Questions To Ask Before Going To War

A hard pushback on the dicey “evidence” the Trump administration didn’t quite present – it’s classified y’know – slowed down John Bolton’s rush to war, but something bit Donald Trump and he has tweeted another implied nuclear threat at Iran. Here are questions that should be considered in going to war.

1. What end state do we hope to achieve through war? This is the basic question of war that Clausewitz has encapsulated in saying that war is the continuation of politics through other means.

It appears that within the top levels of the administration, there is no agreement. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has listed twelve points for Iran to change, which may be administration policy. The bottom line is that Iran must become a different nation. That isn’t going to happen. As war has looked more likely, Trump said that all he wants is for Iran not to build nuclear weapons. That contradicts the more expansive demands he stated when he withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), which keeps Iran from building nuclear weapons. Bolton has wanted a war against Iran for at least a couple of decades. He has never spoken of an end state. Others agitating for war and influential with the administration want Iran to be severely damaged and no longer a power in the region (Israel, Saudi Arabia, and their sympathizers) or to bring on the Rapture through a massive war in the Middle East (Christian extremists).

2. Can that end state be achieved in another way? War should always be a last resort. Neither Trump nor Pompeo nor Bolton has put together a program of diplomacy to achieve their objectives. None has stated an objective clearly. The JCPOA was a diplomatic substitute for war, and probably more effective in keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. If Iran is attacked and North Korea not, one message will be that nuclear weapons can deter the United States. That will be a motivator for Iran to build nuclear weapons. Increased trade, one of the objectives of the JCPOA, would further the possibility of turning Iran toward some of those twelve points.

3. Is there an immediate evil that can be stopped only by military means? A single rocket attack within Baghdad’s Green Zone does not qualify.

4. If military force is called for, how much is necessary and sufficient? Disproportionate response is a war crime. Underresourced war never ends.

5. Are the resources available? Are they needed elsewhere? The United States is engaged in two wars now. President Trump wants to send the military to the border with Mexico. Ships, airplanes, and munitions will be necessary.

6. Are you willing to pay the cost in money and lives? The American people are tired of war. The costs, along with unwarranted tax cuts, are piling up record deficits.

7. Can you count on allies? Trump has alienated most of America’s traditional allies. Israel and Saudi Arabia are ready to fight to the last American.

8. What response is likely from the opposing side? This is why the military uses war games in planning. All the war games that have been done for an attack on Iran show a very difficult and destructive war.

You can probably think of others, but I think these are the main questions. Reporters should have these questions ready for Trump and others on the now rare occasions when they can ask them.


Cross-posted at Nuclear Diner.

57 replies
  1. 1
    hells littlest angel says:

    Israel and Saudi Arabia are ready to fight to the last American.

    Don’t forget Russia. Trump has made us so many wonderful friends.

  2. 2
  3. 3
    Ruckus says:

    Would it make any difference to give this maladministration these questions?
    First they wouldn’t understand most of them.
    Next they wouldn’t agree with any of them.
    Lastly they wouldn’t know what to do with the answers if spoon fed them.

  4. 4

    @hells littlest angel: I think Russia would not be at all happy if the US attacked Iran. In fact, I was thinking of putting in a comment about alienating them in question #8.

  5. 5

    @Ruckus: Reporters should be asking these questions and pointing out the problems you list.

  6. 6
    Lapassionara says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I don’t watch Fox, but something said there today prompted an ominous tweet from 45. Can anything constrain his impulses in this situation?

  7. 7
    jo6pac says:

    The only thing that comes to mind is why are we thinking about war with Iran or any other nation that won’t tow the Amerikan line of stupid. What sad little nation we have become. No money to repair Amerika but plenty of $$$$$$$$$$$$ for the department of death. Sad.

  8. 8

    @Cheryl Rofer: Indeed, this may be the biggest thing holding us back. Interesting times.

  9. 9

    @Lapassionara: I think today’s tweet, and the one like it last year, and the “Little Rocket Man” tweet series against North Korea are what Trump thinks of as bluffs. As he probably said to other folks during his real estate career, “I’ll ruin you.”

