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An updated report from the United Nations’ nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, charges that Iran has been, and probably still is, hiding a nuclear weapons program behind its nuclear energy research. This is not particularly surprising, but it is hardly good news. Despite Iran’s many denials, it seems clear that it has been seeking to establish a miniature version of mutually assured destruction in a strategic balance with Israel, an undeclared nuclear power.

The I.A.E.A. report has put additional pressure on the Security Council members Russia and China to support more aggressive economic and political sanctions against the regime in Tehran. It has provoked a new round of F-16 rattling in Israel as a parade of strategic leaks provides details about preparation for a pre-emptive military strike to neutralize the Iranian threat. Some voices in Washington have likewise called for more serious consideration of a military option.

Regarding the use of force against Iran, President Obama said, “We are not taking any options off the table.” But, diplomatic posturing aside, a military strike is just the kind of option that the United States should take off the table. A pre-emptive attack, whether conducted by the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom or all three, fails to fulfill basic just war criteria. Not only is the practical threat from Iran too difficult to assess (just cause) but the outcome of such a strike is too difficult to predict (probability of success). Any attack, moreover, could be enough to begin a widespread war in the Middle East. Iran is not Gaza. It has a conventional military capability, including medium-range missiles, that could lead to a prolonged and brutal conflict. Any attack is also likely to draw in Iran’s surrogates, Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.

Worse, such an attack is unlikely to achieve greater security for Israel. The Iranian program has been widely dispersed and driven underground. It is unlikely that an attack would succeed in crippling Iran’s nuclear weapons development; it might even accelerate the program.

But beyond the moral and strategic problems associated with a pre-emptive attack, the last thing the United States needs is to undertake another military adventure in the Islamic world. Another debt-financed war could be the final blow to the staggering U.S. economy. Investments in human capital and infrastructure, not more war-making, are where the nation’s diminished resources are most needed now.

Israel, as a sovereign power, can of course come to a different conclusion about the threat posed by Iran. Cynical observers are already suggesting that a messy conflict with the puzzling Islamic republic is just the diversion Israel needs to slow down the accelerating movement for Palestinian statehood for at least another half-decade. That would be a cruel and short-sighted calculus for Israelis and a plain disaster for Palestinians; it would also be a strategic and economic catastrophe for the rest of the world.

The global economy twitches in anxiety each market day. It remains unclear if the Arab Spring will lead to reform or ruin. As a new generation of Muslim youth begins to perceive an alternative to the violence proposed by Islamic extremism, the West could not make a more counterproductive gesture than an unprovoked attack on Iran. The Islamic Republic of Iran has already done much to diminish its legitimacy in the eyes of its own restive people; a pre-emptive strike would be just the kind of event the regime could use to reassert its hold on power.

Four rounds of U.N. sanctions have already proved somewhat effective. Peaceful options to a resolution of this stand-off remain. Previously proposed nuclear fuel swaps could provide confidence-building diplomatic successes while normalizing broader international oversight of Iranian enrichment efforts. But an attack on Iran would no doubt begin a regional war and demolish whatever prospects remain for a democratic transition in Tehran. The Obama administration needs to wave Israel off from an air strike in the clearest possible terms, publicly and privately. The penalties for such a foolish act, in terms of loss of diplomatic support and military aid, should be plainly delineated. If a bold strike is required, let it be for peace, not war. Now would be a good time for all parties to sit down for a serious discussion about what it would take to establish a nuclear-free Middle East.

An attack on Iran now would at best only further isolate Israel and drag the United States right along with it. At its worst, however, it could mark the beginning of a broader regional conflict that could have incalculable human costs, intensifying global jihad against Israel, the United States and Jews and Americans anywhere. The prospects for peace, not only in the Middle East but everywhere, would be set back for generations.

Comments

Paul Ferris | 2/1/2012 - 11:35am
The only way to deal with the nuclear arms race is for ordinary people to join an occupy movement of its own demanding its leaders eliminate these weapons. The leaders of countries cannot do it and will not do it alone.
John Cunningham | 12/6/2011 - 10:44am
I agree with this America editorial position.  It echoes the gospel of Jesus Christ in The Sermon on The Mount.  Blessed are the Peacemakers.  I am so surprised to see so many hawkish responses (most of whom apparently deny the existence of spellcheck, by the way) to this America editorial.  Frankly, I wonder where these hawks were when Pakistan was developing their nuclear bombs.  I think it is shortsighted to just focus on Iran.  They are just the nuclear power flavor of the month.  More sovereign nations, both pro and anti US, and pro and anti Israel, will enter the nuclear community of nations.  As sovereign nations, that is their right to do so.  Israel is a nuclear power.  Sometimes Netanyahu's bellicose posturing scares me almost as much as anyone else on the world stage, and many of my Isreali friends feel the same way.  JC
LEONARD VILLA | 12/1/2011 - 8:16pm
Doing nothing is not an option. In the film The Night People an army officer provided an apt description of the communists to a civilian whose son was captured from West Germany to the communist zone in East Germany. The father figured you could negotiate and barter using cold cash to get his son back. The army officer gave him a reality check:These are cannibals...headhunting blood thirsty cannibals who are out to eat us up. This is an apt description for Al Qaida and the Islamic extremists in control of Iran, Sudan, Pakistan, and it seems Egypt. All of this has meant bloody persecution against the Church. The response has to be: defeat them. Until you reoognize the nature of the enemy your editorials will be off the mark.
Tom Maher | 11/27/2011 - 10:31pm

