My colleague David Frum, a supporter of the Iraq War who coined the phrase axis of evil, issued a warning in a column this week: “The project of a war with Iran is so crazy, it remains incredible that Donald Trump’s administration could truly be premeditating it,” he wrote. “But on the off, off chance that it is, here’s a word of caution from a veteran of the George W. Bush administration: Don’t do it.”
Among the reasons he offers:
The U.S. would find itself without allies except for Israel and the Gulf states. The Trump administration would find itself even more isolated politically at home. Most Americans do not support, trust, or respect Trump’s leadership.
There is no Colin Powell–like figure in this administration, no senior official who commands respect across party lines. Pitifully few people in this administration command respect even within party lines. The administration’s record of casual incompetence at minor tasks raises terrifying questions about its capacity for a gigantic undertaking like a land war against a Central Asian state.
My colleague James Fallows, an Iraq War opponent who wrote “Blind Into Baghdad,” the inside story of a historic failure, declared this week, “Military engagement with Iran would be far stupider, more reckless, and more destructive.” As he observed after watching an Iran-focused war game in 2014:
Unlike Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, a threatened Iran would have many ways to harm America and its interests. Apart from cross-border disruptions in Iraq, it might form an outright alliance with al-Qaeda to support major new attacks within the United States. It could work with other oil producers to punish America economically. It could, as [Marine Corps Colonel Thomas X.] Hammes warned, apply the logic of “asymmetric,” or “fourth-generation,” warfare, in which a superficially weak adversary avoids a direct challenge to U.S. military power and instead strikes the most vulnerable points in American civilian society, as al-Qaeda did on 9/11.
If it thought that the U.S. goal was to install a wholly new regime rather than to change the current regime’s behavior, it would have no incentive for restraint.
My colleagues aren’t alone in worrying that a disastrous war with Iran is a possibility. Last year, Trump withdrew from the nuclear deal negotiated during the Obama administration and imposed punishing sanctions on the country. Last month, testifying before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo refused to acknowledge that waging war against Iran is not covered by the September 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, which Congress passed in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.