There is no shortage of potential responses to Iran’s recent strike on Saudi Arabian oil facilities, but there is one essential dilemma: attack or remain neutral.
The Trump administration faced a similar question this past June when Iran shot down an American surveillance drone. Despite pleas in favor of retaliation from the majority of his cabinet––most notably, former national
security advisor John Bolton––President Trump decided at the last minute to withhold from authorizing an airstrike.
Proponents of military retaliation against Iran will certainly not allow
President Trump to forget about this decision. They will claim that by abstaining from a violent response in June, Trump displayed weakness and emboldened Iran to attack Saudi Arabia.
Yet to acquiesce to these pressures and respond aggressively to Iran would be a drastic mistake. Not only would it destabilize the region to an even greater extent than it is currently, but it would also provide Iran with an excuse to use excessive military force in the days to follow.
Too often do people have these conversations without acknowledging the simple fact that if the United States were to issue an attack on Iran, then Iran would issue an even greater attack in response. Even if such an attack likely would not come close to American soil, it could be directed at allies such as Israel or the United Arab Emirates.
Those in favor of an aggressive, casualty-inflicting response to Iran always hold strong to the belief that the United States needs to “send a message” to the country. Such a belief, radiating from all forms of the media, is extraordinarily dangerous and short-sighted.
Indeed, military attacks do not “send a message,” but rather kindle war. Iran, prideful as its people are and powerful as its military is, will not buckle in the wake of an American attack. Instead, it will respond in terms equal or greater to the force used by the United States.
It would be an enormous mistake to underestimate the military prowess of Iran. As The New York Times reporter Nicholas Kristof puts it, “a full war with Iran would be a catastrophe. Iran has twice the population of Iraq and would be a much more formidable foe than Iraq was.” That is not to mention the international chaos that would stem from a United States-Iran war.
It is also important to remember who it is the United States would be defending if it were to take military action against Iran. Saudi Arabia, despite its role as an American ally and heavy supplier of oil, is the same country that repeatedly cracks down on women’s rights and enforces countless human rights violations.
It is a country whose leader, Prince Mohammed bin Salman, ordered the murder and dismemberment of renowned journalist Jamal Khasshoggi. It is a country whose prisons hold Nobel Prize nominee Loujain al-Hathloul in severe and hostile conditions solely on the basis of her support for women’s rights. To defend such a country would be a disgrace.
I will freely admit that this article does not offer much in terms of how the United States ought specifically to respond to Iran, but that is not because I am shying away from the complexities that such a conversation would certainly evoke. Rather, I believe that before we can have such a conversation, it is imperative that the perils of an aggressive response are widely understood.
Only then can a proper response, one situated in between neutrality and militaristic, be achieved.