Nicholas Kristof looks at the arguments for and against attacking Iran’s nuclear sites. He starts with the arguments for a strike, but quickly follows with a good reason why we should not do so:
That’s the argument. But Iran’s leaders are probably praying for such a strike; it may be the only way that they can stay in power for more than another decade.
I’ve never been in a country where the government is so unpopular as in Iran, with the possible exception of Burma. The government is so corrupt, tyrannical and incompetent that it will eventually collapse — unless we attack its nuclear sites and trigger a nationalistic surge of support for the regime.
We Americans are still paying the price for our involvement in the 1953 overthrow of the elected Iranian government of Mohammed Mossadegh; if we bomb Iran, we may cement the mullahs in power for another 50 years.
Moreover, the military options are wretched, partly because Iran is probably doing much of its work at sites we can’t destroy because we don’t know where they are. The Natanz site for now is an empty room. We might kill Russian technicians at Bushehr or elsewhere, and Iran might retaliate with terror attacks aimed at us (counterterrorism experts suspect that Iran has sleeper agents in the U.S. whom it could activate).
A military strike would also do nothing more than buy time. Ashton Carter, a former senior Pentagon official who has studied the possibility of a strike and considers it feasible (but unwise at this time), estimates that a one-time strike would delay Iran’s nuclear weapon at most three or four years. The U.S. could then go back and hit the sites again, but Iran presumably would hide the locations, so later strikes would be less effective.