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  • Decision Time on Iran

    Posted by Jonathan on February 1st, 2006 (All posts by )

    In a comment to this post, Lex wrote:

    If I were an Iranian, I would absolutely insist that my country have nuclear weapons, whether I loved or hated the Mullahs, whether I loved or hated the USA. . . So, the fact that pretty much everybody in Iran who does not want to see their country attacked or conquered wants it to have nuclear weapons doesn’t bother me. I call that common sense.

    This statement does not make sense to me. If I were Iranian I wouldn’t want the hated regime to have nukes, because who knows what they would do with them, what trouble they would bring onto the Iranian people, and to have nukes would be to invite invasion by the USA and/or attack by Israel. Iran is a populous, wealthy country and can readily defend itself and its oil without nukes, especially now that Saddam Hussein is gone. (Who is left to try and take the oil?) The people running Iran are shrewd and know that the USA has no taste for involvement in their country–indeed they are counting on it. The whole point of Iran’s having nukes is to entrench the dictatorship and allow the mullahs to make mischief abroad. They know we’re going to try to deter them and they’re betting it won’t work. I have a lot of respect for their judgment; they’ve been right so far and have played their hand superbly.

    The USA should try to impose costs on the Iranian regime, and if possible topple it and kill the leaders, by any practicable means. Kling’s proposal to target oil facilities is a good one, since the regime needs the revenue more than we need the oil, and attacks on oil infrastructure would kill far fewer Iranians than would attacks on cities.

    It would be nice if Iranians overthrew the dictatorship but it’s delusion to pin our hopes on it. Too many oppressed peoples, from Iraqi Shiites to Panamanians to Kurds to Hungarians, have seen their hopes for rescue by the USA evaporate. The Iranian democrats aren’t going to chance it unless it’s clear that we will back them up, and it isn’t. The only way to make it clear is to commit ourselves to overthrowing the regime, or at least to destroying enough nuclear and oil facilities to weaken it and set back the Iranian nuclear program.

    If the USA acquiesces to Iranian nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other countries are going to want them too. Who can blame them? I think that’s an outcome best avoided, and the way to avoid it is to attack Iran while we still can at relatively low cost.

    As for deterrence, I don’t think we have a lot of leverage unless we are willing to fight at any time. Otherwise it looks like we are bluffing, as I think we are. Ahmadinejad & Co. are probably not suicidal, but then they are also not likely to hang around at any of the places that we or Israel are likely to bomb. They also have a record of brutality toward citizens of their own country. I see no reason to trust the lives of millions of people to the mullahs’ judgment, decency or sense of self-preservation.

    Remember that while the USSR refrained from nuclear war it also supported proxy wars against us in a variety of venues, some of them at great cost to us. And the Soviets were interested in conquest rather than genocide. The mullahs appear to be interested in both. I see no reason to assume that they will not cause us a huge amount of trouble even if they don’t explode any nukes.

    And what happens if a nuke in a chartered airliner explodes in Tel Aviv or Riyadh or a European city? Are we going to nuke Teheran? Even if we aren’t sure of the explosion’s origin? I think the mullahs would have a good chance of getting away with it, and they are risk takers.

    The notion that we can rely for our safety on the sobriety of dictators is essentially the same kind of flawed thinking that led to our complacency in the years before 9/11.

    The possibility that Bush currently lacks the political wherewithal to attack Iran does not lessen our failure of will.

    Related posts: Here, here, here, here and here.

     

    7 Responses to “Decision Time on Iran”

    1. Anonymous Says:

      Actually, I don’t think it is decision time yet. Bush made it clear we won’t attack them. The Iranians now have the option of forcing the issue if they want.

      A few of your comments puzzle me: “Who is left to try and take the oil?” The USA, who else?

      “The people running Iran are shrewd and know that the USA has no taste for involvement in their country.” Bush has said they are part of the Axis of Evil. We invaded one of the other 3 A-of-E countries. You’d have to be pretty stupid not to think you might well be next.

      If I were an Iranian, an Iranian equivalent of an American Jacksonain, and even if I hated the mullahs, I would still support the existing government if Iran were seriously threatened or attacked by foreigners. And I would want whoever was in power to do what was needed to keep Iran secure from foreign attack. Then, we’d work out our own problems among ourselves as Iranians. That would be my attitude and I suspect that most Iranians feel the same way.

      This: “If the USA acquiesces to Iranian nuclear weapons, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and other countries are going to want them too. Who can blame them? I think that’s an outcome best avoided, and the way to avoid it is to attack Iran while we still can at relatively low cost.”

      They are going to want them whether or not we acquiesce. The lesson the whole world learned in the first Gulf War, and even more so with the second war — do not go to war with the Americans unless you have nuclear weapons. And we have made it clear that we are willing to attack foreign countries if we decide pretty much on our own that the government there needs to be changed. It is now a matter of acute urgency to acquire nuclear weapons if you have any chance of getting on Uncle Sam’s sh*t list.

      I disagree absolutely that an attack on Iran could possibly be kept “low cost”. That would be starting a war with no strategy whatsoever for ending it. Iran could do a lot of damage and would have no incentive not to do so.

      I stick with my view. Credible deterrance and push for internal regime change. A war with Iran is not plausible in the immediate future.

      Your best point is that the Soviets waged costly proxy wars against us. If the Iranians tried that, I think we could find many ways to hurt them in response.

