As Rex noted in an e-mail, we again see conservative hawks and radical Islamists on the same side of an issue. They both want a war with Iran.
Bruce Riedel – “Al Qaeda Plans for War With Israel” – channels the AQ position, as recently passed on in grisly, terrorist-instructing detail by Saeed al Shehri in messages to “the faithful” (both theirs and ours):
So why does al Qaeda want another war? Because it calculates an Israeli strike on Iran will prompt Iran to strike back against not only Israel but also the United States. Iran will attack American installations in the Gulf, encourage its proxies in Iraq and Afghanistan to attack Americans, and engage in a global terror campaign. In Lebanon, Hezbollah will start another war, raining missiles down on northern Israeli cities and towns and provoking Israeli airstrikes on Beirut and maybe even into Syria. Iran might even try to close the Strait of Hormuz and disrupt the global energy market. All this chaos and violence will make America even more unpopular in the Islamic world and open doors for al Qaeda to exploit. In this they are right, another war will be blamed on America rightly or wrongly. Shehri and his boss, Osama bin Laden, probably don’t really know if another war is in the making but they are almost certainly right that if it comes it will be good news for al Qaeda.
It’s interesting that Saeed via Riedel seems certain that Israel will act alone – though with presumed U.S. and U.S. allies’ support – but it’s not clear how much difference it would make in the overall calculation – and growth opportunity for extremists. As we know – for instance from reading Contentions religiously like all right-thinking Americans – American hawks figure that if the job is going to be done, it ought to be done right, by the U.S. Air Force, and that letting little Israel be our proxy is unnecessarily risky and more than a little bit dishonorable.
Of course, neither Riedel, nor Saeed al Shehri, nor you, nor me, nor Jeffrey Goldberg, nor our former colleague JE Dyer, nor Robert Wright, nor 100 war-gamers, nor anyone else really can predict the future blow by counter-blow, world with or without end. Goldberg rests humbly on a “greater than 50/50” chance of war within a year: In other words, after all his interviews and ratiocination, it’s kind of a coin flip. JED punts on predictions, but otherwise comes across as confident in her own powers of prophecy, somewhat as ever: Re-stating her own previously enunciated positions and largely endorsing Caroline Glick’s typically bleak assessments, JE asserts that a nuclear Iran would be positioned to push the U.S. out of the region and isolate, presumably destroy Israel.
On an important supporting point in JED/Glick-ism, Wright is as skeptical as the Israeli theoretician Martin Van Creveld has been, that a “nuclear umbrella” would protect or encourage the nuclear power’s “proxies.” Historical experience has been the opposite: Nuclear states resort to proxies and low level war precisely because they can no longer risk escalated conflict. The results can be highly stressful to the prime mover – Soviets in Afghanistan, U.S. in Vietnam, both sides in Korea – but they remain limited to stabilizing the status quo, not radically altering it. (My own view is that nuclear deterrent would protect Iran itself from massive retaliation or invasion, but that the latter has never been on the table anyway.)
Wright’s main argument, however, is political-rhetorical jiu-jitsu – what he perceives as the implicitly self-contradictory argument in Jeffrey Goldberg’s major piece on Israeli calculations:
His article, read closely, suggests that even from Israel’s point of view, there’s no sound rationale for bombing Iran, especially when you consider the long-term downside: an attack would radically dim what prospects there are for lasting peace in the Middle East; Israel’s downward spiral — in which regional hostility toward it leads to conflicts that only deepen the hostility — would be sustained big time. If appealing to America’s interests isn’t enough to keep Israel from attacking Iran, maybe appealing to Israel’s interests will help.
In short, even the Israelis don’t really believe a nuclear Iran is unmanageable, if they and their allies maintain the will to manage it: The arguments regarding supposed existential peril are a mixture of history-based emotionalism (referencing the Holocaust), propagandistic fantasy (suicidal-genocidal Iranians), and ahistorical exaggeration (nuclear-fearful Israelis brain-draining away). Thought through rationally, the arguments against Israeli action are as strong now as they have been on every day prior to today, and as they will remain.
What Wright does not acknowledge is that we have already defined a nuclearized Iran as a point of no return, an historical setback, a devastating blow to non-proliferation, to the hope of a peaceful world and especially to a more peaceful Middle East, and to American credibility. Whether or not it should and must be all of those things, we seem set on experiencing them that way. That might mean that the blow to American credibility has already been sustained, and that it’s just a matter of observing its further effects.