Wednesday Round-Up: War, Diplomacy, and the Day After

This post is part of our forum on Jeffrey Goldberg's September cover story detailing the prospects and implications of an Israeli strike against Iran. Follow the debate here.

Rounding out The Atlantic's debate series today, Reuel Marc Gerecht runs through the "only three scenarios" that, in his assessment, might trigger an attack in the next year:

... (i) intelligence on Iran's centrifuge production indicates that the regime has solved its production and maintenance problems; (ii) Russia, not-so-secretly, finally delivers the very capable S300 anti-aircraft systems to Tehran; or (iii) Khamenei does something really stupid (e.g., gives the green light to the Hizbollah for a rocket barrage or terrorist operation against Israel).

He argues that an Israeli attack won't bring catastrophe to the Middle East, dissenting from Karim Sadjadpour's claim that a strike on Iran would hobble the country's democratic movement:

Iran's second and most important intellectual revolution is not a fragile thing; indeed, it thrives, as does so much in Persian history, on adversity and suffering. If Khamenei tries to kill off the Green Movement (that is kill, rape, and torture it more than he's done so far), then we can only look with amazement as he foolishly turns Mir-Hosein Mousavi, Mehdi Karroubi, and others from the founding generation of the revolution into martyrs. I will not dwell here, again, on why bombing Iran, even when you take in all the awful things that might follow (and let us try to remember that the region-shattering scenarios that Brent Scrowcroft and so many others predicted with the Iraq War did not happen), is still considerably less frightening than allowing Khamenei and the Revolutionary Guard Corps to acquire nukes.

The most important consideration in these matters, for Gerecht, is what he sees as a key lesson of the Cold War:

The United States and/or Israel must be prepared to go to the brink -- to conventionally and covertly counter the Islamic Republic's aggression, and to credibly threaten nuclear war -- in order to maintain the peace. The Cold War was hot and very bloody. Much of the American and European Left gave up on the conflict long before the United States' defense budget and the Poles downed communism. The Israelis are probably prepared to fight this out -- they have no Israeli preemptive strike against Iran's nuclear facilities seems far less gut-wrenching than what is likely to follow once Khamenei has an atomic bomb.

Responding this afternoon, Marc Lynch dissents in turn:

Gerecht's argument ultimately comes down to a premature dismissal of other options and to the hope that if the U.S. or Israel hits Iran hard, the situation might look a little better when the cards settle. If Iraq has taught us anything at all, though, it's that the situation could just as easily look a lot worse. The Bush administration's invasion of Iraq is the clearest case available of a liberal democracy violating Gerecht's axiom about the preference to defer going to war -- and the invasion led to disaster. Similarly, while the worst-case predictions about the impact of the invasion did not come to pass during the 2003 war itself, but the longer-term negative effects that developed over the following years -- on the U.S., for Iraqis, across the broader Middle East, and throughout the world -- have proven devastating. Those costs must weigh heavily on our thinking about Iran now.

Gerecht is wrong, Lynch says, to downplay the potential Iranian response, and too quick to dismiss non-military courses of action.

Lynch then turns to Elliott Abrams' charge, made here on Monday, that Lynch blames Israel for "everything":

It seems an especially odd complaint in a forum set up around a story reporting that Israel is now more likely than not to launch a military strike against Iran, without prior consultation with the United States. One would think that a former senior U.S. official would be concerned that a close ally is openly talking to journalists about acting unilaterally on an issue about which the two governments have been conferring regularly and intensely for years. Elliott shows no concern whatsoever that such statements might complicate the United States' ongoing efforts to deal with the Iranian challenge. He seems more concerned with channeling Israeli frustration and egging-on Israeli hostility to Barack Obama than with dealing effectively with Iran.

At Salon, Michael Adler considers the role of the White House in the debate -- in particular, "the way in which the Obama administration uses the media to keep its policy on-track":

The Goldberg article sounded like drums of war which the White House wanted both to use and muffle at the same time. ... What has the administration done with all this spin? It has kept the military option alive, hopefully worrying the Iranians, but also kept the threat theoretical and under control. It makes you wonder: Are these stories really about policy -- or are they the policy itself?

Janice Arnold cites Atlantic panelist Patrick Clawson on the effectiveness of sanctions here.

Susan Webb sees connections between the opening of the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to the threat of an attack Iran here.

Goldberg meanwhile cites Elliott Abrams's response to Lynch here -- and appears on The Colbert Report here ...

  • On Bombing Iran: "Yes, on one hand, they're an unstable leadership -- they're a crazy leadership. On the other hand, bad things would flow from the decision to bomb Iran, either by Israel or by the United States."
  • On Obama:

In my personal opinion, he's been pretty strong on this issue. He's been very strong, in fact. He has a plan in place, a very deliberate plan, to seek engagement, on the one hand, and use sanctions -- and pretty strong multilateral sanctions -- against Iran, to try to concentrate their attention on this, and focus their attention on the fact that if they give up this path, if they stop seeking nuclear weapons, good things will happen to them. And he's on, I think he's on a very tough path.

  • On playing good-cop, bad-cop with Israel against Iran: "Yes, that would be smart. Even smarter would be allowing the sanctions regime to take its toll on the Iranian economy."
An overview of previous reactions to our September cover story here.

Thanks for joining.

... Debate continues here.

Presented by

J.J. Gould is the editor of More

He has written for The Washington MonthlyThe American ProspectThe Moscow Times, The Chronicle Herald, and The European Journal of Political Theory. Gould was previously an editor at the Journal of Democracy, co-published by the Johns Hopkins University Press and the National Endowment for Democracy, and a lecturer in history and politics at Yale University. He has also worked with McKinsey & Company's New York-based Knowledge Group on global public- and social-sector development and on the economics of carbon-emissions reduction. Gould has a B.A. in history from McGill University in Montreal, an M.Sc. from the London School of Economics, and a Ph.D. in politics from Yale. He is from Nova Scotia.

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