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Is the U.S. Planning to Strike Iran Soon?

Der Spiegel reports that "recent reports in the German media suggest that the United States may be preparing its allies for an imminent military strike against facilities that are part of Iran's suspected clandestine nuclear weapons program." It's hard to think of a greater strategic disaster for the U.S. than a nuclear Iran led by the most reactionary elements there. It's also hard to think of a greater strategic disaster for the new government of Iraq, for Saudi Arabia, or for Israel--and Turkey can't be very excited, either--so assumedly the U.S. is getting lots of intelligence help.

CharleyCarp (mail):
It's the people who think things can't be worse that make the most trouble in life, usually for themselves. I can think of a strategic disaster for the US much much worse than a nuclear Iran: a nuclear Iran that has recently been the object of an attack by Israel or the US, with help/acquiescence from SA and/or Turkey.

For the risks of action to be greater than the risks of non-action -- as the VP used to like to intone -- the strike has to be completely successful. So successful that no amount of effort could bring about a nuclear Iran within 4 years more. Can't guarantee it? Than you'd better not go around talking about how there's no worse strategic disaster.

The good news, and I'm reaching here, is that all this talk of preemptive attacks by either the US or Israel is designed to help the EU and/or Russia bring the Iranians to the table, and their nuclear program into line.

The trouble with playing high stakes games like this, though, is that they spin out of the control of the players. If Iran calls the bluff, we'll be compelled to do something. It might even make it harder for Iran's hardliners to make a deal, for fear of looking like they are caving to threats.

And I think that any attack on Iran by either the US or Israel would be a strategic disaster for the new government in Iraq. Iraqis, especially the supporters of the new government, do not view the Iranian nuclear arsenal as directed at them, and for good reason. They think it's designed to deter Israel. And/or the US. I think one would be hard pressed to find much support among Dawa or SCIRI voters for inflicting death on innocent Iranians -- or even humiliating Iran with a devastating strike -- to remove that "threat."
1.1.2006 10:48am
Al Maviva (mail):
I believe the nub of the stories is that the U.S. is attempting to get NATO to draw up plans for a possible strike against Iran. I'm sure that I'm just engaging in partisan hair splitting, but given Iran's postur[e,ing] NATO would probably be foolish to not engage in such contingency planning. It's what military staffs do in peacetime, when not planning military exercises, or polishing their brass and taking PT tests.

I mean at a minimum, if Iran annihilates Israel as Iran's president keeps promising, shouldn't NATO at least have some plan for retaliation in place? Would it serve a deterrent purpose as well if the news of such planning was leaked?
1.1.2006 11:09am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think that this is a propoganda - but not sure if it is ours to scare the Iranians, or theirs to affect the Arab Shia. I suspect the later.

Last summer I waded through The Persian Puzzle by Kenneth Pollack. If I remember right, he was a/the Clinton NSC expert on Iran and Iraq and has written long books on both since then.

He makes a lot of valid points that may not make it in the popular press. One is that the Iranians now are mostly sitting on the sidelines as to our actions in Iraq. They have the ability to screw us up there much worse than the Sunni Islamofascists, et al., are doing right now. After all, there are 3X as many that would be potentially sympathetic as are sympathetic to the current group of terrorists. Second, they are right next door, with a long border to infiltrate. And third, he sees a lot more competence with them. And, obviously, if we attacked Iran, they would be much less inclined to sit on the sidelines.

Let's now talk capabilities. He suggests that the Israelis are not capable of making the strikes for a number of reasons. One big one is a serious shortage of deep strike aircraft. Combine this with the fact that there are apparently a number of locations that probably would have to be hit (they learned from the hit against the Iraqi nuclear facilities), and you end up with a number of strikes with the same aircraft - all presumably over Iraqi airspace, plus the fact that for later strikes their air defenses would be fully alerted.

That leave the U.S. striking those myriad facilities. And, yes, we have the deep strike aircraft to do it, as well as Tomahawk missles, etc. that we could get the job done. But then, we would face a population of some 65+ million sitting right between our Iraqi and Afgani projects.

