On the Table

ON THE TABLE….The standard formulation when it comes to Iran is that “no option is off the table.” Kenny Baer says that this time-tested trope is exactly right: “The reason why Obama, Clinton, and Edwards are all refusing to take the military option off the table is because there is no credible expert on Iran, nonproliferation, or any combination of the two who would advise them to do so.”

Matt Yglesias has a series of posts up this morning taking issue with that. No credible expert? How about Ray Takeyh and Vali Nasr? Or Joseph Cirincione? Or Rand Beers? Or Kenneth Pollack?

Unfortunately, with the possible exception of Cirincione (“it is a dangerous stick to wave”), none of these analysts actually recommends taking military action irreversibly off the table. They do say that military action against Iran would be a bad idea, but even Baer agrees with that. The same experts who are recommending everything be left on the table, he says, are also advising “in no uncertain terms that a military strike against Tehran, much less total war, would be long, nasty, costly, and unwise.”

So far, then, the argument seems to go to Baer on points. Which is too bad, because the real underlying argument here isn’t over a time-honored rhetorical wheeze, it’s over a genuinely serious, fundamental question: Should the United States continue to follow the Bush Doctrine of preventive war? It’s one thing to argue, as Takeyh and Nasr put it about the Iranian regime, that “A reduced American threat would deprive the hard-liners of the conflict they need to justify their concentration of power,” but that’s merely a pragmatic argument that turning down the volume is the most likely way to prevent Iran from acquiring nukes. It’s not an argument that the United States, as a matter of general policy, should eschew the use of preventive war against regimes that it feels threatened by.

That would be an interesting campaign debate to have. But I’ll bet we won’t get it. After all, repudiating the Bush Doctrine is, essentially, taking at least one option off the table.

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