Attacking Iran would invite disaster

Do you feel another war coming our way? Say, with Iran? This week's announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder of the foiling of an alleged plot to blow up the Saudi ambassador to the United States while he dined in a Washington restaurant has been seized upon by the usual media suspects as an "Iranian terrorist plot" and more than enough reason to further tighten the screws on Tehran.

A 56-year-old American citizen, Manssor Arbabsiar, who also holds an Iranian passport, was arrested and charged along with another man, still living in Iran, who is said to be a member of the Quds force, an "elite" unit of the Iranian army reportedly tasked with "exporting Iran's Islamic revolution."


Mr. Arbabsiar is accused of conspiring with the notorious Mexican drug cartel, the Zetas, first to kidnap the Saudi ambassador, Adel al-Jubeir, and then to assassinate him instead. At least, that's what the government says he thought he was doing. As you might suspect, this appears to be yet another classic FBI sting operation.

There's little chance any supposed Zetas contacted by Mr. Arbabsiar were anyone other than the feds. It's very much like the saps who try to find a killer for hire and almost invariably wind up being arrested by an undercover cop posing as a hired gun.


As for actual involvement of the Iranian government in this alleged assassination attempt, that case has yet to be persuasively made. But our government has announced it would immediately impose further punitive measures against Iran.

We're good at that. Currently, we've imposed "harsh" economic sanctions against Iran, while surrounding it with our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan and our fleet in the Persian Gulf. Plus, in keeping with our "American exceptionalism" — you know, the kind that allows us to kill people we don't like wherever they may be — we've been conducting operations inside Iran for years.

Cyber-warfare, targeted assassinations, funding for Iranian groups opposed to the government and which conduct "terrorist" acts; these are all part of our ongoing campaign against the mullahs in Tehran. But that's OK, because that's us — we're the good guys, and the Iranian rulers are the ones in the black hats.

I want to make clear that the Iranian government has sponsored murders of people they regarded as enemies of the state, even on foreign soil. I'm not defending the theocrats who rule Iran. But neither do I want an attack on Iran, either by our own forces or the Israelis.

Yet because of the well-reported economic woes in Europe and here, there is plenty of reason to fear a war with Iran. When empires come up against their limits, they lash out. In our case, the mighty coalition of special interests determined to fend off significant cuts to our bloated military budgets could use a new war as proof-positive that the world is too dangerous a place to allow significant reductions in what we spend on "defense."

Arguing against a new war are the results of the current ones in Iraq and Afghanistan. Intended in part as a "demonstration effect" to show the world how futile it is to resist American military power, they have revealed instead the inherent limits of such power.

The former top American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, told the Council on Foreign Relations recently that after 10 years on the ground there, we're merely halfway toward achieving our goals. And he said the reason for that is our "frighteningly simplistic" understanding of the history, culture and actual situation of that place and people.

We claim victory in Iraq, but the "war that would pay for itself" instead is costing us trillions, has smashed Iraqi society into pieces and left in place a Shiite-ruled nation hostile to us. That's some victory.


When it comes to Iran, pray that cooler heads prevail, because the consequences of attacking it are likely to be disastrous.

Ron Smith's column appears on Fridays. His email is