Which brings us to the effect that it would have on the Iranian population. A majority of Iranians are Persian, and, thus, have a long, proud, history, that really came to an end in the 19th Century, when the UK and Russia spent the century playing the Great Game over Iran. They took turns essentially running the country through surrogates. Then, in the 20th Century we stepped in as the supreme bad guys, esp. with our support of the last Shah.

The result seems to be (according to Pollock) a love/hate for us by the younger generation, and a hate/hate by the ruling older generation. And the one way that the hate part of the love/hate of the younger generation can be fanned is through conflict with the U.S. If we actually attack Iran, we can probably expect most of those 65+ million Iranians to come together against us, and against our projects in Iraq and Afganistan.

So, I would pretty much expect that the sectarian divisions in Iraq to explode if we were to strike Iran. After all, the
Sunni terrorists have been trying to ignite them for quite awhile, and it is only the forebearance of the top Iraqi Shiite clergy, like Sistani, who have keep it from happening. But if we hit their fellow Shiites in Iran, they are going to be much less able to keep the lid on.

Let me add that an invasion of Iraq is totally infeasible with America's current military, even if it weren't almost fully deployed (given necessary rotations) in Iraq and Afganistan. We would be invading a country much larger than Iraq (much at an altitude that would reduce the effectiveness of our helicopters) with a population several times as large, most of whom would not be ambivalent, as were the Iraqis, but rather actively hostile.
1.1.2006 11:09am
socialstatics (mail):
I think Charlie is underestimating the extent to which Iran would like to (and currently through surreptitious means are trying to), dominate Iraq, which is historically all part of Babylonia and the Persian Empire, and also they have the Shiite thing in common. But he's probably right that the Iraqi people don't see it that way. In any event, the goal of a strike on Iran should be regime change, not simply a postponement of its nuclear capacities.
BTW, is it clear that Iran could actually be MORE hostile to SA and Israel after an attack than it is already?
1.1.2006 11:11am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
It has never really been clear against whom the Iranians are worrking to build nuclear weapons, except maybe Israel. Obviously not their immediate neighbors (as in the case of India and Pakistan). Maybe us in the case of an invasion. But highly unlikely offensively against us - given our ability (still) for massive retaliation.

Pollock suggests that a lot of it is Persian pride. They want to be taken seriously, and haven't been for hundreds of years.
1.1.2006 11:14am
anonymous coward:
If I'm a regional power out of favor with the US, why the hell wouldn't I want nukes? (Even without the recent invasion of a neighboring member of the Axis of Evil.) Seriously, there's no need to overthink their motives.
1.1.2006 11:49am
CharleyCarp (mail):
In any event, the goal of a strike on Iran should be regime change, not simply a postponement of its nuclear capacities.

Regime change was certainly one of the hoped for after-effects of the 1991 Gulf War, but didn't materialize. This comes back to my point, of course. You can pray for regime change until you are blue in the face, and do this and that that you think might undermine a regime. To be assured of getting change, though, you have to actually go in there and take out the one you don't like, and then try to create, with active involvement of people recently on the other side, a new regime. I resolve for this new year to take no one even remotely seriously who thinks that regime change could be accomplished in Iran by any combination of US actions within the current configuration. (Now if you want a WWII type commitment -- rationing, yaxes, draft -- we can talk about that).

BTW, is it clear that Iran could actually be MORE hostile to SA and Israel after an attack than it is already?

This too is what I'm talking about. Of course it could be more hostile! Right now, you have factions within Iran that are not hostile. You have a reluctance on the part of the hardliners to go for broke. Convince the current Iranian regime that it must either eliminate the regimes of Israel and SA right now, or perish, and don't you think you might get something different in the way of conduct from them?
1.1.2006 12:05pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
socialstatics

But that is one of the points that Pollock makes in his tome on Iran - attacking Iran is unlikely to result in regime change, but rather a coming together in the face of adversity. In other words, the ruling Mullahs would probably be in favor of such, for just that reason - they are disliked by many Iranians, but not as much as an invaderer would be, and in particular, if that invader were the U.S.
1.1.2006 12:08pm
AppSocREs (mail):
Bruce Hayden makes some important points that I've gleaned through reading some Persian/Iranian history and talking with a number of friends whose families left the country after the Ayatollahs clamped down. It is important to make a distinction between the Shiite-Islamist government that is running and ruining the country and the vast majority of the people (particularly the non-religious elites and the middle class).

