Here we go again: another Republican presidential candidate demonstrably ignorant of foreign and military affairs, and indubitably reliant on many of the ideologues who served in the Bush administration. Undeterred by their failure to find and destroy purported weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they want a second chance to find and destroy possibly real ones in Iran. But the situation in Iran is even farther beyond their competence than the situation in Iraq was. Yet Romney knows too little to know so; in large part, he thinks what his neo-con advisors want him to think. Since these principals have no experience of combat, the belligerence and bravado of advice given and taken must be suspect as compensation for their unproven manhood.
So Romney thinks that a virile foreign policy consists of “confidence in the cause,” “clarity of purpose,” and “resolve” in the use of force. But confidence, clarity, and resolve are personal attributes, not principles or positions of foreign policy reflecting the military and political realities with which the U.S. must deal. His macho posturing constitutes, not a foreign policy, but a proclivity to pick a fight to prove a right. It makes American diplomacy into a barroom brawl on the principle that might makes right.
Romney thinks that the U.S. should threaten a pre-emptive military strike to forestall Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons and launch it if the threat fails. He thinks that the known sites of Iran’s nuclear program can be attacked and destroyed, and thereby set back, if not scuttle, its presumed nuclear weapons program.
Romney may think that the differences between Iraq and Iran are the differences between fabricated and confirmed intelligence, between non-existing and existing WMD programs and stockpiles, between unknown and known sites, between the deployment of military forces on the ground and the devastation possible through attacks by drones, planes, or missiles.
But the real differences are political, with foreign policy and military implications. Iraq was ruled by an unpopular dictator and had few foreign allies, including terrorist organizations; even so, American forces were not greeted as heroes saving the country and rescuing its people. By contrast, Iran is ruled by a relatively popular clergy and an elected president, and has, in addition to supporters Russia and China, many alliances with terrorist organizations; Americans will be seen as enemies of an Islamic state in the tradition of Christian crusaders.
The U.S. attacked Iraq in the expectation of a short conflict and a short occupation at the cost of few casualties and little material. We know how that worked out.
Romney is not thinking about what the consequences of an attack on Iran might be. Instead, he thinks of only “surgical strikes”—an update of “shock and awe”—in a military engagement carefully controlled, tightly confined to the selected target areas, and quickly concluded. He believes that the Iranian government and the Iranian people will appreciate a neat, clean attack on its nuclear facilities; will admire the high-tech skill of the execution of it all; and will accept the violation of their territory and violence done within its borders with equinamity because of Romney’s “confidence in the cause,” “clarity of purpose,” and “resolve” in the use of force.
Romney knows that Iran lacks the kind of retaliatory capabilities which the U.S. has. It has no long- or medium-range strategic missiles, no short-range submarine-launched missiles, no long-range bombers, no jet-carrying aircraft carriers. But Romney is a fool to think that Iran lacks strategic retaliatory capabilities. What now appear to be planned and coordinated attacks on American embassies throughout the Muslim world are a sign of things which could come, only more so.
Attacked by the U.S., perhaps attacked by Israel regardless of U.S. support or even approval, Iran would likely call upon Muslims worldwide, and especially terrorist organizations like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda, to attack embassies, military installations, police stations, oil pipelines and refineries, shipyards, airports, railroads, bridges, office buildings, churches, temples, hospitals, schools, day-care centers, and more throughout the non-Islamic world—all targets, most “soft” targets, of opportunity; all impossible to defend at one time or for long; and all cumulatively liable to casualties and destruction seldom, if ever, experienced in the non-Islamic world. It would be a “wilding” on an international scale.
Moreover, the U.S. would have no response which could end the hostilities. Attacking and invading Iran would not stop attacks launched by terrorists throughout the world. Once begun, they would not end resulting from U.S. military action. An attack on Iran involving “surgical strikes” has no exit strategy.
So an attack on Iran, if all other options fail, should not be considered, much less called, an “option on the table.” To say so, even as Obama has said so and as Romney says so (for both, in all likelihood, for domestic political purposes), may invite Iran to call the U.S. bluff and thereby incline the U.S. to save face by an attack with adverse consequences greater than Iran’s possession of nuclear weapons. Let us leave breast-beating “resolve” out of the question; it pushes the U.S. into a position to dismember and debilitate itself by damaging those known to be willing to commit suicide.
The best policy is not, as Romney styles it, “appeasement,” but shunning, a complete shutdown of all political, economic, humanitarian, and cultural relationships with Iran. If it wants to go it alone, let it go it alone, and make it keep going it alone until it decides for itself to avoid the self-destruction of starvation and disease by acquiescing in the abandonment of its nuclear weapons programs. Any policy to use military force against Iran is a bomb.