The Insane ‘Option’ of Attacking Iran

Debating this is like debating the details of how to shoot yourself in the foot, except that the human cost of launching an attack on Iran would be much, much higher.

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Eric Brewer argues that Iran’s shorter “breakout” time to acquiring enough fissile material for a nuclear weapon requires the U.S. to be ready to attack much more quickly:

The most impactful step the United States could take, however, would be to shorten military response time. This step might also be the hardest. One option would be increasing readiness and ensuring that all capabilities required for a strike, such as refueling aircraft, would be available on short notice. Another would be positioning aircraft, missile defense systems, and other support assets in the region. US B-2 bombers, for instance, periodically deploy outside the United States but have no sustained overseas presence. Washington would need to examine the requirements, and risks, of more frequent deployments or permanent stationing abroad. Still, these steps would give the United States more flexibility should a crisis arise and would signal to partners in the region as well as to Iran that the United States is prepared to act if needed.

The US debate over Iran’s nuclear program has been going on for at least two decades, but in the end it always comes back to this fantasy of using force to “stop” Iran from building nuclear weapons. There are a few basic truths that we need to remember before we go down the rabbit hole that Brewer invites us to enter. First, the US has absolutely no right or authority to attack Iran over its nuclear program, and this is true even if Iran chose to violate its commitments under the NPT by building a bomb. There is no universe in which that attack constitutes self-defense. Any attack on Iran for the purpose of destroying nuclear facilities would be illegal aggression. It would not only make a mockery of everything US officials have said about the invasion of Ukraine, but it would also alienate many other countries around the world as they would once again see us as a lawless, rogue superpower. As Steven Metz said Thursday:

Bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities would make the US president who ordered it a war criminal and be jaw-droppingly stupid from a strategic perspective.

Second, military action would not “stop” anything, but it would almost certainly accelerate Iran’s development of nuclear weapons by giving their government a major incentive to build a deterrent to prevent further attacks. Third, attacking Iran would very likely set off a larger regional conflict that would result in the deaths of many thousands and possibly tens of thousands of people, and under current circumstances that would further exacerbate our economic problems and send the globe into a bigger recession. Finally, the only practical way to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is to give their government strong incentives to continue abiding by their commitments not to build them. There is no alternative to striking a diplomatic bargain with them. If the Biden administration fails to reach a bargain, that does not justify the use of force. Talking about a military “option” here is absurd, since there is no scenario where using that option is legitimate and effective. Debating this is like debating the details of how to shoot yourself in the foot, except that the human cost of launching an attack on Iran would be much, much higher. If all of this seems familiar, that’s because people have been pushing the insane option of aggressive war against Iran for half of my lifetime.

Read the rest of the article at SubStack

Daniel Larison is a weekly columnist for and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.