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.