From Richard Cohen’s piece, this:
“What would happen next is anyone’s guess—retaliation by Hamas and Hezbollah, an unprecedented spike in oil prices and then, after a few years or less, a resumption of Iran’s nuclear program.”
This timeline of events is common coin, and has been for years.
When I was getting my Master’s in Strategic Studies, the issue of what to do with Iran was one of the key discussion points and topics for outside reading. I spent almost an entire semester immersed in the question, and one thing always came back again and again—if the Iranian facilities are bombed, there will be war, and they’ll just resume building them in a few years. We can only delay their acquisition of nukes by perhaps ten years. This is what the counterproliferation literature says over and over.
I am starting to ask myself if this regurgitated wisdom has been really vetted for sanity. There’s little doubt that a war with Iran would be regional, costly, nasty, and immensely destructive. “Retaliation by Hamas and Hebollah” doesn’t nearly capture the size and seriousness of the Iranian response to an airstrike by Israel or the US—those are literally small professional armies we’re talking about, not ragtag bands of part-time terrorists. This would be a big, multi-spectral fight, and it could escalate to a real conflagration involving Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Iran, and even parts of Iraq. It would be extremely damaging to the regime in Tehran, to the Iranian economy, to their internal and international legitimacy, and to the intermediate-term effectiveness of their armed forces.
Having demonstrated once that the West (i.e., Israel and the United States) was willing to go to the mattresses over the issue, just how eagerly and how quickly would the Iranians set themselves back on a collision course with the US and Israeli Naval and Air Forces? How much popular or elite political support would there be for a renewed attempt to get nuclear weapons? In the world that existed the day after the cessation of hostilities, both Iraq and Iran would have fought a massively damaging and costly war with the United States, over the exact same issue, WMDs. Am I to believe that they’d have a bomb only ten years later than they otherwise would in such an event, as some claim? If that’s the case, and fighting a war with Iran wouldn’t do anything more than create a slight delay in their development of a bomb, then there’s literally no point in opposing an Iranian nuclear weapon at all. [LA replies: Logically this is not correct. We could wage a war on them every ten years and keep them from acquiring nukes forever.]
A war with Iran would be a catastrophic one, a bloodbath. That’s also, incidentally, why we’re never going to fight one. But I think the weakest reason in the world to withhold our hand is this assumption that it would only delay their acquisition of a nuclear device by a few years, which is what so many people claim. To sum up: if that’s really true, then there’s no sense even sanctioning the regime for all the good it will do, and in any event I find it highly implausible that a major war with the Iranians wouldn’t make the slightest dent in their calculations of the value of a clandestine nuclear program.