December 2, 2011

I’ve contributed a piece to U.S. News and World Report’s Debate Club, on the question of whether the U.S. should consider military action to stop Iran’s nuclear program. My answer:

U.S. strikes could unite the Iranian people around the regime at a time when it is facing considerable popular discontent over its mismanagement of the economy and human rights abuses. According to an Iranian woman recently interviewed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, military action "will unite the regime, and it will also force many to unite behind a regime they don’t even support." [...]

Military action would likely result in the crushing of Iran’s pro-democracy Green movement. Iranian human rights lawyer and activist Shirin Ebadi, who was awarded the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize, has said an attack "would give the government an excuse to kill all of its political opponents, as was done during the Iran-Iraq war." Military action "is the worst option," Ebadi insisted. "You should not think about it."

U.S. military action could spark reprisals against the United States and its allies by Iranian military assets and proxies in Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon, Gaza, and elsewhere. As happened after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, it would likely result in a wave of anti-Americanism in the Middle East, at a crucial moment of transition in the region. An attack would also cause oil prices to skyrocket, slowing the U.S.’s economic recovery, exacerbating the global economic crisis, and fracturing the international coalition that President Obama has worked so hard to forge.

Iran represents a thorny problem for the United States and its allies. It’s tempting, and perhaps comforting, to imagine that the United States can solve this problem through the use of its awesome military forces, but it cannot. The costs of military action far outweigh the limited (at best) benefits.

The other contributions, both pro and con, are worth reading. Well, except maybe that of Raymond Tanter, Washington’s most tireless advocate for the Mujahideen-e Khalq cult. Given that democracy activists inside Iran have made clear that they want nothing to do with the group, any piece that tries to present the MEK as "the main Iranian opposition" is probably best ignored.

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