Iran: What to Do?

In my previous post, where I worried about the Iranian nuclear threat, commenter GT asked what I propose to do.

Obviously the direct application of force will be difficult, which is why the mullahs have been able to get as far as they have in developing nuclear weapons. However, I speculate that we will do better in the long run if we take more risks now.

In particular, I have in mind:

-More pressure on Syria.

-A campaign of sabotage and assassination against Iran’s nuclear industry.

-Retaliation, including sabotage and assassination if necessary, against foreign firms that supply Iran’s nuclear industry.

-Bombing of key Iranian facilities, even if we can’t destroy them all and even if we risk dispersing some radioactive material.

-An information campaign to make clear what we want: the dismantling of nuke sites and abandonment of the nuke program, preferably accompanied by overthrow/assassination of the mullahs, and ideally democratization. Make clear that we will hold Iran’s leaders personally responsible for their hostile actions.

Yeah, we would have to kill people and the Iranians might end up hating us. Too bad. Our fundamental security should be non-negotiable. What happened to all the talk about an axis of evil and about nations being either with us or with the terrorists? Some of us took those ideas seriously and still do. The Administration will get more domestic support if it does not appear wobbly.

National leaders should be willing to risk their careers to do what’s right. Bush is a lame duck with three more years to get something done. I think the American people would go along with forceful action against Iran if Bush explained why it is important. Will he do it? I don’t know.

It seems plain to me that Bush weakens his case by compartmentalizing the war. Are we in a global struggle against Islamic fundamentalist imperialism or merely a war against some bad guys in Iraq and Afghanistan? If it’s the latter, why are we putting our people at risk over there? OTOH, if the war and combating WMD proliferation by hostile dictatorships are really important, as I think they are, we should not hesitate to use force against an Iranian regime that embodies the worst of Islamic fascism and is openly pursuing nuclear weapons. The Administration has a strong case if it would make it.

Bush and his colleagues seem to be institutionally tongue tied. I fault them for it, but they are what they are, we are stuck with them for the foreseeable future, and anyway they are probably as good as any political leaders we are likely to get. Complaining about their mistakes and ineptitudes won’t help, nor will rationalizing inaction because many Americans don’t support that which was never adequately explained to them. A nuclear Iran worries me, but suggestions that we can’t do anything about it and may as well learn to live with it are deeply troubling. I don’t like the attitude. I also think we would do better to force the issue than to allow the mullahs to get nukes on their own timetable.

UPDATE: In the comments, Lex makes a good point about covert-action campaigns.

13 thoughts on “Iran: What to Do?”

  1. The EU3 went hat in hand to the mullahs without addressing Iran’s European, Chinese, and Russian nuclear suppliers. They had nothing to offer that Iran wanted, nothing to threaten that Iran feared. It should have been a signal to us that our allies were at best deluded, at worst complicit in buying time for Iran’s nuclear program. There are plenty of ostensibly friendly actors who would like to see us distracted and weakened, even at the risk of a nuclear exchange. Should we include Vladimir Putin and Hu Jintao on the hit list? How about our dear friend Jacques Chirac?

    In the cold war, there seemed to be a European mindset that one day they would look up and see the missiles going east, the missiles going west, none land in Europe, and wouldn’t it be just too tragic. It seems there is still some remaining sentiment along those lines. If the hyperpuissance has to devote some of its attention and power in one direction, that effectively reduces it in all others. As long as none of the missiles land in Europe, it could be worse.

    Whatever we do, it is clear we will be acting alone. We and Israel are the targets, so the problem is not an urgent one for Europe. And I’m sorry to say that we will probably not be able to wage war on the cheap, as you propose.

  2. European nations are targets too. They are closer to Iran than we are, and their weakness invites blackmail.

  3. I don’t think your proposal is politically feasible, without regard to what in the abstract I would like us to do. The public here won’t buy it. They got burned once on an optional war started by us. They are not going to buy another one. Bush and his team simply no longer have the credibility. Paul Wolfowitz in the Atlantic said that the whole WMD issue was “legal cover” for an attack that was fundamentally about democratizing Iraq. I was a strong supporter of the war because I believed Bush, et al. Had I known what Wolfowitz said in the Atlantic I would not have supported the war. Well, that effort has consumed essentially all of our military and political capital and there is none left for the real nuclear challenger, Iran. I blame the administration for this state of affairs.