    The problem is that he is in control of our nuclear arsenal, so we and the Iranians and the North Koreans have to take him seriously. I have no idea what he is willing to do.

  10. 10
    Virginia says:

    Some speculation I read was that he tweeted that to divert attention to the Deutsche Bank info out today about his money laundering.

  11. 11
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    I have always thought that the principles of Just War Theory are a good way of approaching the question.

  12. 12

    @Virginia: I am becoming impatient with the “this is to divert attention from some other egregious thing he’s done” meme.

    He does egregious stuff all the time
    There is no plan
    It’s all important and potentially disastrous

    In my analysis I look at what is happening and figure out what went into that. To the extent that it’s a distraction from something else, well, that’s what Trump does: Divert from one disaster with another. What matters is how we respond.

  13. 13
    germy says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I think Russia would not be at all happy if the US attacked Iran.

    This explains trump’s pushback against Bolton.

  14. 14
    Citizen Alan says:

    I still think the most frustrating thing is that these assholes have the unmitigated gall to stride around pretending to be Christians. What utter blasphemy.

  15. 15
    Wapiti says:

    I’d like to see General Shinseki testifying, again, on how many service members did he say we needed to win the peace in Iraq; whether Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush met those requirements; how long the war has lasted in Iraq; and a rough estimate of how many service members would be needed for securing a peace in Iran. By-name listing of senior DoD people from the Iraq era that are in this administration would be bonus.

  16. 16
    JPL says:

    @Virginia: It’s certainly a possibility and thanks for mentioning that. What else might he do to prevent the news from covering the possible money laundering story? hmmm

  17. 17

    Disproportionate response is a war crime.

    Trump has shown he doesn’t care about war crimes.

    @Omnes Omnibus:

    I have always thought that the principles of Just War Theory are a good way of approaching the question.

    I agree.

  18. 18
    Virginia says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: Boy for sure Cheryl. Every day is worse than the last. But it does seem he puts out some crazy shit not long before a big shoe falls.

  19. 19
    Rattlemullet says:

    9. Why are you asking legitimate questions to a foreign policy idea that is completely wrong? Absolutely no thought has been given about the preparation or the consequences of war by the three dotards. The only question that would suffice….. “Are you f*cking kidding me, war with Iran?!

  20. 20
    hells littlest angel says:

    @Cheryl Rofer: I think Russia could find the silver lining in anything that hurts America.

  21. 21
    Mike in NC says:

    @Wapiti: General Shinseki stated that approximately 300,000 troops would be needed to occupy Baghdad and other key cities. For that he got fired and snubbed at his retirement ceremony.

  22. 22
    Ruckus says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I have no idea what he is willing to do.

    Between you, me, the lamppost and shit for brains, no one does.
    The only question shit for brains needs answered is “What will this do for MEEEEE?” Nothing else matters to him. He is a chickenshit coward though, so my thought is that he won’t do any thing unless he thinks it will make his life better. Of course Bolton is as big a chickenshit coward with a massive need to start a war to show that he isn’t.
    It’s not a situation that bodes well for millions of people. All depending on one lonely chickenshit coward, shit for brains who is as predictable as the winds. You know he’s going to blow, you know it will be bad, you just have no idea when or how.

  23. 23

    @hells littlest angel: Russia has actually warned both the United States and Iran against warlike moves.

    But yeah.

  24. 24
    Mary G says:

    I really hate people who use other people’s children and trillions of dollars to make them think their dick gets bigger with every brown person that dies. The Navy is completely fucked up and needs to be torn up and rebuilt. War with Iran is insane and Twitler gets more crazy and incoherent every day. I pray the Joint Chiefs can put up as many roadblocks as they can. The temporary SecDef is a Boeing guy so maybe he can hold it to ineffectual air raids. I don’t have a lot of hope.

  25. 25
    Ohio Mom says:

    So much for my attempt to distract myself from IRL stresses by opening my favorite blog. This is not a reassuring read.

    The only good thing I’ve ever been able to say about Trump is at least, unlike GW, he is not starting an awful, unnecessary, horribly expensive in blood and money, counterproductive quagmire of a war.

    I hate to think I spoke too soon. Maybe we can hope this war will be like his wall, never getting past the prototype stage.