Ed Gleason (#13)

Ed, everyone in the world is talking about Iran's nuclear weapons program after the IAEA finally came out last week and confirmed nuclear weapons were being development in Iran's nuclear facilities.  The United States ?h?a?s???? ?s?a?i?d? ????????????????for almost ten years ????????I?r?a?n?? ?i?s? ??????????developing nuclear weapons. 

????????????President Oba?ma came out the other day with a st?atement that all options were on the ta?ble ?for prev?enting Iran from having nuclear weap?o?n?s???.????
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ed gleason | 11/27/2011 - 8:22pm
Tom M says "So your saying there is not problem with Iran having nuclear weapons?'
sure it's a problem.. how about ten more countries having nuclear weapons.? How about Iran getting nukes from Pakistan [shrink wrapped]
Do you not have a problem with a nuke war started by war hawks like yourself? learn to live with danger.. and do your part and stop  advocating war and first strike action especially on a Catholic website.

Tom Maher | 11/27/2011 - 12:31am
Ed Gleason (# 11)

So your saying there is not problem with Iran having nuclear weapons? 

Iran having nuclear weapons does not destablize Middle East security?

The old strategic nuclear warfare concepts of "mutual assured destruction"  and "strategic balance" between nations that this editorial touts are as obsolete as bows and arrows.  These concepts have been replaced since the mid-1980s with the strategic concept of "first strike"  due to great advances in the speed and accuracy of missles technology.  Over the last ten years missles such as the ones Iran has demonstrated in public are "hyper sonic"  meaning these missiles can travel many times faster than sound.  The old lag time of about an hour to respond to a missle attack just does not exist anymore if it ever did.  It has for decades been recognized that a "first strike" one-sided military victory could be achieved  by a relatively few, very fast, accurate  and powerful nuclear missles that on a first strike would destroy a tageted nation, inclduing any ability to respond to attacks.  This is the modern nuclear version of the classic surprise attack such as the atttack on Pearl Harbor 70 years ago.  

A "First Strike" nuclear attack by Iran is possible and should definately not be allowed to happen. 
ed gleason | 11/26/2011 - 4:30pm
The war hawks here base their augment on Peter B's "It would have to be assumed that if the Iranian potentates had a nuclear weapon, it would be used.' The mad men argument is false. Israel has 100+ nuclear bombs and the ace pilots to deliver them. IRAN has neither. An Iranian attack would be the end of the Persian empire. I lived for 62 years with the Soviet/Russian threat so I say to Israel.. live with it.
Only foolish war hawks  would give the Israeli PM and cabinet the right to start a war and involve the USA.. We have a constitution that says Congress does this.. not Israeli war hawks. 
As for Jack's 'threat is good' argument does he not remember Teddy Roosevelt's 'talk softly' first. I suggest Jack experiment with his threat options and try them out in some inner city 'hood'    
Jonathan James | 11/23/2011 - 1:07pm
If wart is not an option, then you have just eliminated it as a lever to maneuver your opponent.  The threat of war, which requires the ways, means and resolve to go to war, is an useful tool in negotiations. 
Tom Maher | 11/23/2011 - 12:12am
The stategic goals of Iran's nuclear weapons development program are falsely assumed by this editorial to be limited to  " ... seeking to establish a miniature version of mutually assured destruction in a strategic balance with Israel...".  But Iran's stategic nuclear goals could just as well be for nuclear superiority in the Middle East or the world for that matter.   Iran has never revealed admitted it was developing nuclear weapons let alone any limited stategic purpose for them.  Iran has publically demonstrated it has hyper sonic missles that can be use to deliver nuclear warhead in a first strike nulcear attack.

