I have long been an advocate of the “soft kill” on Iran (i.e. here, here, here and here). The government there is at odds with its people, and has shown signs of decay for some time now. The Mullah regime that came in in 1979 is in its Brezhnevite phase of sclerotic senility, as Zenpundit recently opined. This recent piece from Foreign Policy describes in detail how Ahmadinejad’s regime is crumbling. The reason he is ratcheting up the rhetoric is that a foreign war is the only thing that can keep him in power. The conclusion:
… the only thing that could save him now is the United States. Nobody knows this better than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. As his support within Iran has evaporated, he has cranked up the anti-American rhetoric, and the U.S. military has publicly accused the Pasdaran of arming insurgents in Iraq and even Afghanistan. At this point, the only way Ahmadinejad can revive his flagging fortunes is by uniting his country against an external threat. U.S. officials adamantly maintain that Washington is committed to using diplomacy to resolve the conflict over Iran’s nuclear program and its aggressive role in the region. Yet pressure is mounting in some branches of the Bush administration to take military action against Iran. That pressure should be resisted. For military action would give Mahmoud Ahmadinejad exactly what he wants most: job security.
The soft kill is the way to go in this scenario. Embrace the Iranian people. Don’t kill them. Five years ago Robert Kaplan said: “I think it is interesting that the population of Iran is very pro-American, because they have actually had an experience on the ground with an Islamic revolution and it has been terrible.” Based on lots of reportage and anecdotal evidence, these trends have continued. The Iranians have a positive attitude toward Americans and they have contempt for their own government. But they will rally to it if their country is attacked, as anybody would. We need to be patient and firm with the current regime, and let it die of its own ravaging internal illnesses. Containment worked against Russia and it will work against these idiots. Time is on our side. We should act accordingly.
I remember my Russian Civ teacher 25 years ago saying that Jimmy Carter was stupid to pull the US out of the Olympics in Moscow. Instead, he said, the US Government should have subsidized a massive influx of Americans into Russia with duffel bags full of cassettes of rock music, Sears catalogs, blue jeans, and other Western goodies. We should be doing the same kind of thing with Iran now. 50,000 American tourists would do more good than 50,000 troops shooting the Hell out of the place. I hope to God our president does not decide to throw one more Hail Mary pass before he leaves office.
28 thoughts on “Say NO to Job Security for Ahmadinejad”
Indeed. Radical Islam, like Stalinism, contains the seeds of its own destruction. At the fringes, it’s literally suicidal. The sooner the U.S. learns to embrace moderate Islam as the prime antidote to radicalism, the quicker bin Ladenism will collapse under its own contradictions.
Indeed, we can only pray Bush doesn’t aim for an all time record in tremendous mistakes. The Iranians I recently met at the Turkish border were not only friendly, but extremely curious and bombarded me with questions about America (all positive), expressing how much they would love to go and whispering how much they dislike their own government. A number of them wanted to “get their picture next to an American” which I found rather amusing. They just walked up and put their arm around me and someone snapped a picture.
The plan certain worked with Mr.Hitler. Just wait him out, if he lets you wait it out. This is the story of being chased by a bear. You don’t have to be faster than the bear, just faster than someone else in your party. In this case the availability of a suitable target for the Iranian leadership to attack for the ‘international adventure’ phase of such governments. Mr. Ahmadinejad is going to be handed that target by Congress. Iraq. Payback for the Iran-Iraq War, Shia solidarity or whatever is needed for justification. Timing is everything. Who gets there first. Being chased by a bear.
Isn’t this the UN approach. Don’t do anything and hope for a positive outcome? Number of successful coups, number of unsuccessful coups? The tally sheet isn’t very good. It comes down to a lot of things in life. We really really don’t want to do things because they’re messy and nasty, even though we know it needs to be done. Let someone else do it. Problem is, there is no one else.
