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Wanted: Good Judgment on the Iran Question

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Don't Trust the Untrustworthy

Reports suggest that U.S. military action against Iran is a real possibility. The nation and the world are waiting to see what the Bush administration will do.

But if the mess in Iraq shows anything, it shows that it would be folly for the American people and their representatives to simply trust the Bush administration to exercise good judgment in matters of war and peace. Through a whole series of serious misjudgments, this group has given America perhaps the greatest policy disaster in the more than two centuries of this nation's history.

We need to bring better judgment to bear on the question of war and peace. And the best means to do so is for Congress to hold public discussion and debate on the dilemma we face with Iran.

It's a dilemma because both action and inaction seem fraught with danger.

The Danger of a Nuclear Iran

Iran has acted like a rogue nation for many years, deeply involved in terrorism. An Iran armed with nuclear weapons is a truly frightening prospect, especially now that it has a leader who talks openly about wiping Israel from the map. Perhaps Iran wants nuclear weapons to deter the Americans from doing to Iran what it did to Afghanistan and Iraq. But perhaps Iran wants nukes so it can use them.

We Americans, who survived the cold war between adversaries armed with thousands of nuclear warheads, have reason to believe in nuclear deterrence. That assumes, however, that the parties involved are committed to survival, to life. But fascist movements across various cultures have manifested a mindset that embraces death and destruction. (See "Occidentalism," by Avishai Margalit and Ian Buruma, in the January 17, 2002, New York Review of Books.) And some of that death-orientation manifested by the fascism of Europe and Japan generations ago is to be found also in the Islamo-fascism of today.

So there are good reasons to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of a fanatic, holy-warring, fascist state that might welcome death and destruction in its battle against the Great Satan.

The Europeans, who are in no mood simply to follow this American leadership, are deeply concerned too. The problem of Iran's apparent determination to acquire nuclear weapons shouldn't be minimized.

The Danger of Military Action

If it is true that letting Iran acquire nuclear weapons could be dangerous, it does not necessarily follow that taking military action to prevent it is a better option.

For one thing, non-military means of achieving this result have not been exhausted, and Iran is at least some years from being nuclear-armed. (And the Bush regime has shown, in its war-making in Iraq, that it cannot be trusted to turn to war only as "a last resort.")

For another thing, it is far from clear how well any military strike would achieve its purpose. The Iranians learned the lesson from Iraq, whose above-ground nuclear facility the Israelis destroyed with air-strikes in 1981. A military strike without an outright invasion and takeover might only delay rather than prevent the undesired outcome. And at what price?

One cost that Americans seem to insufficiently appreciate is damage to the international order. It is not clear that the United States, arguably more clearly in non-compliance with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty than Iran, has a legal basis for attacking that country, just because it doesn't want Iran to acquire nuclear weapons.

Beyond that, the Iranians are positioned to inflict great economic harm, by withholding its oil, or by blocking the Strait of Hormuz. They are also able to make the situation for American forces still worse than it already is in Iraq; and they can employ their terror network to inflict harm on us and our interests elsewhere as well.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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