Attacking Iran: Not Just a Crime
In an article in the Wall Street Journal, re-published at The New Atlanticist General Chuck Wald makes a good case that an attack against Iran would be technically feasible:
An attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would mostly involve air assets, primarily Air Force and Navy, that are not strained by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, the presence of U.S. forces in countries that border Iran offers distinct advantages. Special Forces and intelligence personnel already in the region can easily move to protect key assets or perform clandestine operations. It would be prudent to emplace additional missile-defense capabilities in the region, upgrade both regional facilities and allied militaries, and expand strategic partnerships with countries such as Azerbaijan and Georgia to pressure Iran from all directions.
Conflict may reveal previously undetected Iranian facilities as Iranian forces move to protect them. Moreover, nuclear sites buried underground may survive sustained bombing, but their entrances and exits will not.
while making an even better case that it would be risky:
Of course, there are huge risks to military action: U.S. and allied casualties; rallying Iranians around an unstable and oppressive regime; Iranian reprisals be they direct or by proxy against us and our allies; and Iranian-instigated unrest in the Persian Gulf states, first and foremost in Iraq.
Furthermore, while a successful bombing campaign would set back Iranian nuclear development, Iran would undoubtedly retain its nuclear knowhow. An attack would also necessitate years of continued vigilance, both to retain the ability to strike previously undiscovered sites and to ensure that Iran does not revive its nuclear program.
There are additional reasons, unmentioned by Gen. Wald, that an attack against Iran in the absence of specific information about the scope and location of its nuclear weapons development, would be a serious error.
First, as I’ve mentioned in the past, most of Iran’s known nuclear development facilities are located in or near large, urban areas. Any attack substantial enough to cause serious damage to hardened nuclear weapons development facilities would be likely to cause substantial civilian casualties, too.
Second, whether or not Iran is developing nuclear weapons now, such an attack would give the Iranians every reason in the world to develop them in the future and use them.
Both of those factors should be weighed in any calculation of the costs and benefits of military actions against Iran. My view remains as it has been for some time: in the absence of solid intelligence on the existence, scope, and location of an Iranian nuclear weapons development program, an attack against Iran to eliminate or slow such a program would be worse than a crime, it would be a mistake.