Hitler is not equal to Ahmadinejad. There were no opposition parties in the Third Reich, Hitler was popoular until near the end. etc. Iran is a weak country, with a pitiful economy, no industrial or scientific base, etc., where the Third Reich was an economic, technical and scientific powerhouse. Iran is not a bear chasing us. It is a country going one way and a tottering leadership going the other, much like the USSR at the end. This is not the UN approach. It is the approach of Truman, Eishenhower, etc. It containment and nuclear deterrence — in this case UNILATERAL assured destruction — and it won the Cold War without a war against Russia and it will beat the Iranian mullahs and liberate their people the same way. As to “don’t do anything”, read what I said, and read my other posts. Iraq turned out to be a terrible mistake for the USA. Iran would be far, far worse. As to their being “no one else”, there isn’t even us. We don’t have the means to conquer and occupy Iran, so it would be insane to try. “Surgical strikes” against “WMD sites” is a comical idea in light of the “WMD sites” in Iraq that we could not find even when we occupied the place.
Soft kill is great if it works.
Remember, 50000 tourists means (1)an improved economy, reducing at least one of the pressures on the regime, and (2)additional government revenue which can (and will) be used to acquire more nuclear and missile technology.
The “Soft Kill/Hard Kill” dyad arose out of discussion on Thomas Barnett’s blog. It may sound a little wimpy to talk about a “soft kill”. The noun is still “kill”. The target to be killed is the Mullah regime. The means are at issue.
The United States has suffered at the hands of what are called Fourth Generation Warfare opponents for some time now. Iran presents us with the opportunity to wage 4GW ourselves. John Boyd said that war is fought on the moral, mental and physical planes, and that the physical is the least important and least decisive. The Mullah regime is morally and intellectually bankrupt. It needs to be attacked on that level. The end game is something like 1989, where there are no NATO troops on the street, but the Warsaw Pact evaporates. A strong background military threat is imperative.
The phrase “soft kill” sounds wimpy and passive. It arose out of the hard kill / soft kill terminology that Thomas Barnett has been using. I elaborate this in my other posts. It is not passivity. The noun is still “kill”, which as verb implies action. The thing to be killed is the mullah regime. The point is to wage the struggle on the planes where the enemy is weakest. John Boyd said war is waged on three levels, moral-mental-physical, and that the physical is the weakest and least decisive. The Iranian mullah regime is morally and intellectually bankrupt. We should be putting maximum pressure on them. The USA has suffered at the hands of clever Fourth Generation Warfare opponents for decades now. The USA should be waging 4GW against the mullahs. Blowing the place up will weaken our position. The goal is not 1945, with our tanks parked in the rubble. The goal is 1989, where the people get rid of the regime and become our friends and allies, with no NATO troops in sight. We should turn lemons into lemonade. We cannot attack the place successfully. We should skip that phase. As to David’s point, I see Iranian possession of nuclear weapons as inevitable. The only worthwhile question is what type of regime will it be.
I see Barnett linked to me.
He summarizes my position very well: “The soft kill isn’t about being passive, just non-kinetic.” Amen.
Of course what you say makes sense, but I’m curious about what the equivalent of
a massive influx of Americans into Russia with duffel bags full of cassettes of rock music, Sears catalogs, blue jeans, and other Western goodies. We should be doing the same kind of thing with Iran now. 50,000 American tourists would do more good than 50,000 troops shooting the Hell out of the place
Can we wander into this country en mass? How free are we to (and how ineffective are we at) broadcast our message into their midst? These are people whose revolution was powered by xerox machines – now, I assume, they have cell phones that can take short movies, lap top computers. Surely they are still saavy about technology, but how can we help make these more accessible? Would opening relations with them and sending Condi Rice there regularly do what you want? Or send the wrong message? Sure there are a lot of problems with war, but diplomacy, too, needs consistency and wisdom. Is America likely to maintain consistency?
And how much does this mean we expect Israel to take this gamble – a country with a good deal to lose if things go awry. How much would the whole balance be upset if they decided to take those threats seriously?
When I was young I knew many Iranians, since they were in schools throughout the midwest. Some of them stayed here but I assume they are also scattered around Iran. They must have to some extent accepted what happened not just in 1979 (few had great affection for the Shah) but in the years after. Are these the core that is more pro-Western – or not?
“Can we wander into this country en mass?”
You can visit Iran. Start your research here. We should encourage as many people as possible to do so. I literally mean that the government should unilaterally declare a “friendship with the Iranian people” tax deduction for travel there. The entire Soviet dissident movement grew out of a youth gathering in the late 1950s in Moscow which was supposed to be a Soviet propaganda ploy. But so many kids from the USA and Europe came to it that the KGB was swamped and you had thousands of western kids wandering around in Moscow unsupervised. From such small cracks do the great fissures that bring down the tyranny begin.