  4. Another thought occurs to me. If the Administration were going to engage in a campaign of sabotage and assassination, and if it believed such a campaign could be effective, the last thing it would do is announce it. What they would do is negotiate, keep it low key, let the Iranians believe that they could get a deal from us, keep them from getting too alert. So, maybe we really are going to do it that way. Mysterious explosions in Iran would be good news.

  5. I don’t know if it’s politically feasible, but I’m more optimistic than you are. First of all, I am not convinced that most Americans think the Bush administration deceived them to gain support for the Iraq invasion. I think Bush was operating in good faith with limited information, that the war is about more than WMD and that many Americans know it. Second of all, even if Bush lied to get us into Iraq, and then screwed up the whole thing (again, I don’t agree with these propositions), reasonable people can still see that Iran poses a very serious problem that probably can’t be ignored until the next president takes office. There is a strong public case to be made that it is most important for the USA to act soon.

    Can Bush make that case? Who knows. As I mentioned in my email to you, this is an issue where all of the options are bad and I hope we get lucky.

  6. I am very sceptical of the overall effectiveness of covert activity. Removing key players rarely, if ever, alters the course of policy of a nation. It’s just as likely that blowback will result, creating problems even bigger than those you set out to combat.

    Consider the example of Ike Eisenhower’s attempt to use covert action against Iran in the 1950’s. Mohammed Mossadeq, the anti-British, anti-American, ultranationalist Prime Minister of Iran’s parliament was removed in coup backed by the US. The Pahlavi family, friendly to US and British interests, was able to retain control of the armed forces and regain control of the oil industry, powers which had been removed from the Shah by parliament. The political fallout from that “covert” activity has poisoned political relations for the US all over the world for decades. One could argue the Iranian revolution and viciously anti-American regimes that have replaced the Shah’s dynasty are at least partly a result of that interference.

  7. I dropped by here last Fall and said that just the possibility we went to Iraq for politics was enough to turn me, an old Republican, against this administration. I was sorta scolded for predicting that we would soon declare victory and leave behind both our aspirations and those who took risks to help us. It is always so… but I could not imagine that the pricks who created this mess would be rewarded with the World Bank and the UN ambassadorship. this is out there in “Daily Show” territory. Is the President totally cut off from balanced advice?

    More on topic, I agree that we should act very directly to disrupt Iran’s nuke program – directly but not “on the record”. We can apply a lot of persuasive force without dragging a clumsy and vulnerable logistic/institutional tail behind us. If the disruption surprises us and attracts indigenous support, we can exploit that too; if not, we are not overextended into a “moral war” (talk about oxymorons!) that weakens the fabric of our forces and our domestic support. I don’t see much downside to acting – these people could not hate us or take a great deal more action than they already do.

  8. “Well, that effort has consumed essentially all of our military and political capital and there is none left for the real nuclear challenger, Iran.”

    On the other hand, not going into Iraq would have made it more difficult to act against Iran for logistical reasons. On balance, I’d say we’re in a better position to counter Iran than we would have been without acting to build a strong presence in Iraq.

  9. Jonathan,

    If covert actions are enough to derail Iran’s nuclear program then neither you or Wretchard have anything to fear.

    On the other hand if, as others claim and I suspect, a more direct military endeavor is required then it seems the Bush administration does not have the needed credibility with Americans to carry this through.

  10. Whenever a terrorist attacks a U.S. interest, be it a convoy, military post etc in Iraq or anywhere else in the world that involves the U.S. it should be taken out on the terrorists country of origin. Of course we can forewarn the world that this is our new plan. Let the terrorist’s countries reign them in or the country will pay a steep price.

  11. The problem with this idea Bronson, is that so many of these outsiders in Iraq come from the KSA. What shall we attack there? Their oil refineries?

  12. I am sanguine about our chances to reform Iran without some tragedy occuring first.

    Just as multiple injuries or deaths must occur at a rural iintersection before a stop-light is erected there, I fear a nuke will have to go off in London or Trenton, NJ before we can act with full force and focus against Iran’s mullahcracy.

    It took thousands of deaths on American soil to finally act against the Taliban, when most of us knew action was needed when the SOB’s started blowing up ancient Buddhist statues.

    It’s difficult to rally the nation, unless it’s bleeding.

  13. Lex, we needed an exit strategy from Iraq years prior to 911. Gulf War 2, interestingly, is our exit strategy. We now know that sanctions never could have worked and the no fly zones were not long term options. Those who continue to criticize W for ousting Saddam often forget that our options were undercut by our allies.

    I expect to be stabbed in the back by Russia and China but not by free nations. I blame EUnuchstan, the UN and western ‘progressives’ for making the ousting of Saddam by force inevitable.

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