“Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”
Now that we’re getting to the nub on Iran, let’s talk a bit about one of the biggest failures of the Iraq operation. Iraq was, by demonstrating the resolve of the United States, supposed to eliminate the need for military action in Iran and North Korea. The failure of the Iraq operation on this count is total; if Iraq becomes a democratic, secular paradise tomorrow, it will still have failed to terrify our enemies around the world into submission.
The situations in Iran and North Korea have deteriorated considerably since 2003. North Korea either has nuclear weapons or the means to produce them. Iran has not become more receptive to our demands; indeed, conservative elements have grown consistently stronger since before the Iraq operation. The only success that supporters of the Iraq operation have on this count is the decision of Libya to give up its weapons. This is a bad joke, of course and suffers from the post hoc ergo proctor hoc fallacy; no military threat against Libya was made, and Libya began moving closer to the West in the late 1990s, long before military action against Iraq was contemplated. Only an unapologetic partisan or a moron could believe that the invasion of Iraq has had the reputational effects that were imputed to it. One might even be inclined to think that a reputation for resolve is worthless in international relations…
In short, the Ledeen Doctrine is garbage. Destroying a small country every ten years or so will not, it appears, provide for our security. Iran has not been cowed by US military action; at best, the decision to invade Iraq can be held to have no important impact on Iranian nuclear ambitions. At worse (and I think that this is far more credible) the US invasion has provided the Iranian leadership with external impetus and domestic political capital for pursuing the nuclear option. Which of these is true isn’t really very relevant; the fact that destroying a country in order to look tough doesn’t work is a lesson that we should not soon forget.
I will leave it to a more qualified theorist than myself to work out the gender implications of the Ledeen Doctrine, although it seems relatively clear to me that much of the doctrine (and much of the idea that reputation is important) is built around a particular conception of toughness and masculinity, a conception that many seem to mistake for good policy.