The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Bomb Iran Crowd

Gregg Carlstrom, one-half of the dynamic duo over at The Majlis, brought attention to an article in Military Review — which as it sounds is a US Army publication — that advocates a military strike on Iran. I want to expand on that a little bit more.

Its basic argument is that engagement and sanctions are widely seen as ineffective, and that the received wisdom is that a deterrence strategy will work (from the perspective of the US) to keep a nuclear Iran from actually using the weapon, or perhaps even assembling one. It then goes on to argue against a deterrence strategy and insist that preventing Iran from ever developing nuclear weapons is a key priority, and one that is best achieved by military means. Accepting the common arguments that a military strike against the known nuclear installations would essentially only delay the nuclear program (and of course it would also add a reason to pursue it, although this is not mentioned) and that different military options must be pursued. Here's the scenario outlined:

 The basic approach seeks not to degrade Iran’s nuclear capaci- ties (the aim of bombing) but to compel the regime to change its behavior, by causing ever-higher levels of “pain.” It starts with demanding that Iran live up to its international obligations and open up its nuclear sites by a given date, to demonstrate that they are not serving a military program. If this demand is not heeded, the next step would entail bombing of Iran’s nonnuclear military assets (such as the headquarters and encampments of the Revo- lutionary Guard, air defense installations and radar sites, missile sites, and naval vessels that might be used against oil shipments). If such bombing does not elicit the required response, the bombing of select dual-use assets will be undertaken, includ- ing key elements of the infrastructure, like bridges, railroad stations, and other such assets, just the way the U.S. did in Germany and Japan in World War II. (The reference is to dual-use assets, that can be bombed at night, even after proper warning, to mini- mize civilian casualties, and not to purely civilian targets such as was done in Dresden and Tokyo.) If still more tightening of the screws is needed, Iran could be declared a no-fly zone, the way parts of Iraq were even before Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003. This kind of military action is akin to sanctions—causing “pain” in order to change behavior, albeit by much more powerful means.

The article [PDF], as Gregg points out is basically a call to carpet-bomb Iran and adopt a method of collective punishment similar to the one pursued by Israel in its 2006 war in Lebanon and 2009 war in Gaza — the "Dahiya Doctrine." Gregg already covered the moral and other problems with this approach, so I just want to focus on who the author of the article is. David Kenner did a round-up of the "Bomb Iran" crowd in think tanks and the media, mostly neocons known for being "Israel Firsters" like Norman Podhoretz and Daniel Pipes. We can add a new name to the list: Amitai Etzioni, who is a surprisingly establishment figure as his website's bio shows:

He was a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution in 1978 before serving as a Senior Advisor to the White House on domestic affairs from 1979-1980. In 1980, Etzioni was named the first University Professor at The George Washington University, where he is the Director of the Institute for Communitarian Policy Studies. From 1987-1989, he served as the Thomas Henry Carroll Ford Foundation Professor at the Harvard Business School.

Etzioni served as the president of the American Sociological Association in 1994-95, and in 1989-90 was the founding president of the international Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics. In 1990, he founded the Communitarian Network, a not-for-profit, non-partisan organization dedicated to shoring up the moral, social and political foundations of society. He was the editor of The Responsive Community: Rights and Responsibilities, the organization's quarterly journal, from 1991-2004. In 1991, the press began referring to Etzioni as the 'guru' of the communitarian movement.

. . . 

In 2001, Etzioni was named among the top 100 American intellectuals as measured by academic citations in Richard Posner's book, Public Intellectuals: A Study of Decline.

Also in 2001, Etzioni was awarded the John P. McGovern Award in Behavioral Sciences as well as the Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. He was also the recipient of the Seventh James Wilbur Award for Extraordinary Contributions to the Appreciation and Advancement of Human Values by the Conference on Value Inquiry, as well as the Sociological Practice Association's Outstanding Contribution Award. 

Etzioni is Israeli-American, a former IDF soldier, and someone who escaped Nazi Germany as a young child. I can understand the concern about Iran's nukes, especially in the light of Ahmedinejad's moronic statements. But I don't understand how he can advocate a) a military approach that would inevitably target civilians and b) a course of action that would be so calamitous for the United States to pursue in terms of its own interests. Not to mention that, however accomplished Etzioni is as a sociologist, he is not — like the majority of the "Bomb Iran" gang — an expert on Iran, nuclear non-proliferation or even military strategy. In fact, I am not sure there is a single Iran expert who would advocate such a strategy, except perhaps Michael Rubin. Why does he have such an interest in this issue, aside from being Israeli, and why are his views aired in a magazine that is surely reserved for experts on military affairs? 

It is as if this "Bomb Iran" gang is entirely composed of people whose approach to the Iran problem is a mixture of demented paranoia and a radical commitment to preserving, through any means possible, Israel's military supremacy and expansionist agenda. Policymaking on issues like Iran will become much easier when these agitators are no longer such a politically powerful, irrational and disruptive voice in American politics. It's pretty clear that the Walt/Mearsheimer arguments about the Israel lobby's role in advocating for the invasion of Iraq are once again being repeated over Iran. Fool me once...

In honor of John McCain's infamous "Bomb Bomb Iran" statement, I once again give you the Beach Boys.