What Would Critics Have Done Differently in Iran?

Charles Krauthammer asks a rather pointed question with respect to those who have noted, correctly, that Iran is a bigger backer of jihadist terrorists than Iraq ever was: What would the critics have done?

Well, of course Iran is a threat and a danger. But how exactly would the critics have “done” Iran? Iran is a serious country with a serious army. Compared to Iraq, an invasion of Iran would have been infinitely more costly. Can you imagine these critics, who were shouting “quagmire” and “defeat” when the low-level guerrilla war in Iraq intensified in April, actually supporting war with Iran?

If not war, what then? We know the central foreign policy principle of Bush critics: multilateralism. John Kerry and the Democrats have said it a hundred times: The source of our troubles is Bush’s insistence on “going it alone.” They promise to “rejoin the community of nations” and “work with our allies.” Well, that happens to be exactly what we have been doing on Iran. And the policy is an abject failure. The Bush administration, having decided that invading one axis-of-evil country was about as much as either the military or the country can bear, has gone multilateral on Iran, precisely what the Democrats advocate. Washington delegated the issue to a committee of three — the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany — that has been meeting with the Iranians to get them to shut down their nuclear program.


The fact is that the war critics have nothing to offer on the single most urgent issue of our time — rogue states in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Iran instead of Iraq? The Iraq critics would have done nothing about either country. There would today be two major Islamic countries sitting on an ocean of oil, supporting terrorism and seeking weapons of mass destruction — instead of one.

Two years ago, there were five countries supporting terror and pursuing WMDs — two junior-leaguers, Libya and Syria, and the axis-of-evil varsity: Iraq, Iran and North Korea. The Bush administration has just eliminated two: Iraq, by direct military means, and Libya, by example and intimidation.

A fair point. Krauthammer goes on to discuss the possible policy options. None of them are particularly appealing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Joseph Marshall says:

    “Well, of course Iran is a threat and a danger. But how exactly would the critics have “done” Iran? Iran is a serious country with a serious army. Compared to Iraq, an invasion of Iran would have been infinitely more costly.”

    Exactly. We invaded Iraq solely BECAUSE it was not a serious threat and it looked like a pushover. How else could we have obtained the wonderful (and so politically useful) “Mission Accomplished” photo-op?

    Iraq has not proved to be such a pushover in the long run, draining billions from our treasury and obliterating, as matters now stand, any pretence of miltary readiness to even deal with an immanent Iranian threat.

    Since we have also promulgated a Bush Doctrine which states we will invade anybody we please at any time we have the force available, it was the exact stimulus nature ordered to push Iran to go nuclear as quickly as possible while our military options are mostly hamstrung.

    So, of course, by now our options for dealing with the situation are rather limited.

    What a wonderful example of circular reasoning.

  2. Attila Girl says:

    Being next door to a democratic country is going to exert a lot of pressure on the Mullahs from within. The theocracy may collapse of its own weight.

  3. Boyd says:

    From my viewpoint, Joseph, the circular reasoning is yours, but both perspectives (left and right) depend on speculation rather than fact. Krauthammer believes that Iran would be in the same place in their efforts to achieve a nuclear capability, and you believe that they wouldn’t have bothered if we hadn’t invaded Iraq, or at least wouldn’t have worked so hard at it.

    But who’s to say? No one, not Krauthammer, not you, not John Kerry, not Richard Clarke, not Condoleezza Rice, not George Bush, nobody knows which is correct. There are no facts from which to draw a conclusion. There is only speculation and conjecture.

  4. Joseph Marshall says:

    What is NOT speculation, but fact, is the degree to which the invasion Iraq has undermined our current military readiness, and undermined it far longer, I think, than the President and his cohorts anticipated, and this with no good reason.

    Maybe Iran won’t become a nuclear problem, maybe the fundamentalist government will implode, though I don’t think that alternative is likely.

    But if it DOES become a problem, we will not be able to solve it with the overwhelming military force we used in Iraq. Such force is not going to be available for quite a long time, much longer, I suspect, than it would take Iran to achieve operational warheads.