When the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, they did so on the basis of assumptions that were all false.
First, the Japanese assumed that Americans who were in the majority opposed to war with Germany and Italy would decline to mobilize and fight the Japanese. Given the passage of the military draft by on only one vote in 1939, the Japanese also assumed the American population had no stomach for a war. Second, the Japanese assumed the strike on American naval forces in Pearl Harbor would not only devastate the United States’ ability to retaliate for at least a year or more, the Japanese also assumed American military industrial production would take years to construct a fleet capable of reaching Japan. Finally, the Japanese assumed they and their forces were morally superior to American forces.
The rest of the story is too well known to repeat here, but the absence of realistic thinking led the Japanese to commit national suicide. How could Japanese leaders have been so misguided in their assumptions? The answer is: It’s easy. When national military strategy fails to answer the questions of purpose, method and end-state, military power becomes an engine of destruction not just for its intended enemies; but for its supporting society and economy too!
If the United States attacks Iran or supports Israel’s attack on Iran, do Americans run a similar risk? The answer is yes.
Regardless of how great or how small the military commitment is, national leaders must always measure what the United States might gain by what the United States might lose. After all, the object in conflict and crisis is the same as in wrestling; to throw the opponent by weakening his foothold and upsetting his balance without risking self-exhaustion. What militates against this line of reasoning is the delusion of limitless national power and the unhealthy condition of American national narcissism that thrives on it.
Today, the same voices that advocated war with Iraq on specious grounds are urging an attack on Iran. They are doing so without serious consideration of the steps required to both contain and end the conflict that an American or American-supported Israeli attack would precipitate. Had anyone in the Bush White House stopped to seriously examine what outcome (end-state) it was they wanted to achieve with military power (purpose) and what military capabilities (method) were really at their disposal to do so, it is doubtful they would have reached the decisions they did. We don’t need to repeat this folly in Iran or anywhere else, particularly at a time when American economic recovery hangs by a delicate thread.
Like the Bush Administration’s decision to intervene with large-scale conventional forces in Iraq, the argument for military action against Iran rests on the delusion that the United States can control the outcome. This kind of wish-based ideology made retreat from inflexible and irrational policy pronouncements on Iraq and Afghanistan nearly impossible when they no longer made sense. In the event Iran is supported by other great powers in its determination to survive the American or American-supported Israeli assault, the strategic consequences for American interests around the world could be profoundly negative.