Iran is not nearly as oppressive as our “ally” Saudi Arabia, from what I hear.
“And how much does this mean we expect Israel to take this gamble … .”
I really don’t care what Israel thinks about it. I care about the United States and what is good for the United States. Israel is a powerful country. If they think Mr. Ahmadinejad really is the new Hitler, I think they are wrong. They make their own decisions. They are free to attack Iran with their nuclear weapons if they think they need to do that. Or, to rely on their nuclear weapons to serve as a deterrant. I think the latter course is the only sane one. They would be wise to stop the ambiguity and openly declare they have these weapons and that they will use them. It would help to keep the peace. Israel’s long-term interest is best served by a changed government in Iran, which is precisely what I am suggesting should be our aim.
As I have said previously, in a post linked-to above, we should make a public and express threat to annihilate Iran if it attacks anyone with a nuclear weapon. That would help to keep the peace.
Hard deterrance keeps the peace. 4GW attacks on the regime will lead to its replacement.
We maintained consistency against Soviet Russia. We could do the same with Iran. Iran is a much, much weaker opponent.
I assume Iranians are not so much pro-Western as pro-Iranian, and they are sick of their corrupt, stupid, dogmatic, incompetent government and want it gotten rid of. I don’t care if they like the USA. Why should they? If they do, that is icing on the cake. I care that they act sanely in the interests of Iran. If they do that, we have a basis for a mutually beneficial arrangement. The mullah regime has to go for that to happen. Fortunately, from everything I hear, it is totally discredited.
The Iranian travel link is here.
Lex, with all due respect (for you), your Russian civ teacher was talking nonsense.
The failure of Russian Olimpics’80 was a tremendous event, still remembered in the country (very recently the topic popped up again, what with the Putin’s “win” of the Olimpics’2014 in Sochi). Olimpics was concieved as propagandist triumph of Soviet system, with enormous funds wasted, since after US example not many world countries decided to participate. It had a huge impact, not only on finance, but on national self-image: if the US and the world despises us so much, maybe what we read in Pravda every day isn’t exactly true? I’d say, that was one of the triggers of popular opinion turned to follow dissidents, rather than the establishment.
With all due respect, it is not clear that what happened was better than the alternative my professor suggested. Flooding Moscow with thousands of westerners may have had a strong positive impact, and been another source of eye-opening for the people in Russia. But, since I hate Jimmy Carter so much, and think he was wrong about everything, I am glad to hear that at least this one initiative of his had a good impact.
The main point is that more not less contact between Iranians and Americans and others is what we need to see. After all, Iran actually has real elections. It is an authoritarian state, certainly, but not a Stalinist tyranny like Iraq under Saddam was. It is capable of evolutionary change. This recent, fascinating opinion poll (click on link at bottom of top paragraph) suggests that the public there is fed up with the current government. We ought to be holding out carrots as well as sticks.
You’re probably right about Iran, Lex, but the problem is, if we don’t do something to stop Iranian interference in Iraq, we’ll lose there. As Don suggests, victory in Iraq could prop up the Iranian mullahs for years. Of course, I’m assuming Iraq is still winable (or, at least, salvagable). Perhaps you don’t share that assumption.
“…do something to stop Iranian interference in Iraq…”
What? Iraq is a majority Shia country. The Arab Shia are not automatically allies of Iran, but they are going to align with Iran against the Sunni in the region. By destroying Saddam’s regime, we set that process in motion. Whether anyone in Washington, DC thought about it before we invaded is another question. What we need to do is get the Iraqis sufficiently strong that they can police their own borders. Can that be done? I don’t know. Gen. Petraeus is cautiously optimistic in his pronouncements. Maybe he is telling the truth. I do not know if something can be salvaged in Iraq. I hope so. Time will tell. I make no predictions. WE should try to get the best result we can there. The next president will either pull our people out or build down our presence greatly. So, Bush has a little over a year.
I don’t know if the US pulling out of Iraq will prop up the mullahs for years. The Iranians, like most people, most places, are mostly concerned with their standard of living, which is poor and getting worse. The US leaving Iraq will not improve matters in that category. It will probably have no impact at all.
