Of the many oddities of the Republican challengers to President Obama, the most serious is their vow to go to war with Iran. This is now such a common staple of GOP rhetoric in the campaign trail that it’s scarcely newsworthy when yet another White House aspirant thumps the war drums.
Only Ron Paul, of course, has disparaged the impulse to attack Iran. Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum, and Newt Gingrich have all in one way or another vowed military action against the ayatollahs.
The war cries come at a peculiar moment: we have just finished Operation Iraqi Freedom, another attempt to punish an authoritarian regime for allegedly building weapons of mass destruction. The results of that war are plain: no weapons found, a half million or more Iraqi deaths as a result of the war, five million displaced, and a price to the U.S. of $3 trillion, thousands of dead, tens of thousands wounded, and hundreds of thousands suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
This grisly outcome, so devastating for Iraq and costly to America, tells us something about what a war with Iran would look like. (It is much a more relevant comparison than the failed war in Afghanistan, though the results there, too, should sober us.) Not that Iran has much military prowess: the New York City Policy Department probably has about as much firepower in its arsenal. But Iran has other means.
It can activate Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine to attack Israel. Neither group a…