A number of others have already noted the severe deficiencies in Matthew Kroenig’s recent Foreign Affairs piece, "Time to Attack Iran," with Paul Pillar’s take being one of the best. But I want to flag one particularly troubling claim from Kroenig, which is that a U.S. attack on Iran could somehow help Iran’s democracy movement:
An attack might actually create more openings for dissidents in the long term (after temporarily uniting Iran behind Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), giving them grounds for criticizing a government that invited disaster. Even if a strike would strengthen Iran’s hard-liners, the United States must not prioritize the outcomes of Iran’s domestic political tussles over its vital national security interest in preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
Iranian dissidents themselves have actually been very clear that a U.S. attack would be bad for their movement. When I interviewed her last year, human rights activist Shirin Ebadi was unequivocal: “The military option will not benefit the U.S. interest or the Iranian interest,” she said. “It is the worst option. You should not think about it… The Iranian people — including myself — will resist any military action.”
Similarly, dissident journalist Akbar Ganji has been adamant that talk of a U.S. military option is harmful to the cause of Iranian democracy. “If you do not have the threat of foreign invasion and you do not use the dialog of invasion and military intervention, the society itself has a huge potential to oppose and potentially topple the theocratic system,” Ganji said last year. “Jingoistic, militaristic language used by any foreign power would actually be detrimental to [the] natural evolution of Iranian society.”
But maybe they’re wrong and Kroenig’s right. I’d love to see his evidence, but he doesn’t offer anything beyond, "Hey, it just might work!" Kroenig is quite right that our concern for political reform in Iran should come second to vital U.S. national security concerns. But I think the evidence is strong that a U.S. attack on Iran would significantly undermine both. Given the stakes, both for Americans and Iranians, the discussion over how to deal with the Iranian nuclear challenge deserves far better than what Kroenig offers. Frankly, the appearance of a piece like this in the country’s most prominent foreign policy journal should raise serious concerns about whether our strategic class is preparing — again — to talk itself into supporting something very unwise.