The Worst Case for War With Iran You’ll Read in a Major Newspaper

by Ali Gharib

Many opponents of a nuclear deal with Iran simply won’t come out and say what they seem to be constantly getting at: that the United States should go to war. Well, kudos to the hawkish opinion pages of The Washington Post and the neoconservative scholar Joshua Muravchik for making just that argument in Sunday’s paper. Muravchik purports to explain how negotiations will never work with a regime like Iran’s (“akin to communist, fascist and Nazi regimes”), and that attacking is the only way to forestall an Iranian nuclear bomb. It’s good to see some of these anti-diplomacy hawks have the courage of their convictions.

There are other reasons to welcome Muravchik’s salvo, too. It makes the case for war, yes, but that case comes off as so laughably weak that one wonders how anyone not already ideologically committed to the notion could be swayed into supporting it. That makes the particulars of Muravchik’s argument worth delving into.

But first a word on the man. A fellow at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, Muravchik has the biography of a neoconservative archetype, moving left to right through socialist youth groups, the Scoop Jacksonite Coalition for a Democratic Majority, then finally into full-blown neoconservatism. His current and former affiliations, accordingly, read like neocon alphabet soup, including groups like AEI, WINEP, PNAC and JINSA, among others.

And this isn’t Muravchik’s first rodeo. A board member of the Committee for the Liberation of Iraq, he aggressively pushed war there after 9/11. Since at least as far back as 2006, he’s periodically called for war with Iran. At the end of that year—as Iraq spiraled into its bloodiest period of chaos—Muravchik published two opinion pieces, one in the Los Angeles Timesthat began with the breathless declaration, “We must bomb Iran.” The headline was half as long: “Bomb Iran.” He repeated the call in, at least, 2007, 2008, 2011 and 2014.

The latest reprise of Muravchik’s monomaniacal aim, in the Washington Post, carried a bit of a different title: “War with Iran is probably our best option.” Probably? So we—with Muravchik, it’s always “we,” the collected national mass to be dragged along into his follies—ought to go down this path again because he’s pretty sure it’s best for us! War is supposed to be a last resort; that doesn’t mean it’s “probably our best option,” but that it’s our only one. (In 2011, in a USA Today op-ed calling for—you guessed it!—war with Iran, Muravchikconcluded that “force should always be a last resort, but perfect certainty that nothing else will work only comes when it’s too late.”)

Maybe Muravchik didn’t write the Post headline, but the uncertainty over outcomes pervades his piece. “What if force is the only way to block Iran from gaining nuclear weapons?” he asks, before answering, “That, in fact, is probably the reality.” That, in fact, is probably not true. Other analysts with far fewer flops in their records think our attacking could spur Iran to take a decision toward building a bomb (something, contra Muravchik, they haven’t done, according to American and Israeli intelligence).

An Iranian decision to produce a weapon would be especially dangerous because attacking can’t actually “block Iran.” Rather, the best possible outcome of airstrikes is to set Iran’s nuclear program back a few years. Muravchik’s response to this is as simple as it is scary: just keep bombing. “[W]e can strike as often as necessary,” he wrote. The Israelis call this “mowing the lawn”—an anodyne euphemism for perpetual war.

Note Muravchik’s use of the word “perhaps” along the same lines that “probably” appears in his headline and in four places in the body of the article: meek statements declaring, Hey, maybe this’ll work! Here’s another instance of “perhaps”:

Wouldn’t an attack cause ordinary Iranians to rally behind the regime? Perhaps, but military losses have also served to undermine regimes, including the Greek and Argentine juntas, the Russian czar and the Russian communists.

Setting aside that Muravchik is already declaring victory, reaching back to the Russian czar shows how bankrupt this argument is. As Georgetown and Harvard’s Ariane Tabatabaipointed out, one need only look to the 1980s, when the Islamic Republic solidified its shaky grip on Iran with the help of a bloody war started by Saddam Hussein. A proud peoples, Iranians rallied around their flag. “The Iranian people—including myself—will resist any military action,” the Nobel laureate and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi, hardly a pro-regime stalwart, said in 2010 of the prospect of a Western attack.

Muravchik has been admittedly wrong about this sort of thing before. In a shallow 2006 reflection about the Iraq war, he wrote that neoconservatives, himself included, “were glib about how Iraqis would greet liberation.” No shit. But don’t let that stop you now.