Most Iranians loathe the current government and rejoice at those US attempts to embarass and destabilize it which are not seen as an attack on the pride of Persian/Iranians. Quietly supporting existing anti-government, liberalizing movements in Iran is both the moral and practical way to go.

By the way, my Iranian friends and historical reading suggest to me that mutual misunderstandings between those who overthrew the Shah and the US government were what led to the Ayatiollah takeover. No one group was really leading the revolt against the Shah. Ordinary Iranians were so afraid of another US-engineered putsch, like the overthrow of Mossadegh, that the Ayatollahs were able to take advantage of the resulting power vacuum and assume control.

I'd like to conclude by noting that Iran is a natural US ally under a less totalitarian regime. The Iranians are a proud. non-Arab, highly civilized people, with a long past history of intellectual brilliance and tolerance (many of the "Arab" intellectuals we admire, e.g., Al Kwharzami, Ibn Kaldun, Omar Khayam, Rumi, etc., were probably Persian not Arab. The Persians are under constant siege by the Arabs, Russians, etc. who surround them. Their experiences with European powers have not been good. We are far enough away that we pose no threat to a reasonable government. It would be folly to attack the Persian people and ruin the possibility of seeing the Ayatollahs eventually replaced by a more benevolent and reasonable govcernment that would please both the Persian people and us.
1.1.2006 12:12pm
David Hecht (mail):
As several posters have already noted, the goal should be to get a nicer government in Iran. Even with complete success of a "pre-emptive strike", you've only pushed off the evil day: after all--as Saddam proved--patience is a virtue, and the West has a short attention span.

The problem is not Iranian nukes: the problem is Iranian nukes in the hands of the ayatollahs. No one worries too much about British or French nukes: few people other than the principals worry about Indian or Paki nukes. Even Israeli nukes don't worry anyone other than those who deserve to be worried by them.
1.1.2006 12:39pm
Bruce Wilder (www):
What if we strike Iran, and Iran retaliates by prompting their Iraqi allies, who now control the elected government in Iraq, to ask us to get out of Iraq?
1.1.2006 12:50pm
Oh my word:
Attacking Iran would be breathtakingly stupid. The chance that they still have their major nuclear assets in silos like sitting ducks is near about zero. This stuff has long been either secreted away, split up, and/or duplicated. There are probably about six people on the planet who know where all the stuff is right now, if that, and I'll bet they're all Iranian. We wouldn't get it all, they could just rebuild the rest, we would tick off the substantial factions in Iran who are happy with a detente with us, and seriously jeopardize the Iraq situation. Not to mention lose the battle for the hearts and minds across the Middle East and probably give Iran a good excuse to stoke up the attacks against Israel for the foreseeable future.

Iran wants a deterrent against regime change, and they're going to get it, unless someone either ponies up a lot of goodies or somehow the whole world, China included, stopped buying their oil or something. An attack on their mess that fails to get it all done will look desperate, insecure, and weak.
1.1.2006 12:50pm
Henry Bowman:
Oh My Word:

Attacking Iran would be breathtakingly stupid. The chance that they still have their major nuclear assets in silos like sitting ducks is near about zero. This stuff has long been either secreted away, split up, and/or duplicated. There are probably about six people on the planet who know where all the stuff is right now, if that, and I'll bet they're all Iranian.

Well, I don't think this is correct; I'm sure that much of what the Iranians have and where they have it is pretty much known to both the U.S. and the Israelis. That said, I'm inclined to agree that an attack by either Israel or the U.S. would be ill-advised from a strictly military viewpoint, as the chances of success are low. Weapons such as conventionally-armed cruise missiles and so-called "bunker-buster" bombs simply won't do the job, as the Iranians have indeed learned to put their resources well underground. Despite some statements to the contrary, putting facilities as little as 15 m below surface is truly good defense, one that we cannot do much about short of using nuclear weapons, which simply isn't going to happen unless the Iranians use them first. Taking over the facilities and destroying them using paratroopers or similar means is a mighty tall order, and I doubt the capability exists either in the U.S. or Israel. However, the Israelis have surprised us before...
1.1.2006 1:05pm
Mike Porter (mail):
Iran has repeatedly stated their intention to possess nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly stated that when they possess nuclear weapons they will use them to take out Israel. If Israel is hit with nuclear weapons they will invoke the so-called "Sampson Option" destroying Iran and possibly other enemy states. In short, all "nuclear" hell will break loose. And we should be concerned about the ramifications of an attack on Iran's nuclear capabilities?

If Israel is left to attempt to take out Iran's nuclear capabilities on its own, then shame on the US. They woud be stretched to the limit and would probably fail to take out enough of Iran's sites to extend their abilitity to create nuclear weapons far enough into the future. The US can send massive barages of cruize missiles on each site, making sure the rubble bounces over and over again.
1.1.2006 1:06pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
AppSocREs I think is right. Iran is a natural U.S. ally. Unfortunately, our recent history with them has tended to push them away, instead of bringing them closer to us - plus the Ayatollahs running the country utilize us as a bogeyman to maintain power.

Part of the problem, as I see it, is that we have known this for a long time now, but unfortunately took the expedient route of installing and supporting the late Shah in power. This worked short term, but, in the longer term, has alienated the Iranians, who now see us as no better than the countries that did this sort of thing to them throughout the 19th Century: the British and the Russians.
1.1.2006 1:27pm
CharleyCarp (mail):
Mike Porter, I don't believe that Iran is really going to engage in a first use. But I've certainly no objection to it being made completely clear to tham -- as it was to the Russians for so many decades -- that a first use of nuclear weapons is tantamount to suicide. 'We will incinerate you if a nuclear device goes off in Israel, whether you admit to complicity or not.'

The current climate in Iran is going to change, and the current government is going to be replaced. Time and the Iranian people will do a better job of it than we ever could.
1.1.2006 1:56pm
Bottomfish (mail):
Given current conditions in Iraq, I doubt that the stories of a pending US or Israeli attack are correct. There would be of course the well-known military difficulties of destroying the nuclear capability, about which others have commented here. Also, an attack would be, in the domestic context, simply too anti-Wilsonian to succeed politically. The US electorate is already suspicious of Bush's motives in the Middle East.

The statements of Ahmedinejad about Israel, and the refusal to disavow nuclear weapons, have a large element of bluff about them. I suspect the man is probably a mouthpiece; in the news photos he looks stupid and somewhat punch-drunk. Probably the stories in Der Spiegel and elsewhere are either counter-threat or leftist propaganda. The point, for both sides, is not to seem to be backing down. The bluff is more important to Iran than to the US; Iran wants to establish itself as the leader of militant Islam and the possession of nuclear missiles is a vital part of that role.
1.1.2006 2:05pm
Oh my word:
My bet is the Spiegel story is mostly leftist propaganda, or at least how the story is being portrayed. If it's really just NATO generals developing contingency plans, big whoop. I'll bet that's what it is. Basically, it makes the Bush administration look like war-mongering fools, which they would be if they tried to pull the stunt off.

I do not see the wisdom in this being a rhetorical counter-threat, if we have no intention of actually trying it. If we don't do it, doesn't it make us look like we are now issuing vacuous threats? Same with Israel; those guys need to check themselves before they issue threats they can't make good on.
1.1.2006 3:23pm
Justin (mail):
As a DC resident, can you guys do me a favor and ummmm....not kill me with your machoism? I know my side lost, but I didn't know nominating people with no political savy was a capital offense.
1.1.2006 3:39pm
Dave:
History books will judge this administration very harshly on Iran.

Dave
1.1.2006 4:04pm
The NJ Annuitant (mail):
If Iran poses an unacceptable threat to the safety of this counrty or to the safety of our allies, then the needed course of action is obvious, and I have no doubt that we will undertake it. It may be terrible, but the alternative of a nuclear Iran under the control of aggressive, hostile, religious fanatics is more terrible.
1.1.2006 4:34pm
Wintermute (www):
I'm encouraged by most of the comments on this. I have been following this in my post,The Nuclear Club, to which I would refer readers for the FoxNews link to Amy Kellogg's excellent video reportage Inside Iran. Watching her segment on The Younger Crowd, especially, made me hopeful that modernization in the 70% of Iran's population under 30 offers a lot of hope for peace. The FoxNews source on this series, which aired on Brit Hume's show, ought to mitigate conservative suspicion as to the source, although Fox may have gotten more than they hoped for from Amy, who is BA Brown and MA Stanford; and the whole series is not currently exactly easy to find on their site. Enjoy it while you can still see it. OK, I found a link that, if you click on the Video tab, gives access to all eight parts.
1.1.2006 4:35pm
Smithy (mail):
Let's hope we go into Tehran soon. These mullahs must be quaking in their sandals after they saw what happened to Saddam. Given the relatively low cost and casualty rate of Iraq, I see no reason why we shouldn't do Iran, then Syria, then possibly North Korea. Freedom is on the march.
1.1.2006 5:36pm
minnie:
History is linear. Science is geometric. It won't be too many more years before the majority of major countries have nuclear capabilities. What are we supposed to do? Invade them all?

Better to sit tight, win the battle of ideas by acting with integrity and defending capitalism as the only moral system of government, and let the Internet, with all its interactive bringing together of the youth from various nations, do its magic. An American teenager who plays regular chess online with an Iranian teenager is the new possibility. Ideas travel at the speed of light. We just have to do our best to make sure the right ideas are the most frequent flyers.
1.1.2006 6:01pm
Smithy (mail):
What are we supposed to do? Invade them all?

Once we've invaded a few, the others will get the message.
1.1.2006 6:03pm
Justin (mail):
I don't know who to fear more, Smithy and his "The Gospel According to Genghis Khan" or Minnie and her "The Gospel According to Milton Friedman"
1.1.2006 6:10pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Smithy writes: Given the relatively low cost and casualty rate of Iraq, I see no reason why we shouldn't do Iran, then Syria, then possibly North Korea. Freedom is on the march.

A plausible start, but don't be pusillanimous. In addition to the countries you list, we should also clearly be invading Saudi Arabia (more ties to 9/11) and China (a dictatorship, major economic rival and plausible military rival in some spheres).

I'm also concerned about France and its opposition to the Iraq war, because as GW said, if you're not with us in the war against terror, you're against us. So let's invade them too. Come to think of it, there were other countries that opposed the Iraq war, so on the same theory, let's invade Germany, Holland, ... oh, let's just say most of Europe (not Poland, though, I haven't forgotten!), Canada, Mexico, ...

Maybe it would just be easier to list the countries we shouldn't invade.
1.1.2006 6:18pm
Fishbane (mail):
If this is true, I suspect it will happen timed with the run-up to the mid-term elections. Hey, what's the matter with stressing an already taxed military, when the House in in play? Someone else can take care of '08.
1.1.2006 6:57pm
Justin (mail):
JosephSlater: England, Poland, Uzbeckistan, and Grenada.
1.1.2006 7:50pm
Smithy (mail):
Saudi Arabia is a valuable ally. Your attempt to lump them in with Iraq and Syria is laughable.

As for France, that might not be a bad idea.
1.1.2006 8:34pm
JosephSlater (mail):
Smithy:

By not calling for the invasion of Saudi Arabia (dictatorship, home of most of the 9/11 hijackers, in the grip of Islamic theocrats) you have shown yourself to be weak on the war on terror. Indeed, your refusal to support this invasion undermines the entire effort. I thought you understood what was at stake, but I'm sorely disappointed.

In the old days, we hanged people like you.
1.1.2006 9:07pm
Brian G (mail) (www):
I cannot see anyone downside to taking out every nuclear facility in Iran. The only thing I keep hearing is that it will "upset the world community" (which to me is even more reason to do it) and it would threaten stability. I hope to wake up one day soon and hear all about how Iran's facilities are rubble now.
1.1.2006 10:17pm
The Drill SGT (mail):
At the most likely plausible level, this story is very much overblown. As Al Maviva said above, military staffs ae ALWAYS planning EVERYTHING. Especially the strategic guys, because thos plans tend to be very unique, while operational plans and tactical ones can just be reused elsewhere. Prior to WWII, we had war plans to fight basicly anybody with a navy including the Brits and of course we dusted off our Japan plan and executed it with major revisions. It would not surprise me to learn that we have either war plans or "jump in and sieze control of loose nukes in the event of civil breakdown plans" for most countries around the world. These plans for Iran could fall into 4 broad categories:

1. The "In case the boss ever" asks, we can tell him we thought about it and it's a son-of-a-bi___ plans

2. The "we might actually have to do this" and ought to think it through plan.

3. The "good practice for the staff, we have nothing better to use to justify retaining our billets this year" or the War college" academic exercise plan

4. The "we have no current weapon in the inventory" that will penetrate the bunkers" exercise used to justify an R&D expenditure


Now the folks in Israel? They should be seriously planning under option 2.
1.2.2006 12:19am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Brian

It is not world sentiment that I worry about if we were to hit targets in Iran, but rather our ongoing projects of stabilizing Iraq and Afganistan, both neighbors of Iran. Currently, they are mostly ambivalent on our endeavers there. They help a little, hurt us a little, and mostly sit on the sidelines. This seems to be a result of a split in their government - some hard liners want to disrupt anything that we are involved in, while cooler heads see a stable Iraq and Afganistan on their borders as positive. So, an occasional nod to the hard liners, but mostly caution.

The worry is frankly more with Iraq and the 60% Shiite population there. Yes, they are primarily Arab, while the Iranians are mostly not (majority Persian - very different, and very proud of it. One of the biggest insults you can give a Persian is to call him, for example, a camel driver. Those are the Arabs, who were nomadic until just recently, compared to a 4,000 or so year history of Persian civilization).

Nevertheless, there are ties between the Shiite Iranians and Shiite Iraqis. Add to this, that the Iranians appear to have a sizable unactivated paramilitary intelligence apparatus in place in Iraq. The same dynamic applies here. The infiltration of the intelligence operatives was at the behest of the hard liners, while there non-activation a result of the cooler heads of the moderates (and this, btw, is probably a better metric for who is really in control of the Iran right now). And note that they appear to be much more effective than the Sunni terrorists we have been fighting in Iraq - the few times they have been active in Iraq, they have been brutally effective (esp. against when fighting the Sunni terrorists).

If Saddam Hussein were still in power in Iraq, I would be much quicker to applaud strikes against nuclear facilities in Iran. But we will have probably at least 100k military personel in Iraq for most, if not all, of next year. I don't think that we can take the chance that an Iranian strike would incite a sectarian bloodbath in Iraq. Maybe in a couple of years, if and when both their democracy and their security forces are stronger.
1.2.2006 2:56am
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
One other point that Pollock makes in his book is that there is probably a lot lower danger with Iranian nuclear weapons than there was with Saddam Hussein having them. Pollock paints Saddam as stupid crazy. Every year or two during his entire reign, he would do something extremely stupid and adventuresome, including all through the cease fire, etc. that ended the first Gulf War. Indeed, as well as shooting at our planes enforcing the No-Fly Zone, in 2000, he tried moving an army corp up towards Syria for an invasion of Israel. And what did he think president Clinton would have done if he had been successful in assasinating Clinton's predecessor? My guess would be nukes for each of Saddams palaces as a response, given Clinton's apparent preference for air power over soldiers on the ground.

Saddam was periodically in talks with terrorists, and yes, most notably Al Qaeda, about giving them WMD. And, thus, if he ever had managed to get nukes, there was the real possibility that he might have given such to terrorists too. Luckily for all concerned, this was thwarted, first by the Israelis, and later by inspections.

The Iranians though have shown every indication of realizing and fully understanding that we have far and away more nuclear capabilities than they could hope to achieve in the forseeable future, plus the delivery systems to precision target them throughout Iran with impunity. And that we would not hesitate (esp. the present President Bush) to employ them if Iranian nukes were used offensively, whether by Iran, or by terrorists supplied by Iran. And we most likely have the technical capabilities to determine the origin of detonated nuclear weapons - we clearly could do that with Soviet weapons better than a decade ago (yes, that was easier, but we do have the best nuclear science capabilities in the world today, and everyone knows it).

So, why Iranian nuclear ambitions? Pollock seems to believe that they are a result of Iranian inferiority / superiority complexes. First, remember my often repeated point that Iran is suffering from some 200 years of western colonial occupation, being treated as a pawn in the Great Games of the 19th and 20th centuries. This is galling to a people who see themselves as descendants of the great Persians of antiquity. With nuclear weapons, they feel they would no longer be that pawn, but would have to be respected as a real power. So, we are mostly talking Persian pride here. Also, it would give us pause in militarily invading them, which would give them added pride, plus, potentially, a bit of perceived security.

Of course, this doesn't address what their joining the Nuclear Club would do to the rest of the Middle East. Would the Saudis really be happy with a resurgent Persian influence in the region? Probably not. And, then again, there is Israel.
1.2.2006 3:29am
Splunge (mail):
You don't need to target Iranian weapons systems. You can just target the much more fragile industrial complex that builds them. The possession of a few nuclear explosives is of very little long-term consequence -- it's the possession of the ability to build them that's interesting.

That said, I think it's a great idea that the mullahs are trying to build nukes, and I wouldn't lift a finger to dissuade 'em. Fact is, nuclear weapons are by and large a seductive trap, and possessing them tends to tie your hands more than liberate you to bestride the world like a Colossus. Aside from winning the war in the Pacific in 1945, they haven't done much good for the US, have they? We've gotten a lot more mileage out of superior conventional weapons, space assets, an agile and highly-trained military, and the ability to deploy world-wide very quickly.

For a small country they're even more of a disaster, as the Pakistanis have found out. At first it seems like you'll be able to push your neighbors around, but then you realize that any neighbors you can't already push around are just going to build their own nukes as soon as they find out you've got them. Then you're back to square zero. Or rather, square minus one, since now you've got to give up all those border incidents, accidents and skirmishes, because you can't afford to take the chance they'll go nuclear. It's no coincidence that the Pakistani-India border has been at its most peaceful ever since the two sides acquired fission bombs.

If the mad mullahs were cultivating bioweaponry, or developing a launch capacity to go after satellites, then I'd worry a little bit. But if they want to spend their citizens' patrimony buying very expensive and delicate toys that can only rust uselessly in the desert, that's OK by me. Have fun, fellas.
1.2.2006 9:27am
Smithy (mail):
But if they want to spend their citizens' patrimony buying very expensive and delicate toys that can only rust uselessly in the desert, that's OK by me.

These people want to kill us. And you're happy to let them have nukes? That's pre-911 thinking if I ever heard it. Oceans can't protect us anymore.
1.2.2006 10:03am
NickM (mail) (www):
MAD worked because the leaders of the countries involved (at least after Stalin's death) were not mad.

Splunge is right that in the hands of rational leaders, the mutual possession of nuclear weapons is a great deterrent to war. Saddam was a highly sadistic paranoid megalomaniac (mad, by a lay definition of the term). [Kim Jong-Il is mad too.] The Iranian mullahs do not appear to be, but there is a danger that ruling power there will become concentrated in the hands of some who subscribe to a death-cultist version of Islam, where their own (and their people's) martyrdom is welcomed for the cause of establishing global Dar-al-Islam. At that point, they might as well be mad, because their thinking patterns similarly take them outside the rational model that made MAD work.

There are so many things that we're not privy to which affect the U.S. government's decisionmaking in this area (for example, what sort of human intel do we or allies have inside Iran's nuclear program) that I do not believe we can adequately assess the merit of potential military strikes (let alone discern whether those are imminent military plans, contingency or eventuality plans, or posturing).

As far as Iran's activity inside Iraq over the last 2 years, destabilizing a likely Shia-dominated neighboring emerging friendly country, possibly resulting in the restoration of a hostile Sunni-dominated government in that same neighbor just does not make much sense from their perspective. It is Syria that has had far more to lose, and it is Syria which has been supplying men, money, and materiel to the insurgents.

Nick
1.3.2006 4:03pm
Mucus Maximus:
Iran is suffering from some 200 years of western colonial occupation

Iran was never a Western colony.

If the mad mullahs were cultivating bioweaponry... then I'd worry a little bit.

They are.

what sort of human intel do we or allies have inside Iran's nuclear program

Gee, based on our experience trying to penetrate Iraq's program, I am not filled with confidence on the state of our intel regarding Iran.
1.3.2006 5:38pm
JB:
It wasn't formally a colony, but it did lose foreign policy, economic, and judicial independence to Britain and Russia. That's enough to give anyone an inferiority complex.
1.3.2006 8:48pm