      Perhaps the Democrat running in 2008 can advocate a more hawkish stance against Iran. Bush had pretty much walked away from it, or so it seems.

    2. Jonathan Says:

      -Everyone knows that the USA didn’t take Iraq’s oil or Mexico’s or Canada’s or even Saudi Arabia’s, so I doubt the mullahs are worried about being plundered by us (and if they were, wouldn’t they avoid bellicosity?). The USA in the current war has only attacked countries that have picked fights with it or served as terrorist bases.

      -I read assertions that Iranians will rally to their leaders if we attack the dictatorship, but that wasn’t the experience in Iraq, which, like Iran, had an anti-American govt and a mainly pro-American populace. I don’t think it’s obvious that Iranians who have grown up under dictatorship would behave as you might.

      -The Saudis et al may indeed want nukes no matter what, but they are going to think they need nukes if Iran has them, and especially if it’s clear that the USA is not going to stop Iran from getting them. I don’t want us to be the world’s policeman, but for the forseeable future we are going to be the policeman of the Middle East, and I think that we would do better to enforce minimal order than to tolerate nuclear proliferation among marginal regimes.

      -I think that an attack on Iran would be relatively lower in cost than would the probable alternatives. There do not appear to be any low-cost alternatives.

      -The objective in Iran is to halt, or at least delay, the nuclear program, and, ideally, to depose the regime. I think that’s clear enough to formulate a reasonable strategy. We would have a lot to lose by planning our attacks badly, but that was true in Iraq and in any war. The main difference between our arguments is that I think that the probable long-run costs of not taking action now are unacceptably high.

      -I don’t know how much worse the Iranians could hurt us than they are doing now by diplomacy and terrorist proxies. By attacking directly we would take the initiative and shift at least some of the engagement to forms in which we have the advantage.

    3. Anonymous Says:

      “Everyone knows that the USA didn’t take Iraq’s oil” I don’t think everyone knows that. I think large majorities of people in the world think we did exactly that. President Bush may say we invaded Iraq to spread peace and democracy, yadda yadda. I don’t think any Democrat in this country or virtually any other person on the planet believes that. Bush believes it, I am sure of that. But having fervent faith yourself does not necessarily convince anyone else. And, anyway, if Iraq did not have oil we would not have invaded it. So we all agree it has something to do with the oil.

      “Iranians will rally to their leaders if we attack the dictatorship, but that wasn’t the experience in Iraq” I pass on what I read about what Iranians are supposedly saying. I do not think we want to replicate in any way what happened in Iraq. I hope not. Anyway, we are not going to invade Iran, just bomb the Hell out of it. Very few people feel sympathy for foreigners dropping bombs out of the sky and knocking their windows out. And there will, inevitably, be women and children killed, and their mangled bodies will be broadcast globally. We will not get a benign response from the Iranian people, nor should we expect one, if we attack their country.

      “an attack on Iran would be relatively lower in cost than would the probable alternatives” we disagree on this.

      “… think that the probable long-run costs of not taking action now are unacceptably high.” Right, that is our main disagreement, if by taking action you mean initiating an open war with Iran.

      “I don’t know how much worse the Iranians could hurt us than they are doing now by diplomacy and terrorist proxies” We disagree again. There is lots they could do, especially if they thought the regime was in danger. How about infiltrating the entire Iranian army into Iraq, as “volunteers”, much like China entered Korea in 1950? There are all kinds of things the Iranians could do that they are not doing now.

      Bottom line, Bush has signalled that he is not going to initiate an open war with Iran. So for now this is all moot.

    4. GFK Says:

      If I was Iranian, I would not want the mullah’s getting nukes.

      Heck, I’m an American and I was a little worried about Clinton I being in charge of our nukes.

      If Clinton Part Deux gets in, I’ll again be very worried.

    5. Ken Says:

      “There is lots they could do, especially if they thought the regime was in danger. How about infiltrating the entire Iranian army into Iraq, as “volunteers”, much like China entered Korea in 1950? There are all kinds of things the Iranians could do that they are not doing now.”

      And can you think of one solitary reason for them not to do all those things, and more, after their nuclear weapons deter us from invading them in response?

    6. Robert Schwartz Says:

      A lot of thought has gone into these posts, but one assumption that both Lex, and Barnett, have leaned on is that in the end the Iranians will behave like rational men.

      Listening to Amenajahd (sp approximate) gives me no particular comfort on that score. The man is a loon. Barnett has said that it is just an act he puts on for the rubes, but without putting him on the couch in your office four hours a week, I don’t know how you can prove it.

      I have read recently that the members of the Central Committee in 1953 agreed to murder Stalin because they were afraid that he would incite a nuclear war and that he did not understand how badly Russia would be damaged in that event. By the time Barnett learned Sovietology, those days were long past and the Soviet Union had become a sclerotic bureaucracy.

      Iran has not yet reached that state, are we counting too much on the rationality of madmen?

    7. j.scott barnard Says:

      You all forget that Amenajahd is simply a puppet. It is the will of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the Guardian Council that should concern you, not the President. Their very survival depends upon the balancing act that Castro and Chavez have so perfected. You antagonize your enemies just enough so that your people rally around you when the enemy responds in kind, but not so much so that you provoke an actual conflict.

      And given that Americans don’t have the will to enter a long-term conflict with Iran, I suspect we’ll simply allow Israel to take care of the problem. Which while eliminating the nuke threat, will solidify support for the mullahs for at least a generation.