5 Questions to Ask Before Starting a War
Bill Keller offers lessons from Iraq
By Matt Cantor,  Newser User
Posted Mar 19, 2012 12:46 PM CDT
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad waits for the arrival of Iraqi Shiite Vice President Khudayr al-Khuzaie prior to a meeting in Tehran on March 10, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – As the drum-beating grows louder on Iran and Syria, Bill Keller looks back on Iraq and beyond. To avoid a debacle, there are five questions we should ask ourselves before entering a war, he writes in the New York Times:

  1. "How is this our fight?" Are American interests directly involved, as in Afghanistan after 9/11? Are we supporting an ally? Or are we simply "promoting freedom"?
  2. "At what cost?" While Libya was easily targeted at low risk to American troops, an attack on Syria would mean, in one military expert's view, "we'd be killing a lot more people." Then there's the cost of stretching troops and the financial implications of war.

  1. "Or what?" Do we have a viable alternative? President Obama's emphasis on sanctions against Iran has kept Israel from attacking. But "if sanctions and threats fail, could we live with a nuclear Iran?"
  2. "And who else?" Will any other countries support our effort?
  3. "Then what?" What happens after war? If we were to attack Syria, for instance, are we prepared to remain there for a long reconstruction?

It's important to remember: "Asking the right questions only works if you are prepared to hear answers you might not like," Keller writes. We can't simply make facts fit policy. "If Iraq taught us nothing else, it should have taught us this: Before you deploy the troops, deploy the fact-checkers." Click for Keller's full column.