I had this post about the SOTU passage about Iran, last night. I have thought about it a little more, and that means you, dear readers, get some typing from me. Why think about something if you aren’t going to blog it, after all?
One thing that gives me hope on this is something Robert Kaplan wrote. Unlike most of us, he is willing to travel in Iran, and did so a few years ago. He wrote that if you want to find people who really believe in their religion, go to the American Midwest. Kaplan then said, if you want to meet a country full of people who are completely cynical, go to Iran. 27 years of rule by a supposedly religious elite has bled the life out of the Islamic fervor that exploded into the streets in 1979. The Iranian people have actually lived under the kind of Islamist regime (Shia variant) that Osama, et al., want to impose on the world. Been there, done that, want no further part of it. There is sound reason to believe that a 1989 “Berlin-Wall-falling” scenario can happen in Iran.
In the meantime, the Iranian nuclear program is scaring the crap out of everybody. A major divide amongst people looking at this problem is whether you think Iran is deterrable. Jonathan and I have gone back and forth on this on this blog. I think the Iranians will not turn their entire country and 3,000 years of Persian civilization into one giant truck-bomb. For one thing, leaders do not subject their families and themselves to suicidal risks. Terrorist leaders get dupes to deliver suicide bombs. They don’t do it themselves. So much more will the Iranian leadership not subject their entire society to a rain of nuclear destruction in exchange for lobbing one or two bombs at Israel. If the Iranians get a bomb it is likely to be relatively crude and relatively un-deliverable. The USA and Israel have actual, operational weapons in significant numbers. We just need to send a clear signal. For Israel it is MAD — we go, you go. For us it is, UAD — unilateral assured destruction. You detonate one of these against anyone, we destroy you forever. We held off the Soviet Union, which was a much, much greater threat than Iran will ever be, for decades, with a MAD scenario. The Iranian nuclear program only makes sense as political theatre and as a deterrant against invasion. If they use it they die. And they know that.
The most important lesson of the end of the Cold War is that containment was a victory strategy, and that was because the publics in the Eastern Bloc wanted no part of Communism, the Cold War, or any of it. They wanted a “normal” life, and hence were the implicit allies of the West. By the same token, the masses of Iranians would like a better life and will seize it if they get the chance. The idea that we will kill thousands or millions of them to attack the regime’s nuclear program, and force the public and the regime onto the same side, strikes me as unnecessary and wrong. The Soft Kill does have a hard component, the deterrence component, both nuclear and conventional. But you show you are strong by NOT killing people and wrecking things, even when you can.
Incidentally, I do not believe there is any possibility that the Iranians will be prevented from getting at least a nuclear “device”. Whether they will then be able to develop a usable weapon is another question. But diplomacy won’t stop them, and no one is going to invade them, and the Russians and the Chinese and others are willing to help them get one. So they are going to get something that goes BOOM. I am taking that as a given in my analysis.
We do the Mullahs more damage by cultivating a free society right next door in Iraq than we would by launching air attacks against what we suspect are their nuclear facilities. Remember the intelligence failures prior to our Iraq invasion? Iran is a big country. Lots of mountains. Lots of caves. Care to bet whether we really know one damn thing about what the Iranians have or where it is located?
We need to play the long game with these guys. Cold Wars are not won in an afternoon.
The thing that scares them is not US air attacks, which will give their regime a new lease on life. What they are afraid of is Shiites right next door electing their own government.
UPDATE: Arnold Kling suggests a very different approach.
UPDATE II: I had this post with further thoughts on “Unilateral Assured Destruction”.