No one has any basis to think Iran's nuclear stategy would  be limited or defensive.  
Ana Blasucci | 11/20/2011 - 7:30pm
In analyzing the wisdom of an attack on Iran, it should be noted that the potentates there have an apocolyptic vision that calls for them to help bring about, essentially, the end of the world as we know it.
If Iran were allowed to get nuclear weapons, it would not be just another blow-hard state that, at the end of the day, wanted to gain advantage, and bully, but ultimately survive, as the U.S.S.R. in its time, and North Korea now.  These states have respected the knowledge that they would be devastated for using their nuclear arms.  It would have to be assumed that if the Iranian potentates had a nuclear weapon, it would be used.  Would this alter the application of just war doctrine? Others better studied in that subject would have to decide.  But the Iranian disposition cannont be ignored.
History furnishes us with the "classic" example that Hitler could have been stopped militarily at many points before he invaded Poland.  Would this have accomodated just war doctrine?  Again, refer it to the experts.  It's submitted that future clarifications of just war doctrine be preceded by intimate co-working of these experts with those schooled and experienced in the military sphere, and those schooled in the history of conflict.  
HARRY REYNOLDS | 11/20/2011 - 1:26am
WALTER MATINGLY'S RESPONSE TO MY COMMENT IS TWO-FOLD.

FIRST, HE CONCEDES THAT THE COLLAPSE OF THE SOVIET UNION WAS IN FACT "SUDDEN", AND HENCE HE MUST AGREE WITH MY STATEMENT THAT WE WERE JUSTIFIABLY SURPRISED WHEN IT COLLAPASED AT OUR FEET. HIS ATTRIBUTION OF THE CAUSE OF THAT COLLAPSE TO DECADES OF UNITED STATES ADMINISTRATIONS IS IRRELEVANT TO WHETHER WE, AND INDEED THE WORLD, WERE SURPRISED BY THE COLLAPSE WHEN IT OCCURRED.

SECOND, MR MATINGLY MAY BE THE ONLY PERSON WHO BELIEVES THAT ISRAEL WAS NOT STUNNED BY THE ARAB SPRING. ALL OF ISRAEL, INCLUDING THE LIKUD AND HAARETZ AND THE JERUSALEM POST AND THE FORWARD AND EVERY JEWISH SPOKESPERSON IN THE UNITED STATES, ALL OF THEM WERE STUNNED AND WOULD NOT HAVE RISKED DENYING IT LEST THEY BE LOCKED IN AN ASYLUM. BUT NOT MR MATINGLY. WHILE THE KNESSET AND THE ISRAELI CABINET WERE WAILING AND RUNNING INTO ONE ANOTHER AT THE PROSPECT OF EGYPT TOSSING OUT THE EGYPTIAN-ISRAELI TREATY, AMOND OTHER HORRORS, AND WHILE OUR ADMINISTRATION OPENLY FEARED THE CONSEQUENCES OF OUR INTERNATIONAL CHESS BOARD AND ITS CAREFULLY PLACED PIECES HAVING  BEEN WHACKED TO THE FLOOR, MR MATINGLY WAS HAPPY BECAUSE HE KNEW THAT ISRAEL HAD ANTICIPATED THE ARAB SPRING. WHEN HE NEXT PASSES THE IRAELI CONSULATE, MR MATINGLY SHOULD ENTER IT, SAY AT LUNCH TIME,  AND SHARE WITH THEM  THIS SPECIAL KNOWLEGE THAT HE HAD AND INDEED STILL HAS, WHO KNOWS, THEY MAY WONDER, WHAT OTHER SPECIAL KNOWLEDGE MR MATINGLY MAY HAVE THAT IS OF USE TO ISRAEL.  

C Walter Mattingly | 11/19/2011 - 4:51am
"...just as the Soviet Union surprised us by collapsing at our feet..."
The containment and ultimate collapse of the Soviet Union, although inherent in its failed socialist economic structure, was prepared by the Truman administration in a containment doctrine known as the Cold War, furthered by ensuing administrations, and accelerated under the Reagan administration with a partially true, partially propagandized arms buildup which accelerated the collapse of the Soviet empire. Although the moment of entropy was sudden, it was a collapse that was thoroughly prepared for by the continuous efforts of several US administrations. 
"...just as Israel was stunned by the overnight disappearance of the regional balance on which it depended..."
One of the major goals of the Bush administration advisors in Iraq was to accelerate the momentum for change the Arab populaces would demand upon seeing a democratically elected government established in Iraq.  Israel, correctly anticipating that the ensuing upheavals would create instability in the region, did not encourage the Bush administration's plans.  Even before the invasion, Israel anticipated such results that are now taking place which we call the Arab Spring. The Obama administration may have been totally surprised and unprepared by the Egyptian and other uprisings, but not Israel.
It is correct to say the US has no obligation to support democracy or oppose the annihilation of another people. Were 30,000 US military deaths justified by opposing North Korea and saving South Korea? Was enabling South Korea to found democracy there and saving millions from starving to death, suffering, and political repression worth the expenditure of American lives and treasure? Was the Tutsi-Hutu conflagration "their problem," or are we in any way responsible for our brother?
Those Palestinians with the power of the gun are not interested in anything other than the annihilation of Israel, as they have stated in their charter and proved by their actions.  When Israel unilaterally yielded land on the West Bank, Palestinians responded by moving in rockets closer to Israel and bombarding.  A primary reason those with the guns in the area oppose Israel is that a powerful democracy in the area prevents the establishment of a contemporary version of the Ottoman Empire and Sharia law. The rights of women and democracy generally are anathema to them.  
Putting distortions and half-truths in capital letters doesn't alter their substance. 
Keyran Moran | 11/19/2011 - 1:22am
Amen!
A bit late, but better late than......
The best in-depth analysis available is from STEPHEN WALT.... a few days ago in Foreign Policy.