Lex, classroom logic is not applicable to Russia (and I’m afraid, to Iran, too, but that’s whole other question).
Look at the current situation there: the iron curtain is no more, everyone who’s willing and can afford it can travel anywhere, information about the world at large and West in particular is easily obtainable (or, at least, much easier than in my youth) – and you can’t imagine how much people there hate US. They blame West for everything negative that’s happened to the country; revisionists of former Soviet grandeur (which never existed, but they don’t want to know that) are abundant everywhere, from politics to journalism. The intelligencia that traditionally was in opposition to (also traditionally) authoritarian ruling classes and who screwed up given a chance in the 90’s, by popular belief (doesn’t matter, how close to truth this belief is), is generally despised by populace; they are given all kinds of demeaning nicknames. The Western democratic way of life is seen as a smoke screen for Western exploitation of the “2nd World countries – and the popular idea is that it’s better to be feared than to fear somebody else, better to exploit than to be exploited. Again, doesn’t matter that all this is very far from reality and mostly projection on the world their own wounded mentality – this is the picture any reader of Russian media (including blogs) will see. No amount of Levis jeans or student exchange programs will change it, rather the opposite.
Now, Iran. The difference with Soviet Union of the 80’s is that Iran, however bound internally by religious fanatics, is not and never did live behind the iron curtain – they nether have means to enforce it properly, nor enough time to instill it. West is not a mystery to them (neither it’s a mystery to other islamic fanatics, see any terrorist act, including the latest Doctor’s Coup in Britain), no – they know about the West and they reject Western way of life.
By the way, I think you’re are inconsistent in your reasoning, First you propose to flood Iran with American tourists and Sears catalogs supposedly to demonstrate fruits of American/Western way of life, then you say “Iranians are not so much pro-Western as pro-Iranian…I don’t care if they like the USA.” Than what’s the point of these empty demonstrations? Africa and Afghanistan are full of cellphones, Arabian states – of skyscrapers designed by Western architects, but did they adapt Western civilization?
After CB I went my on usual rounds and visited Fresh Bilge; was glad to see something similar to my opinion on the subject (especially see the comment by Ligneus).
“…they know about the West and they reject Western way of life….”
“They” being the Iranian public do not reject it, based on everything I have read and heard from first-hand experience of people who visit the place. It is also wrong that “they” know all about the West. They want more contact, they want more information. So, your assertion is wrong.
“Than what’s the point of these empty demonstrations?”
The point is to foment further discontent with regime, to make the public resent a regime that denies them the things people in other countries have, material things as well as freedom. It is also about building up person-to-person contacts for the period when the regime changes, both the crisis period, which may or may not be violent, and the period afterward when the new regime is establishing itself and will need help and money. The goal here is to lay the foundation for the day when the mullahs are being driven from power, and to be able to assist in that process, then lock in the result.
I am not being inconsistent. From my perspective, the goal of all this is to destroy a regime that is a potential threat to the United States and its allies — to kill the mullah regime. Whether or not Iranians like Americans is not a goal, at best it is a means. Affection or sentiment are weak forces in international politics. We need a sane government in Iran that will deal with us based on mutual interest.
I read your first paragraph twice and see what it has to do with anything.
While America and Iran have even less in common than Nazi Germany and Iran, Ahmadinejad has more in common with George W. Bush than with Hitler.
Both appeal to their country’s undereducated rural traditionalists, while being widely reviled by more educated urbanites. If one lives in New York or Los Angeles, it’s hard to find anyone with something good to say about George Bush. If you live in the rural Bible belt, it’s hard to find someone with anything bad to say about the president. So it is with Ahmadenijad: a traveler to Iran’s cities finds the vast majority of ordinary people despise him, yet he keeps getting elected…
Both Ahmadenijad and Bush are brinksman who believe that their geopolitical opponents are not rivals at cross purposes, but evil people on the wrong side of God.
Both men are famously inarticulate.
Both have ended up on more or less the same side in the Iraq war…, though we have to say in Bush’s case that was never the plan…
It has to do with your assertions which are wrong. They are wrong about Russia, they are wrong about Iran. What is now the attitude in Russia could happened in Iran, but in much more savage ways.
