Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Attacking Iran -- moral implications

My first note presented some controversies but didn’t take sides in order to imagine a time when all has been resolved, much as Fukuyama says that one day it will be.

Perhaps it would be helpful to consider both why we ought to attack Iran and why we should not. Matthew Kroenig argues (all the while considering the alternatives) that we should. Kroenig’s article, “Time to Attack Iran, Why a Strike is the least bad option” appears in the January/February 2012 issue of Foreign Affairs. Matthew Kroenig is “Stanton Nuclear Security Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations and author of Exporting the Bomb: Technology Transfer and the Spread of Nuclear Weapons. From July 2010 to July 2011, he was Special Adviser in the Office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense, responsible for defense strategy and policy on Iran.”

While you can’t read Kroenig’s article online, you can read opposing responses to it on the Foreign Affairs web site, e.g.,

The controversy bears a resemblance to war vs. antiwar arguments prior to World War Two. Certain French Generals can in retrospect be seen to have gotten it right. France should have poured more money into defense. French leaders were arguing that France couldn’t afford to, just as there are those today arguing that we can’t afford to do anything about Iran. But in retrospect, if we go a short way up the mountain, we can look back at the cost to France and say without fear of disagreement, that the cost would have been far less to France if they had beefed up their military and dealt with Hitler in the early days of his violations of Germany’s post-WWI agreements. But France dithered as Hitler became stronger and stronger.

We in the U.S. are going to do one thing or the other. We are going to attack Iran or we are not, and we cannot know in advance which option will be the least expensive. Yes, we can say with the pre-WWII French leaders, the cost of arms is expensive, but will we after our opponent (in this case Iran) does whatever it is going to do, decide that we have made the right decision, and are taking all possible expenses into consideration? In France’s case it is clear that they did not make the right decision. If we do nothing will we have to say the same thing later on? Or will a new, mini-cold war, seem preferable and indeed have its benefits?

If we do nothing, as Kroenig argues, and Iran develops nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia is sure to want them as well. We are going to have to step up and either dole them out to Saudi Arabia and our other Middle-Eastern allies, or promise we will guard such states with permanently deployed ship-board and airborne nuclear weapons. It might in the long run cost far more to keep a fleet permanently in the region than it would be to knock out all or most of Iran’s nuclear capability in a single strike.

Do we have moral arguments for a preemptive strike against Iran? Iranian leaders have threatened Israel and Britain. Are these and similar threats sufficient to warrant a preemptive strike from a moral standpoint? A case can certainly be made. Iran engages in human-rights violations. Such violations are intrinsic to Islamic Fundamentalism. Iran is guilty of intolerance against non-Islamic religions and has vowed to destroy both Christianity and Judaism, especially the latter. Hitler voiced similar threats in his Mein Kampf, but they were discounted as meaningless bluster until he actually carried them out. Are we justified (or more importantly is Israel justified) in discounting the words of Ahmadinejad?

There will be many in the military who realize that more money will be pumped into weaponry and maintenance if we do not strike Iran preemptively and Iran is allowed to acquire nuclear weapons. A preemptive strike would use a minimum amount of weaponry during a limited time. But if we do not strike Iran preemptively and have instead to guard the region indefinitely with our war ships and planes, the Navy and Air Force will be assured of ongoing congressional support for new weaponry and military forces indefinitely.

In our Liberal Democracy there are many agendas besides the moral one that we might consider. And one can by no means assume that the current democratic president will be less likely to conduct a preemptive strike against Iran the Republican he defeated. One can imagine Obama’s advisors weighing the options and telling him that the voting public isn’t going to want to unseat him if he is in the midst of a military action – a strike against Iran at the right time might be the surest path to reelection.

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