War with Iran? Consult history.
It sounds like war drums. Tehran says it will execute an alleged US spy and threatens to block the Strait of Hormuz. GOP presidential candidates talk of regime change and military strikes, and Obama is not cowed by Iran. But wars do not often turn out as envisioned.
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Israel’s military victory became an international black eye after Israeli troops enabled Christian Lebanese Phalangist to massacre Palestinian and Lebanese refugees in Sabra and Shatila. Ultimately, the Palestinians were the real political winners.
More recently, during Israel’s 2006 invasion of Lebanon to teach Iran’s proxy Hezbollah guerrillas a lesson, it was the Israelis who were surprised by Hezbollah’s professional soldiers equipped with the newest Russian, Chinese, and Iranian weapons. The Israeli superpower eventually won, but it was a “shaky military performance,” according to President George W. Bush.
Now, as Mr. Obama faces an escalation in tension with Iran, he would do well to recall the mistake of his predecessor. In Iraq, Mr. Bush forgot that there must be one overarching, compelling reason to go to war.
The longer the list of excuses, (possible weapons of mass destruction, phony Iraqi ties to the 9/11 terror attacks, the bestial nature of the regime, and building democracy etc.), the shakier is the casus belli.
Conservative warmongers criticize Obama for his quiet reaction to Iranian jingoism. But the president has behaved in the finest tradition of one of the best Republican presidents, Theodore Roosevelt. Obama has spoken softly but carried a big stick. His stick is the US Navy’s 5th Fleet in the Persian Gulf.
Walter Rodgers, a former senior international correspondent for CNN, writes a biweekly column.