The Growing Consensus Against War with Iran

Last Updated on April 17, 2012.

There is a growing consensus that war with Iran would be a catastrophically diasterous idea. While Washington continues to allow politics to hijack the debate over the Iranian nuclear program, nearly all experts agree that we must not go to war with Iran. 

While no one believes the world would be better off with a nuclear armed Iran, experts – from the Pentagon to academia – agree that an attack on Iran would be disastrous. Such an attack would at best delay, not prevent, Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons and would have dramatic repercussions for both regional and global security threatening both American lives and interests throughout the world.

In the Washington Post, Fareed Zakaria draws out the point that Iran is not the greatest nuclear threat–it is only the newest. A number of countries, not least of which are Pakistan and Russia, pose far greater threats of nuclear attack. In fact, there is agreement among experts that a nuclear-armed Iran is still quite a ways off. As such, the use of nuclear scare tactics to garner support for military action should not be taken seriously. While the nuclear threat is a serious one, bombing uranium enrichment facilities, which are often underground and therefore difficult targets, would only stall Iran’s enrichment attempts by one to three years.

In a New York Times op-ed, foreign ministers Bildt and Tuomioja put the problem clearly: “It is difficult to see a single action more likely to drive Iran into taking the final decision to acquire nuclear weapons than an attack on the country.” They, among others, predict that a military attack on Iran could drive neighboring states to consider the nuclear option. Setting off another round of nuclear proliferation is entirely counter-productive. President Obama has cautioned against the “loose talk of war” that we are currently seeing. In his speech to AIPAC the President warned, “[o]ver the last few weeks such talk has only benefited the Iranian government by driving up the price of oil, which they depend on to fund their nuclear program.”

If halting Iran’s nuclear program is our top concern, war is not a solution.

So where does that leave us? The solution gaining support among a wide community of experts and policy practitioners is a policy of deterrence. Fareed Zakaria explains deterrence as a counterintuitive policy: “The prospect of destruction produces peace.” Yet Zakaria goes on to explain that such a prospect of destruction producing peace is exactly what the US carried out throughout the Cold War and quotes Charles Krauthammer as saying, “Deterrence, like old age, is intolerable, until one considers the alternative.”

Even America’s military leaders recognize the folly of war against Iran. As the New York Times recently reported, a “war game” designed to assess the repercussions of an Israeli attack on Iran found that such a strike would likely spark a regional war that would inevitably draw the US quickly into another armed conflict. When the simulation was over, General Mattis, the commander of all American forces in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia, was reported to have told aides that an Israeli strike would have “dire consequences” for US forces in the region. These findings are supported by a growing number of military leaders standing up against war with Iran. Recently a number of retired military and intelligence officials took to the pages of the Washington Post with an open letter to the President urging restraint and opposing the use of military force.

Above all, experts agree that only diplomacy will ultimately advance American interests in Iran. The recent opening of diplomatic negotiations is a welcome development that must be allowed time to play out. While diplomacy is not easy or quick, it is the only true solution available. As Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Riedel note, “[t]he Iranian regime, while dangerous, does not have suicidal tendencies.” In all of this war talk, the effects of sanctions, diplomatic talks, and negotiations with the IAEA often fall by the wayside. These shouldn’t be overlooked.

Ultimately, we cannot allow the mistakes of Iraq to be repeated with an unbridled rush to war in Iran. With such a clear consensus that a war with Iran would be a devastating folly that would not even achieve the goal of preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons, now is the time to stand up and demand, no war with Iran!


April 17, 2012