Retort to WaPo’s Editorial on “Credible Military Threat”

The Washington Post, to its credit, has a letter to the editor up ripping apart an editorial from last week. The editorial, as noted in our Daily Talking Points, uses Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s exact example to bludgeon Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. Gates said last week that a military strike against Iran would cause the country’s deeply divided polity to unite around the flag.

And why not use Netanyahu? Gates’s comments were widely regarded as push back against the Israeli PM’s assertion, nearly two weeks ago, that Iran would only respond to a “credible military threat.” And around and around we go…

But Christopher Bolan, a professor at the U.S. Army War College, is unphased by the belligerence of either Netanyahu or the Post. “Such talk can become a self-fulfilling prophecy,” he writes in his letter to the editor, giving Netanyahu and the Post the benefit of the doubt that war is not actually their goal.

Bolan’s letter is well worth the read:

Sunday, November 21, 2010; 7:44 PM

There are five strategic reasons to avoid giving Iran a reason to fear a U.S. military attack.

First, Iranian leaders can easily survey the global environment and conclude that a U.S. ground invasion of Iran is not a realistic option given America’s ongoing major military commitments to both Afghanistan and Iraq. Such talk is empty.

Second, talk of U.S. military strikes (even if only airstrikes) serves to strengthen arguments among Iranian leaders that a nuclear deterrent is needed to preclude this eventuality. Such talk is counterproductive.

Third, talk of a U.S. military attack works at cross-purposes with a U.S. strategy designed to convince leaders in Tehran that Iran would be better off without a nuclear weapons capability. Do we expect Iranian leaders to negotiate seriously with a United States that is overtly committed to their destruction?

Fourth, talk of a U.S. military attack itself increases the prospect of such action. When one threatens military action, one needs to be fully prepared to carry through. Such talk can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Fifth, talk of U.S. military action reinforces al-Qaeda’s narrative claiming that the United States is at war with Islam. This gives al-Qaeda another important recruiting tool that exacerbates this very real threat.

Christopher J. Bolan, Carlisle, Pa.

The writer is a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Army War College.

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Ali Gharib

Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.