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Iran: just how badly can we screw up the Middle East?

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(NOTE FROM JOHN: AJ is a former Department of Defense civilian Intelligence Officer who was decorated for his recent civilian service in Iraq.)

National security professionals, especially those on the Democratic/progressive side, are currently in a weird place with regard to Iran. Virtually anyone with any military, foreign policy, or Middle East expertise thinks that it would be an absolute disaster to act militarily against Iran. We understand that a ground invasion is logistically impossible, an airborne attack would not end nuclear development and might even accelerate it, and either "option" would result in massive recriminations against U.S. troops in Iraq and possibly counter-attacks against U.S. interests and allies in the region and beyond. In short, people who know about these issues (and plenty who don't, but have an iota of common sense) view any kind of attack against Iran as so monstrously wrong-headed, so profoundly against U.S. interests, as to be beyond the realm of possibility. Some of these people are even irritated with those who are anxious about an Iran strike simply because it is, to them, incomprehensible and impossible.

I'm not unsympathetic to this position. I, too, think it would be disastrous to take military action against Iran. I think it would represent all the worst aspects of the Iraq war -- manipulated intelligence, overheated rhetoric, ideology overtaking reality, greatly harmful to U.S. foreign policy, etc. -- without even the superficial salve of democracy-promotion, and I think the blowback in Iraq would be swift and severe.

But here's the thing: I have no faith in the current administration to recognize any of this. I believe it is unlikely we will attack Iran. Various reports in recent years have predicted attacks on Iran and been wrong, and I think there would literally be a near-mutiny from senior military officials were they ordered to attack Iran. However. Stranger things have happened, and we are dealing with a president who doesn't feel constrained by public opinion or an electoral future, and he keeps increasing the rhetoric and accusations against a nation that has no more ability to harm U.S. national security than Pakistan or North Korea or any number of similarly equipped states.

So in the face of irresponsible administration words and policies, yes, there is a responsibility to push back. And that's not to say Iran isn't an adversary: One can recognize that Iran is a potential threat and a hostile actor without advocating counter-productive violence. Diplomacy. Engagement. Carrots and sticks. These things could all be accomplished by a competent administration, and all are lacking. Similarly, the press should ask questions about half-cocked assertions rather than producing absurdly-sourced schlock that makes the Judith Miller years look incisive.

When this administration acts like it wants to do something horrifically foolish, it's not unreasonable to think that it might, y'know, do it. Whether "everyone" thinks it's a crazy idea doesn't seem to have any bearing on the actual decision-making process, which is why it's absolutely responsible for Congress and the American people to assert opposition to idiocy in Iran policy just as vigorously as that stupidity is being advocated.

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