Editors Note: This is the second of a two-part series on the prospects of democracy and American action in Iran.
When Americans talk about Iran these days, the discussion does not focus so much on whether bombing Iran would be a bad idea, but whether or not it could actually happen.
Sadly, the answer to the latter is yes. The Bush administration is committed to a foreign policy that is imbued with certain assumptions about Irans nuclear program, and those assumptions lead them to seriously consider using the military option. The Bush administration is convinced that Iran is funding terrorism and that the government is supporting insurgent forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. The administration is also convinced that Iran will not negotiate with the international community and that it will not respond to economic sanctions. Furthermore, the Bush administration believes that the people of Iran want regime change.
Unfortunately, I do not have the space to evaluate all of these assumptions. While it is clear that Iran has not responded to diplomatic pressure, it has yet to be seen how Ahmadinejad and the clerics would respond to multilateral economic sanctions from the U.S., Europe, and Japan. As I discussed in my last column, it seems dubious that the vast majority of the people of Iran hunger for democracy. Some definitely do. Some definitely dont. But what is important about these assumptions is that when one believes all of these to be true, one considers the military option to be the only option. After all, if one truly believes Iran will not respond to diplomatic or economic pressure, and that Iran is going to give WMD to terrorists, and that the current regime has little support and lots of opposition, why wouldnt we consider a military option if we are committed to preventing Iran from acquiring the bomb?
But many of these assumptions are fundamentally flawed. The most tragic of these assumptions is that all the United States has to do is bomb the nuclear facilities in Natanz and elsewhere and the Iranian people will rise up and overthrow Ahmadinejad. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Iranian people overwhelmingly agree that their country should be able to develop a nuclear program. This is the only project in the last 15 years that the Iranian people consistently commend Ahmadinejad for pursuing. Bombing Irans nuclear program wont weaken the regime, bombing will strengthen it.
Furthermore, pro-democratic and even pro-U.S. Iranians will not welcome American military intervention. They will see it as imperialism. Nikki Keddie, who literally wrote the book on Modern Iran, said that a survey of political thought in 20th century Iran suggests the frequent reappearance of certain similar themes, often found in both religious and secular thinkers. One of the most important is anti-imperialism. The Iranian people, even those who want democracy, will not welcome democracy if it is delivered to them by the United States.
Another flaw in Bushs logicalso repeatedly mentioned by Condoleezza Rice in recent weeksis the idea that the Iranian government will give nuclear weapons to terrorists. The logic here is that Iran might give terrorists a weapon that they would not want to use themselves.
To be sure, Iran is one of the most notorious state sponsors of terrorism, but bankrolling terrorist organizations does not translate into handing over weapons of mass destruction. Iran has had chemical weapons for 20 years, and they havent given those to terrorists. Of course this isnt because they are a benign regime. They are a terrible regime. Iran will not give terrorists WMD because nuclear (and chemical) weapons are too easy to trace. Iran understands that if they were to give terrorists these weapons and we found out (which we most certainly would), we would retaliate with a nuclear strike.
Most people believe that bombing Iran sometime soon would be a bad idea. Some believe this because bombing Iran would destroy what little credibility we have left in the international community. Some believe this because bombing Iran would make America less secure. Some believe this because bombing a country that has not and is not getting ready to attack us is something the United States should never do. I agree with all of that.
What worries me is that most of us do not believe that the Bush administration would really go through with it, but when we examine their doctrine and we listen to their current speeches on Iran, it seems far more likely. And the tragedy of it all is that bombing Iran in the near future would make Ahmadinejad more secure and the American people less secure. In short, bombing Iran would hurt democracy there and hurt security here.