Speculation is growing about the possibility of an American attack on Iran – either a full-scale invasion (as we saw in Iraq) or air strikes and missile attacks (possibly including bunker-busting tactical nuclear weapons) against Iranian nuclear facilities, missile launch sites, and military/intelligence targets – to prevent Iran from using its nuclear program to develop nuclear weapons.
Since learning about Iran’s secret uranium enrichment program after 9/11, the U.S. has warned that Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons, and the U.N. Security Council has demanded that Iran stop enriching uranium. Iran says it is enriching uranium only for peaceful purposes (to produce electricity). Under international agreements, countries are permitted to enrich uranium to produce electricity. However, if Iran successfully enriches uranium for electricity, it could use that enriched uranium to later build a nuclear bomb. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is investigating experiments, purchases, and weaponization studies carried out by Iran, but the IAEA says it has no definitive evidence of an actual nuclear weapons program.
Relations between America and Iran have been tense for decades. Iranians remember that America helped overthrow the democratically elected prime minister of Iran in 1953 and helped replace him with a dictator, the Shah, who denied the Iranian people freedom. Americans remember that Iranians overthrew the Shah, replaced his pro-American dictatorship with an anti-American theocracy, and took American embassy officials hostage in 1979. Iranians remember that America supported Saddam Hussein in his war against Iran during the 1980s. Americans believe Hezbollah (which is supported by Iran) killed 241 U.S. soldiers in a bombing in Lebanon in 1983. America has refused to recognize Iran’s theocratic government for the last 27 years.
Today, Shia Muslim Iran, Sunni Muslim countries, non-state actors (like Hezbollah and Al Qaeda), and America compete for influence and power in the Muslim world, and they view each other as obstacles and threats. For example, the U.S. says Iran supplied weapons and training to anti-American forces in Iraq; Iran denies this and says America should stop interfering in the Muslim world. Iran accuses America of supporting militias launching attacks inside Iran. Iran supports Sunni groups (Hamas in Palestine) and Shia groups (Hezbollah in Lebanon) which America considers terrorists; America supports Israel, which Iran sees as an illegitimate Western colony on Muslim land.
Arguments By Those Who Believe That America Should Attack Iran
1. If Iran had nuclear weapons, those weapons would pose a threat to Americans (including American Muslims). Iran could launch a nuclear strike against America or give nuclear weapons to others (like Al Qaeda) who want to attack America. Even if Iran doesn’t attack America, Americans (including American Muslims) will constantly live in fear of a nuclear attack, just as Americans lived in fear of a Soviet nuclear attack during the Cold War.
2. An American attack on Iran would be relatively easy and would not require American ground troops. Air strikes and missile strikes could destroy known Iranian nuclear facilities and military targets. There would be few American casualties.
3. Iran could not seriously retaliate against America after an American attack. Iranian military facilities would be destroyed by the initial American attack. In addition, Iran doesn’t have missiles that can reach America.
4. Iranian nuclear weapons would pose a threat to Israel. President Ahmadinejad has said Israel should be wiped off the map. If a nuclear Iran attacked Israel, the entire region would be destabilized, and America would be drawn into a war.
5. Attacking Iran is the only way to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Diplomacy is not working. Although the previous Iranian administration was willing to talk to the U.S. about various issues, the current Iranian administration has refused to negotiate with America. America supported a Russian offer to enrich uranium for Iran so that Iran could use the enriched uranium for peaceful purposes and then return it to Russia, but Iran refused that offer, preferring to keep its own enriched uranium. In addition, sanctions are not working, because the world community is not united in imposing sanctions, so Iran can get whatever it needs somewhere in the world. The longer America waits to attack, the closer Iran gets to a nuclear bomb.
Arguments By Those Who Believe That America Should Not Attack Iran
1. Iran will not use nuclear weapons offensively against America. First, Iran does not have missiles that can reach America. Second, even if President Ahmadinejad wants a fight, the collective leadership of Iran is not suicidal. The clerics, who hold the real power, know that an Iranian nuclear attack on America would result in a larger American nuclear attack on Iran. Furthermore, the clerics would not provide nuclear weapons to Al Qaeda, which is an anti-Shia organization. Nor would they provide nuclear weapons to Shia organizations (including Hezbollah), because Iran would pay the price for a nuclear attack by Shia groups. Iranian nuclear weapons would be intended solely to deter an American or Israeli attack on Iran, and to deter potential American attempts at regime change in Iran. America co-existed with, and outlived, a nuclear Soviet Union; America can do the same with a nuclear Iran.
2. A successful American attack on Iran would be extremely difficult. America does not know where all of Iran’s nuclear facilities are. To maximize the chances of destroying all Iranian nuclear facilities, American ground troops would need to occupy the country and find the facilities. It’s unlikely that other nations would be willing to provide ground troops either. American air strikes and missile strikes could destroy known nuclear targets, but an angry Iran could continue its nuclear program in secret facilities that survive an American attack.
3. An American attack on Iran would make America less safe, because groups backed by Iran would launch small-scale attacks in America and against American targets (including oil and gas targets) around the world. In addition, Al Qaeda would exploit increased worldwide Muslim anger to recruit agents and raise funds for more attacks against America.
4. President Ahmadinejad favors eliminating Israel through elections (a “one-state solution”), not war. Furthermore, Iranian nuclear weapons would not pose a threat to Israel, which already has nuclear weapons. Iranian clerics, who know that Israel would retaliate for a nuclear strike, would not initiate a suicidal nuclear attack against Israel. Iranian nuclear weapons would promote stability in the region by creating a balance of power and deterring attacks against Iran by Israel and by hostile Sunnis. A balance of power would encourage nations in the region to resolve disputes peacefully in the future.
5. America has not fully used diplomacy and sanctions to discourage Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Regarding diplomacy, after 9/11, Iran (under the previous Iranian president) repeatedly tried to build bridges with America. After Iran helped America defeat the Taliban in next-door Afghanistan in 2001, the Bush Administration responded by including Iran in the “axis of evil.” When Iran offered to open a dialogue in 2003 to try to resolve all disputes between the two countries and normalize relations, the Bush Administration refused to talk to Iran. After America learned about Iran’s nuclear program, America offered to negotiate with the current Iranian Administration regarding Iran’s nuclear program, but only if Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment before such talks. Iran is opposed to talks with such preconditions. America should negotiate with Iran without preconditions. There are things Iran wants; for example, Iran wants to end almost three decades of isolation by getting America to recognize Iran’s government and end America’s policy of seeking regime change in Iran. In exchange for that, Iran might give up its nuclear program and make other concessions. Regarding sanctions, Iran already has economic problems. Economic sanctions (like restricting investment in Iran) can put great pressure on the Iranian government. Restricting Iranian access to outside technology and components can make it impossible for Iran to build a bomb. America has time to give this peaceful track an opportunity to work, because it will be years before Iran is able to develop a nuclear weapon.