  26. 26
    Kent says:

    Russia is a quasi-ally of Iran. They cooperate in Syria and elsewhere in the middle east. Russia also essentially shares two borders with Iran on either side of the Caspian Sea via former Soviet client states Turkmenistan on the east and Azerbaijan on the west.

    Any US invasion of Iran opens up the possibility that Russia could bleed us dry like they and China did in Vietnam, or we did to them in Afganistan.

    US troops in Iran would also open up a new jijhad front as Shia extremists from across the world would be drawn in take on the great satan. We could essentially be creating a shiite version of ISIS that would be sponsored by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard just like in Lebanon and elsewhere. Except they would be pointed at US troops spread thinly across Iran.

    Iran is 3x the size and population of Iraq, much more mountainous, and much more remote from US land and air bases.

    No country has EVER been defeated by air strikes alone. Last time we tried that was Libya. How has that worked out?

    The whole notion of going to war with Iran is ridiculous in the extreme.

  27. 27
    Ruckus says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    Does anyone think that shit for brains really cares what Vlad says now? He’s in so deep, he knows the Russians fucked with our election, he knows we know that he knew when it was happening that he knew, and he thinks he’s now as strong and he’s safe from Vlad. He always burns his benefactors and anyone else he can, he doesn’t know how not to. He might listen to Vlad if he thinks that’s in his best interest going forward, but he never looks back with anything but his bullshit applicator going full throttle.
    IOW he’s a cornered rat, he keeps running in smaller and smaller circles, always doing the wrong thing because that’s all he knows. How this ends is either going to be very, very bad for him or very, very bad for all of us. And it’s unpredictable by anyone, especially him.

  28. 28

    @Ohio Mom: If it’s any help, I think that Trump is enough of a coward that he will not deliberately start a war. The danger is that Bolton and probably Pompeo want a war, and there is a chorus of think tanks and lobbyists who want a war. I think that Trump’s tweet today is what he thinks of as a bluff, but saying extreme stuff plays differently on the world stage than it does in New York real estate.

    I think the probability of deliberate war is low, but stumbling into war is possible. If reporters would ask these questions and incorporate them into their reporting, they could help damp down those possibilities.

  29. 29
    Omnes Omnibus says:


    No country has EVER been defeated by air strikes alone. Last time we tried that was Libya. How has that worked out?

    We didn’t attempt to defeat Libya with airstrikes alone. That being said, you can’t win a war with air power alone no matter how much the air force pretends that it is possible.

  30. 30
    Cermet says:

    Where is the moral calculus in these lists? Destroying a country so it becomes a disaster; hundreds of thousands dead, much of its essential infrastructure – schools, power, water, farming systems/supply structure devastated That it then takes decades just to recover to pre-war levels. Yes, a christian nation (lol) loves to destroy and murder on vast scales but how can these stupid fucks justify such destruction just to placate a shit-hole place like the Israeli political elite?

  31. 31
  32. 32
    Ruckus says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:
    I agree as well.

  33. 33
    Mnemosyne says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    I think a lot of people mistake the simple machine thinking of the malignant narcissist for a grand plan of distraction. What’s actually happening is:

    – He sees/hears something that triggers the bottomess pit of self-loathing at the center of his being (like the bank fraud news)
    – He does something that makes him feel powerful to drown out the feelings of self-loathing (like Tweeting tough-guy words about Iran)

    That’s it. That’s the entire cycle. There is no grand plan. It’s just an A/B toggle switch. Ego threat leads to ego inflation, over and over again.

  34. 34
    Sab says:

    @Ruckus: So much this. If he had a grand scheme he wouldn’t be where he is. But he is masterful at momentary distractions and deflections.

  35. 35
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Cermet: The moral calculus should properly be a part of each of the questions not a stand alone question.

  36. 36
    tokyokie says:

    @hells littlest angel:

    I think Russia could find the silver lining in anything that hurts America.

    As well as the price of its oil zooming through the roof as the Persian Gulf production is removed from the market..

  37. 37
    Cacti says:

    If the US were to bog itself down in a prolonged invasion/occupation of Iran, what are the odds that Moscow might seize the opportunity to invade Ukraine, or Beijing invade Taiwan?

