The idea of a pre-emptive American attack on Iran periodically resurfaces in Washington, despite the absence of any strategic logic. After abating following the 2015 agreement to limit Iran’s nuclear program, the war drums are beating again, with the Trump administration ratcheting up the pressure. Is striking Iran an option?
Iran is a longstanding and steadfast opponent of the United States. It promotes terrorism, extremism and instability in the Middle East, with brutal allies like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lebanon’s Hezbollah. The Iranian regime continues to develop advanced weaponry while repressing internal dissent. There is no question that the United States, its partners in the Middle East and Europe, and many Iranians themselves would prefer a different government than the theocratic one that has held power since 1979. But the idea of a pre-emptive American attack on Iran, which periodically resurfaces in Washington, would be a monumental mistake.
The United States has had military encounters with Iran for years around the Middle East, but the more recent wave of support for a pre-emptive strike came earlier this decade, as Tehran expanded its ballistic missile capability and appeared on track to develop nuclear weapons. After the 2015 international agreement known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, placed strict limitations on Iran’s nuclear program, the war drums abated for a while. But now they are beating again.