Monday, September 28, 2009
Eliot Cohen argues there are really only two options respecting Iran: a military strike by us and/or Israel soon, or a nuclear-armed Iran later. I think that is basically correct. You could add a third option, which is sort of option 1a. That is, a truly credible threat of a crippling military strike might convince the Iranians to dismantle their bomb building factories. But probably not. Iran is correctly skeptical that the West plus Russia and China will support sanctions with real bite. A massive military strike is that much the less probable.
A commentator below asked me what I would do were I President, or words to that effect. It's a little bit of an unfair question, since you would be putting me into a situation I would not have allowed to get to this point. But even given that, I think it would be time to put the cumbersome, but still enormous military might of the US to use. An approach like this might work. I would give the Iranians a map, with very good production values, of the many targets that would be destroyed in a US strike, noting of course that some other targets, secret targets, would also be hit that were not on the map. I would give the Iranians a time line to start taking the bomb plants apart in a verifiable way. I would not get my hopes up about that happening. I would let the Russians and Chinese know what was coming, and just to be on the safe side, let them know our nuclear forces would be going on full alert, just so they didn't get any ideas. I would probably let them know this just after they went on alert. And then, assuming the Iranians did not take apart their plants, I would start reducing their military capability methodically, from the air, back to 1850 or so. We would go through lots of munitions this way, which would have to be replaced. Many billions would have to be spent, which would be good for the economy of places such as San Diego, where lots of bombs are manufactured. But that's not the only reason for doing it this way.
It's a tough old world. In spite of all the Obama-foolery, I don't think closing Gitmo and having a cute first lady and a Portugese Water Dog make the world like us any more. And besides, scoring soft power points in the world does us no good if it means we have to sit on our thumbs while the Iranian nutcases, Islamo-fascists, religio-Nazis, whatever they are, refine plutonium whilst they mumble about killing the Jews. What, are they not sinister enough for you? Beards not unruly enough? Not enough truly bizzaro and primitive religious fanatics running about on motorcycles beating teenagers' brains out? Too few torture chambers? All I can say is, they work for me. It would just be our way of saying to the world, you know, if you are a fanatical dictatorship that murders your own people and pours billions into nightmare-science weapons you broadly hint or even proclaim will be used to pursue your mad, genocidal schemes against your neighbors, then all will not go well for you. So be a good neighbor. Don't pursue mad, genocidal schemes with nightmarish weapons of mass destruction. Stick to your knitting. I don't think that's such a bad message for the world to get. If the world doesn't like it, well, maybe eventually they'll get over it.
I'm all for subtlety and nuance, but if it prevents you from using the power you have to do what is necessary, then you are outfoxing yourself. I also think, paradoxically, reducing the Iranian military, the Revolutionary Guards, and so on, to smoking ruins would make our stock go up in the world, especiallly the Arab world. Go figure. Our enemies don't really care how nice we are. How strong we are, they care about. All of our technology should be used to spare civilians as much as humanly possible, it goes without saying.
One thing that could persuade me otherwise is an argument that really, a nuclear-armed Iran would not be that bad. The Soviets had nukes, so does China. Those are both evil regimes and deterrence worked with them. Pakistan has nukes and so does India. So maybe we just train several hundred warheads at Qum et al., let them know we are watching, and hope for the best. Deterrence seems to have worked well with the Soviets, and they were genocidal maniacs as well, at least if you define genus politically. My worry on this is terrorism. Would the Revolutionary Guard pass along a nuke or two to Hamas or al Qaeda? Can we afford to trust them not to? Would not the Israelis have a unique perspective on this issue since they are the ones whom the Iranian lunatics have proposed to wipe off the map? The risks of all that have to be weighed against the risks associated with going to war against Iran. I don't think the conclusion is automatic that the risks of terrorism (including an attack on Israel) are less or more than the risks of a war against Iran. I tend to think the risk of nuclear terrorism is too great to abide a nuclear-armed Iran, but I could be persuaded otherwise by the facts, many of which are recondite to mere bloggers.
However, I do think the conclusion is all but automatic that a strategy of pursuing sanctions rather than an attack (or very serious threat thereof) is just a road to a nuclear armed Iran. Whether we can live with that should be thought about deeply. But I'm not confident that is being done, because if the answer is no, that would probably mean war, and that is something most of us, for understandable reasons, do not want to think about. I think our young President has in fact ruled it out, the Iranians know this, and the rest of it follows, like the conclusion of a losing argument.