Originally appeared on The American Conservative.
Iran hawks are always saying that they don’t want war with Iran, but somehow they always end up advocating for attacking Iran. Bret Stephens did that again yesterday:
Nobody wants a war with Iran. But not wanting a war does not mean remaining supine in the face of its outrages. We sank Iran’s navy before. Tehran should be put on notice that we are prepared and able to do it again.
When denying that they seek war, most hawks usually put some distance between their pro forma denial and their demand for unleashing havoc, but Stephens doesn’t want to wait. Calling for the U.S. to threaten sinking the Iranian navy is to demand that our government threaten massive escalation and the initiation of a major war over relatively minor incidents. It is also calling for putting thousands of US sailors in grave danger. The US Navy presumably would prevail in any fight, it would come at a much higher cost than most Americans expect. Harry Kazianis wrote an article for The American Conservative about the wargame he participated in that simulated a war with Iran in the Persian Gulf, and the results were very ugly:
Then Iran decides such an action cannot be allowed to stand, and decides to make a statement that not only is its military powerful, but it can cause serious damage to US naval assets in the region. They counterattack with a massive volley of anti-ship missiles pointed at the ultimate symbol of US military might: America’s only aircraft carrier operating in the region. Firing over 100 missiles, the carrier’s defenses are overwhelmed and the 100,000-ton vessel is destroyed, with over 2,000 sailors and airmen lost.
Iran doesn’t stop there. To make clear that it won’t tolerate any further US military operations against its forces, Iranian conventional attack submarines – purchased from Russia – launch a series of attacks on US surface combatants in the Persian Gulf. While Tehran loses two of its prized subs, one American Littoral Combat Vessel is sunk, with over 62 sailors killed.
There is no compelling reason for the US to go to war with Iran. What US interest is served by courting such a disaster? When we strip away the nonsense about a “pirate state,” Stephens doesn’t have an answer for that. If the US weren’t strangling Iran’s economy with unwarranted sanctions and inflicting collective punishment on the Iranian people, our governments wouldn’t be on a collision course. Instead of additional threats that will only worsen the tensions between the US and Iran, our government should be looking for a way to backtrack and de-escalate the situation as quickly as possible. The danger is that the Trump administration may be incapable of doing that after investing so much in their bankrupt Iran policy.
Advocates of attacking Iran have often exaggerated the ease and speed of military action against Iran, and they fail to take seriously how costly and destructive such a conflict would be. Not only is Stephens’ proposal an absurd overreaction, but it also confirms that many Iran hawks certainly do want to have a war with Iran and have been trying to create the conditions for one for a long time. A good way to tell whether or not someone wants war is how that person responds to an incident that may involve an adversary. If the initial response is to seize on the incident to make bellicose threats and to ratchet up tensions further, that person is not interested in finding a peaceful solution to the dispute. Yes, Iran hawks want war, and we should know that because they are constantly telling us this with their words and actions.
Daniel Larison is a senior editor at The American Conservative, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and is a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Dallas. Follow him on Twitter. This article is reprinted from The American Conservative with permission.