First, amidst the gruesome carnage in pre-surge Iraq, it was widely assumed that decapitating the insurgency’s leadership would have no effect on the insurgency’s momentum. Then, on Wednesday, June 7, 2006, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was killed by coalition forces in a U.S. airstrike north of Baghdad. His killing, along with the surge and the Sunni Awakening, laid the groundwork for the largely successful muting of the insurgency.
Second, after the failure to find bin Laden for almost a decade following 9/11, the conventional wisdom held that it would never happen, or wasn’t crucial to crippling al-Qaeda, and that 9/11 would go unavenged. Then, on Monday, May 2, 2011, a Navy SEAL Team Six unit killed Osama Bin Laden inside his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. The swiftness and success of this daring mission put terrorists everywhere on notice that the U.S. finishes what it starts, that there are no “sanctuary cities” for terrorists.
Third and finally, in the wake of the Nadal Hassan massacre at Fort Hood, many lamented our inability to find and silence his mentor, Yemeni-American radical Muslim cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, who was arguably the leading voice in support of international Islamic terrorism. Then, on Friday, September 30, 2011, al-Awlaki departed for his virgin-filled afterlife following a U.S. drone strike in Sanaa, Yemen, and YouTube was deprived of its most depraved poster.
Now, in light of the near-unanimity in U.S. intelligence circles and the international community regarding the threat posed by Iran’s refusal to halt progress on its nuclear program, it is appropriate for Americans to ask why the same measures that proved so effective in Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen – targeted strikes against terrorist leaders – cannot likewise be implemented against the gravest threat to the peace and security of the United States and the world community: the Iranian leadership. The above examples would suggest the military option is worth exploring in Tehran. Moreover, the reality is that if we don’t act militarily, eventually Israel will act unilaterally, as it has in the recent past.
On September 6, 2007, Israel successfully carried out Operation Orchard, a targeted airstrike on a Syrian nuclear plant built with North Korean assistance. In his memoirs, former Vice President Dick Cheney notes how Israel had requested U.S. support for such a raid beforehand, but it was refused, in part because of fear of fallout in the international community and increasing hostility towards U.S. efforts concerning the Palestinian peace process. Yet in the wake of this attack, the international community said…nothing, the peace process continues unabated, and Syria, no friend of the U.S., did not retaliate. Nor did its terrorist proxy Hezbollah. Indeed, what was remarkable about the world’s response to Operation Orchard was the complete lack of response.
True, there are profound differences between Iran and Iraq, Pakistan, and Yemen, and also between blowing up a reactor versus decapitating a government. But an important precedent has been set during the last decade: the U.S. military will remove influential malefactors when necessary to protect America’s interests and allies, and if the U.S. does not, Israel will. Iran is thus on notice.
Finally, if the Iranian leadership – Supreme Leader Sayyid Ali Khamenei, the ruling Mullahs, and their henchmen in the Quds force and Basij Resistance Force – were removed and liberty-loving Iranians were able to fill the power vacuum such a strike would provide, it is likely Iran would provide witness to a democratic revolution even more inspiring than that which occurred in Iraq, and more promising than the unfolding events in Egypt. There are no guarantees, only increasingly difficult choices. But the current path leads only to a nuclear Iran, an unacceptable threat to U.S. security, interests, and our allies.