My Last Word on Iran: Dissenting from Gerecht

Reuel Marc Gerecht has weighed in, on behalf of an Israeli strike against Iran.

Based on his service in the CIA and other experience in the Middle East, he knows far more  about the inner machinations of Iran, Israel, and that neighborhood than I ever will. But I figure that I know at least as much about American politics. And the part of his assessment that deals with U.S. interests and reactions strikes me as completely wrong:

What the Israelis need to do is change this dynamic. A preventive strike offers them the only conceivable alternative for doing so. Any bombing run will, at least temporarily, shock the international system and rock Iran internally. The Israelis will have shown that they are deadly serious about confronting the Iranian nuclear threat, that they are willing to go on a permanent war-footing with the Islamic Republic and its deadliest ally, the Hizbollah, which will probably unleash rocket hell on Israel in turn. Although President Obama may become (privately) furious with the Israelis, any Israeli strike will make the United States, and probably even the reluctant Europeans, more determined to shut down Iran's program. If Khamenei and the Guard Corps respond to an Israeli strike with terrorism, which is likely, then they could well put themselves into a strategic cul-de-sac, especially if they strike out against American targets or do something truly stupid, like trying to shut down the Strait of Hormuz.

Emphasis added. Boy do I disagree.

If Israel initiated a strike, by almost any reading the very mildest result would be economic disruption on a major scale. Upheaval in the world oil markets; resulting financial/trade upheaval of all kinds; uncertainty with a capital-U; and that is before we even start thinking about short- and longer-term "kinetic" retaliatory efforts by Iran.

And this is supposed to push America (and Europe, China, etc) closer to Israel?? To increase their solidarity in bearing down on Iran? Think about it: If, according to this scenario, America had decided not to attack on its own, that necessarily means that from the coldest calculation of our own American self-interest, all the assorted damage from an attack still seemed greater than the benefits. Now Israel would be bringing on all the damage that we had already decided was not worthwhile.

Maybe Israel's leaders would still feel they have to do this. Obviously their calculation of their own country's self-interest could differ from ours. (The main point of the Goldberg article, and Gerecht's item too.) But they are dreaming if they think this is going to build more sympathy for them, less support for Iran, and a tighter overall alliance with the United States. Jeff Goldberg's piece is more realistic in saying that it could lead to a fundamental rupture. [Sample after the jump. Based on that, I look forward to hearing his own reaction to Gerecht's proposal.]

The idea of shaking things up, of giving a healthy "shock" to a diseased system and then seeing what happens, was one we heard a lot of before the invasion of Iraq. It struck me as reckless and lacking in tragic imagination in that circumstance, and it does in this one too.

From Jeffrey Goldberg's "The Point of No Return":

[R]egardless of whether they succeed in destroying Iran's centrifuges and warhead and missile plants, or whether they fail miserably to even make a dent in Iran's nuclear program--[an Israeli attack would] stand a good chance of changing the Middle East forever; of sparking lethal reprisals, and even a full-blown regional war that could lead to the deaths of thousands of Israelis and Iranians, and possibly Arabs and Americans as well; of creating a crisis for Barack Obama that will dwarf Afghanistan in significance and complexity; of rupturing relations between Jerusalem and Washington, which is Israel's only meaningful ally; of inadvertently solidifying the somewhat tenuous rule of the mullahs in Tehran; of causing the price of oil to spike to cataclysmic highs, launching the world economy into a period of turbulence not experienced since the autumn of 2008, or possibly since the oil shock of 1973; of placing communities across the Jewish diaspora in mortal danger, by making them targets of Iranian-sponsored terror attacks, as they have been in the past, in a limited though already lethal way; and of accelerating Israel's conversion from a once-admired refuge for a persecuted people into a leper among nations.
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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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