By: Chris Tubbs – ctubbs8 at gmail.com
As the end of the year approaches President Obama must make a decision concerning what to do with Iran and its nuclear enrichment program. The President has thus far kept Israel from taking any unilateral action against Iran by promising them that he would make a decision on what the U.S. will do by the end of the year. He has just made his first big foreign policy decision, to escalate in Afghanistan, and now he has another big decision to make – whether or not to bomb Iran’s nuclear infrastructure or pursue diplomacy indefinitely.
I would here like to make the case for the latter option, indefinite diplomacy. This is just an artful way of saying that we should do nothing. The single biggest problem with American foreign policy in the modern era has been the lack of recognition on the part of the foreign policy establishment, and especially among the American people, that oftentimes the most intelligent thing to do is nothing. If there is a foreign problem, no matter how serious it is, the American impulse is to root it out, destroy it. There seems to be little appreciation that the attempt at destroying the problem can create all sorts of smaller problems that, taken together, are worse than the original problem was. It is the better part of wisdom to realize that sometimes the wisest course is simply to manage the negative effects of a foreign problem as best you can.
Iran’s nuclear program is exactly this type of foreign problem. Israel, our irksome ally, wants us to “do something.” The American people always want us to “do something.” In this particular case the only thing there is to “do” is bomb Iran. So let’s do a quick cost-benefit analysis. What are the costs to us of bombing Iran? First, Iran controls a powerful Shiite militia in Lebanon that could completely destabilize that country. Hezbollah has been playing nice since the war with Israel. You can bet that should we bomb Iran, Hezbollah will sow chaos in Lebanon, a country with a promising multicultural future, not to mention an area where a decent amount of U.S. prestige has been invested. Iran also has considerable influence over the Sunni Islamist group Hamas in the West Bank through its ally Syria. Hamas will not take orders from Iran but if the U.S is getting beat up all over the Middle East by their proxies you can bet Hamas will jump on the bandwagon. Iran has the power to completely ruin us in Iraq, a war that we thought was winding down. It has the power to keep us from having any chance of stabilizing Afghanistan.
Add up all the negatives I have outlined above and you are forced to come to the conclusion that bombing Iran would have huge negative consequences. The interesting thing here though is that you come to that conclusion before I have even laid out what is arguably the biggest problem, long term, if we bomb. Currently, two-thirds of the Iranian population is aged 30 or younger. A young and restless population is widely considered to be a harbinger of internal “regime change” or “revolution” and we are seeing that dynamic in Iran now, embodied by the reform movement. Left to its own devices and given time the reform movement may be able to peacefully kick out the mullahs and generals in charge now. However, if we bomb Iran we lose the possibility of regime change for at least another generation. Iranians are a very nationalistic people, much like Americans, and bombing their country will create a rally-round-the-flag effect and tarnish the reformists as unpatriotic agitators. So to sum everything up so far, the negative consequences of bombing Iran could hardly be greater.
The next step in our cost-benefit analysis is deciding what the benefits of bombing would be. Bombing Iran’s nuclear structure would ensure that Iran would not become a nuclear weapons state for at least a few extra years. Thats it. In exchange for all the negative consequences outlined above we get a nuclear free Iran for a few more years, and after those few years we get to do the to-bomb-or-not-to-bomb dance all over again. I am incredibly underwhelmed. If a little shock-and-awe could stop a nasty regime like Iran’s from ever actually getting The Bomb it would be worth it even with all the negative consequences, but thats not what happens here. We would only delay them from getting it.
This whole situation reminds me of the Serenity Prayer used in AA meetings: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. America must wake up and realize that it simply does not have the power to have its way all of the time. This country trying to have its way, without the means or power to get it, is a recipe for disaster.