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War with Iran Would Be Madness


President Obama’s refusal to rule out military action against Iran and GOP contender Mitt Romney’s recent threat of war against Iran should appall anyone who believes, with the free-market liberal Ludwig von Mises, that not war, but peace, is the father of all things.

If the U.S. government or its client state Israel were to attack Iran, all hell would break loose. Thousands of Iranians would die. That country’s infrastructure would be destroyed, bringing even more death, disease, and misery. And the democratic Iranian Green Movement, which is against foreign intervention, would be destroyed. Iran’s government would retaliate by closing down the Strait of Hormuz, through which much oil passes, and launching attacks against American ground and naval forces in the region.

In short, disaster would follow a U.S. attack or an Israeli attack which would be seen, quite rationally, as a U.S.-backed operation.

What would prompt the military assault? The powers that be, in maneuvers reminiscent of the buildup to the Iraq war, are trying to frighten the world into believing that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. Recent headlines in the stenographic news media would have us believe that the International Atomic Energy Agency has confirmed that the Iranians are working apace to build a bomb. We are left with the suggestion that once they succeed, a nuclear attack will promptly follow.

This makes little sense. Why would Iran launch a nuclear attack that would mean certain oblivion for itself? The U.S. government can destroy the world with its nukes, and Israel, a nuclear power since the 1960s, has a couple of hundred warheads ready to go. Unlike Iran, Israel does not submit to IAEA inspections.

If Iran were developing a nuclear weapon, it would clearly be in order to deter the sort of regime change that occurred in Iraq and Libya. The difference between how the U.S. government treated those countries and how it treats North Korea, which has a nuclear weapon, is hard to miss.

But here’s the bigger problem for those ginning up war fever: There is no evidence Iran is developing a nuclear weapon! Iran is being threatened because it cant prove its not doing so.

Two U.S. National Intelligence Estimates, one in 2007 and one in 2011, judged that Iran shut down its nuclear weapons program in 2003. (NIE’s represent the judgment of Americas dozen-and-a-half intelligence agencies.)

But what about the most recent IAEA report? According to the Washington Post,

Intelligence provided to U.N. nuclear officials shows that Iran’s government has mastered the critical steps needed to build a nuclear weapon, receiving assistance from foreign scientists to overcome key technical hurdles, according to Western diplomats and nuclear experts briefed on the findings.

Yet if one digs below the surface, one finds that the IAEA certified that Iran has not diverted nuclear materials from peaceful to military purposes. (Uranium appropriate for medical or power-generating purposes is unsuitable for making bombs.) While the report darkly alludes to undeclared nuclear materials, it provides no evidence that they exist.

Many experts have ridiculed the politicized report as essentially recycling old dubious allegations. Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett, two Middle East authorities on President George W. Bush’s National Security Council, wrote,

The report does not in any way demonstrate that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon. Rather, it once again affirms, as the IAEA has for decades, Iran’s non-diversion of nuclear material. In other words, even if the Islamic Republic wanted to build nuclear weapons (and Tehran continues to deny, at the highest levels of authority, that it wishes to do so) it does not have the weapons-grade material essential to the task. [The] report [focused] on unsubstantiated intelligence reports, provided almost entirely by the United States, Israel, and other Western governments. In fact, no one has ever produced a shred of evidence that Iran has ever actually tried to build a nuclear weapon or taken a decision to do so.

The Obama administration says it prefers sanctions and diplomacy, but as long as Iran is required to prove a negative, the chance of war is real. The American military opposes it Iran would make Iraq look like a schoolyard yet Obama, Romney, and other prominent political figures rattle their sabers. This is sheer madness.

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    Sheldon Richman is former vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation and editor of FFF's monthly journal, Future of Freedom. For 15 years he was editor of The Freeman, published by the Foundation for Economic Education in Irvington, New York. He is the author of FFF's award-winning book Separating School & State: How to Liberate America's Families; Your Money or Your Life: Why We Must Abolish the Income Tax; and Tethered Citizens: Time to Repeal the Welfare State. Calling for the abolition, not the reform, of public schooling. Separating School & State has become a landmark book in both libertarian and educational circles. In his column in the Financial Times, Michael Prowse wrote: "I recommend a subversive tract, Separating School & State by Sheldon Richman of the Cato Institute, a Washington think tank... . I also think that Mr. Richman is right to fear that state education undermines personal responsibility..." Sheldon's articles on economic policy, education, civil liberties, American history, foreign policy, and the Middle East have appeared in the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, American Scholar, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, Washington Times, The American Conservative, Insight, Cato Policy Report, Journal of Economic Development, The Freeman, The World & I, Reason, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Middle East Policy, Liberty magazine, and other publications. He is a contributor to the The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics. A former newspaper reporter and senior editor at the Cato Institute and the Institute for Humane Studies, Sheldon is a graduate of Temple University in Philadelphia. He blogs at Free Association. Send him e-mail.