  38. 38
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Ruckus: @Sab: Of course the administration won’t look any of these questions, but an anti-war opposition that can articulate the ways in which the administration cannot justify a coming war is on firmer ground than one that opposes it simply because they oppose anything Trump does or opposed out of pure pacifism.*

    *Pacifism is a legitimate and worthy philosophical and ethical stance, but very few people are true pacifists.

  39. 39
    Procopius says:

    Points #1 and #2 are crucial, and are never addressed in discussions of the Forever War. An actual quantifiable end state was never expressed in Afghanistan after the Taliban were expelled from Kabul, but at least the condition “that Afghanistan can never be a base for terrorists to launch operations” was mentioned in passing. It was kind of a non sequitur, because 9/11 was planned in Germany, not in Afghanistan, and we do not accuse the Germans of providing a “base for terrorists.” The point is never mentioned in current discussions of what our goal in Afghanistan is. Come to think of it, I have not seen any discussion of what our goal is in Afghanistan for a long time. Seriously, somehow Congress has to be forced to reclaim war making power, and the President restrained for initiating combat unless at least points #1 and #2 are explained clearly.

  40. 40
    Martin says:

    The problem with these questions is that the agents aren’t specified. If they are rewritten as:

    “What end state does Russia hope to achieve through the US going to war?”, etc.

    Then this makes perfect sense. A US war with Iran boosts Russias global standing. They desperately need the resultant increase in oil prices. They are freed to operate more openly for their own local interests.

  41. 41
    NotMax says:

    Let’s not put several carts before the horse and get bent out of shape over expectations of another war. Not even with Orangemandias in office.

    What’s going on is patently empty bluster and the most juvenile form of saber rattling – akin to faux menacingly tapping a spork inside a saber sheath. Enough to give whatever the neocon hawks are called these days a hard-on to fantasize with, but little else. Since the demise of the Soviet Union the right has been striving to paint a new existential enemy using bristlebare brushes.

  42. 42
    Kent says:


    If the US were to bog itself down in a prolonged invasion/occupation of Iran, what are the odds that Moscow might seize the opportunity to invade Ukraine, or Beijing invade Taiwan?

    Or bleed us dry of blood and treasure by sponsoring every manner of insurgent group that crops up to attack US troops in Iran. That is the obvious and easy play. It’s what we did do them in Afganistan and what they did to us in Vietnam.

    Plus, as an oil exporter the Russians would make out like bandits if the Persian Gulf gets shut down or set aflame by a large scale US-Iranian war.

  43. 43

    @Martin: The agents are specified in the extended discussion after the questions, particularly the first two. It’s the Trumpies who are looking to go to war, so they are the agents.

  44. 44
    Ruckus says:

    @Omnes Omnibus:
    My brain thinks you are right but my gut tells me that brains may not be enough. How much of our senior military staff feels the way most of the citizens do, that war would be incredibly stupid? There are always people that think war is the answer to every problem, normally we have enough checks and balances upon that, that it takes quite a while to get everything in place, even in a half assed way to make it happen. Of course this century’s great war of the United States sort of proves that not to be the case. I’m hopping that we are so unprepared for a war and no longer of the mistaken concept that we will walk all over any opponent that the push back is strong and rapid, not tepid and slow. I know that the army is so stretched that national guard units are being sent overseas. The navy ships useful lives are being extended because of money and missions. I did a tour on a current DDG a couple of years ago and the amount of rust astounded me. The crews are understaffed and under trained, I imagine the air force isn’t any better.

  45. 45
    Ruckus says:

    There are a couple of problems with this as I see it. Shit for brains makes decisions on the fly, understands what he wants and expects everyone to do that. He has support for a war, in his close supporters. He doesn’t understand things taking time and effort to make happen. He wants what he wants, when he wants it. In reality who is going to stop him if he decides to send the military to Iran? This congress?

  46. 46
    J R in WV says:


    If the US were to bog itself down in a prolonged invasion/occupation of Iran, what are the odds that Moscow might seize the opportunity to invade Ukraine [, or the Baltic states, or Poland, or, or or…], or Beijing invade Taiwan?

