Us army chief Dempsey meets Netanyahu.
(photo credit: GPO)
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If I could ask every cabinet minister to read one thing now that the
holidays are over and they are getting back to business, it wouldn’t be a
great classic or a scholarly tome. It would be an 800-word journal article by a PhD student arguing
that regardless of who wins November’s US presidential election, there’s
no chance America will ever take military action against Iran’s nuclear
Other pundits have advanced this claim
, often persuasively. But what makes
Gabriel Scheinmann’s piece in The National Interest
unique is that he doesn’t
ground it in either domestic or foreign-policy considerations, which
could theoretically change. Rather, he points to a consistent,
half-century-old policy tradition in which successive US governments,
both Democratic and Republican, have repeatedly considered preemptive
military action against nuclear programs, and always decided against it –
from the Soviet Union in the 1950s through China in the 1960s all the
way to Syria in 2007.
Scheinmann doesn’t detail why successive governments rejected military
action, but the reasons are fairly obvious: Most of the same arguments –
from reluctance to be seen as the aggressor through belief in the
feasibility of containment to fear of sparking a war – are made today by
opponents of military action against Iran. But there’s another, even
more important reason that often goes unspoken: America is a superpower.
Hence even another nuclear superpower like the USSR doesn’t necessarily
pose an existential threat to it. And a mere regional power like Iran
This doesn’t mean a
nuclear-armed Iran couldn’t cause America plenty of pain; it could. But
pain isn’t an existential threat. The USSR also caused America plenty of
pain, including hundreds of thousands of soldiers killed or wounded in
several conventional wars against Soviet-backed forces. Yet overall,
America still flourished during that half-century of conflict.
For a tiny country like Israel, in contrast, a nuclear
Iran is an existential threat. This isn’t merely because a single
nuclear bomb could wipe out much of the country; it’s also because
Israel is so badly outnumbered by hostile neighbors’ conventional
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