiting certain sites. (You may recall Saddam Hussein did the same thing for years following the first Gulf War.) Iran has since agreed to let IAEA inspectors into the disputed site.
Meanwhile, all 16 U.S. intelligence agencies agree that while Iran may have the intention to build a nuclear warhead, they have not been actively engaged in development for years. As recently as January the director of national intelligence, James R. Clapper Jr., told a Senate committee that there is no evidence Iran is pursuing a weapons program.
Iran is enriching uranium for reactor fuel, which by all accounts, is their right to do under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty as long as it’s only for civilian purposes. (Iran ratified the NPT in 1970 when it was still governed by the Shah; by contrast, Israel, which is estimated to have hundreds of nuclear warheads, refused to sign as recently as 2009.) Iran’s Supreme Leader has repeatedly denied his country is building a bomb and went so far as to issue a fatwa condemning nuclear weapons.
2. Bombing Iran would probably be illegal.
By most accounts launching a preemptive strike on Iranian targets would be a violation of international law. Under Article 2.4 of the United Nations Charter, unilateral use of force is only justified in response to an attack or when faced with an imminent threat of attack. Some proponents of a strike have said that Iran’s arming of groups like Hezbollah and Hamas constitutes an “attack,” but a detailed analysis of international law by attorney Ben Gharagozli shows that simply supporting an armed group fails to meet the legal definition of an attack as defined by the International Court of Justice. In order to proceed militarily without UN authorization, Israel (or the United States) would have to show that an attack is forthcoming—something that would be hard to do considering no one can even say for sure Iran is building a bomb.
3. America doesn’t need another war.
Remember, back in 2003, that whole song and dance about weapons of mass destruction and how it was only a matter of time before Saddam Hussein used them on his neighbors or allowed them to fall into the hands of terrorists? Well, you’re hearing the encore right now. The playbook says we (or Israel, or both of us) bombs one or more of Iran’s known reactor and/or enrichment sites, the regime is set back several years in its nuclear program, and then, presumably, we bomb again. Sounds pretty clear cut; but the invasion and occupation of Iraq taught us that reality rarely follows plans. Ten years later, our cavalier march into Baghdad—popularized by the unconfirmed “threat” of WMDs—has left us more than $1 trillion in the hole and the region actually less safe. If we learned anything over the past decade it’s that innuendo and rumor alone are poor justifications for war.
4. Bombing Iran could destroy the citizens’ rampant pro-America feelings.
The Iranian populace is among the most America-friendly of any country in the Middle East—so much so that the regime has expressed its concerns in the past about its citizens’ rampant pro-Americanism. It’s well documented. Look it up. Two years ago, when Iranian youth rose up in the Green Revolution, they looked to America as a model for democratic reforms. If there is one thing that could undermine that admiration it’s U.S. aggression, particularly if it is perceived to be carried out on behalf of Israel. The same thing goes for newly independent Sunni Arabs who have little love for the Shiite theocracy in Tehran, but would rally around their Muslim brothers if Iran was to come under attack from the West.
5. Diplomacy, not military action, is still the best option.
Even if all the previous assertions were wrong, the single fact remains that diplomacy has more potential to dissolve the Iranian nuclear crisis than military confrontation. Under the best-case scenario, an attack would only slow down Iran’s nuclear program, while at the same time boosting the regime’s determination to succeed. Short-sighted plans ensure short-term gains. By contrast, by seeking some form of détente with Iran, we can work toward more long-term diplomatic goals. Iran may have a boisterous and instigating president today, but Mahmoud Ahmajinedad’s days are numbered, and the reform movement, while weakened, remains a potential player in the country’s future. President Obama knows all these things; I just hope he’s strong enough to withstand the onslaught of politicized rhetoric and make it clear to Netanyahu that starting a shooting war with Iran is simply not on America’s to-do list. I say we let Israel go this one alone.