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When it comes to war with Iran, says Perle, Netanyahu outranks American generals

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What’s the smoothest path to get the United States into a war with Iran— the nightmare scenario for most people in the military and foreign policy establishment? Iraq war impresario Richard Perle gave an answer while on a panel at the Nixon Center early this week.

Perle was debating Flynt Leverett, and devoting most of his effort to debunk Leverett’s argument that a productive deal could be worked out with the current Teheran government, as useful and strategically necessary as Nixon’s opening to China. But Perle’s main focus is “regime change”—doing to Teheran what we did to Baghdad. 

Perle talked much about sanctions. But honestly, it’s hard to conceive that “biting sanctions” backed by no other powers in the world besides Israel and the United States Congress would have much chance of fomenting “regime change” in Tehran. So the real option is military. Perle can’t count on a single American general to talk this up as a desirable idea. But here’s the trick: Israel can get the ball in motion. A former ambassador asked Perle what the United States could do if we became convinced that Israel was about to launch an attack on Iran.

His answer is revealing: “I would hope that if we became persuaded that the Israelis were about to act, whatever we thought of the wisdom of that action, we would consider that the worst of all possible outcomes would be a failed Israeli action. And we would therefore do what we could to see that it didn’t fail. You can change policy very quickly. . . you did not want it to happen, but now it’s gonna happen and suddenly you recalibrate. At least I hope you recalibrate and in the event we might reconsider whether our opposition, carried forward, is helpful or harmful.”

You have to respect Perle for making this all sound wonkish and practical. But it really is kind of breathtaking. The United States should abrogate its own powers of decision-making in an area with tremendous implications for its own physical and economic security and cede them to the current government of Israel—a far right government which includes fascist ministers in key posts. Failure to do so— behaving like Eisenhower for example and telling the Israelis to get the hell out of Suez or their allowance would be cut off– would be “the worst of all possible outcomes.”

Perle is more or less mouthing the lines of Professor Groeteschele in the movie Fail-Safe: “our morals would never have permitted us to launch a first strike, but now that one is in motion, we must take advantage and launch a full scale attack.” But in this case, Bibi Netanhayu gets to play the role of the electronic malfunction that gave the mistaken first strike orders to a bomber command and decide for himself whether to plunge the United States into war. Why? Well of course because “the worst of all outcomes” would be an Israeli attack which doesn’t achieve its goals!

Scott McConnell
About Scott McConnell

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of the American Conservative. The former editorial page editor of The New York Post, he has written for Fortune, The New Criterion, National Review, Commentary and many other publications.

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