But be prepaed, oh, stalwart AMERICA staff! The agitprop of the Lobby's hysteria is about to begin. Remember how they piled on Father Ray Schroth for having the gall of proposing a one-state solution.

Hang it there!
Especially..... for the our children and the children in Israel- who are led around by the fanatics in the War Party.

HARRY REYNOLDS | 11/18/2011 - 11:20pm
JUST AS EGYPT'S GOVERNMENT WAS TAKEN UNAWARE BY THE ARAB SPRING, JUST AS THE SOVIET UNION SURPRISED US BY COLLAPSING AT OUR FEET, JUST AS ISRAEL WAS STUNNED BY THE OVERNIGHT DISAPPEARANCE OF THE REGIONAL BALANCE ON WHICH ISRAEL DEPENDED, SO TOO OUR CONGRESSMEN, DESPISED BY MORE THAN 80% OF OUR PEOPLE, ARE DELUDED IN THEIR BELIEF THAT WE ARE PREPARED TO DEFEND ISRAEL WITH THE BODIES OF OUR SONS.

THE DAY OUR SONS ARE DRAFTED TO DIE IN PROTECTION OF ISRAEL, WHOSE EXISTENCE IS NOT ESSENTIAL TO US, THAT DAY WILL WITNESS THE CALLING OUT OF OUR POLITICIANS TO ACCOUNT FOR WHATEVER REASONS THAT CAUSED THEM TO IDENTIFY US WITH AN ISRAEL THAT IS DESPISED NOT ONLY BY MORE THAN ONE BILLION OF THE MUSLIM WORLD, BUT BY VIRTUALLY THE ENTIRE EAST AND WEST, AN IDENTIFICATION THAT HAS OPENED OUR FAMILIES TO TERROR ATTACKS, INCLUDING 9/11 WHICH WAS CAUSED IN PART BY THE WEAPONRY WE SUPPLIED ISRAEL FOR  SLAUGHTERING AND DEGRADING THE PALESTINIANS.

TO THIS DAY,NO AMERICAN HAS HEARD FROM CONGRESS OR ANY PRESIDENT A FULL STATEMENT JUSTIFYING OUR MILITARY DEFENSE OF ISRAEL WHOSE ARROGANT LEADERS OPENLY SAY THEY HAVE A"SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP" WITH US. IF THAT CLAIM REFLECTS THE INFLUENCE OF AN AMERICAN JEWISH  COMMUNITY THAT IDENTIFIES ITSELF WITH ISRAEL AND SUPPRESSES OUR  MEDIA, A MEDIA MADE FEARFUL OF CRITICIZING ISRAEL, THEN WE SHOULD NOT BE SURPRISED AT THE CONTEMPT HAD FOR US BY THE MUSLIM WORLD, TO SAY NOTHING OF THE GOVERNMENTS OF THE EAST AND WEST.
Lucie Johnson | 11/18/2011 - 5:26pm
The dynamics are so very much like the ones that preceded the Irak war. Disheartening. 
James Collins | 11/18/2011 - 3:57pm
I am afraid the only time that you will think that a strike against Iran is called for is after Isreal becomes a radioactive dump.
TM Lutas | 11/18/2011 - 12:59pm
If you cannot assess the practical threat from Iran, I would suggest that the problem may be in a lack of military assessment skills. The attempt to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US on US soil is only the most recent cassus belli. Several years of iranian support and participation in attacks on US military troops first as part of the occupation of Iraq and which continued as we transitioned to militarily supporting the elected government of Iraq are also legitimate causes for war. The supply of missiles to international terrorist groups is another cause of war. And the fomenting of foreign revolutions is yet another reason.

If you cannot see these obvious causes, how can you even begin to assess the chance of success of a strike? That's a task that requires even more specialized skill and talent.

One does not further the cause of peace by ignoring the arguments for war and pretending they do not exist but by presenting them in their fullest and defeating them, showing how peace is both practical and prefferable. Are you capable of that?

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