To attack Iran or not to attack Iran...

U.S. Defense Imagery

Air Force F-105 Thunderchief pilots bomb a military target through low clouds over the southern panhandle of North Vietnam on Jun. 14, 1966.

Article Highlights

  • Once Tehran has the bomb, it may be impossible to stop @michaelauslin

    Tweet This

  • The arms race Iran's possession of the bomb may spark and the willingness of US to risk a nuclear exchange simply unknown

    Tweet This

  • To attack Iran or not to attack Iran? @michaelauslin examines the historical evidence

    Tweet This

Elbridge Colby and Austin Long have a piece up on The National Interest on why we should not attack Iran to prevent it from attaining nuclear capabilities. Working from a realist paradigm, they use numerous historical examples to argue that preemptive bombing a) would not stop Iran’s nuclear program in the long run, b) would cause the regime to double down on attaining nuclear capability, and c) would rally the Iranian populace behind the mullahs, thus making regime change hard to accomplish, if not impossible. I’ll leave analysis of Iran itself to my better informed colleagues, but I’d offer a few notes of caution on the historical evidence they employ.

"While it’s true that bombing North Vietnam, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the like did not alone result in regime change or the loss of support for fascist/authoritarian regimes, there are two ways the Iran case is different." - Michael Auslin

While it’s true that bombing North Vietnam, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, and the like did not alone result in regime change or the loss of support for fascist/authoritarian regimes, there are two ways the Iran case is different. The first is that none of those regimes had experienced significant popular unrest prior to hostilities with the United States; Iran, on the other hand, has been convulsed by street protests and uprisings. The legitimacy of the mullahs is far more tenuous than was that of Ho Chih Minh or Adolf Hitler. Thus, a bombing campaign might indeed give hope to anti-mullah forces and result in wider protests. Secondly, the U.S. bombed Vietnam et. al. when we had been at war with them for years, and thus the population was already either organized to support their governments or emotionally on a wartime patriotic footing. An Iranian policy that brings war to the country through bombing may rightly be viewed by Iranians as the cause of the problem, and not a reason to further support the regime.

More pertinently, Colby and Long argue that strategic bombing in the past did not cause enemy governments to give up their plans or sue for peace. That is true in the case of Saddam Hussein, the North Vietnamese, and the like. Yet, again, those bombing campaigns were not preemptive or preventive and instead were part of a total war policy in an extended time of combat. 

The question today is whether suffering preemptive strikes, and not committing to a prolonged wartime national-mobilization-type effort, might stop Iran’s program both operationally and politically. In general, I agree with Colby and Long that it likely wouldn’t, but the truth is, we simply don’t know. In 1936, Hitler had issued orders to withdraw German troops if France had intervened to oppose remilitarization of the Rhineland, and it is equally uncertain whether Soviet Russia and China would have supported North Korea’s invasion of the South in 1950 if Washington had made absolutely clear that the South was inside the U.S.’s Asian defense perimeter.

Containment is Colby and Long’s preferred solution for dealing with Iran, nuclear or otherwise. As they note, it will be difficult and costly. The problem is that, once Tehran has the bomb, it may be impossible. The types of demands they may make, the arms race their possession of the bomb may spark, and the willingness of United States to risk a nuclear exchange by not altering its interests and commitments are all simply unknown. Given our unwillingness to seriously challenge North Korea for its proliferation and aggression against the South once it had a nuclear device, I’m less sanguine than Colby or Long that we will be willing to hold the line.

Michael Auslin is a resident scholar at AEI.

Also Visit
AEIdeas Blog The American Magazine
About the Author

 

Michael
Auslin

What's new on AEI

AEI Election Watch 2014: What will happen and why it matters
image A nation divided by marriage
image Teaching reform
image Socialist party pushing $20 minimum wage defends $13-an-hour job listing
AEI on Facebook
Events Calendar
  • 27
    MON
  • 28
    TUE
  • 29
    WED
  • 30
    THU
  • 31
    FRI
Monday, October 27, 2014 | 10:00 a.m. – 11:30 a.m.
State income taxes and the Supreme Court: Maryland Comptroller v. Wynne

Please join AEI for a panel discussion exploring these and other questions about this crucial case.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 9:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m.
For richer, for poorer: How family structures economic success in America

Join Lerman, Wilcox, and a group of distinguished scholars and commentators for the release of Lerman and Wilcox’s report, which examines the relationships among and policy implications of marriage, family structure, and economic success in America.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014 | 5:30 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.
The 7 deadly virtues: 18 conservative writers on why the virtuous life is funny as hell

Please join AEI for a book forum moderated by Last and featuring five of these leading conservative voices. By the time the forum is over, attendees may be on their way to discovering an entirely different — and better — moral universe.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 2:00 p.m. – 3:00 p.m.
A nuclear deal with Iran? Weighing the possibilities

Join us, as experts discuss their predictions for whether the United States will strike a nuclear deal with Iran ahead of the November 24 deadline, and the repercussions of the possible outcomes.

Thursday, October 30, 2014 | 5:00 p.m. – 6:15 p.m.
The forgotten depression — 1921: The crash that cured itself

Please join Author James Grant and AEI senior economists for a discussion about Grant's book, "The Forgotten Depression: 1921: The Crash That Cured Itself" (Simon & Schuster, 2014).

No events scheduled today.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.
No events scheduled this day.