    Moscow could attempt to take everything that was part of Soviet Russia back in their good old days.

  47. 47
  48. 48
    Dmbeaster says:

    The fact that there is even a discussion about war with Iran demonstrates the decay of the US – a descent into non-stop warmongering. We are surrounded by monsters.

  49. 49
    J R in WV says:


    I served on AS-16 in the 1970-73 time frame. She served in the South Pacific in the last year of WW II, and was pretty rusty in spots. But after the big yard period in Pascagoula MS she smelled like new paint. Served until 1980, so nearly 40 years. On the other hand, DDs saw a lot more white water than a sub tinder!

  50. 50
    Gvg says:

    Trump obviously has no plans and just says whatever. He hates a lot of different groups because he is basically a mean hood. He has heard Iran is a bad country for decades, just like we all have an internalized it in a much stupider way because he likes hating people.
    The scum who chose to be around him are all simular and I think Bolton is really close to his type. The guy has wanted wars with several countries for decades.its all some kind of aggressive stupidity but so far it’s sort of been helpful that all these thugs are rather bad at working together with anyone and not even too aware plans help accomplish things. I hope that people around them who could plan there way out of a wet paper bag are just choosing not to be helpful.
    Trump AND minions will always say too aggressive shot for the situation. They don’t know how to shut up. There is so much that can go wrong. This is really why he needs to be impeached. He’s terrible at his job. Our luck can run out at any time.

  51. 51
    Raoul says:

    The American people are tired of war.

    And the American people haven’t been asked to send our people to a new war by quite this blatant and divisive a liar as this. Maybe ever in our history as a nation.

    I would not have confidence that war would automatically boost Trump’s popularity the way it may have boosted earlier Republicans.

  52. 52
    Ruckus says:

    @J R in WV:
    I was stationed on DDG-18 for 2 yrs, the same time 71-73. It was in drydock when I reported aboard. Out of the yard shortly after. We were underway for better than 50% of those 2 yrs, in the Med, Caribbean/Gitmo and the North Atlantic. Longest time we spent without a port call was six weeks crossing and sailing in the North Atlantic. Just before I transferred off we’d arrived back in Charleston and were refitting for another Med cruse, about a month turnaround. I missed that one. Damn it.
    So yes a DD or DDG or DE spent a lot more time not tied to anything. I believe it’s worse now. And from the looks of that DDG that I toured that 50% sailing time is a lot more now. Which works well for retention. Not. Which works well for maintenance. Not. Which works well for training. Not. Which means uptime may not actually be uptime. And the sea doesn’t give a shit, it takes what it wants, when it wants and how it wants.

  53. 53
    Ruckus says:

    We’ve been pretty much constantly at war since the end of WWII. Yes there were breaks in there, but we’ve had major forces deployed for most of that time in many parts of the world, on call and thinking about war. It’s like war is our national pastime. Some of this is the world we are in, but a lot of it s the world we have made it into, by our constant wargasim.

  54. 54
    Brachiator says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    Thanks very much for your post. What saddens me is the fact that no one in the Trump administration apparently gives this kind of thought to foreign policy.

    And somehow the GOP leadership, which could slow Trump down, has gotten drunk on the fantasy that America can get anything it wants and win every battle just by applying the brute force of white power.

  55. 55
    Barry says:

    @Cheryl Rofer:

    “@hells littlest angel: I think Russia would not be at all happy if the US attacked Iran. In fact, I was thinking of putting in a comment about alienating them in question #8.”

    Let’s see:

    Price of oil skyrockets.
    Middle East more chaotic.
    More countries distrust/hate/fear the USA.
    USA’s reputation for competency drops like a rock, from current low value.
    EU/NATO allies shift to writing off the USA as an ally.

    What’s not for Putin to love?

  56. 56
    Mike Furlan says:

    I was elected to lead not to read

  57. 57
    Sloegin says:

    A rocket attack launched from *inside* Iraq by unidentified parties is a laughable thing to think about in any question context.

    All of the other questions are moot honestly, or they dance around the central question: is the Administration willing to commit war crimes to accomplish their goals? (Aggressive war is fundamentally a war crime).

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