U.S. Military Action Against Iran: Dangerous to the Future of America

Iran is undoubtedly embarrassed at being caught in an amateurish assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador, but the idea that the U.S. would respond to a botched assassination attempt with military force is ludicrous.
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Military force shouldn't be ruled out as a response to an Iranian assassination plot on U.S. soil, the top House Republican on intelligence issues said on ABC's This Week.

"I don't think you should take it off the table," said Representative Mike Rogers, the chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Rogers said other options would include rallying the international community against Iran or taking action against Iranian operatives in Iraq. Noticeably absent was any mention of aggressive non-violent or even peaceful ways of responding to the Iranian assassination attempt.

This is an another example of a way of thinking that is dangerous to the future of America. The idea is that violence, or the threat of violence, must be responded to with overwhelming preemptive violence. It rejects the law of lex talionis, an eye for an eye, which calls for restraint in the exercise of retributive power. One of the unintended consequences of having the most powerful military in human history is the belief that vexing problems can be solved with overwhelming, brute force. It didn't work for the Romans, and it will not work for America.

International relations has been a contact sport for a long time. But how foolish is it to consider a military operation against Iran? Iran poses no existential threat to the United States. Its government, while annoying, is in internal disarray. Its political, economic, and moral power is so weak that it must resort to terrorism and assassination to carry out its international agenda. It threatens to develop nuclear capabilities, but knows that Israel would not hesitate to snuff it out if the threat truly materialized.

Publicly considering military options against Iran is, therefore, beyond stupid. This kind of retributive, vengeful thinking has led us to a trillion dollar deficit caused by unbridled military spending and two wars in the first 10 years of this century. Neither war, by the way, has turned out well for America.

The Iranians know that the U.S. will not be flying predator drones over Isfahan or dropping cruise missiles into downtown Tehran. They are undoubtedly embarrassed at being caught in a clumsy, amateurish assassination attempt against the Saudi ambassador to the U.S. But the idea that the U.S. would respond to a botched assassination attempt with military force is ludicrous.

First, the assassination attempt was against a Saudi official, not an American. It would seem that the fight would be between the Arabs and the Persians, not the U.S. and the Persians.

Second, the U.S. military budget is already stretched to the breaking point in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya. Does the Congress intend to come to the people of America asking if yet another war should be funded by an increase in taxes? Ironically, Mr. Rogers, of the party that wants to dismantle government and eliminate all taxes, suggests that another expensive military adventure should be on the table.

Third, even if the American people wanted a war with Iran, the vast majority of U.S. allies do not. A U.S. military option is not a realistic or appropriate response to the assassination attempt.

Unfortunately, this kind of primitive thinking about the use of power permeates Washington. One would hope that more thoughtful leaders would step forward to decry the wrong notion that attempted violence must always be met with overwhelming retributive violence. There are many other ways to respond effectively to this type of petty aggression. We need some maturity in the halls of power to prevent the further decline of America into a reactive, fear-based international tyrant.

Douglas Noll, lawyer-turned-peacemaker, is the author of Elusive Peace: How Modern Diplomatic Strategies Could Better Resolve World Conflicts (Prometheus Books 2011).

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