The Next Unavoidable Problem

Lex pointed out this recent essay, on Iran, by Walter Russel Mead.

The Bush administration, for its part, has treated Iran the way many of its critics wanted it to treat Iraq: It has supported a European Union initiative to resolve the nuclear issue in a peaceful way.

So there’s a widespread U.S. consensus to engage Iran in peaceful negotiations in partnership with Europe. This strategy has one small flaw: So far, it isn’t working.

Mead is more optimistic than I am about the possibility of defusing Iran without using force. I think we emboldened the mullahs by appeasing them, in our efforts to avoid having to open a new front in the war, and that confrontation is now inevitable unless we prepare seriously to attack. (And we should make our intentions clear; this enemy interprets subtlety and nuance as weakness.) Even then I think it may be too late to avoid confrontation.

We need also to consider that Israel has long considered a nuclear Iran to be one of the main threats, if not the main threat that it faces, and is at more immediate risk than we are. I don’t think Israel will stand by indefinitely if we are indecisive.

We may do better to force the situation. The mullahs are either bluffing, in which case we should call their bluff, or they are serious, in which case we should confront them on our own timetable rather than wait for them to get nukes and precipitate a crisis. Our current policy, consisting of a combination of appeasement and hoping that the Iranian government gets overthrown before we have to act, isn’t working.

12 thoughts on “The Next Unavoidable Problem”

  1. If I thought the Bush administration was capable of the type of deceit and underhanded trickery that michael moore portrays, I would think that they are purposely letting the UN deal with this problem to show the world “see what happens when we take a passive role and let the UN handle world problems”?

    You can make an even better case for that strategy with respect to Sudan, which at least won’t threaten the world anytime soon.

    These two situations illustrate perfectly what many Americans have understood for a long time: the UN is worse than useless, it is actually an impediment to real solutions for any of the problems it tries to solve.

  2. I agree with what you said Jonathan, but I think you need to work out the strategic implications a bit further.

    I believe now and believed 4 years ago that Iran was the biggest problem in the Middle East with the possible exception of Saudi Arabia. That said, the question has been what to do about it.

    Of course the preferable option would be for the people of Iran to overthrow the mullahs and establish a pro-western democracy. This will not happen. Even at the U of Chicago they did not teach the truth about revolutions. They only occur when regimes are bankrupt and unable to pay their soldiers. Oil is over $40/bbl and Iran is not embargoed, therefor there will be no revolution — no matter how much the Iranian people hate the mullahs.

    I am fairly certain that the strategic thinkers in the Bush administration understood all of these problems on September 12, 2001. Their solution was and remains elegant. First, the low hanging fruit, Afghanistan. We had the causes belli and the cost was very low. Then Iraq.

    I think that by almost any reasonable measure things are going very well in Iraq. We will have an Iraqi Government in place on schedule. They will be dependent on our continued military presence for a long time.

    The Iranian mullahs are, and will continue to be, terrified by the possibility that a non-clerical Shiite republic could succeed next door in Iraq and will continue to subvert and provoke. This will provide numerous opportunities for counter-subversion and counter provocation and eventually (after we have suppressed the Sunni/ba’athist/al-qadea insurgency), what we really want: open conflict where we can use our military superiority.

    The nuclear problem may have to be dealt with in a shorter time frame than the one contemplated above. I think it is a fantasy that Israel can carry that load. First, on a technical level, I do not know that they have aircraft with the range, aerial refueling capabilities or armaments to do the job. I rather doubt that they do. Second, they have such deep political problems with the EU right now over the Fence and PLO that it is difficult to ask them to undertake a mission that will land them in more political hot water with their largest market.

    If a military solution to this problem is required, then it is the United States that will have to supply it. We have the assets nearby and can deploy them on short notice. I assume it is only a question of when.

  3. DSpears:

    It’s even weirder than that. The US is trying to get the Iran issue to the UN, where at least we could try to get the security council to enact ineffective sanctions for the French, Germans and Russians to evade. France and Germany are so unilateralist that they won’t even let us get that far.

    I’m still more worried about North Korea. At least Iran has an economy. It’s not so long ago the North Korean harvests were so bad they were having problems feeding and clothing the military. What happens if we don’t respond to the next blackmail offer quickly or generously enough?

    Matya no baka

  4. Matya no baka:

    North Korea is really not our (the US’) problem. The only way we are involved is if they can launch an attack on our toops stationed their (doubtful). If it just falls apart, it is South Korea’s problem, or maybe China’s. If can get our troops out of the way, it really won’t be our problem at all.

  5. Robert Schwartz:

    Let me think on that a while. My gut response is that i like Japan an awful lot, and so does our economy. Thanks for something to chew on.

    I really wish we had Brillant Pebbles and it was stationed over PyongYang…

    Matya no baka

  6. Arrow anti-missile defense system successfully tested in U.S.:

    Israel and the United States on Thursday held a successful test of the Arrow anti-ballistic missile system – the world’s only operational missile killer system – off the coast of California.
    The Defense Ministry and the Israel Aircraft Industries announced Thursday that the Arrow successfully intercepted an incoming Scud ballistic missile, in flight over the Pacific Ocean.

    The realistic test of the Arrow ABM system was the first of its kind and had been planned for two years.

