We Can't Predict War With Iran By Using the Build-up to the Iraq War As a Parallel


There is a particularly worrying tendency emerging in the press to liken the on-going saber-rattling with Iran to the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003. It is a woefully misleading analogy for one key reason: Military action against Iraq was inevitable; the same can not, and should not, be said for Iran.

It became clear in the immediate years after the Iraq invasion that such action had been envisioned long before the September 11 attacks gave the Bush administration any legitimacy to expand the so-called “War on Terror.” A fairly cursory reading of Against All Enemies, Richard Clarke’s seminal account of the months prior to and after September 11, reveals the full extent of the administration’s Iraq obsession.

Nor was the Iraq of 2003 the aggressive and obdurate challenge the U.S. now faces in Iran. The difficulty for the Obama administration, which has no wish to see the present impasse escalate to actual military intervention, is to resist both internal and external pressure to embroil itself and the United States in what would be the third conflict with the Muslim world in 10 years.

Unquestionably, a nuclear-armed Iran is problematic for the U.S. and her regional allies. But it is high time this country begin to seriously and unemotionally consider its recent history, especially when nearly 50% of likely voters say U.S. military force should be used to prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.

How unreasonably rampant is American exceptionalism that over 6,300 dead and over 46,000 wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan is seemingly insufficient to temper our own pugnacity toward Iran?

President Barack Obama is in an unenviable position trying to keep the U.S. out of further conflict while heeding the concerns of our allies, with increasingly few options besides military action left to him, and all in the middle of a tough re-election campaign. But it is vital that a respect for our recent, and not altogether triumphant, military endeavors shape our future decision-making.

Perhaps a better historical analogy than Iraq, if the press is in need of one, would be the Cuban Missile Crisis, in which case there is a letter from then-Soviet Chairman Kruschev to President Kennedy cautioning against military escalation on both sides, which Obama might take to heart amidst the din over Iran:

“We must not succumb to intoxication and petty passions, regardless of whether elections are impending in this or that country, or not impending. These are all transient things, but if indeed war should break out, then it would not be in our power to stop it, for such is the logic of war. I have participated in two wars and know that war ends when it has rolled through cities and villages, everywhere sowing death and destruction. […] We and you ought not now to pull on the ends of the rope in which you have tied the knot of war, because the more the two of us pull, the tighter that knot will be tied. And a moment may come when […] it will be necessary to cut that knot, and what that would mean is not for me to explain to you, because you yourself understand perfectly of what terrible forces our countries dispose.”

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons