Thursday, July 22, 2010
Rising Speculation About Bombing Iran's Nukes
Rising Speculation About Bombing Iran's Nukes
Many years ago, I was privileged to attend a dinner with James Rowe, one of the "passion for anonymity" young aides to Franklin Roosevelt, original author of the winning strategy for Harry Truman's 1948 campaign and close confidante of then-President Lyndon Johnson.
Rowe described how Johnson tested insider opinion. He would call an ideologically wide range of acquaintances and ask their views on an issue of the day. Most responded as he expected. But when one or two said something he hadn't expected, he would take notice. Maybe things weren't going as he thought.
That memory returned as I read three recent articles saying there's an increasing chance that the United States -- or Israel -- might well bomb Iran's nuclear facilities. One was by Time's Joe Klein, who has been a harsh critic of George W. Bush's military policies and a skeptic about action against Iran. The other was by self-described centrist Walter Russell Mead in his ever-fascinating American Interest blog.
Former CIA agent Reuel Marc Gerecht in The Weekly Standard argues cogently that an Israeli strike on Iran's nuclear facilities would not lead to all the negative consequences widely feared and could shatter the mullah regime. This is not out of line with his views over the years.
Gerecht assumes that the United States will not launch an attack. Klein, contrary to his past views, disagrees. He cites American diplomats who feel that Iran's spurning of a reasonable deal justifies military action and American military officers who say they know more about potential targets than they did two years ago. Also, he says the Gulf Arab states favor a strike, as evidenced by the United Arab Emirates ambassador's July 6 statement saying that it would be preferable to a nuclear Iran.
Klein thinks Barack Obama is still dead-set against bombing Iran. Mead is not so sure. He thinks Obama is motivated by a Wilsonian desire for "the construction of a liberal and orderly world." Or "the European Union built up to a global scale." A successful Iranian nuclear program, in Mead's view, would be "the complete, utter and historic destruction" of Obama's long-term goals of a non-nuclear world and a cooperative international order.
This may sound far-fetched. But recall that Woodrow Wilson was re-elected in 1916 on the slogan "he kept us out of war." Then, in 1917, he went to war and quickly built the most stringent wartime state -- with private businesses nationalized and political dissenters jailed -- in modern American history. A Wilsonian desire for international order is not inconsistent with aggressive military action. Sometimes the two are compatible.
It would be ironic if the professorial Barack Obama launches a military attack when his supposedly cowboy predecessor George W. Bush declined to do so. I remember attending meetings of conservative columnists with Bush in which his words and body language convinced me he would not order the bombing of Iran.
Others were not so sure. The December 2007 National Intelligence Estimate was clearly a bureaucratic attempt to prevent Bush from attacking in his last 13 months in office. It declared on its first page that "in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons program," while conceding in a footnote that "uranium conversion and enrichment," the most difficult part of a nuclear bomb project, was continuing.
The fact is that Iran has been at war with the United States since 1979, when it seized and held our diplomats for 444 days -- an act of war under settled principles of international law. Few in the United States then wanted to regard it as such (though Sen. Pat Moynihan said we should "bring fire and brimstone to the gates of Tehran").
Later the mullah regime sponsored the 1983 attack on our Marine Corps barracks in Lebanon and attacks on our soldiers in Iraq -- more acts of war. Six presidents have chosen not to retaliate for reasons of prudence that have much to commend them. War with Iran would be a terrible thing. But one can also believe, as the UAE ambassador incautiously said, a nuclear-armed Iran would be even worse.
Joe Klein may be right that "this low-level saber-rattling" he describes may be "simply a message that the U.S. is trying to send the Iranians: It's time to deal." Walter Russell Mead may be right in saying "there's a possibility that (Obama) will flinch." But I take it seriously when these two non-hawks say Obama might bomb Iran. LBJ would have taken it seriously, too.
Imagine a Nuclear Iran
It’s been said that a diplomat is a gentleman paid to go abroad and lie for his country. Sometimes, however, diplomats slip up and tell the truth. In response to a question at the hopefully named Aspen Ideas Festival this month, Yousef al-Otaiba, the ambassador from the United Arab Emirates, said bluntly: “We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.”
Al-Otaiba went on to add that, if sanctions fail to stop Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, military force will be the only option left and it should not be ruled out. "A military attack on Iran by whomever would be a disaster,” he said. “But Iran with a nuclear weapon would be a bigger disaster.”
'Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, the director-general of Al-Arabiya TV, followed with an article for the English language edition of Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, in which he not only agreed with the ambassador, he declared the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran, “the most dangerous threat that is facing our region in a hundred years.” He called upon readers to “imagine what Tehran will do when it has nuclear capabilities!”
Al-Rashed then did a little imagining himself: Iran, he said, would soon “dominate … and perhaps take over” the Gulf States, the small, wealthy, Arab countries so tantalizingly close to its borders.
Such an anschluss would not require tanks or troop deployments. As Ambassador al-Otaiba said at Aspen, the region’s leader will “start running for cover towards Iran” once it becomes clear that Washington, having said under both the Bush and Obama administrations that it would be “unacceptable” for Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, had accepted that after all.
One can only imagine that other nations will draw the conclusion that being America’s enemy is less risky than being America’s friend. The implications for Iraq – where the U.S. has invested so much blood and treasure -- are obvious. Imagine you are an Iraqi leader. American troops have departed and the mullahs next door are stockpiling nukes and commanding death squads. What would you do?
In Pakistan, Islamists will advance, while democrats retreat. That will further complicate matters in Afghanistan where Iranian interventions – e.g. the supplying of roadside bombs to insurgents -- will escalate in an effort to frustrate an already challenging American mission. If America does not respond, Iran wins the battle of Afghanistan. If America does respond – well, since neither the Bush nor the Obama administration responded to Iran’s interventions in Iran and Afghanistan in the past, there is no basis to imagine a policy change once Iran’s rulers have their fingers on nuclear triggers.
Turkey’s Islamist government already has moved closer to Iran. Syria has long been an Iranian client. Hezbollah, Iran’s terrorist proxy, will be strengthened within Lebanon, within Latin America where it has been making substantial inroads in recent years and, of course, along the border with Israel.
In that regard: Four years ago this month, Hezbollah and Israel fought a 34-day war. It ended with UN Resolution 1701 which called for Hezbollah’s disarmament, prohibited Hezbollah from acquiring new missiles and banned the group from operating near the Israeli border. International troops were dispatched to make sure all this happened. It didn’t. Hezbollah has not been disarmed, thousands of new missiles have been imported and Hezbollah forces go where they like. One has to imagine this is instructive to those who lead vulnerable nations.
Hamas, too, is funded by Iran. Hamas’ leaders have never entertained the possibility of making peace with Israel. With a nuclear Iran supporting them, their bellicosity will increase. By contrast, the Palestinian Authority will become weaker than ever. A Hamas takeover of the West Bank is possible to envision.
Israel will come under further pressure from both Hamas and Hezbollah, and perhaps Fatah as well. Military responses to terrorism and missile strikes will be denounced by Iran. The U.N. will agree. The Europeans will not disagree. The possibility of a direct conflict between Israel and Iran will rise. Could that escalate into a nuclear exchange? As Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis has noted: For those who hold the fanatical religious convictions of a Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, “mutually assured destruction” is not a deterrent – it is an inducement.
Is there a chance that Iran will give nuclear weapons to anti-American terrorists – or attack the Great Satan directly? That is hard to imagine – almost as hard as it was a few years ago to imagine that a stateless terrorist group based in southern Afghanistan would organize the hijacking of passenger jets and use them as missiles to attack Washington and New York.
Jim Woolsey, who served as CIA director under President Clinton, and Rebeccah Heinrichs, an adjunct fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, recently noted: “Iranian military writings show the mullahs recognize the potential” of launching a nuclear-armed missile from a ship near one of our coasts to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that would destroy “the electric grid and electrical systems across a wide swath of U.S. territory.” The result: “unimaginable economic devastation” and tens of thousands of deaths. At present, we are not building the missile defense architecture that could prevent such an attack. Nor are we hardening the grid so that it could withstand such an attack. We are choosing to remain vulnerable.
The U.S. Congress has passed, and President Obama has signed, legislation that would impose crippling sanctions on Iran. The questions now: Will Obama seriously enforce these sanctions? And will the Europeans help or hinder? If sanctions fail, there will be no good choices -- only bad choices and worse choices. To figure out which is which will require imagination – more than most Western leaders have demonstrated in recent years.
Posted by Brett at 7:31 PM