Don't Scramble the Jets

Article excerpt

Byline: Fareed Zakaria

Why Iran's dictators can be deterred.

Sarah Palin has a suggestion for how Barack Obama can save his presidency. "Say he decided to declare war on Iran," she said on Fox News last week. "I think people would perhaps shift their thinking a little bit and decide, well, maybe he's tougher than we think he is today." Such talk is in the air again. Palin was picking up the idea from Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative Middle East expert who suggested a strike would reverse Obama's political fortunes. (Actually, Palin attributed the idea to Patrick Buchanan, but obviously entirely misread Buchanan's column, which opposed Pipes's suggestion. It's getting tiresome to keep pointing out these serial gaffes, but Palin does appear to be running for president.)

The International Atomic Energy Agency warned last week of its "concerns" that the Iranian regime was moving to acquire a nuclear-weapons capability, not just nuclear energy. But this does not change the powerful calculus against a military strike, which would most likely delay the Iranian program by only a few years. And then there are the political consequences. The regime will gain support as ordinary Iranians rally around the flag. The opposition would be forced to support a government under attack from abroad. The regime would foment and fund violence from Afghanistan to Iraq to the Gulf. The price of oil would skyrocket--which, ironically, would help Tehran pay for all these operations.

It is important to recognize the magnitude of what people like Sarah Palin are advocating. The United States is being asked to launch a military invasion of a state that poses no imminent threat to America, without sanction from any international body, and with few governments willing to publicly endorse such an action. Al Qaeda and its ilk would present it as the third American invasion of a Muslim nation in a decade, proof positive that the United States is engaged in a war of civilizations. Moderate Arab states and Muslim governments everywhere would be on the defensive. As Washington has surely come to realize, wars unleash forces that cannot be predicted or controlled.

An Iran with nuclear weapons would be dangerous and destabilizing, though I am not as convinced as some that it would automatically force Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey to go nuclear as well. …