Despite the Iraq precedent, the odds are against a US attack on Iran any time soonby Philip Gordon / June 25, 2006 / Leave a comment
Other articles in the Prospect online symposium on the Iranian nuclear crisis:
Mark Fitzpatrick examines Iran’s nuclear process Michael Rubin argues that diplomacy is not enough Alastair Crooke says that the west are trampling over Iran’s rights Nazenin Ansari suggests that the Iranian state may be susceptible to sanctions Esther Herman on her encounters with everyday Iranians
As I discovered on a recent trip to London, it’s not easy for an American these days to convince his European colleagues that the US is unlikely to attack Iran’s nuclear sites any time soon. Given the Iraq precedent, and with senior US officials now regularly coming forward with similarly dire warnings about the Iranian threat, Europeans are understandably inclined to believe reports—such as those recently published by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker—that Washington is getting ready to bomb Iran, possibly even with tactical nuclear weapons.
It would be foolish to take these concerns lightly. President Bush has vowed never to “permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons,” and he has proven to be a leader willing to implement his threats even in the face of considerable international and domestic opposition. He may be convinced that only he has the courage to deal with the Iranian nuclear threat and that only an American military attack can reliably do so once diplomatic efforts have been tried and failed. With presumed Democratic presidential candidates like Senators Hilary Clinton and Evan Bayh already attacking the administration for its failure to do anything about Iran, and the increasingly unpopular Republican party in need of a boost, the politics of the 2008 presidential election might also push America in the direction of a military confrontation with Iran.
But I don’t think so. When all the political and strategic pros and cons of an American military strike on Iran are taken into account, there is good reason to believe that the US will stick to diplomacy—even as Iran continues what looks like an inexorable march toward a nuclear-weapons capability.
What is striking about the US approach is not the degree to which Washington is eschewing diplomacy in favour of military force, but the opposite. During Bush’s first term, the administration criticised European engagement with Iran, predicted that the “EU-3” approach of Britain, France and Germany would fail, and insisted that it would not “reward bad behaviour” by dealing with…