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The Conservative Curmudgeon
June 16, 2009

The Last Thing We Need Is a Preemptive War Against Iran
by Allan C. Brownfeld

ALEXANDRIA, VA —For some time, there has been a strenuous effort to prepare the way for a preemptive U.S. strike against Iran. Those promoting such a military assault are the same people who promoted the war in Iraq by telling us that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction, was tied to al Qaeda, and played a role in the September 11 terrorist attacks. Now they tell us that Iran represents an “existential” threat and any nuclear program it pursues — however far it may be from achieving a single nuclear weapon — must be eliminated.

Despite the fact that the U.S. intelligence community has not yet concluded that Iran has even decided to develop a nuclear weapon, the calls for action are growing. Among the chorus are neoconservatives, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), and Commentary magazine.

Norman Podhoretz, author of the book World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism and long-time editor of Commentary, argues that Iran poses an imminent threat. In a recent essay in Commentary, he depicts President Ahmadinejad of Iran as a revolutionary, “like Hitler... whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it... with a new world order dominated by Iran.... The plain and brutal truth is that if Iran is to be prevented from developing a nuclear arsenal, there is no alternative to the actual use of military force.”

Addressing the annual AIPAC meeting in Washington in May, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) declared that, “Mr. Ahmadinejad dreams of finishing Hitler’s work and killing all the world's Jews. Each day that passes brings him closer to possession of a nuclear bomb, the ultimate weapon. When we daily fret and wring our hands, but fail to do anything that will really stop him, how late are we then?”

The new Israeli government has declared that it will not move ahead with the core issue of peace talks with the Palestinians until it sees progress in U.S. efforts to stop Iran’s suspected pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The emerging Israeli position, announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his visit to Washington in May, flies in the face of U.S. policy as enunciated by both Republican and Democratic administrations. If anything, U.S. officials believe that progress in the Israeli-Palestinian talks would do more to curb Iranian influence than turning away from the two-state solution, as the Netanyahu government is doing.

Mr. Netanyahu’s apocalyptic rhetoric bears some scrutiny. Despite the fact that Iranian Jews are able to practice their religion freely, and even have representation in the Iranian parliament, Netanyahu has insisted that this is, again, l938, and that Ahmadinejad is, again, Hitler. In an interview in May, Netanyahu described the Iranian regime as “a messianic, apocalyptic cult.” One of Netanyahu’s advisers said of Iran, “Think Amalek.” The Bible says that the Amalekites were dedicated enemies of the Jewish people. In l Samuel l5, God says, “Go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass.”

Fareed Zakaria, editor of Newsweek International, notes that, “Were the president of Iran and his advisers to have cited a religious text that gave divine sanction for the annihilation of an entire race, they would be called, well, messianic... Iran is certainly not a democracy... but neither is it a monolithic dictatorship. It might be described as an oligarchy, with considerable debate and dissent within the elites.... Ahmadinejad is widely seen as the ‘mad mullah’ who runs the country, but he is not the unquestioned chief executive and is actually a thorn in the side of the clerical establishment.... President Ahmadinejad has quoted the regime’s founding father, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who asserted that nuclear weapons were ‘un-Islamic.’ The country’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a fatwa in 2004 describing the use of nuclear weapons as immoral. In a subsequent sermon, he declared that ‘developing, producing or stockpiling nuclear weapons is forbidden under Islam.’”

In Zakaria’s view, “The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality.... In 2006, Princeton scholar Bernard Lewis, a close adviser to President Bush and Vice President Cheney, predicted in a Wall Street Journal op-ed (August 22) that Ahmadinejad was going to end the world. The date, he explained ‘is the night when many Muslims commemorate the night flight of the Prophet Muhammad on the winged horse Buraq, first to the farthest mosque, usually identified with Jerusalem, and then to heaven and back. This might well be deemed an appropriate date for the apocalyptic ending of Israel and if necessary the world.’ This would all be funny if it weren’t so dangerous.”

Fortunately, many far saner voices, both in Israel and the U.S., have also been heard. In his memoir Man in the Shadows, Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad, says that rather than constantly escalating the rhetoric of confrontation with Iran, the U.S. and Israel should be looking for ways to establish creative dialogue.

Halevy says that while Ahmadinejad may boast that he wants to wipe Israel off the map, Iran’s ability to do so is “minimal.” He declared that, “Even if the Iranians did obtain a nuclear weapon, they are deterrable, because for mullahs, survival and perpetuation of the regime is a holy obligation. We must be much more sophisticated and nuanced in our policies toward Iran.”

Martin van Creveld, a professor of military history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, is critical of those who urge a pre-emptive attack against Iran and who, in his view, overestimate its potential danger: “Though rich in oil, Iran is a Third-World country with a population of 80 million and a per capita income of $2,440.... Its annual defense budget stands at about $6.3 billion -- a little more than half of Israel’s and a little less than 2 percent of America’s. Iran, in fact, spends a smaller percentage of its resources on defense than any of its neighbors except the United Arab Emirates.”

The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) released in December 2007 says “with a high degree of certainty” that Iran abandoned its nuclear weapons quest in 2003. Washington Times columnist Arnaud de Borchgrave notes that, “The NIE was a decisive blow to neoconservative... and administration hawks who have long advocated a pre-emptive aerial bombardment against Iran.”

Writing in The American Conservative, Professor Michael C. Desh of the University of Notre Dame points out that, “...less fevered minds understand that, even if Iran developed a rudimentary nuclear capability, the U.S. and Israel would have a huge missile advantage. According to the Federation of American Scientists, the U.S. has over 5,000 warheads deployed and a large number in reserve, while estimates of the Israeli stockpile range from 80 to 200 nuclear devices. At present, Iran has none and, even under the worst-case scenario, is unlikely to have more than a handful in the years to come.... Iran is a nuclear pygmy; it has no long-range missiles that can reach the U.S. Its medium-range missile capability, which can theoretically reach Israel, is unreliable. In contrast, Israel has between l00 and l50 Jericho missiles, plus more than 200 F-4E Phantom and F-l6 Falcon Aircraft, capable of delivering nuclear weapons. The U.S. has almost 1,500 nuclear delivery platforms....”

The time has come to make it clear that those who call for a preemptive attack upon Iran — either carried out by the U.S. or by Israel with U.S. acquiescence, are pursuing a dangerous and irresponsible policy that would turn the Middle East upside down; limit world supplies of oil; and make it increasingly difficult to resolve existing conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq and, more and more, Pakistan. All of us — Israel, Iran, the U.S., and the entire region — would be the losers if such a policy were pursued.

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The Conservative Curmudgeon is copyright © 2009 by Allan C. Brownfeld and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. All rights reserved. Editors may use this column if this copyright information is included.

Allan C. Brownfeld is the author of five books, the latest of which is The Revolution Lobby (Council for Inter-American Security). He has been a staff aide to a U.S. Vice President, Members of Congress, and the U.S. Senate Internal Subcommittee.

He is associate editor of The Lincoln Reveiw and a contributing editor to such publications as Human Events, The St. Croix Review, and The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs.

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© 2009 Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation