Magazine article The American Prospect

Next Stop Iran?

Magazine article The American Prospect

Next Stop Iran?

Article excerpt

DURING THE EARLY COLD WAR, WHILE RIGHT-wingers called for the rollback of Soviet communism, the strategists of containment argued that the United States ought to be patient, confident that internal forces would weaken communism from within and that the "gravitational" force of a revived Western Europe would eventually draw Moscow's satellites out of its orbit. It took decades, but the strategy worked. We can only imagine the toll in human life if the advocates of rollback had been in charge and led the West into war with Russia.

Unfortunately, the people running U.S. policy today are the spiritual descendants of the right-wing promoters of rollback, and the toll from their policies grows every day. The United States was containing Saddam Hussein successfully before George W. Bush decided on a course of preventive war and regime change in Iraq. All that has happened since is a cautionary tale about American hubris. Whether the U.S. invasion will eventually succeed in bringing about regime change, we cannot say. What we have now is a regime vacuum: Creating a new Iraqi state has proved to be far more difficult than destroying the old one. And the war, instead of ending, has continued to evolve, first into an insurgency and now into sectarian strife that nearly everyone regards as civil war.

This phase, however, may not be the conflict's last. As disastrous as the war has been, the president still has the opportunity to enlarge it into an even greater catastrophe by carrying out plans that the military has been preparing for a strike against Iran. According to a report by Seymour Hersh in The New Yorker, key members of the administration believe that an air attack could not only knock out Iran's nuclear-weapons-related facilities but also destabilize its government. And because some of Iran's facilities are deep underground, Hersh reports, the administration is considering proposals to use tactical nuclear weapons.

The logic of an attack on Iran has such palpable flaws that many observers cannot believe that Bush would undertake it. Even if successful in hitting the major weapons-related sites, an airstrike would set back Iran's nuclear program only for a time while reinforcing the regime's re solve to carry it out. Our use of nuclear weapons would seemingly legitimate their use against us someday. And instead of undermining the regime, an attack would likely help consolidate its power by inflaming Iranian nationalism. …

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