Co-authored by Ken Robinson
War is where illusions go to die. This was true of Vietnam and the war in Iraq. It is being ground into us every day in Afghanistan.
At this moment, those who want Israel to mount an air attack on Iran's nuclear facilities are counting on mass amnesia. But forgetting the lessons of past wars won't save the next bout of military adventurism.
War with Iran is a real possibility, and yet there has been no real debate on its consequences. The rest of the world may cast Iran as the villain of the peace, but Muslims are at best ambivalent. Considering the firestorm that arose from the burning of the Quran at a U.S. base in Afghanistan, it was wily religious politics for the Iranians to build the Fordow Uranium Enrichment Facility right next to "Qom," the center of Shi'a scholarship globally and the site of the Holy Shrine of Fatema Mae'sume, sister of the Imam Reza (789-816 AD). It is a significant destination of pilgrimage.
An attack on Qom is equivalent to an attack on Mecca for the Sunni Muslims, which most people agree would be catastrophic for the West. Even if the Israelis show remarkable precision in their air strikes, as they have in the past, targeting the area will certainly galvanize and nationalize the Shi'a in a way that George Bush's "axis of evil" speech only suggested.
This and other risks are not lost on Israel, but Americans have no clue that this location must be target number one, if a major attack aims to destroy or greatly degrade Iran's nuclear program. The uranium enrichment facility there is built into the side of a mountain, considered too deep for our bunker busters, which in any case Israel doesn't possess in its arsenal.
Before invading Iraq, the neoconservatives surrounding Bush characterized a unilateral act of preemption as a"clash of civilizations," a right-wing illusion that is deservedly dead. But an attack on Iran will revitalize such thinking. The impact of Western interference as "neo-crusaders" in the Islamic world could well define the West, if not for a thousand years as the earlier Crusades did, then for the foreseeable future.
Instead of feeding the public on a new batch of illusions, these points are worthy of illumination, to educate Americans on how high the stakes are and how quickly the security of the nation could unravel if we have to fight the A-Team of the Quds Force and Hezbollah, either here or overseas.
President Obama has served the country well by his cautious attitude and refusal to stoke war fever, but his coolness only inflames the right wing. For them, the greatest illusion is American exceptionalism carried to the point that this country is invulnerable. After 9/11 this illusion was hard to keep alive, but the right has managed by stoking wildly exaggerated fear about national security and by claiming the best antidote for one failed war is to wage a new one.
We need for realism to prevail over illusions. This time won't be like Operation Babylon, the Israeli attack on the Iraqi reactor in Osirak in 1981. An attack on Iran will have global consequences, setting in motion a series of cascading events that cannot be accurately calculated by game theory whizzes at the Pentagon or paranoid Israeli nationalists. All we can know for certain is that the consequences will be irreversible and out of our control.
Ken Robinson is a former special operations and intelligence professional with 30 years of experience, globally, and a member of the National Military Intelligence Hall of Fame.