    Since the last Gulf War, Israel – with U.S. financial backing – has developed the Arrow anti-missile missile,

    At approximately 8:25 P.M. Israel time, a Scud missile, confiscated by the United States from Iraq, was launched from a U.S. Naval Air Warfare Center, at Point Magu near Los Angeles. The Scud was identified and fixed by the system’s radar, Green Pine, and it directed an Arrow missile at the target, intercepting it fully.

    This “realistic scenario could not be carried out in Israel because of safety reasons” a Defense Ministry announcement said.

    This was the 12th test of an Arrow missile and the 7th of the overall system, that includes the Green Pine radar.

    Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz described the results of the test as “being further proof for the technological superiority of the Israeli defense industries.”

    “We are in an age of uncertainty. Countries in the third sphere continue in their efforts to acquire non-conventional capabilities along with abilities at long-range launches,” Mofaz said.

    Aryeh Herzog, in charge of the project at the Defense Ministry and the Israel Air Force, said that “we are all happy. The operational implication [of the test] is that the Air Force has an exceptional system.

    “We have known it all along, but now we have added proof. We will continue development. We want to achieve capabilities against future threats, such as those being developed in Iran.”

    The Arrow was developed following the 1991 Gulf War, when the Patriot system proved to be less than successful, with few of its missiles managing to intercept the dozens of Scuds that fell in Israel.

    The Arrow has been operational for some years, and two Arrow batteries are deployed in central Israel.

  7. It will come to military blows.

    For however long this link is good:

    CFR to Bush: Stop Israeli strike on Iran’s nuke sites

    Friday, July 30, 2004

    A report by the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations urged the Bush administration to stop any Israeli attempt to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities. The council warned that such an Israeli attack would be blamed on the United States and hurt its interests in the region.

    “Since Washington would be blamed for any unilateral Israeli military strike, the United States should, in any case, make it quite clear to Israel that U.S. interests would be adversely affected by such a move,” the report, entitled “Iran: Time for a New Approach,” said.

    On Thursday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said the United States supports Israel’s right to what he termed weapons of deterrence, regarded as a reference to nuclear weapons, Middle East Newsline reported. He said the United States was also pressing Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program.


    The CFR PDF file referred to is here:

  8. You might also want to go back and see what I said about what is coming WRT Iran here:

    Iran’s Spoiling Attack
    by Trent Telenko at April 20, 2004 03:23 AM

    “It is the nature of men that when faced with an impending doom, they will do something, anything, to avert it, even if that brings doom down upon themselves sooner and more surely then if they had done nothing. Such was the case in ancient Greek tragedies. So it was with the World War Two Nazis and Imperial Japanese. So it is now with Iran’s Mullahocracy in their “spoiling attack” on America in Iraq.”

  9. I thought about Iran vs. North Korea overnight. The Taepodong II has a range around 3,700 miles according to
    The UK Telegraph

    Representative distances to US cities from Tehran and Seoul courtesy of (which does not list Pyong-Yang as a city):
    Anchorage 5,643 3,773
    Los Angeles 7,582 5,960
    Chicago 6,495 6,536
    New York 6,129 6,872

    So only Anchorage is in range of North Korea today, but since Iran gets missile tech from North Korea i would suspect that Korea gets more in range sooner.

    I also suspect that North Korea is more willing to sell the technology or completed weapons. All in all, i guess i’m still more scared of North Korea.

    Trent: Even directly looking at the HTML i could not find your link. But i would like to read the article.

    Matya no baka

  10. All right, lets try this again with a dead and active version of the link:

    Iran’s Spoiling Attack

    and another snippet:

    The Stakes

    More than Iraq is at stake here there are other players, notably Israel.

    Iran’s mullahs are developing nuclear weapons, which they view as a magic shield against America and a sword to destroy the Jewish state. They have made overt threats to nuke Israel as soon as they have nuclear weapons, and said they believe Iran would survive any exchange of nukes with Israel. The mullahs do not at all understand that their inflammatory rhetoric intended for domestic political effect has a whole new meaning for other countries when backed up with nuclear weapons.

    This brings up the following question:

    Does anyone doubt for a moment that Israel will, absolutely, positively WILL preemptively destroy Iranian nuclear facilities, with nukes if necessary, to prevent another holocaust?

    Since Iran has taken steps to see that an Israeli conventional air attack, such as that against Osirak, Iraq can’t work, Israel must use nuclear ground bursts, producing highly radioactive short term fallout, against Iran’s hardened nuclear facilities.

    But it won’t be just against those. The remorseless logic of nuclear conflict with an irrational opponent will force Israel to eliminate Iran as a strategic threat for the long term. That entails hitting more targets than just those currently known to be working on Iranian nuclear weapons.

    A Democratic President would create this worst of all possible worlds, where pre-emptive nuclear attack is used as a tool of state policy. It is not a world we want to live in.

  11. Trent, thanks for updating the link. That was a provocative article. I found the thoughts on unit boundaries in time particularly useful for my thinking about terrorism in the US. It is also interesting that we are both worried about a “backs against the wall irrationality” scenario, but you are worried about Israel reaching that position, while i am worried about North Korea reaching it.

    Perhaps being a religious type living in a democracy makes me a bit too susceptible to belief in the humanizing influence of the combination. I think Israel would work very, very hard to find an alternative to a nuclear strike. I don’t think Kim il Sung would consider it morally wrong to use his. The Iranian Mullahs, bad as they are, do not strike me as bad as Kim il Sung. But i agree, that’s just speculation. Who knows?

    Matya no baka

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