Too many American chaise-lounge bombardiers, condemning the substance of the interim nuclear agreement reached with Iran this weekend in Geneva, ignore or dismiss the consequences of the likely price of diplomatic failure—a U.S. attack on Iran. Discussing that daunting prospect as if it were a video game, they use terms like "surgical strike" and "limited military engagement" to suggest that such a U.S.-Iran confrontation would be successful, decisive and over in a hurry. The day after, in their estimation, would look pretty much like the day before. Such strident advocacy ignores one crucial variable—the reaction to an American attack by the Iranian leadership. The mullahs have the decisive vote on what would happen next.
If the United States attacked, Iran would face a decisive and far-reaching choice: Respond in a fashion that sought to avoid escalation of the conflict and maximize its perception in world opinion as the innocent and aggrieved victim of American anti-Islamic aggression, or react in ways that make a prolonged conflict more likely. What enthusiast for bombing Iran can confidently foretell the answer to that question?
It's easier said than done. In February 2012, Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff described Iran as a "rational actor," and as super-strategist Thomas Schelling has emphasized, "You can sit in your armchair and try to predict how people will behave by asking how you would behave if you had your wits around you."