To Bomb or Not to Bomb Iran: That Is the Question

Estimated read time 7 min read

To Bomb or Not to Bomb Iran: That Is the Question

Air strikes must be proportional to presumed gains, as well as anticipated losses.

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Credit: TonelloPhotography

Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday that it was “an incredibly volatile time in the Middle East.” The world, Blinken said, has “not seen a situation as dangerous as the one we’re facing now across the region since at least 1973, and arguably even before that.”

In response to Blinken’s astute evaluation, President Biden is “virtue signaling” to Washington’s war party that he too is willing to pointlessly bomb targets in the Middle East. In Washington, to do otherwise is to appear weak, something that presidents frequently conclude the leader of the world’s superpower cannot do. 

Tehran made it clear that any strike on its territory is a redline and bombing any part of Iranian territory “would be met with an appropriate response.” Make no mistake, a strategic bombing campaign directed at Iran sends a clear and unambiguous message: The United States is at war with the Iranian State, its people, and its armed forces. 

At this point, whether Biden does or does not remove Iran from his target list, Americans should still beware. There is no shortage of bombing activists inside the beltway who are convinced that war with Iran is the only solution to Iran’s hostility to Israel.

Bombing is not diplomacy, but politicians like it because it conveys the impression of substantive action. Bombing is neither a strategy nor a simple exercise in virtue signaling. Bombing is an act of war. Bombing does not contain conflict, nor does bombing deter an opponent from future action. If anything, bombing escalates tension and leads to all-out war. 

In June 1964, Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara convened a meeting to discuss potential American military responses to the loss of two U.S. military aircraft over southern Laos, where North Vietnamese forces were running supplies into South Vietnam. McNamara insisted that Washington respond to the loss of two U.S. military aircraft by striking the air defense battery that destroyed the aircraft. 

Not everyone in the meeting agreed with McNamara. At least one attendee said he saw no evidence that the air strike would improve the military situation in Laos or South Vietnam. When President Lyndon Johnson joined the meeting, he asked whether the gains in striking the anti-aircraft battery were sufficiently justified to offset the inevitable criticism from the international community that the United States was violating the Geneva Accords. 

Ambassador Avrerell Harriman, who was also present for the meeting, carried the day when he advised President Johnson that the air strike was the only way that Washington could “signal” its intentions to Hanoi. Americans know what followed. Washington signaled Hanoi, but Hanoi did not de-escalate.

At no time in Vietnam, Laos, or Cambodia were American bombings, sea-based operations, or ground incursions truly effective in deterring enemy moves or in preventing more and more destructive war from breaking out. The North Vietnamese simply absorbed the losses and escalated their attacks wherever U.S. forces were weakest on the ground.

American bombing campaigns fail to do more than temporarily suppress opposing forces because they are always based on the questionable assumption that the opponent can be compelled to submit to Washington’s political demands with air strikes alone. 

Though not intended to do so, targeting positions in Iraq, Iran, or Syria could lead the United States into a wider Middle Eastern regional war. Questions crucial to the military methods and strategy must be studied and answered in detail. It seems unlikely that this careful staff work has been accomplished at this early date. 

What is America’s goal? How does striking Iran end the war in Gaza? Why is striking Iran in the U.S. national interest? Air strikes must be proportional to presumed gains, as well as anticipated losses. Hitting a target from which a missile was launched is not retribution. 

Does it make sense for Washington to put Israel’s survival at risk by gambling on air strikes that could widen the conflict? Should U.S. forces prepare to launch more strikes if initial U.S. strikes fail to induce the desired change in Iranian, Iraqi, or Syrian behavior? Do U.S. forces possess the required numbers of munitions, platforms, and spare parts to sustain an operation that could last for months? Can American forces in the region protect critical infrastructure from missile strikes? 

Washington knows that Iran is resolved to fight if U.S. forces attack it. An American-led strategic bombing offensive against Iran will produce a rain of fire on 57,000 American soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines in the Middle East. Americans on the home front may not want American military power involved in a wider war. 

The use of unmanned systems makes it politically attractive for Washington to strike. Unmanned systems promise to minimize America’s potential losses in an air campaign. In matching targets, however, American military deployments already provide Iran and its regional allies with a large set of potential infrastructure targets vital to U.S. military operations like harbors, airfields, and housing. 

American policymakers must not be duped into believing that U.S. military technology is unique or superior, or that the U.S. Armed Forces, on land or sea, are immune to large-scale precision strikes. Bombing will not prevent Iran from establishing new and better air defense sites. In fact, history suggests that high altitude bombing increases the determination of hostile opponents to resist, not surrender. 

Hypersonic weapons will penetrate existing air defenses and target U.S. warships at sea. These, along with probable Iranian access to Russian and Chinese space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, argue for preparations that exceed the needs of a few Air and Naval strike packages. Strikes on Iran, Iraq and Syria may well trigger a lethal response from cells already inserted into the United States across our open border with Mexico. 

Americans may also resist the idea that Americans in uniform are putting their lives on the line in defense of Israel’s horrific campaign of expulsion and killing in Gaza, especially when Biden can halt the campaign in Gaza with just a phone call. Americans must realize that Israel will be hard-pressed to defend itself against Hezbollah’s thousands of missiles, let alone Iran’s precision-guided theater ballistic missiles

These points notwithstanding, Israeli PM Netanyahu remains determined to complete his task of expelling or destroying the Palestinian population in Gaza. Today, Washington is unconditionally supportive of his policy. Whether a pause in the fighting is agreed or not, Israel’s war is just beginning. 

A great power’s descent into a hell of its own making is never swift. As C.S. Lewis taught, the descent is gradual, plodding, even measured until, suddenly, a great power like the United States discovers it has grossly underestimated its opponent

Bullying, bribing, bombing, and sanctioning opponents has not worked well. Thanks to a string of strategic military failures in Afghanistan, Libya, Iraq, and Ukraine, Washington is rapidly reaching hell in its relations with the rest of the world.

The post To Bomb or Not to Bomb Iran: That Is the Question appeared first on The American Conservative.

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