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Think Before Acting on Iran

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
January 16, 2012
Daily Beast


We're doing this terrible thing all over again. As before, we're letting a bunch of ignorant, sloppy-thinking politicians and politicized foreign-policy experts draw "red line" ultimatums. As before, we're letting them quick-march us off to war. This time their target is Iran. And heaven knows Iran's leaders are bad guys capable of doing dangerous things. But if we've learned anything, anything at all, from plunging into war in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, it is this: we must have a public scrubbing of fighting rhetoric before, not after, the war begins.

Sure, there are risks in acting so sensibly. It does signal hesitation, even weakness, to the adversary. But to me, the far greater risk lies in not hesitating. The real risk is not fully, thoroughly, and publicly laying bare the case for war. In every major war of the last decades, the public assumed the government and the experts knew what they were talking about and proposing to do. But after a year or so, that faith collapsed. Except for those who would bless the sound of the cannon wherever it led, everyone soon realized the terrible truth: that government leaders had little or no idea what they were doing, what the invaded country was really like, and what could and could not be accomplished at what cost. By then, it was too late. Once our truly precious troops had been sacrificed and our prestige had been cast upon the waters, patriotism and politics overwhelmed reason.

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