Steve Chapman
"The stupidest thing I have ever heard." -- Meir Dagan, former head of Israel's intelligence agency, the Mossad, on attacking Iran's nuclear facilities.

Stupid it may be, but it's also the hottest trend since the iPhone. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said last year that if Iran proceeds toward acquiring a nuclear arsenal, "we will take whatever steps are necessary to stop it." Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the same thing.

The Republican presidential candidates (except Ron Paul) strain to outdo each other in bellicose rhetoric. Mitt Romney says, "If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon." Newt Gingrich promises, "Iran is not going to get a nuclear weapon." Rick Santorum is prepared to bomb Iranian nuclear sites.

The United States and Israel are keeping their powder dry, but that could change anytime. A report in The Washington Post said, "Panetta believes there is a strong likelihood that Israel will strike Iran in April, May or June."

The prevailing wisdom among policymakers, in short, bears an eerie resemblance to the Iraq consensus of 2002. We and the Israelis allegedly faced an intolerable peril from a rogue state with weapons of mass destruction and a lust for aggression. Fortunately, we were told, it was nothing that a short, sudden military attack wouldn't solve.

But in Iraq, it turned out the solution was anything but quick or easy -- and the danger was vastly exaggerated. And in Iran? Ditto.

"The working assumption that it is possible to totally halt the Iranian nuclear project by means of a military attack is incorrect," Dagan recently told The New York Times. "There is no such military capability. It is possible to cause a delay, but even that would only be for a limited period of time."

Another prominent Mossad veteran, Rafi Eitan, said the attack would delay Iran's nuclear program "not even three months."

Americans may be led to assume we will pay no price. But Iran has innumerable options for "asymmetric" retaliation -- attacking our ships in the Persian Gulf, sponsoring terrorism in Afghanistan or the United States, and ordering its Lebanese Hezbollah ally to rain rockets on Israel. We may find that fighting a war with Iran is like making love to a gorilla: You don't stop when you're done; you stop when the gorilla is done.

Why is everyone so eager to plunge into another war? Because of another false fear: that a nuclear-armed Iran will use its new arsenal to obliterate the Jewish state or bully its neighbors.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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