"Facing such conditions, would Obama use force against Iran?" the authors write before, in typical establishment fashion, casually listing the factors the president should consider before launching another preemptive war over the purported threat of weapons of mass destruction (none of them having to do with dead Iranians, of course). "First, there is the United Nations to consider," Simon and Takeyh argue, suggesting the major European powers would likely balk at authorizing the conflict, preferring another round of sanctions to out-and-out war. "Domestic consensus would be critical as well," they add, as "[o]ne of the tragedies of American history is that presidents have too often entangled the country in conflicts without forthright conversation with the public." I would argue that too often presidents have entangled the country in conflicts that had absolutely no moral justification, but then I'm not employed by the Council on Foreign Relations.
"The views and reactions of the Arab world would also be relevant," they write -- how thoughtful! -- and as Obama "contemplated the use of force, the administration's decision-making would be further complicated by the need for a plan to unwind military hostilities and make sure a confrontation did not escalate out of control."
Though "the world imagined here may not constitute destiny," Simon and Takeyh conclude, "it will be hard to escape."
Now, there are several problems with the essay, despite the fact that it is not as outrageously blood-thirsty and ludicrous as, say, your typical Commentary magazine call for war. But as Inter Press Service's Ali Gharib notes, that might actually be one of the most troubling aspects of the piece, as it adds the appearance of a respectable, liberal veneer to the idea of attacking Iran over a nuclear weapons program even the U.S. intelligence community says doesn't exist. It suggests that reasonable, serious people consider preemptively attacking Iran to be a reasonable, serious policy option. But rather than engage in a long-winded debunking of the piece myself, I thought it might be useful to note an Op-Ed published in The New York Times, "Bombs That Would Backfire," that pretty much makes my case for me.
"We would like to believe that the administration is not intent on starting another war, because a conflict with Iran could be even more damaging to our interests than the current struggle in Iraq has been," the article begins. "A brief look at history shows why":
"Now, as in the mid-90's, any United States bombing campaign would simply begin a multi-move, escalatory process. Iran could respond three ways. First, it could attack Persian Gulf oil facilities and tankers — as it did in the mid-1980's — which could cause oil prices to spike above $80 dollars a barrel.
Second and more likely, Iran could use its terrorist network to strike American targets around the world, including inside the United States. . . .
Third, Iran is in a position to make our situation in Iraq far more difficult than it already is. The Badr Brigade and other Shiite militias in Iraq could launch a more deadly campaign against . . . American troops. There is every reason to believe that Iran has such a retaliatory shock wave planned and ready."Further, "No matter how Iran responded, the question that would face American planners would be, 'What's our next move?' How do we achieve so-called escalation dominance, the condition in which the other side fears responding because they know that the next round of American attacks would be too lethal for the regime to survive?"
Finally, "how would bombing Iran serve American interests?" the authors ask. "In over a decade of looking at the question, no one has ever been able to provide a persuasive answer."
The authors? The Council on Foreign Relation's Steve Simon and Richard Clarke, the former top counter-terrorism official in the Clinton and Bush administrations, writing back in 2006 amid speculation the Bush administration was itching for another invasion. A year later, Simon echoed the same points in an interview with me that aired on Connecticut public radio station WSHU, criticizing as ludicrous the argument from Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) at the time that the U.S. needed to take "military action to stop the Iranians from carrying out a deadly proxy war against American troops in Iraq." I liked that Steve Simon. Perhaps he and Steve Simon should have a chat?