It’s rarely appreciated that the Soviets were ideal Cold War dance partners. While mutual-assured-destruction isnt the ideal calculus to preserve western civilization, there is an advantage to playing any game with a nation whose national sport is chess. The Soviets could be trusted to (1) understand the game, (2) recognize their own self-interest, and (3) act accordingly. The onset of the Cuban Missile Crisis showed that the Soviets were playing to win – but its resolution demonstrated that they were also keen on not losing.
It’s the West’s dealings with Iran that make us wax nostalgic about our last big adversary. To be clear, Iran, nuclear or otherwise, doesnt pose an existential threat to life on earth, as did a nuclear exchange with the Soviet Union. The big problem with Iran is that its leadership may be looking to the next world for its champagne and caviar (and-or virgins), and so they may not respond predictably to the threat of their own annihilation. When the US merely cuts off North Korea’s rulers from its supply of western goodies (e.g.), they get upset. People who arent expecting an afterlife take it badly when the present life doesnt meet expectations. Godless communists, with all their eggs in the material world, respond predictably to rewards and punishments in the here-and-now.
It isnt that Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear weapon is unreasonable. On the contrary, such a weapon would confer a huge security benefit on Iran. Bush Duh, with unrivaled incompetence, made this exquisitely clear by invading the one country in his infamous “axis of evil” that did not have a nuclear weapons program! Iran took the obvious lesson: even if you abandon your WMD programs and open yourself up to UN weapons inspectors, the US may invade anyway. Having witnessed the respective cases of North Korea and Iraq, Iranian leadership no doubt appreciates that nuclear weapons are a far better guarantee against US aggression.
If the world could be certain that Iran would use nuclear weapons for defensive purposes only, there would be no reason to consider military action to forcibly end its nuclear program. The problem is that the objectives of Iran’s ruling mullahs arent at all clear. This is especially troublesome for Israel because it could be wiped out with a single bomb – and perhaps some in Tehran are crazy enough to think that their imaginary friend (AKA Allah) would generously reward such an act, even if they were annihilated themselves shortly thereafter. Simply put, Iran’s leaders cannot be trusted to recognize and act in their own material self-interest, and may use nuclear weapons even if doing so would result in their own destruction.
Israel’s military is to some extent a US proxy force, and as such it is worth protecting. However a US decision to take military action against Iran neednt concern Israel, because the US has many other assets within striking range of an Iranian nuclear weapon, from infantry and hardware to ships. Saudi oilfields could also be targeted. An Iranian nuclear weapon would have many potential regional targets whose destruction could alter world geopolitics, economics, and the military balance for decades. The US simply cannot allow that threat to materialize. Iran’s nuclear program will soon, hopefully, be ended via diplomacy. But it is the opinion of The Liberal Field Guide that it must in any event be ended, by any means necessary.
To be perfectly clear: air power alone will not do the job. Only a full-scale invasion will guarantee success of a mission whose purpose would be to (1) destroy Iran’s military apparatus and WMD programs, (2) overthrow its government and (3) hunt down and kill or capture its leadership. Iran, far more populous and mountainous than Iraq, cannot be occupied for any duration. Once all objectives are fulfilled, a complete withdrawal of all forces would follow immediately.
This would be a truly awful course of action, which is why we hope that a deal will be reached. Its government deposed and its military destroyed, Iran is likely to splinter along ethnic lines into several states, with the lives of tens of millions of people ruined in the war, and the chaos that would follow for a generation. But as bad as that scenario may be, a nuclear Iran could engender far worse. A nuclear exchange would kill many more people than a conventional war, and destabilize the entire world.
Founded as it is upon rationality, liberals are quick to realize that war is an ugly and inefficient means to achieve one’s ends; and thus the occasions when war should be advocated for are exceedingly rare. But liberalism is not pacifism – and events in Iran are fast approaching the point where war becomes the least undesirable of several unattractive options.