Washington loves a good war.
Scratch that: Washington loves war, period. And "good" has nothing to do with it.
How do we know this? Because Washington has been fighting an interminable, slow-burn war in Afghanistan for more than 17 years, it opted to initiate a world-historical disaster in Iraq 16 years ago, and it followed a similar script 8 years ago in Libya with remarkably consistent results. Despite this record of idiocy and ineptitude, Washington is now revving up for war in Iran with even less justification and planning than went into those earlier conflicts.
To get a sense of the level of thinking going into formulating our Iran policy, listen to Republican Sen. Tom Cotton (Ark.) confidently pronounce on Firing Line that the U.S. would win any conflict with Iran swiftly and easily. Never mind that the U.S. also "won" the Iraq War in a matter of weeks — if by winning you mean decapitating the regime of Saddam Hussein and occupying the country.
Of course that was followed by the rise of an insurgency, the outbreak of a years-long civil war that tore the country apart, and the founding and spread of the Islamic State and outbreak of the Syrian civil war — events that had a price tag of trillions of dollars; led to well over a million deaths in the region; killed thousands of Americans and left many thousands more crippled for life; and prompted hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee the Middle East for Europe, where they helped to provoke a right-wing anti-immigrant backlash.
There's only so much of that kind of "winning" any country can take.
Yet nothing changes. Our leaders have proven themselves ineducable. Not even former President Barack Obama, who distilled his foreign policy doctrine down to a minimalist (and salty) expression of prudent good sense — "don't do stupid s--t" — found it impossible to resist the temptation to do some very stupid things in Libya. In opting for stupidity, Obama was encouraged by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former National Security Adviser Susan Rice, and former U.N. Ambassador Samantha Power, a team that would most likely be formulating American foreign policy right now if President Trump hadn't barely managed to triumph in November 2016 — which means that under a President Hillary Clinton, we might be at war with Iran already.
It's important to recognize just how pervasive the mental rot really is. This isn't just a Republican problem. It's a bipartisan Washington problem. War is good for the economy. It's good for approval ratings. It's good for self-important, powerful people who like to think of themselves as doing great and noble deeds on the world stage. And it's good for defense contractors, who donate generously to politicians who demonstrate their "seriousness" by supporting hawkish policies. That's the military-industrial complex about which former President Eisenhower so powerfully warned us, and by now it completely runs the show.
At the tendency's greatest extreme, we get people, like National Security Adviser John Bolton, who have only one setting — full-force bluster — and view the threat of war as the solution to every problem in the world. It's a sign of how much power such hyper-hawks now wield in the nation's capital that an administration clearly planning for war with Iran has done so little to make a public case for it. So far, that case amounts to, "Iran wants a nuclear weapon, which we oppose, though we have no evidence to show that it's working on one, and we tore up the agreement reached during the Obama administration that was keeping it from working on one, and it is aiding one side in a civil war in Yemen that really pisses off Saudi Arabia, and the Iranian government says lots of nasty, threatening things about Israel, and there were, or maybe could have been, some attacks on some ships in the Strait of Hormuz that Iran may or may not have had something to do with."
The shaky case for war in Iraq back in 2003 — combining Iraq's violation of U.N. resolutions, faulty but widely credited intelligence, outright nonsense peddled by former Vice President Dick Cheney's war machine in the Pentagon, and a generous helping of post-9/11 paranoia — was as solid as Fort Knox compared to this scattershot mess of pretexts and third-party provocations.
The list of unanswered questions is long: Why is it in our interest to fire missiles at a country of 80 million people 6,000 miles away from American shores? What would be the goal and the strategy behind it? If such actions destabilize the Iranian government, what would come next? Would we seek to occupy the country? Since that would require many times the 120,000 troops administration officials have been contemplating sending to the region, the answer is probably no. But then are we prepared to stand by while the country descends into chaos, becoming yet another experiment in anarchy set in motion by reckless American actions?
Nothing about recent American history or the comportment of the Trump administration gives us reason to think those making decisions are pondering these questions with the proper degree of intelligence, humility, or caution.
In other words, the most reasonable person contemplating war with Iran could well be Donald Trump. Let that sink in.