Mitt, Hold Your Fire

Elisheva Goldberg explains why Mitt Romney's pro-strike stance on Iran is a terrible idea: because everyone (experts, activists, dissidents) say it is.

Uriel Sinai / Getty Images

Mitt Romney’s pro-strike stance on Iran has gotten him a lot of press. And Benjamin Netanyahu's been very encouraging. According to Haaretz he told Romney:

An Israeli or American military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities was likely to help topple the ayatollah regime, just as the 1976 Entebbe raid led to the defeat of Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, according to a senior Israeli official.

Well I wonder who told him that, because it likely wasn't the CIA or the Mossad.

Clearly, Iran is not Uganda. And more to the point: It is utter fantasy to think that an Israeli or American strike would topple the Iranian regime. The hubristic thinking that a foreign assault on any country could lead to a wild cheer from its populace is a mistake we’ve made before. That’s not how nationalism works—people rally around their leaders when they’re attacked. Entebbe was the exception, not the rule.

But don’t take my word for it, people far more expert than I have been saying this for quite a while: Former CIA officials think that were the Israelis or the Americans to strike Iran, it would have precisely the opposite effect. The Daily Beast reports:

Marty Martin, a former senior officer in the CIA, ran the unit that hunted Al Qaeda terrorists from 2002 to 2004. Iran’s most militant leaders “are goading the Israelis,” he tells The Daily Beast, “because a bombing will help them put their internal problems aside.”....Martin, who spent most of his 25-year career at the CIA in the Middle East, argues that…“The way they see it, if Israel bombs them it relieves the internal pressure,” says Martin. “Amid this turmoil, its always good to have an outside enemy.”...Paul Pillar, the former national intelligence officer for the Middle East, agrees…Pillar, who spent 28 years at the CIA, is now a professor at Georgetown University. “I strongly believe that the net political effect of an attack would be to help the hardliners,” he says.

If CIA analysts don’t do it for you (especially since neocons will tell you that that the analytical wing of the Agency is a notorious redoubt of liberalism) lets see what regime change advocate par excellence, the neoconservative Michael Rubin had to say:

Iranians are nationalistic and would rally around the flag in event of military strikes.

We could close the case here. But then we’d miss the members of the Israeli intelligence community who are also convinced that a strike would release precisely the kind of nationalism the Ayatollahs crave.

For example at the Institute for National Security Studies’ conference, Meir Dagan, the former Mossad Chief said “An attack will only create a reality where all Iranians will stand behind the regime.” He also told Jeffrey Goldberg that, “In case of an attack political pressure on the regime will disappear.”

The Iranian dissidents—who, one could argue—know the regime most intimately, couldn’t agree more. An exiled spokesman for Iran's Green Movement and top aide to opposition leader Mir Hossein Moussavi, Ardechir Amir Arjomand warned:

The regime would really like for someone to come drop two bombs on Natanz [an Iranian nuclear facility]. This would then increase nationalism and the regime would gather everyone and all the political parties around itself.

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Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji, after noting that nukes in the hands of the Iranian regime will "pose a grave danger to the world at large" and that the American nuclear double standard in the Middle East (i.e. Israel) "will only exacerbate the cause of fundamentalism and strengthen regimes such as the Islamic Republic of Iran," gave a full-throated response:

The point here is not merely that Iran should not be attacked militarily. The point is that even entertaining the possibility of a military strike, especially when predicated on the nuclear issue, is beneficial to the fundamentalists who rule Iran. As such, the idea itself is detrimental to the democratic movement in my country. Moreover, it is especially beneficial to those fundamentalist forces that thrive on the persistence of such double standards. Of course, this is not to blame the American military policies or double standards for every problem in Iran or the Middle East. I simply wish to insist on the following point: The Iranian regime will abuse the current emergency conditions—brought on by the threat of a military strike—to push the democratic Green Movement away from the center of world attention.

Finally, Karim Sadjadpour, an Iran expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace put it to bed:

I’m convinced that Khamenei and Ahmadinejad would actually welcome a military strike; it may be their only hope to silence popular dissent and heal internal political rifts.

Well, there you have it. According to Sadjadpour, the Obama White House “is mindful of the fact that there are radical elements in Tehran who might like to provoke an attack for their own domestic expediency." Would a Romney White House be as mindful? Or would Romney do as he has pledged and do “the opposite” of Barack Obama?