Iran hawks might start by reading a June Foreign Affairs essay titled “What a War With Iran Would Look Like,” in which Ilan Goldenberg of the Center for a New American Security surveys the potential aftermath of attacking Iran. “The Islamic Republic,” he writes, “can use proxy forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen to attack the United States and its partners. It has an arsenal of ballistic missiles that can target U.S. bases in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Its mines and land-based antiship missiles can wreak havoc in the Strait of Hormuz and drive up global oil prices. Iran has the capacity to shut down a significant portion of Saudi oil production with aggressive sabotage or cyberattacks, and with its paramilitary unit known as the Quds Force, Iran can attack U.S. targets around the globe.” A war with Tehran, he added, could “cost hundreds of billions of dollars and hobble not just Trump but future U.S. presidents. Such a commitment would mean the end of the United States’ purported shift to great-power competition with Russia and China.”
Is Goldenberg right? We can’t know for sure. But every Iran hawk has a moral obligation to publicly wrestle with these potential consequences. Then, after considering them in detail, they should explain why Iran—which scrupulously complied with the most rigorous nuclear inspection regime in history—poses such a threat to the United States that it’s worth risking these outcomes by launching a war. If every op-ed editor and cable anchor demanded such an accounting from the columnists, officials, and legislators promoting war with Iran, I suspect the debate over whether to attack would look very different. In fact, I suspect there would be no real debate at all.