Writing in today`s Washington Post, columnist Fareed Zakaria does a terrific job destroying some arguments for war with Iran. He does it by, of all things, citing history.
First, Zakaria takes apart the argument, often made by Israeli Minister of Defense Ehud Barak, that the `window` to stop Iran from developing a nuclear capability is closing and that rushing to war — without, of course, knowing how a war would play out — is essential. Zakaria explains that this is one of the oldest justifications for war in the book:
The most famous example, of course, was Germany`s decision to start what became World War I. The German General Staff believed that Russia — its archenemy — was rearming on a scale that would soon nullify Germany`s superior military strength. The Germans believed that within two years — by 1916 — Russia would have a significant, and perhaps unbeatable, strategic advantage.
As a result, when turmoil began in the Balkans in June 1914, Germany decided to act while it had the advantage. To stop Russia from entering a `zone of immunity,` Germany invaded France (Russia`s main ally) and Belgium, which forced British entry into the war, thus setting in motion a two-front European war that lasted four years and resulted in more than 37 million casualties.
Zakaria then cites the Israeli argument that Americans cannot understand their fears because `Iran is an existential threat to them.`
But in fact we can understand because we have gone through a very similar experience ourselves. After World War II, as the Soviet Union approached a nuclear capability, the United States was seized by a panic that lasted for years. Everything that Israel says about Iran now, we said about the Soviet Union. We saw it as a radical, revolutionary regime, opposed to every value we held dear, determined to overthrow the governments of the Western world in order to establish global communism. We saw Moscow as irrational, aggressive and utterly unconcerned with human life. After all, Joseph Stalin had just sacrificed a mind-boggling 26 million Soviet lives in his country`s struggle against Nazi Germany.
Then there was the mad rush to war in Iraq:
Many in Washington in March 2003 insisted that we could not wait for nuclear inspectors to keep at their work in Iraq because we faced a closing window — the weather was going to get too hot by June and July to send in U.S. forces. As a result, we rushed into a badly planned military invasion and occupation in which soldiers had to endure combat in Iraq for nine long and very hot years.
In short, millions have been killed in wars that were based on faulty premises and lies. Happily, on the other hand, the ultimate war (a U.S.-Soviet war that might have ended civilization) did not come to pass because policymakers on both sides decided to contain the respective nuclear threat rather than blow up the enemy.
It is unlikely that Senators Joseph Lieberman (I-CT), Bob Casey (D-PA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) gave much thought to these historical precedents when they decided to introduce a resolution — promoted by AIPAC — that rules out `containing` the Iran nuclear threat in favor of going to war.
Their resolution is best described on Lieberman`s website: `All options must be on the table when it comes to Iran — except for one, and that is containment.`
The senators elaborate in a joint statement:
The resolution we intend to introduce will put the Senate on record as opposing containment in the strongest and clearest terms, detailing why the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be `contained` like the threat of the Soviet Union.
Forget for a minute that there is no clear evidence that Iran has decided to build nuclear weapons, let alone even the slightest indication that Iran is prepared to commit national suicide by using any possible weapon it develops. Focus only on the fact that these senators are seeking to rule out containment in dealing with the eventuality that the Iranians succeed in developing a bomb.
They would prohibit the one policy the U.S. has successfully employed in the case of every other unfriendly regime that has developed nuclear weapons.
But for some reason, the Iranian case is different. In the senators` joint statement opposing containment, they specifically assert that `a nuclear-armed Iran cannot be `contained` like the threat of the Soviet Union.`
Their thinking is that unlike Stalin`s Russia, Mao`s China and North Korea`s dynastic and reckless leaders, the Iranian regime is suicidal. Although use of an atomic weapon would lead to its own annihilation, the hawks claim Iran will happily commit suicide for the sheer pleasure of taking Israel down with it.
But no nation has ever committed suicide and Persians, whose pride in their own culture and sense of nationalism knows no bounds, are clearly among the least likely candidates for the course of self-immolation. (Assuming they hate Israel so much that they would happily self-destruct, there is also the matter of the Palestinians who would also die in any nuclear attack on Israel. It`s difficult to believe that, in the name of Palestine, Iran would slaughter the Palestinians.)
No, the campaign that surrounds Iran is about Israel`s fear that a nuclear Iran would inhibit Israel`s freedom of action throughout the Middle East, taking away its ability to do whatever it wants whenever it wants to. Israel fears precisely what happened to the United States after the Soviets got the bomb — that both countries would be constrained by a fear of the other. A `balance of terror,` as it was called during the half-century that the two nuclear superpowers avoided war.
There is no alternative to containment (not even regime change, considering that even opponents of the regime support Iran`s nuclear program).
Even if Israel and/or the United States attacks Iran`s nuclear facilities, the attack would only set back Iran`s nuclear program by a few years. It would also probably end any debate in Iran about developing a nuclear deterrent; having been attacked, the regime would almost surely commit to building a bomb as soon as possible. And they would succeed.
Then what? Iran would have a bomb and we would have no choice but...containment.
So the only question is whether we adopt the policy of containment before a war or after. The answer should be obvious.
Of course, we might be able to avoid the question of containment if we commenced comprehensive negotiations with Iran with a goal of preventing development of a bomb (while permitting enrichment for civilian purposes), normalizing U.S.-Iranian relations, ending its support of terrorism against Israel or anyone else, and dropping the sanctions that punish ordinary Iranians and not the regime.
That is exactly what we would do if every policy could be made absent the powerful lobby that fears diplomacy more than war and is so effective at hamstringing U.S. policy with devices like the Lieberman-Casey-Graham resolution.