Bob Barr

The manner in which talk of going to war with Iran is being bandied about this election cycle, might lead an observer to conclude such an act would have consequences no more serious than a family squabble over the Holiday dinner table. As Pat Buchanan noted in his column here at Townhall.com yesterday, some war advocates, such as David Rothkopf, suggest that a so-called “surgical strike” against Iranian nuclear facilities and its consequences, would last no longer than “a day or two at most” and would be without any “civilian casualties.”

It is this sort of naïve – bordering on childish -- thinking that gets nations into trouble and people killed. Who, for example, does someone like Rothkopf think would be killed if all sites in Iran that deal with nuclear enrichment were targeted by U.S. and Israeli bombers and drones? Who does he think works and lives at such plants and in the areas immediately adjacent? And when was the last time one or more nations launched massive air attacks on targets inside another sovereign country’s borders, and it was “all over” in a matter of days?

In this make-believe world, the nation on the receiving end of such military actions picks itself up after being bombed, dusts itself off, forgives and forgets, and everyone joins in a round of “Kumbaya.” If only the world were so simple. If only Iran were a make-believe country.

Iran is not a make-believe country. It is a real country populated by some 75 million people – real people; including, I daresay, a majority who are philosophically and by education inclined toward the modern, secular world, and particularly American values. Iran is an urbanized country with a large and well-equipped military. Not to knock Iraq -- or at least the Iraq that U.S. forces encountered in 2003 – but Iran is not Iraq. I know; I actually lived in both countries as a child and teenager. Going to war against Iran – whether one calls such a move “surgical” or “total” – would be an extremely serious undertaking; with worldwide economic, military, diplomatic and human ramifications in both the short- and the long-term.

While it is good to know both President Obama and Gov. Romney have pledged not to enter into war lightly, the facility with which the topic of war with Iran continues to be raised, leaves a distinct sense that someone, somewhere in a position of power, is in fact moving in the direction of military action. It is a disquieting feeling.

This is not to say the situation in Iran – with a decidedly radical head of state beholden to a radical Islam element that controls the levers of power in the country (though not with the support of a majority of its people) – is not serious. It is. Nuclear weapons in the hands of such a government would present the world with an unacceptable danger.

However, to move from the current context, in which extremely tight sanctions are being applied and are having a serious effect -- and in which discussions with the regime in Tehran may be under consideration – to a coordinated attack by Washington and Tel Aviv simply because resolution by other means is taking too long, is highly irresponsible. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) is a leader of this Impatience Caucus in the Congress. He has called for action to be taken, “before [the situation] gets out of hand.” In Graham’s unusual view, taking military action against another country does not itself qualify as “getting out of hand” – waiting and trying other remedies, does.

We now have the two major-party presidential candidates on record stating that, while a nuclear-capable Tehran is not acceptable, going to war is not a currently viable or necessary option. This is good. It is responsible. It recognizes there is still much to be done in terms of pressuring Iran and working with elements in Iranian society to chart a better path, before serious attention might need to be turned to military options.

Let us hope that those beating the drums of war, and who have grown impatient with measures other than war, remain in the minority on this most serious of policy disputes. And let all of us never forget Gen. Sherman’s admonition that “war . . . is all hell.”


Bob Barr

Bob Barr represented Georgia’s 7th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 -2003 and as U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia from 1986-1990.