Gambling on Wars

Israel would be wise to learn the lessons of Iraq before it embarks on a risky adventure in Iran.

If there's even a one percent chance that terrorists will attack the United States, American decision-makers have to treat it as a certainty in terms of their response,and mustlaunch a pre-emptive attack against the state or the individuals that may be behind such a terrorist act. That was the main conclusion reached by former U.S. DefenseSecretary Richard Cheney in the aftermath the 9/11 attacks in 2011, according to American journalist Ron Susskind,who termed it the “One Percent Doctrine.”

This line of thinking, whichprovided advanced authorization for any decision made by the national security leadership in Washington in order to thwart a terrorist attack on the American homeland, also served as a basis for the National Security Strategy of the United States, published on September 20, 2002. Also known asthe "Bush Doctrine,"the policy advocated preventive war against any state seen asposing a potential threat to U.S. national security – even if that threat wasnot transparent and immediate.

Iran students praying, Isfahan nuclear plant - AFP

This dramatic change in American strategy, whichuntil the Bush-Cheney era had embraced the axiom that an American decision to go to war would come only as a response to “a clear and present danger" – such as the operation of al-Qaidacells in Afghanistan, which necessitated an attack on that country – served as a justification for the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of Saddam Hussein.

The American Congress and public were asked to allow U.S. leaders to make “decisions that are in essence the making of a bet,based on incomplete and fuzzy information on the big cash-box,” to apply the argument made by Israeli professor Yehezkel Dror in a recent Haaretz op-ed.

Not unlike the warnings that Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak are making today about the threat that could be posed by a nuclear Iran in the future, Bush administration officials argued that unless the Americans replaced the regime in Baghdad, the Iraqis would endup arming anti-American terrorist groups with weapons of mass destruction(WMDs)– which they were alleged to have in their possession – and then the almost certain outcome would be a nuclear “mushroom cloud” over large American cities.

The number of American casualties in a nuclear terrorist attack on New York and Los Angeles would be larger than were to occur as a result of what was supposed to be a swift and relatively low-cost attack on Iraq.

The hysteria manufactured by Bush and Cheney and the neo-conservative intellectuals – as it happens, most of them advocate an Israeli or an American attack on Irantoday – helped mobilize the support of the public and members of Congress for the military adventure in Iraq that proved to be one of the major strategic fiascos in American history.

That adventure removed the central obstacle to Iranian expansionism in the Persian Gulf, led to the rise of an regime in Baghdad that maintains close ties to the Ayatollahs in Tehran and strengthened the military and diplomatic status of Iran, not to mention thehuge financial costs and large number of American casualties, and the loss of Americanprestige in the Middle East. And let us not forget that at the end of the day it was discovered that Iraq did not posses any WMDs.

In retrospect, it seem that a wider and more extensive debate about the cost-effectiveness of an attack on Iraq, and paying serious attention to the warnings against such an attack by leading figures like former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft (an American Meir Dagan, if you will) would have prevented the historic disaster inflicted through the Bush-Cheney policies.

After all, the leaders of a democratic nation whose power is based in many ways on creating a solid national consensus– and in the case of Israel, also on international support – should regard a decision to go to war as more than just a bet. And the citizens of this nation – those who makeup the “big cash box” since they would pay the price of the bet – have the right and the obligation to take an active part in such a debate.

Dr. Leon Hadar is a senior analyst at Wikistrat, a geostrategic consulting group.