John Yoo (yes, the guy who was the Bush administration’s staunchest defender of the use of torture against terrorist suspects) says in the latest hard-copy edition Dec 31 of The National Review that “Now is the time to make the case for military action against Iran.” (Citing Yoo always causes me some embarrassment due to the fact that he still has tenure at my alma mater, UC Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law. He is currently a “visiting scholar” at the American Enterprise Institute with which he has a long affiliation.) The copy of the article doesn’t seem to be on-line, although you can access it through Lexis-Nexis here.
In any case, his “case” for attacking Iran strikes me as extremely weak unless you believe, as his aggressive nationalist and neo-conservative colleagues do, that Washington can really do just about anything it likes and should, in any event, not be bound by silly concepts or institutions like international law or the UN Charter. Hence, his argument for ignoring the UN Security Council:
Just as national governments claim a monopoly on the use of force within their borders and in exchange offer police protection, the U.N. asks nations to give up their right to go to war and in exchange offers to police the world. But the U.N. has no armed forces of its own, has a crippled decision-making system, and lacks political legitimacy. It is contrary to both American national interests and global welfare because it subjects any intervention, no matter how justified or beneficial, to the approval of authoritarian nations.
But, if by some chance or folly, the president wants to go through the Security Council, he can
make a case much like the one that the Bush administration made regarding Iraq. It can argue that destroying Iran’s nuclear weapons is a combination of self-defense and protecting international security.
He then proceeds to list a familiar bill of particulars regarding Tehran’s alleged ill-doings over the years (such as the recent purported assassination plot against the Saudi ambassador here, as well as the 1979-81 hostage crisis) in order to establish the potential magnitude of the threat posed by a nuclear Iran (conveniently omitting the fact that the Security Council never authorized the U.S. to go to war in Iraq and that other countries could justify attacking the U.S. on the basis, among other things, that it, too, posed a potential threat to international security based solely on its unprovoked and unauthorized invasion of Iraq.)
And Yoo gives us a new international legal principle, based on JFK’s actions in the Cuban Missile Crisis:
A president need not wait until an attack is imminent before taking action Iranian nuclear capabilities would cause a radical reversal of the balance of power, and that fact justifies action in itself.
You see, Kennedy’s quarantine of Cuba was justified “because the Russian deployment upset the superpower equilibrium in the Western Hemisphere.” So whenever an existing “balance of power” may be at risk, one party can presumably take armed action to uphold the status quo!
Like Kroenig, Yoo then goes to reassure us that “[m]ilitary action need not go so far as an invasion or even a no-fly zone.”
Our forces would have to destroy Iranian air-defense sites, but otherwise, thanks to precision-guided missiles and drones, they could concentrate on a few links in the Iranian nuclear chain…
The surgical nature of such strikes would make them proportional to the military objective, which would not be the overthrow of the iranian regime, but the destruction of its nuclear capability. Nuclear infrastructure is a legitimate military target, even if some strikes may kill civilians. If casualties result because facilities are located beneath cities, the fault rests with the Iranians for deliberately using civilians to shield its military — a move long forbidden by the laws of war. Unlike Iranian-supported terrorist groups, the United States will assuredly do everything possible to keep civilian loss of life to a minimum.
Yoo then informs us that the United States
has assumed the role, once held by Great Britain, of guaranteeing free trade and economic development, spreading liberal values, and maintaining international security. An attack on Iranian nuclear facilities, though it would impose costs in human lives and political turmoil, would serve these interests and forestall the spread of conflict and terror.
Just like in Iraq.