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Unique Takes on War with Iran

(To read the rest of our series, “The Case Against War with Iran”, please click here.)

At On V, we ascribe to the “Jim Rome Theory of Pontificating”. For the uninitiated, Jim Rome, a sports talk show host, tells his listeners to “have a take.” So don’t call him and say, “I like the Lakers.” He has thousands of listeners who could say that. Tell him something unique. Propose a novel trade idea. Explain why you hate a player with new statistics to back you up.

Have a take.

In our last “On V Update to Old Ideas”, I praised Thomas J. Bounomo’s Small Wars Journal article “Changing Iran’s Cost-Benefit Analysis of its Nuclear Program” because it put forward--in my words--“a unique solution to the crisis”. To be clear, I don’t necessarily agree with a unique take just because it’s unique, but I appreciate articles, blog posts or op-eds that do more than just say, “I agree” or “I disagree”. But that doesn't provide new ideas or takes.

In the case of Iran, I don’t find much use for articles that simply say either, “We should attack Iran” or “We shouldn’t attack Iran.” So I want to gives props to the articles, posts, or op-eds which evolve the debate about Iran. (As a side note--though I cannot analytically prove this--I believe compared to the Iraq War, the debate over war with Iran has had many more thoughtful pre-war ideas.)

1. “In Iran Standoff, Netanyahu Could Be Bluffing” by Jeffrey Goldberg

Though he has since distanced himself from this article, I still appreciate Jeffrey Goldberg’s initial Bloomberg View column that speculated that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was bluffing. While it is probably more wrong than right--Netanyahu could be both bluffing and serious at the same time--it does explain the paradox of the seeming inevitability of Israeli air strikes that never actually materialize.

2. Iran Wants War by Internetocracy

This graph pretty much sums up why Iran does not present a “Germany a la World War II” threat to the U.S.:

It also completely debunks the idea that to deter Iran the U.S. will have to devote considerable resources to the Middle East. We already do. (H/T to Battleland.)

3. “Top Ten Media Failures in the Iran War Debate” by Stephen Walt

We quoted this Stephen Walt article in our post evaluating Iran’s military. While I have a healthy dose of fear about the IRGC, Walt rightly points out that militarily, Iran cannot approach the American armed forces. (To clarify our point, the U.S won’t lose a war with Iran, but we could lose thousands of soldiers and billions in military equipment.)

But Walt makes another excellent point about the lack of media coverage about Iranian civilians casualties in any hostilities. Walt rightly asks, “What about the human beings?” Eric C would and has argued that the American media almost completely ignored Iraqi casualties during the opening months of the Iraq war. The U.S. should remember, as war looms, that innocent people will die.

4. “Walt Still Doesn’t Get It (Iran)” by Bernard Finel

I’ve linked to Stephen Walt a lot in this series, which is a bit surprising because, as a liberal idealist in foreign affairs, I tend to mostly disagree with him. But not on Iran. Bernard Finel, though, makes a compelling argument that the problem with Iran has more to do with domestic politics than the compelling international relations logic of deterrence.

Basically, it doesn’t feel very good. As he says, “muddling through or living with risk” aren’t policy options the American people want to embrace. Compare those policies with, “go to war and win”; they don’t look very attractive. That’s why, according to Finel, the Iraq war started and why an Iran war will likely follow it.

5. “Sanctions Will Lead to War” by Trita Parsi

Trita Parsi generally writes well on Iran and I completely agree with his take that sanctions will probably do more to start war than prevent it with Iran. His logic makes sense; sanctions isolate a country and signal to it that it should prepare for war. Preparing for war makes war more likely. Parsi specifically uses the Iraq example (which we discussed here) and though analogies don’t always work, it probably does in this case.

6. “China’s Fast Growing Middle East Problem” by Michal Meidan

Michal Meidan describes the inevitable problem of China’s economic: soon it will start making enemies. As Meidan says, “as China’s commercial ties to the Middle East increase, it will inexorably become more involved in the region’s politics.” Thus any war with Iran will affect China, and China’s decisions will affect the outcome.

7. “Like U.S. Hezbollah Caught in the Middle of Israel-Iran Conflict” by Andrew Exum

Andrew Exum’s article describing how Hezbollah will be “caught in the middle” of an Israel and Iran war speaks to the difficulty of predicting how war will play out. Perhaps Hezbollah really will sit out of an Iranian counter-attack, severely diminishing one of Iran’s counter-strike options (and ironically diminishing one of the more commonly cited reasons for war). Or maybe it will launch missiles. In either case, a war with Iran is more likely to be messy and global than contained and localized in the Persian Gulf.

8. “This Week At War: Iran’s North Korea Scenario” by Robert Haddick

I don’t usually agree with Robert Haddick, but comparing Iran with North Korea might might make more sense than comparing Iran to Iraq, World War I or World War II, which I mentioned here. He paints a picture where sanctions cripple the economy, and Iran remains isolated. It therefore pursues nuclear weapons with even more vigor, while becoming a police state.

three comments

We could have, but didn’t, call out Twitter for lessening the ability for people to make good takes.

What about the recent news that President Ahmadinejad plans to step away from politics when his term is up? If true, do you think that makes war with Iran more or less likely?

I don’t think it effects it too dramatically. The nuclear program is run by the IRGC (where Ahmadinejad worked in the 80s) which are supervised by the Supreme Leader. So as long as the Supreme Leader is in charge, war could happen.