Military option would not necessarily reverse democratic reform
The argument that an attack on Iran would reverse democratic reform fails to account for the oppressive nature of the regime already. While it would be hard to conclusively know what the results of an attack would be, an equally likely result is that an attack would embolden the population to rise up against a weakened regime.
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Yet another argument against military action against Iran is that it would embolden the hard-liners within Iran’s government, helping them rally the population around the regime and eliminate any remaining reformists. This critique ignores the fact that the hard-liners are already firmly in control. The ruling regime has become so extreme that it has sidelined even those leaders once considered to be right-wingers, such as former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, for their perceived softness. And Rafsanjani or the former presidential candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi would likely continue the nuclear program if he assumed power. An attack might actually create more openings for dissidents in the long term (after temporarily uniting Iran behind Ayatollah Ali Khamenei), giving them grounds for criticizing a government that invited disaster. Even if a strike would strengthen Iran’s hard-liners, the United States must not prioritize the outcomes of Iran’s domestic political tussles over its vital national security interest in preventing Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
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[ABRAMS] Should Israel then take it upon itself to act? There are three main arguments against such a course. The first is that it is impossible: Israel can’t do the job, and would only set Iran back a few months by an attack that would nonetheless bring significant reprisals. If it is true that the “window” has already closed and Israel cannot much damage the Iranian effort, the argument is over. If it can do substantial damage, there is not much point in arguing over whether setting Iran back three or five or seven years is sufficient to justify the attack. There is no magic number here, any more than there is a magic number revealing how many years this hated regime will rule in Iran before the people rise up against it. A corollary to this argument suggests that an Israeli attack would give the regime a new lease on life by rallying all Iranians, including the presumably growing numbers of dissidents, to the flag. But who knows if this is true, especially given the fact that the attack would be over before Iranians were even aware it had happened; that civilian targets would have been spared; and that the mullahs’ regime is very widely despised? It could equally be argued that an attack would have the same consequences as in the late Soviet period, when military setbacks (Afghanistan, Central America) hastened the demise of the regime by showing its weaknesses and by intensifying internal tensions. The same might be true in Iran if it were shown that its much-vaunted, immensely expensive nuclear program had now gone up in smoke, and that the years of privation and isolation under sanctions had been for naught. In any event, the goal of an attack would not be to decapitate or overthrow the regime, but only to destroy or slow down its nuclear program.
"Attacking Iran's Nuclear Project
." World Affairs
. Vol. 175, No. 1 (May-June 2012): 25-38. [ More (7 quotes) ]
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Critics are likely to argue military action will help those in power in Iran to suppress the opposition, or make the opposition support the regime. However, the regime is going all out to repress the opposition anyway, and a weakening of the regime, following the military strikes, may provide an opening for the opposition. Moreover, experience in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, the U.S.S.R., and Burma, among other countries, shows that we tend to exaggerate the likelihood that the opposition will win against brutal domestic regimes. Also, as the head of the reformers made clear to me when I was his guest in Iran in 2002, the reformers do not plan to fold the nuclear program. All this suggests that trying to figure out the vagrancies of Iranian domestic policies should not be allowed to determine our foreign policy when vital national interests are at stake.