By Haroon Moghul
I must confess to a certain delight in watching longtime warmongers literally lose their—this is a Muslim newspaper, so I’ll just say “you know what”—over the prospect of negotiation instead of confrontation. In an August 7th column, “3 U.S. Defeats: Vietnam, Iraq and now Iran,” David Brooks dismisses the Iran deal as “a partial U.S. surrender,” a fait made accompli when President Obama “effectively took the military option off the table.” Unfortunately for David Brooks, the military option he means is the very one parked and idling in the title of his column.
Vietnam and Iraq. Two wars we didn’t have to fight, two conflicts in which the United States applied overwhelming military force and, tens of thousands of dead (civilians) later, lost. Two instances in which a reasonable negotiation would have been far better for all involved. Brooks writes as if he represents a moral voice otherwise in danger of going extinct, although of course he is the more presentable face of the ideology more likely to drive animals and other living things into extinction in the first place. Even as he publishes essay upon essay, and book after book, encouraging morality, integrity and introspection, the only evidence we have of such rectitude is his repeated insistence on it.
For what is the alternative to the Iran Deal? There’s none—the ideologue who insists on stricter terms is only elaborating on his idea of diplomacy, which is as solipsistic as anything else he does. He lives in SimCity, whereas we live in reality. We know there is no cheat code to create a new set of conditions conducive to our aims. If the Iran Deal does not succeed, we are faced with two options: Going to war to prevent a nuclear Iran, or trying sanctions again, apparently to force Iran to change its behavior even as that has failed in the past.
Let us visit each of these in turn.
First: War. Would that be “surgical strikes”—it’d be, to paraphrase John Kerry, a “hell of a pin-point operation”—or all-out conflict? The former would be insufficient, and the latter inevitable. (Mission creep is like death and taxes: Good luck not getting audited.) Given that Iran is three times the size of Iraq (nearly Alaskan in proportion), has a far stronger government and a more capable military than Iraq, and is one of the most stable countries in the region, defeating Iran would not just be a hugely costly and bloody endeavor.
Moreover, after we won–and it is likely we would, at least formally–we’d immediately begin losing. Not because we don’t want it enough, but because you cannot win with armed forces that which is not amenable to a violent solution. The reason President Obama allegedly took the military option off the table is because there is no military means available to us.
If after all the Iranian government collapsed, which is usually what happens when you attack a country, who would take its place? If Iran even only lost sovereignty over part of its territory, whose armed forces, and whose budget, would pay to prevent that massive country going from a bulwark against extremism into a toll-free jihadist superhighway, linking real and planned cells and wilayats from the Sinai to the supposed Khurasan? ISIS jihadists from Libya and the Sinai would have far readier access to their far more demographically preponderant South Asian kin, and who would then be forced to put a stop to such conflicts—and immediately find the battlefield supersized? We would, of course.
American taxpayers. American soldiers. Who would pay to stay for how long? And under what mandate? And in that time, what if the United States was actually, really threatened elsewhere What if we had to respond to a Russian, or Chinese, provocation? We couldn’t, because we’d be in no shape to. (This scenario can easily continue in apocalyptic vein, but there are only so many times you can kick an argument when it’s down.)
Second: Stricter sanctions. Nice idea in theory, piss-poor in practice. (If David Brooks was a Marxist, he’d be the best kind.) We are hanging on a shred of moral capital; for all his nonsense about character and integrity, Brooks is fully, developmentally, categorically incapable of grasping the world’s amazement, astonishment and anger that we, the only country to have ever nuked another, and to have done so twice, against wholly civilian targets, in entirely unnecessary circumstances, having recently also launched wars of choice that ended badly for all concerned, are now flailing our arms about the possible threat posed by a country entirely surrounded by our military bases and more than counter-balanced by our fully nuclear ally in the region.
The Iran Deal was always about our real competitors, which are China economically, and Russia strategically, and their partnering to weaken America, or America’s interests, whether in the Middle East or in other parts of the world. We have strong, critical and historical relationships to and responsibilities towards Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, in Northeast Asia, and the Baltic States and our other European allies, and these allies are threatened by China, by Russia, or by North Korea, or worse yet, a combination of them.
We cannot act so irresponsibly in one arena so as to put at risk its allies in other arenas. And irresponsibility does not just mean war, of course. A wise leader acts not only to seize opportunities for his own country, but a wiser leader denies opponents their opportunities. While we spend American lives, treasure and diplomatic and political capital on sideshow conflicts in the Middle East, great powers are investing in their economies, building alliances and threatening our alliances, most importantly in Northeast Asia and Eastern Europe.
Nixon went to China to break its alliance with the USSR, not to endorse Maoism. A country as stable, well educated but historically as isolated as Iran offers rare opportunities for investment and therefore economic advantage, in a strategic region, to whoever has the resources and initiative to take advantage of them. Why should China and Russia benefit from Iran’s need for planes, infrastructure, energy and investment, and not American companies and American workers? Why should America’s diplomatic and political strategy confuse its global interests for local and regional politics? Why should we rush to war, and risk our lives, our security, our diplomatic capital, our future prosperity, our resources and reputation, and gain nothing for it?
It’s simple. We shouldn’t.
Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is the author of “The Order of Light” and “My First Police State.” His memoir, “How to be Muslim”, is due in 2016. He’s a doctoral candidate at Columbia University, formerly a Fellow at the New America Foundation and the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School, and a member of the Multicultural Audience Development Initiative at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. Connect with Haroon on twitter @hsmoghul. The views expressed here are his own.