Kirk: Trump Should Wage Economic, Not Military, War on Iran

USS Abraham Lincoln (Michael Singley / U.S. Navy via Getty)
Michael Singley / U.S. Navy via Getty

On June 21 while visiting London, I had a piece published in  The Telegraph wherein I praised President Trump for not taking the bait of the Iranians and following through with a military strike after they had downed one of our unmanned drones.  The president was being criticized by doves for being indecisive while simultaneously being criticized by hawks for not turning our military loose.

I saw the wisdom in his choice for being reluctant to start the process of possibly entering us into yet another endless war in the Middle East.  The dominoes that fell in my mind were military response from Iran, the United States entering a war and toppling their regime, and then entering decades of “nation building” and guerrilla conflict in the streets of Tehran and elsewhere.  I’ve already seen that movie, and I do not want a sequel.

Now we have the announcement that the Iranians are openly walking away from the terms of the 2015 agreement that called for them to stop enriching uranium and proceeding on a path toward nuclear weaponry.  Critics of the president will say that we already have reneged on the agreement, so why wouldn’t the Iranians proceed?  We betrayed them first.

That position, however, presumes a moral equivalency upon our two nations that simply does not exist.  The Iranians are a terrorist regime committed to the spread of sharia law, the obliteration of Israel, and the imposition of a worldwide caliphate.  The United Sates is a nation of peace that only picks up the sword in the defense of itself or for those unable to defend themselves.  Us backing out of an unsigned, paid-for-in-cash agreement with no real verification procedures is not the same as a nation with a track record of death and destruction moving boldly forward with nuclear weapon development.

I’ve spent some time of late studying the work of Machiavelli.  Like any great philosopher, there are things you can take away that are useful and other things with which you don’t agree.  One of my takeaways, however, has reinforced my dislike for making decisions in the context of binary choices; we do A, or we do B.  For those in Washington this seems to be the yes-no line along which the debate is being made.  We either need to attack them militarily or we need to find a way to buy them off to get them to promise to be better actors.

There is a certain mindless bias, a bigotry if you will, to this kind of thought process.  Both sides predisposed to an extreme solution without either the willingness or the ability to examine the reality of the case and find another way.  This kind of behavior is most often evident in the actions of government, because government is not as readily subject to the risk of “going out of business” in the same way as is a private sector company.  Perhaps the greatest attribute that President Trump has brought with him into office is that of his businessman background.  Binary choices in the world of business typically leave the proper decision laying on the table.

Right now, the United States economy is booming, while the Iranian economy is not.  Were we to set aside the military option for now, and were we to resist the temptation to try to placate the non-placatable who are the Iranian mullahs, we would recognize that this is the time to levy the most oppressive and severe economic sanctions in modern history.  The Iranian economy cannot withstand strangulation, and we could very likely crumble the regime without firing a shot.  I’m more than happy to send in an American cleaning crew to wipe up the mess.  I’m not as excited to send in American troops to make one.

The argument against crippling sanctions is always the same; the average citizen will suffer and not the leaders.  This argument holds no intellectual water whatsoever, save for those incapable of thinking ahead more than one step.  Should the Iranians develop nuclear weapons and force us into war, do you think the people will suffer then?  Should the Iranians develop nuclear weapons and use them preemptively against, say, Israel, do you think people will suffer then?

Ending this conflict absent some form of suffering is no longer an option.  The question is who is going to suffer, when, and how much.

Critics of the U.S. like to point to our past involvement with Iran, both our help in overthrowing Mosaddeq in the 1950s and our failure to support his replacement, the Shah of Iran, in the 1970s.  They point to these mistakes in policy as if to say we no longer have any right to act.

Again, a binary thought process.  It is true we have failed, and it is true that we have, in part, contributed to the state of Iran today.  To somehow point to those past points and use them as justification as a reason we cannot act now is simply simple-minded.

I don’t want to see Iran turn into another Iraq.  The way our troops were used there should trouble any patriotic American.  Our soldiers are not meant to be the Army Corps of Engineers.  We don’t need them building schools and bridges.  We also don’t need them blowing them up if other courses of actions can prevent their use without sacrificing our objectives.

So, in this world of choose A or choose B, I am proposing we choose C.  Let us put our economic boot on the throat of the Iranians and encourage as many nations as possible to join us.  With or without them, we have the means necessary to potentially defeat the Iranians without losing a life or firing a shot.

That’s a much better choice.

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