Five Good Reasons to Avoid a War with Iran
By Philip Giraldi 12/07/2009
Philip M. Giraldi, Ph.D. is the Francis Walsingham Fellow at The American
Conservative Defense Alliance (www.ACDAlliance.org) and a former CIA
counter-terrorism specialist and military intelligence officer.
As America’s founding fathers clearly understood war is a serious business and should only be
engaged in when there is a threat to vital national interests. The US Constitution stipulates that
there must be a declaration of war from congress, a safeguard inserted in the document to prevent
presidents from going to war without a clear national consensus behind them. Nevertheless, even
though the federal government has fought many wars in the past hundred years only two were
preceded by an actual declaration by Congress, World War I and World War II. Every other war has
been both illegal and unconstitutional, including the current involvement in Iraq, Afghanistan, and on
various fronts in the so-called global war on terror. Given this legacy of nearly constant and
unconstitutional conflict, another Middle Eastern war would only confirm in the minds of many that
the United States has become a rogue nation, continuously at war as if it were a natural state. It
would also increase concerns that Washington is committed to an expanding confrontation with the
Muslim world, a perception, true or false, that can only have bad consequences for the American
It is likely that the United States will eventually go to war with Iran. I say this with some confidence.
First, both the Obama Administration and Congress are moving rapidly towards harsh sanctions,
reflected in the public utterances of Obama and Hillary Clinton and in Congress through HR 2194,
which will embargo all refined petroleum imports into Iran, a blockade that will have to be enforced
by the US Navy and will be equivalent to an act of war. Second, the United Nations’ International
Atomic Energy Agency, under pressure from the US and the Europeans to act, has passed a highly
critical resolution relating to the Iranian nuclear energy program. Together the maneuverings in
Vienna and Washington provide a legal framework for international action directed against Tehran,
not unlike Washington’s UN engagement that preceded the Iraq invasion. Pressure from both
directions means that talks to resolve the issue of Iranian nuclear plans will end and it is only a
matter of time before an incident between US and Iranian armed forces leads to a shooting war. It
will be yet another conflict in the Middle East that could easily have been avoided, fought without
any congressional declaration of war and most likely financed on borrowed money.
Critics of Iran note that the country has a repressive government, that it may have held elections
during the summer that were fraudulent, and that it has sometimes problematical relationships with a
number of its neighbors. But even conceding that all of that might be true the United States is not
directly endangered and it is not the business of Washington to intervene in another country to bring
about change. The complaint that Iran might be developing nuclear weapons is more serious
because such devices are potentially a threat to everyone, but it must be viewed in context. Iran is
confronted by a nuclear armed United States and Israel, both of which have frequently asserted
their right to use military force against it. If the Iranian leadership has responded by using the
possibility of its developing a nuclear weapon as a bargaining chip no one should be terribly
I believe there are five good reasons why the United States should do everything possible to avoid
a war with Iran. First and foremost is the fact that Iran does not and realistically speaking cannot
pose a threat against the United States. Iran is a developing country with a stagnating oil based
economy one seventeenth as large as that of the US and a military budget just 1% of Washington’s.
As Congressman Ron Paul has noted, Iran cannot even refine its own oil, requiring it to buy on the
international market, suggesting that it will face insurmountable technical problems if it even tries to
develop a nuclear weapon. Iran is not Nazi Germany, with which it is often inaccurately compared,
and has virtually no domestic armaments industry. The best available intelligence indicates that Iran
currently is not developing a nuclear weapon, though it also suggests that it might move in that
direction if attempts to isolate it are intensified, ironically leading to a weapons program where none
Second, the United States can’t afford another war, most particularly a “war of choice.” Iraq and
Afghanistan have already cost nearly $1 trillion and will add more than $130 billion over the next
year even without President Obama’s escalation in forces, which will total another $34 billion.
Those who support America’s wars claim that the cost of war is small relative to the size of the US
economy, but that kind of thinking is based on a false premise, i.e. that conflict somehow benefits
the United States. America does not have to be fighting in the Middle East and Central Asia and it is
far more reasonable to argue that any money being spent in support of such an effort is essentially
wasted. It should be used in the United States to make the lives of Americans better or it should be
given back to the taxpayers.
Third, no war goes according to plan and there are always unintended consequences. The same
voices in Washington that promised a cakewalk in Iraq are promising more of the same against Iran
yet they ignore the fact that 120,000 American soldiers remain in Iraq after the military triumph
nearly seven years ago. More than four thousand American soldiers are dead and hundreds of
thousands of Iraqis and Afghans. And Iran would be an infinitely tougher nut to crack than either
Afghanistan or Iraq. It is larger, more populous, and has had more than six years to prepare for an
attack. It can wreak havoc in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan and can reduce the oil flow through
the Persian Gulf to a trickle. It might even get lucky and use its Chinese silkworm missiles to sink a
US Navy ship or two. Bombing Iran’s so-called nuclear sites would kill many civilians and produce
negative blowback. Following the example of North Korea, it would likely convince the Iranian
government that developing a nuclear weapon is the only real way to protect against attack from
Washington and Israel.
Fourth, attacking Iran after invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq would send the message that the
United States is pursuing a policy of incremental regime change for the entire Muslim world.
Washington should not be in the business of the currently fashionable bipartisan euphemism
“democracy promotion” first and foremost because it is none of our business how other people
govern themselves. On a practical level such efforts have proven to be ineffective at best and
frequently even succeed in creating a worse situation. One only has to cite the evidence of
America’s proxy regimes in Iraq and Afghanistan, both of which are at the bottom of Transparency
International’s corruption scale, just above Somalia. In Iran, US support for democracy as espoused
by the so-called reformers will only strengthen the hand of conservatives who will be able to claim
with some plausibility that the opposition is controlled by foreign interests and is disloyal.
Fifth, war against Iran would complete the transformation of America into a nation dominated by
war. It would be the final blow against those who believe in small government and individual
liberties. War with Iran will inevitably lead to an increase in the size of federal bureaucracies, most
particularly the Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security and the intelligence
services and will lead to calls for greater government intrusion in the lives of all Americans “to make
us safe.” As James Madison put it, “If Tyranny and Oppression come to this land, it will be in the
guise of fighting a foreign enemy. . . Of all the enemies to public liberty, war is, perhaps, the most to
be dreaded because it comprises and develops the germ of every other. No nation could preserve
its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
So there is no upside to starting a war with Iran, which makes one wonder why so many in
Congress and the media appear to favor it. Even the proponents of war concede that a bombing
campaign would only delay, not eliminate, any Iranian nuclear weapons program. In the aftermath
of the attack, Iran would certainly seek a nuclear weapon to defend itself from further attacks,
making the reasoning behind the original bombing somewhat difficult to fathom. Those who seek
regime change are also delusional if they think a military assault will change the country’s politics.
Quite the contrary. In all likelihood, an attack by Israel or the US would only strengthen the regime.
It is quite simply not in America’s national interest to continue down the road to war.
Same Song, Different Verse:
Obama’s foolish and unjust policy on Iran and nuclear weapons