The Case Against Attacking Iran
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While determining the impact of the broader idea of the military option, recent military operations in the Middle East offer thought provoking lessons. After significant U.S. military intervention and attempts to democratize the region by force as part of a greater War on Terror, the war in Iraq is officially “over,” and American troops are scheduled to pull out of Afghanistan by 2014. This greater War on Terror, justified as a promotion of human rights and democracy, has cost American taxpayers over $1 trillion since September 11, 2001. Analyzing the potential situation in Iran from an economic standpoint, any violence by (or supported by) the United States and any additional military involvement in the Middle East would be a costly endeavor, funded by the future tax dollars of an already crippled economy. A recent estimate by the non-partisan Federation of American Scientists puts the estimated cost of a military strike, with involvement ranging from surgical strikes to a full-scale invasion of Iran, between $713 billion and $1.7 trillion. Global-economic impact aside, analysis of U.S. foreign policy goals in the Middle East help determine whether or not a military strike by (or supported by) the United States would support those goals.
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Furthermore, a logical national security threat is lacking, as the United States possesses the world’s largest military budget and one of the largest nuclear stockpiles in the world. Considering the fact that the United States has a military expenditure that is nearly comparable to the rest of the world’s combined military expenditures, and the fact that Iran has no confirmed nu- clear weapons, it is no secret that the United States is adequately capable of defending itself. Moreover, it is seldom acknowledged that the Islamic Re- public has never initiated an offensive attack on another country, but instead continually reiterates their right to self-defense—a right that is considerably important for the Iranian nation that still remembers the devastation caused by Saddam Hussein’s nearly decade-long assault on Iran in the 1980s. Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds the power to wage war (rather than the president) has repeatedly and publicly stated: “the Islamic Republic of Iran considers the use of nuclear, chemical and similar weapons as a great and unforgivable sin.” While this information may make it difficult to think of a reason for the United States to consider attacking Iran, it is also important to highlight that it is the responsibility of third party agencies like the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations, not the United States alone, to ensure that Iran develops their nuclear program in compliance with IAEA policy and the nuclear Non- Proliferation Treaty, which the Islamic Republic of Iran has both signed and ratified.
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In determining their own political future, it is suggested that all forms of violence are avoided by those attempting to promote democracy in Iran, but it should also be stressed that the United States refrains from employing violence. While common knowledge and the research of prominent figures like Hannah Arendt and Frantz Fanon link instances of violence with clear negative side effects, recent historical events including the Iran–Iraq war help predict a potential Iranian reaction to military aggression today. Just as Iranians rallied around the flag of their young Islamic Republic when invaded by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the 1980s, fierce Iranian nationalism coupled with (what political scientist John Mueller has coined) the “rally round the flag effect” could cause the masses to support their nation if attacked. Despite the fact that many Iranian youth desire democratic reform and better relations between Iran and the international community, these potential agents of change would likely be sucked into the war effort, having their opportunities to educate themselves overshadowed by their duties to serve their families, friends, and country. A 2012 publication of the Iran Project, a think tank, upholds the idea that unifying the population behind the theocratic government is a potential cost of a military strike. Furthermore, directly threatening Iran with military strikes and regime change also gives Iranian leaders more of a reason to seek a militarized deterrent to maintain their sovereignty. In fact, it appears as though the threat or enactment of a military strike carries the potential of being more complex than successful, and would have a profound negative impact on not just the United States and Iran but the Middle East as a whole.