Via Jeffrey Goldberg a very good Barry Gewen article makes the case that “The real policy question, then, should not be whether to bomb in order to forestall a nuclear Iran but whether to bomb to delay a nuclear Iran, and in any cost-benefit analysis, the latter calculation carries a very different weight.”
His article is excellent, but I think it’s worth underscoring the fact that launching a war with Iran seems just as likely to speed its acquisition of nuclear weapons as to delay it. Iran, like all countries, faces tradeoffs between different national priorities. You could spend more money on the nuclear weapons program, but that would mean less money for Teheran schools or salaries for secret policemen. Alternatively, you could bolster the secret police and cut funding on schools or the nuclear program. And it seems to me that becoming the victim of foreign military strikes is the kind of think likely to persuade Iran’s leaders that its existing deterrent capabilities are inadequate to deter aggression and the nuclear program should be advanced relative to other national priorities.
One also has to wonder what the impact of an attack on Iran will be on foreign countries’ disposition to sanction Iran. Perhaps it will increase the sympathy of non-weapons states for Iran’s situation, and create a more permissive international arena for them. Perhaps the pressure on China and Russia to restrain Iran will evaporate. Perhaps Pakistan will just sell Iran a nuclear weapon.
This whole landscape is, in my view, much murkier than the conventional discussion suggests.