Oh, and btw, those “thousands western youths wandering around Moscow w/o control from KGB” who supposedly were such eye-openers for Russians: 1) they were shadowed by KGB 2) all they had accomplished was to change fashions, from trouser cut to jazz. No more. Definitely not enough to turn the minds towards Western way. If any contact with Westerners made an impact, it was russian soldiers walking through Germany during last year of the War. And if any Americans made an impact, it were American troupes in Europe where they fought alongside Soviet Army. Not the sales pitch, but actions.
Also, if you allow Iranians to care for their own interests, same rule should be applied to US. We should care less whether Iranians approve of us and our way of life – we have out own interests to defend. Why wait till Iranians will acquire the bomb? Common sense dictates – it’s better, more economical in terms of saved human lives to pinpoint the facility now, before they get it, than wait any further. If Israel would not bomb the Ozirak, Iraq would be much bigger threat, and much sooner.
The war is already on, there is no more time for diplomacy.
Maybe this post will convince you, it expresses the thought in much better English.
Apparently, people need thing explicitly laid out for them. Mr. A is not Mr. H., rather a convenient tag to represent a point of reference for the manifestation of power and authority exercised by and for the interests of a group. Whether it’s the mullahs behind the Ahmadinejad or the man himself, they represent a centralized state control mechanism driven by ideology or religious zealotry. All others are heretical. The internal security mechanism in both cases is not concerned about humanity but the exercise and obedience to those in power. Both lacked constraints on to the limits they’d apply to keep that power which is executed, literally, by a sufficient force of ’true believers’. The collapse of the Soviet Empire occurred when elements within the power establishment and the security forces were unwilling to do anything to maintain that power. That does not appear likely in Iran’s case. Who needs gulags when you have God’s authority to chop people’s heads off. Those looking for an internal solution to the problem are going to be waiting a long time. Hope is not a strategy. And it appears Congress is already working their Munich strategy for the mullahs. God’s victory over the Great Satan will certainly be proclaimed, thus cementing their position and authority that much longer. It appears the bear is going to get you first.
One more point came to mind: containment, and not military action against SU was necessary because SU already had a bomb. Iran still hasn’t. War is a good thing, Lex, in this case.
Well, we are at an impasse, obviously. We assert different facts about conditions in Iran, the nature and strength of its regime. My sources seem reliable to me, so I reject what Don and Tatyana say as incorrect. But others will make their own assessments.
I do not know what the Bush administration is going to do. Administration in their last year or two are not usually well equipped to do major initiatives, since the smart people are either exhausted or have left. If they to to war with Iran, very large majorities will oppose it. I will oppose them. It will be “losing the base” on an epic scale. They will have virtually no support in the country for any such action. Going to war without public support is tantamount to losing before you have begun, since public will is the key element in war. Moreover, the military means simply do not exist to take on Iran and defeat it and confirm that they have no weapons that can harm us in retaliation, due mainly to the ongoing situation in Iraq. We could potentially suffer a conventional defeat in Iraq if Iran entered the war openly. So, any realistic option of “kinetic” war against Iran does not exist as a sane policy option. We could resolve it by destroying the country with nuclear weapons, but that is not on the table, either. Where there are no means at hand and no political will there is unlikely to be action in that dimension. This leaves open the binary decision: (1) do nothing, (2) wage unconventional war AKA 4GW, etc. I say go for 2, containment plus attacking the political and moral foundations of the mullah regime, much like we did with Soviet Russia, which turned out to be a victory strategy.
I’m done. Anyone else with an opinion can go last.
Don, Tatyana, look at it this way. The US and Iran have found themselves in the geopolitical equivalent of a jujitsu match. Both opponents are over-extended: Bush in military and diplomacy, Ahmadinejad in domestic economics, both in domestic politics. The winner will be the one who can keep from overextending any more.
Lex has already laid out the situation if Bush overextends. An attack on Iranian facilities would unite the Iranian people, bring Iranian troops into Iraq and Afganistan, further overextend our troops and receive no support either domestically or abroad. But an overextension by Ahmadinejad risks a unification of the Arabs and Israelis by a common foe, further isolation abroad, further drainage on the economy and further alienation of the urban populace.
Victory, in short, will go to the cool and patient head.
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