On Foreign Policy‘s Middle East Channel today, George Washington University professor and Middle East Channel co-editor Marc Lynch has an incisive piece critiquing the recent surge in calls to bomb Iran or allow Israel to do so. While I think Lynch overplays the extent to which this push for war is new (it’s never really gone away), Lynch does an admirable job of demonstrating how different the political situation is in the Middle East compared to when President Obama took office or even at the end of the Bush Administration, and describes particularly well the fact that Iran seems to be getting weaker without any outside attack.
Here are two key paragraphs from the post:
Why is the argument [to bomb Iran] weaker? Mainly because Iran is weaker. If you set aside the hype, it is pretty obvious that for all of the flaws in President Obama’s strategy, Iran today is considerably weaker than it was when he took office. Go back to 2005-07, when the Bush administration was supposedly taking the Iranian threat seriously, with a regional diplomacy focused upon polarizing the region against Iran. In that period, Iranian “soft power” throughout the region rose rapidly, as it seized the mantle of the leader of the “resistance” camp which the U.S. eagerly granted it. Hezbollah and Hamas, viewed in Washington at least as Iranian proxies, were riding high both in their own arenas and in the broader Arab public arena. Iranian allies were in the driver’s seat in Iraq. Arab leaders certainly feared and hated this rising Iranian power, whispering darkly to Bush officials about how badly they wanted the U.S. to confront it and flooding their state-backed media with anti-Iranian propaganda. But this did not translate to the popular level and did little to reverse Iran’s strategic gains. The Bush administration’s polarization strategy was very good to Iran…
…I suspect that the real reason for the new flood of commentary calling for attacks on Iran is simply that hawks hope to pocket their winnings from the long argument over sanctions, such as they are, and now push to the next stage in the confrontation they’ve long demanded. Hopefully, this pressure will not gain immediate traction. Congress can proudly demonstrate their sanctions-passingness, so the artificial Washington timeline should recede for a while. The Pentagon is now working closely with Israel, it’s said, in order to reassure them and prevent their making a unilateral strike, which should hopefully push back another artificial clock. That should buy some time for the administration’s strategy to unfold, for better or for worse. An attack on Iran would still be a disaster, unnecessary and counterproductive, and the White House knows that, and it’s exceedingly unlikely that it will happen anytime soon. But the real risk is that the public discourse about an attack on Iran normalizes the idea and makes it seem plausible, if not inevitable, and that the administration talks itself into a political corner. That shouldn’t be allowed to happen.
Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens, who predicted that Israel would strike during the first six months of this year, offers four reasons to explain why nothing has happened (yet).
— Andrew Lebovich