What's wrong with this argument?

Spencer Ackerman reports that, while drunk, he found no effective response to the following justification for the coming war with Iran:
It's not us declaring war on them. They have declared war on us. They attack our troops. Your position amounts to requiring soldiers in a firefight to check the nationalities of their assailants before returning fire; and so you have reached absurdity.

While blogging and, presumably, sober Ackerman notes that the argument is disingenuous. That is, the real reason for war with Iran has less to do with Iran's supposed machinations in Iraq than with the Bush Administration's broader strategic, uh, vision.

Be that as it may, it's still worth figuring out how to answer the argument above. Here are a couple of points:
  • Although the idea of declaring war may by now have become a quaint anachronism, there does seem to be a difference between beligerant acts and declarations of war.
  • As beligerant acts go, supplying an armed insurgency is less beligerant than, say, the attacking Pearl Harbor or assassinating a spare duke.
  • It's far from obvious that these beligerant acts justify an escalation to wholesale war. Which is to say that there's a difference between returning fire in a firefight and bombing the bejesus out of a large nation.
  • Wars are really outrageously bad, and are worth avoiding even when justified. Or, as Jesus and Woody Guthrie[1] put it, there's a better world awaiting for the meek.
1 Though I hasten to add that my own acquaintance with this chestnut derives, sadly, from Kenny Rogers.

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