Niall Ferguson Thinks War With Iran Is Just One Big Joke

February 06, 2012 3:57 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Sen. Tom Coburn

Harvard University historian Niall Ferguson is out with a new piece in The Daily Beast arguing for an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. "There are plenty of arguments against an Israeli attack on Iran," the subhead of the article explains. But "all of them are bad." Ferguson writes:

There are five reasons (I am told) why Israel should not attack Iran:

1. The Iranians would retaliate with great fury, closing the Strait of Hormuz and unleashing the dogs of terror in Gaza, Lebanon, and Iraq.

2. The entire region would be set ablaze by irate Muslims; the Arab Spring would turn into a frigid Islamist winter.

3. The world economy would be dealt a death blow in the form of higher oil prices.

4. The Iranian regime would be strengthened, having been attacked by the Zionists its propaganda so regularly vilifies.

5. A nuclear-armed Iran is nothing to worry about. States actually become more risk-averse once they acquire nuclear weapons.

I am here to tell you that these arguments are wrong.

What comes next is not what you would expect; Ferguson does not explain why these concerns (which are straw man arguments he's summarized in ridiculous ways) are wrong, as you'd expect, but jokes away the worries without even mentioning the real dangers of war. Like Matthew Kroenig's much-discussed article in Foreign Affairs, which tried to make the case for a U.S. strike, Ferguson mentions potential consequences of war but makes no serious effort to address the five points he's outlined. Both writers suffer from the same flaw: downplaying failure while being overly optimistic about success.

Any doubt that Ferguson takes war with Iran lightly is eliminated by his depiction of an imaginary conservation between President Obama and David Axelrod in which the president orders his people to provide support for an Israeli attack on Iran — "line up those bunker busters" — but only after hearing that he isn't polling well in Florida.

Frivolity aside, the piece is most noteworthy not for what is mentioned but for what Ferguson avoided writing about: An aerial attack on Iran's nuclear facilities will not stop the country's nuclear program, and almost certainly will convince decision-makers there that they need to weaponize to protect against future attacks. As Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta has made clear, an attack would at most delay Iran's program by a few years. That fact alone should be enough to put much of this dangerous speculation to rest.