War With Iran Would Be Madness

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by Sheldon Richman

President Obama’s refusal to rule out military action against Iran — and GOP contender Mitt Romney’s recent threat of war against Iran — should appall anyone who believes, with the free-market liberal Ludwig von Mises, that “not war, but peace, is the father of all things.”

If the U.S. government or its client state Israel were to attack Iran, all hell would break loose. Thousands of Iranians would die. That country’s infrastructure would be destroyed, bringing even more death, disease, and misery. And the democratic Iranian Green Movement, which is against foreign intervention, would be destroyed. Iran’s government would retaliate by closing down the Strait of Hormuz, through which much oil passes, and launching attacks against American ground and naval forces in the region.

In short, disaster would follow a U.S. attack or an Israeli attack — which would be seen, quite rationally, as a U.S.-backed operation.

What would prompt the military assault? The powers that be, in maneuvers reminiscent of the buildup to the Iraq war, are trying to frighten the world into believing that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. Recent headlines in the stenographic news media would have us believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that the Iranians are working apace to build a bomb. We are left with the suggestion that once they succeed, a nuclear attack will promptly follow.

This makes little sense. Why would Iran launch a nuclear attack that would mean certain oblivion for itself? The U.S. government can destroy the world with its nukes, and Israel, a nuclear power since the 1960s, has a couple of hundred warheads ready to go. Unlike Iran, Israel does not submit to IAEA inspections.

If Iran were developing a nuclear weapon, it would clearly be in order to deter the sort of regime change that occurred in Iraq and Libya. The difference between how the U.S. government treated those countries and how it treats North Korea, which has a nuclear weapon, is hard to miss.

But here’s the bigger problem for those ginning up war fever: There is no evidence Iran is developing a nuclear weapon! Iran is being threatened because it can’t prove it’s not doing so.

Two U.S. National Intelligence Estimates, one in 2007 and one in 2011, judged that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. (NIEs represent the judgment of America’s dozen-and-a-half intelligence agencies.)

But what about the most recent IAEA report? According to the Washington Post, Intelligence provided to U.N. nuclear officials shows that Iran’s government has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon, receiving assistance from foreign scientists to overcome key technical hurdles, according to Western diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the findings.

Yet if one digs below the surface, one finds that the IAEA certified that Iran has not diverted nuclear materials from peaceful to military purposes. (Uranium appropriate for medical or power-generating purposes is unsuitable for making bombs.) While the report darkly alludes to “undeclared nuclear materials,” it provides no evidence that they exist.

Many experts have ridiculed the politicized report as essentially recycling old dubious allegations. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, two Middle East authorities on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, wrote,

The report … does not in any way demonstrate that Iran is “developing a nuclear weapon”. Rather, it once again affirms, as the IAEA has for decades, Iran’s “non-diversion” of nuclear material. In other words, even if the Islamic Republic wanted to build nuclear weapons (and Tehran continues to deny, at the highest levels of authority, that it wishes to do so) it does not have the weapons-grade material essential to the task.… [The] report [focused] on unsubstantiated intelligence reports, provided almost entirely by the United States, Israel, and other Western governments.… In fact, no one has ever produced a shred of evidence that Iran has ever actually tried to build a nuclear weapon or taken a decision to do so.”

The Obama administration says it prefers sanctions and diplomacy, but as long as Iran is required to prove a negative, the chance of war is real. The American military opposes it — Iran would make Iraq look like a schoolyard — yet Obama, Romney, and other prominent political figures rattle their sabers. This is sheer madness.

Sheldon Richman is senior fellow at The Future of Freedom Foundation (www.fff.org) and editor of The Freeman magazine.


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  • rdmckinney

    “Why would Iran launch a nuclear attack that would mean certain oblivion for itself?”

    I used to think the same thing until I read an article by Bernard Lewis, the dean of Middle East studies, in which he asserted that Iran would attack Israel with nukes the first chance it got. Richman’s fatal flaw is to assume that Iranians think like Americans. They don’t. No one in the Middle East does. In fact, Khamenei and other top leaders have stated clearly and openly that they wouldn’t care if Iran were destroyed as long as Israel was. Iran can be repopulated by other Muslims.

    Iran has convinced itself that the US would never retaliate in like manner. They consider us too timid to ever use nukes again. And they’re probably right. The US is a toothless enemy and a treacherous friend. And if they strike first, Israel won’t be able to respond.

    “There is no evidence Iran is developing a nuclear weapon!”

    Actually there is a lot of circumstantial evidence. Just one example among many pieces of evidence is Iran’s massive program to purify fuel to weapons grade.

    You won’t find evidence that will stand up in a court of law in the US from a nation that intends to hide its program and is good at it. In situations like this, you always have to make decisions with inadequate information. The level of certainty that Richman demands is impossible.

    The consequences for being wrong are not symmetrical. If Israel attacks first and succeeds, thousands of Iranian will die. Iran will retaliate with increased terror attacks, but the effects will be limited. Iran could close the straights to oil shipments for only a few days before the US cleared it.

    If Iran attacks first, millions of Israelis will die and the odds that the US or anyone will retaliate with anything more than sanctions are close to zero.