Why Bush Won’t Attack Iran
Steve Clemons has a provocative piece at Salon arguing that, despite a near-consensus among the foreign policy elite that war with Iran is inevitable, President Bush will likely let Iran join the nuclear club rather than launching military action.
To try to discern what the president himself thinks, however, is very difficult. It’s particularly hard when Bush is trying to convince Iran that the military option is real, and that if Iran doesn’t work out a mutually acceptable deal with the U.S., he will launch a strike.
To date, however, nothing suggests Bush is really going to do it. If he were, he wouldn’t be playing good cop/bad cop with Iran and proposing engagement. If the bombs were at the ready, Bush would be doing a lot more to prepare the nation and the military for a war far more consequential than the invasion of Iraq. There is also circumstantial evidence that he has decided bombing may be too costly a choice.
Bush knows that the American military is stretched and that bombing Iran would not be a casual exercise. Reprisals in the Gulf toward U.S. forces and Iran’s ability to cut off supply lines to the 160,000 U.S. troops currently deployed in Iraq could seriously endanger the entire American military.
Bush can also see China and Russia waiting in the wings, not to promote conflict but to take advantage of self-destructive missteps that the United States takes that would give them more leverage over and control of global energy flows. Iran has the third-largest undeveloped oil reserves in the world and the second-largest undeveloped natural gas reserves.
Bush also knows that Iran controls “the temperature” of the terror networks it runs. Bombing Iran would blow the control gauge off, and Iran’s terror networks could mobilize throughout the Middle East, Afghanistan and even the United States.
Perhaps it’s just wishful thinking on my part, because I’ve long since come to the conclusion that Benen attributes to the president, but this certainly sounds right.
Further, it’s not entirely clear to me that the binary option — war with Iran versus nuclear Iran — is correctly cast. Nobody in the region wants Iran to go nuclear. That provides powerful incentive to form a consensus stance that brings together all “sticks” short of war while offering real “carrots” to make giving up their nuclear program and allowing a robust verifications regime worth the Iranians’ while.