Total war on Iran would be a catastrophe. Every politician involved in this business should be locked in a room and forced to read the cuttings on Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade. Ahmadinejad may delight audiences with his bloodthirsty language about the west. But the rest of the world would ask by what right are two nuclear powers using violence to stop someone else joining their weirdly exclusive club. We would have no UN support for such a venture. No one seriously supposes that Iran, under whatever ruler, would seek to wipe out Israel – and anyway that is Israel’s business.
Stopping Iran from developing a nuclear capability is and always was a lost cause. It appears to be three years from deliverable warheads and is besieged by foreign agents launching cyber-attacks, selling fake components and assassinating scientists. But Iran would be no easy target, like Libya or Iraq. The more isolated and threatened Iran is by the west, the more nuclear assertiveness attracts its leadership, and the more allies would rally to its cause.
Every expert report on Iran warns that bombing is the one thing likely to bond the unpopular Ahmadinejad to his people. The idea that they would rise up against him after the Pentagon’s reported “shock and awe” three-day blitz of 1,200 targets is demented. Ahmadinejad’s recent antics in New York were designed to provoke just such belligerence, to bolster his position and that of the hardliners. For rightwingers to play the enemy’s game in this way used to be called treason. American presidential candidates now call it patriotism.
The wars of choice that followed 9/11 have acquired a rhythm of their own. They have yielded 10 years of rolling thunder across the Muslim world, variously proclaiming retaliation, humanity, regime change and democracy. There have been pluses – the toppling of Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi and (temporarily) the Taliban. But the minuses have been tens of thousands killed, millions displaced, societies upheaved, billions of dollars of destruction, and a region destabilised. The wars have been a gigantic, historic tragedy. They have not advanced western security one jot. [++]