Jay Bookman

Opinion columnist and blogger with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, specializing in foreign relations, environmental and technology-related issues

War is the answer; Now, what was the question?


Writing in the Washington Post on Friday, Joshua Muravchik condemned a so-called "bad deal" with Iran over its nuclear program. However, the neoconservative academic went on to acknowledge that in his mind and those of many others, any conceivable deal will be a bad deal.

The goal, after all, must be the complete elimination of Iran's nuclear program, and the only means to accomplish that feat would be through war. Only by bombing Iran -- a course that Muravchik has championed since at least 2006** -- can we halt not just Iran's bomb program but its plan to "carry its Islamic revolution across the Middle East and beyond."

At the very least, Muravchik deserves credit for candor, for stating point blank what other critics of negotiation have shied from admitting. However, his essay is also useful because it so closely tracks the central logic of neo-conservative thought. That logic can be expressed in three words: Force produces submission.

And if that theory should seem to fail when applied in real life -- if force doesn't produce submission? Then by definition, sufficient force wasn't used. Because force produces submission. That is the axis on which the neoconservative planet spins. As Stephen Hawking would put it, that is their theory of everything, the elegant equation that ties everything together.

For example, wouldn't airstrikes merely delay Iran's progress toward a nuclear weapon, as many experts have warned? "Perhaps," Muravchik concedes in his essay, "but we can strike as often as necessary."

Would Iran react to air assaults by making an all-out effort to go nuclear, taking its effort underground both literally and figuratively? If so, "The United States would have to make clear that it will hit wherever and whenever necessary to stop Iran’s program."

Would Iran seek to retaliate by other means, attacking targets such as Israel, oil-tanker traffic through the Strait of Hormuz or U.S. advisers in Iraq helping to train soldiers in the battle against ISIS? "Probably," Muravchik concedes. "We could attempt to deter this by warning that we would respond by targeting other military and infrastructure facilities. Nonetheless, we might absorb some strikes."

More cowbell. Always more cowbell.

And would attacks by the United States rally the Iranian people behind their government, allowing the ayatollahs to tighten their grip on power and ending any chance of a more moderate, responsible government? "Perhaps, but military losses have also served to undermine regimes, including the Greek and Argentine juntas, the Russian czar and the Russian communists."

That last example is particularly telling. Because force must produce submission, Muravchik does not address the many, many more cases -- the bombing of North Vietnam, the carpet bombing of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, the London blitz, the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union -- in which force has produced not submission but renewed defiance among those targeted.

And because force produces submission in the neoconservative universe, the enemy never gets a vote. He never gets credited with responding as we ourselves would respond. For example, we didn't need to worry much about what would happen in Iraq after the invasion that Muravchik and his colleagues championed so bravely. "Shock and awe," as you may recall, was supposed to turn the Iraqis into a quivering, malleable clump of humanity that we could mold to serve U.S. interests. It wouldn't produce anger, resentment, humiliation, defiance and a thirst for revenge. It wouldn't give us ISIS and a fractured Iraq and has greatly strengthened the hand of Iran. It would produce submission, not chaos.

That's because chaos and the irrationality of human nature are not conditions that the neoconservatives are prepared to address. Such realities sully the intellectual tidiness of the closed universe in which they operate, a universe in which every attempted negotiation is another Munich, every skeptic of their world view is another Neville Chamberlain, every day the sun rises is another Sept. 29, 1938, and they are always Winston Churchill.

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** In his 2006 essay, Muravchik argued that "It is now clear that neither Moscow nor Beijing will ever agree to tough sanctions," a proclamation since proved false. Such sanctions are now in place, and have succeeded in forcing Iran to the negotiating table. He also warned eight years ago that "the completion of Iran's bomb grows nearer every day," and that then President Mahmoud "Ahmadinejad wants to be the new Lenin. Force is the only thing that can stop him."


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About the Author

Jay Bookman writes about government and politics, with an occasional foray into other aspects of life as time, space and opportunity allow.