Amidst all the controversy, one needs to ask. Growing up in the Baltimore-Washington metro area, I spent most of my life with thousands of Russian ICBMs pointed at my head. I’m still here. So are you. Anyone who grew up in Moscow had the same, but polar opposite, experience. Because a nation is armed with nukes does not, by definition, mean those weapons will be used, whatever their dislike or distrust of the those people at whom the weapons are targeted. Which leads me to the larger question at hand, does the prospect of a nuclear armed Iran in and of itself justify a war, even a limited war, for their removal?
Let’s look at some possible courses of action.
1. The “Iranian Question” is deferred to the UN Security Council (UNSC).
This would seem to be a ratcheting up of the pressure on Iran but it is nothing of the sort. It is deferment. The UNSC has authorized war in only two instances I’m aware of, the North Korean invasion of South Korea and the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Deferment to the UNSC is what powers do when they want to appear to be doing something but actually can’t do anything, therefore they opt for the appearance of doing something while doing essentially nothing. (This, of course, is why every aspiring middle power relishes a seat on the UNSC. They appear as a great power, actually calling the shots in the world and all while never actually having to put up and do something really dangerous and expensive. It’s perfect, in other words, for posturing.)
It gets more complicated. The Russians (remember them?) have a seat at the UNSC. Moreover, they are the ones SUPPLYING the Iranians with their nuclear weapons making infrastructure. In addition, they just sold the Iranians nearly a billion dollars of air defense missiles and radars for PROTECTING that infrastructure from air attack. Shall we guess what their vote will be when it the military strike option comes up for a vote?
China, with an economy ever more dependent on oil imports, will not under any circumstances vote for anything that upsets the status quo and makes those imports harder or more expensive to get. The islamists aren’t bothering them; not their problem. To the degree they antagonize and occupy the Americans, well, good.
So forget the UNSC. It’s a society for political posturing, nothing more.
2. A preemptive airstrike by the Israelis.
Ain’t gonna happen. Frankly, this problem is out of their league. This is not like the Osirik reactor in Iraq, which was built above ground, whose location was known and the facilities relatively contained in a small area. These facilities are widely dispersed, often deeply buried, and whose locations are not well known, merely guessed at.
3. Large scale military strikes by a consortium of European powers.
Don’t make me laugh.
4. Large scale military strikes by the USA.
This is probably the only option which might work. It would not be some sort of “surgical” strike however, if there is such a thing. This would mean troops on the ground for weeks at least, maybe months. The facilities would have to be located and demolished.
The political fallout from this would be enormous. There would be no help, no assistance, no view of Americans as “liberators” within Iran. We would be in a full scale war with virtually the entire society. Regionally, we could expect everyone to work against us. No overflight rights, no intel shared, no cooperation. The other major powers would oppose the operation and would seek to cash in on a watershed of anti-American sentiment.
5. Do nothing, militarily.
Doing nothing is always an option that’s often overlooked. Sometimes it’s the sensible option. Would we have been better off fighting a full scale war with the USSR in 1950 when they developed atomic then nuclear weapons? How about China? Should we have attacked them? We were certainly bitter enemies of the Maoist regime and considered them dangerous, expansionist killers of the worst sort. They evolved. And they still have nuclear weapons pointed at us, as we do at them.
I vote for doing nothing, militarily. We should, instead work with those elements who would reform the society. The current leader was not elected on his anti-semitic, anti-western platform. His was an economic platform, as the previous government was seen as elitist and corrupt. I see no evidence for a wide scale death wish among the Iranians or the leadership at large. Any use of those weapons will mean their immediate annihilation as a society. And they know it. And so do we. So let’s calm down and wait this out.