For all their preening about democracy and freedom, Muravchik and his ilk must ignore the Iranian democracy and human rights activists who lay their asses on the line and oppose war. Indeed, he ignores altogether the consequences of an attack on Iranians. But he does at least address the potential for adverse effects on Americans:

And finally, wouldn’t Iran retaliate by using its own forces or proxies to attack Americans—as it has done in Lebanon, Iraq and Saudi Arabia—with new ferocity? Probably. […W]e might absorb some strikes.

“Probably…might.” Sigh. We’re talking about dead Americans here.

What’s most remarkable about Muravchik’s case is that, despite making if for nigh on a decade, the Post chose to publish it at this moment. The United States and Iran are reportedly on the cusp of an agreement to curtail Iran’s nuclear program. Muravchik’s arguments are weaker and less confident than in 2006, when diplomacy was falling flat.

That itself is telling: this is not a scholar responding to events of the day, but rather one retro-fitting his long-held predispositions onto them—the definition of an ideologue. It shows what a small clique of even quasi-respectable analysts the poor Washington Post opinion editors have to draw on to make these sorts of inane arguments. If this is the best the hawkish paper and its neoconservative allies can muster, maybe we will be okay after all.

This article was published by The Nation on Mar. 16 and was reprinted here with permission. Copyright The Nation.

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.



  1. if the Israelis want to push us into another like they did in Iraq, let them do it alone. Were not the monkeys to pick the hot coals from the fire.

  2. “Let me manage your money,” said the money manager who had lost all the money of all his past investors having invested the assets on very risky and hard to believe schemes. “I have another scheme for you which is based on the previous scheme, and it *might* work.”

    “Let me take this case for you,” said the lawyer who had badly lost every court case he had taken. “Don’t worry about those losses. My plan is to use the same losing strategy as before and *perhaps* I will win this time.”

    “Let me operate on you,” said the surgeon all whose previous patients had died while he was operating on them. “Trust me with your life. You *probably* won’t be sorry this time.”

    Would anyone hire any of the above knowing their histories? Then why would major media outlets still give any kind of airtime and by extension credibility to these monsters who have intentionally and maliciously lied us into horrible and losing war multiple times? Why are neocons like Crystal, Kruthhammer and Muravchik still allowed out in public, much less treated as though they have any useful expertise or have ever been right about anything? Why have they not paid any price for the evil they committed? Why are they instead given more opportunities to unleash hell on this planet?

  3. What are these people going to do if-a deal is signed with Iran & the P5+1, Netanyahoo loses the election? Perhaps they all can be rounded yp and shipped to Israel, which would be fitting since they all pine for action. Of course, they would be deprived of U.A. backing & blacklisted from reentering the .S. ever again. How about that for starters? I for one, am tired of hearing this beat from the Sycophants, throw them all out, including those $Billionaire nut jobs backing Netanyahoo.

  4. Art, assuming all Jewish people are 1- Zionists and 2- all Zionists are for war is not only making incorrect assumptions, it injects bias and prejudice into the discussion. There are pro-war Christian Zionists, anti-war Zionists, anti-Zionists Jewish people, etc. Perhaps that’s not what you meant. A world free of war and prejudice requires respect for all faiths and judges people on their actions, not their religious or national backgrounds. Some of the most progressive and anti-war activists are not only Jewish, they’re Israelis.

  5. Good, deserving hit on Muravchik by Ali Gharib. But again, the underlying assumption here is that an attack upon Iran would go unanswered. Iran is not the usual supine U.S. patsy!

    Think Tel Aviv turned to dust, aircraft carriers and other naval vessels disabled or sunk with 5,000 hands, US shore installations destroyed and the Strait of Hormuz blocked to commercial traffic.

    The most stupid Muravchik statement: “military losses have also served to undermine regimes”. Is this lamebrain unaware of the hundreds of thousands casualties Iran suffered at the hands of US-backed Iraq’s invasion?

    Of course these warmongers are unaware of international law. The United Nations Charter:
    To maintain international peace and security,
    # All Members shall settle their international disputes by peaceful means in such a manner that international peace and security, and justice, are not endangered.
    # All Members shall refrain in their international relations from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Purposes of the United Nations.

    The Washington Post — there they go again, Iraq redux. Stupid, which is why I read RT.

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