Even the pros of attacking Iran are bad ideas

Conservative British journalist and historian Paul Johnson has a rambling op-ed in Forbes, supposedly on the possibility of an Israeli “surgical strike” on Iranian nuclear facilities. What’s worth pointing out is this error in logic that Johnson makes, which is similar to a flawed assumption made by many Iran commenters:

Knocking out Iran’s nuclear capability would be much more difficult because of the distance to be covered by Israeli aircraft and because the plants are underground. These difficulties must be weighed against the fact that the Iranian regime is unpopular everywhere because of its recent crooked election and the savagery with which protests against the results were put down.

The implication here is that, while the “con” to launching an attack on Iran is that it would be logistically difficult for Israel to do, the “pro” to this debate is that the Iranian government is unpopular and not very legitimate. Wait a minute. Wouldn’t bombing Iran be very unpopular with Iranians? Couldn’t this, just maybe, undo the very unpopularity and illegitimacy with which the Iranian regime is now saddled? Further on in the piece Johnson admits as much:

What we don’t know is if a successful Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would discredit the regime to the point that it would be forced out of power or if such an attack would be used to discredit the opposition, causing Iranians to close ranks behind their extremist leaders. [emphasis mine]

Generally, when bombs fall on people, they get mad at the people doing the bombing. It’s a simple enough lesson, but one that many, in their unconsidered haste to bring about the regime’s downfall, miss quite entirely. The second of Johnson’s possibilities, or a version of it at least, seems much more likely to result from a missile attack; this would only enhance the government’s hardline posture, and give needless credibility to its attempts to focus attention on outside “enemies.”

Plus, who in their right mind would suggest a bombing campaign if we don’t even know what the results of a successful attack would be? Missiles fired by armchair hawks tend to do a lot less damage than those that actually create the messy carnage of reality.