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"Even a loser can win when he's up against a defeatist"
Like many other nonexperts, I have been wrestling with what to think about U.S. policy towards Iran. Mark Steyn has a lengthy, but very interesting piece in the City Journal entitled, Facing Down Iran: Our lives depend on it. What makes it particularly interesting is its attempt at a "big picture" analysis of the past 25 years or so. It is too long to summarize here, or even to select a representative quote. It's a lot more substantive than this conclusion:
Once again, we face a choice between bad and worse options. There can be no "surgical" strike in any meaningful sense: Iran's clients on the ground will retaliate in Iraq, Lebanon, Israel, and Europe. Nor should we put much stock in the country's allegedly "pro-American" youth. This shouldn't be a touchy-feely nation-building exercise: rehabilitation may be a bonus, but the primary objective should be punishment—and incarceration. It's up to the Iranian people how nutty a government they want to live with, but extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay. That means swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime—but no occupation.

The cost of de-nuking Iran will be high now but significantly higher with every year it's postponed. The lesson of the Danish cartoons is the clearest reminder that what is at stake here is the credibility of our civilization. Whether or not we end the nuclearization of the Islamic Republic will be an act that defines our time.
It paints a very credible scary picture, and I am opening comments for those who can find fault with his analysis. ("Bush = Ahmadinejad" is not a credible response.) I am really only interested in hearing civil comments by people who have read the whole thing, not just the above excerpt from his conclusion. And I am not particularly interested in casting blame for the situation, or assertions that Iraq has made things worse. I am concerned with what is to be done now and where, if anywhere, his narrative goes wrong.
Anderson (mail) (www):
Fascinating to see what passes for serious political discussion at the VC. Randy Barnett, a very smart guy who is well-known for sophisticated arguments that legalizing marijuana should be permissible, finds himself impressed by the geopolitical equivalent of Reefer Madness.

Belgravia Dispatch treated Steyn's article as seriously as it merits.
4.19.2006 10:57am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Since he is not a commentor on this site I think I can safely say it: He's nuts.

He is advocating "swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime—but no occupation." That is absolutely batshit crazy. He wants to plunge an already unstable country of 60 million people, that is a major supplier of the worlds oil, into total chaos. On either side of this country there are significant U.S. forces who would be targets for a bunch of people who would be really pissed off at the people who bombed them back to the stone age.

If Mark Steyn thinks this is such a wonderful idea, the first thing he needs to do is join the Army and volunteer to be on a front line unit guarding the Iraq-Iran border in the Shia area of Iraq and make damn sure he sitting on the border in his unarmored humvee with his M-16 before the bombing starts. And all you people who agree with him need to get down to your local recruiters today, because we are going to need lots of IED and RPG fodder to "fight them over there so we don't have to fight them over here" if we do such a reckless, stupid and insane thing.

Oh yeah, and for those of you who think it is a good idea, but think my wife is doing just fine defending your sorry deluded asses, at least send me some money to pay for the $6 plus a gallon gas that would surely result.
4.19.2006 11:04am
Randy Barnett (mail) (www):
I am afraid that neither of these initial comments are responsive. Nor is the blog post to which Anderson links. Asserting that Steyn's analysis does not merit a serious response does not in itself constitute a serious response or contribute to a "serious political discussion." I feared that quoting from Steyn's conclusion would defeat my objective of getting persons to respond to the substance of his analysis that preceeds this excerpt. At any rate, these two comments fail to do so. I look forward to others.
4.19.2006 11:11am
Jack S. (mail) (www):
Post an article from a credible journalist who actually has facts rather than inventing them, and it might be worth discussing. Every time the VC gives Steyn a plug, it is to its own discredit.
4.19.2006 11:13am
Gonerill (mail):
Randy, what's wrong with this analysis is that it's insane. People were advocating the same thing (first-strike against the Russians) back in the 50s, right up to the Cuban Missile Crisis and beyond, because of course the Soviets were nuts, Our Way of Life depended on it, etc.

Do you honestly believe that taking a huge U.S. army (conjured up out of the ground, I guess, like in The Lord of the Rings) into Tehran in order to eliminate the government (who will be sitting around with "Evil Mullah" tattooed on their heads in English), and then getting out the next week is really a recipe for stability in the Middle East? This is just a delusional fantasy. And it would be so even without all of the evidence we have about the current administration's inability to implement such grand plans effectively. Iraq is a continuing, expensive disaster, and Steyn is well aware of this. That's why he is now promising that, with Iran, we can have all of the lovely shock and awe with none of the messy occupation/rebuilding/welcomed in the streets/taking responsibility afterwards.

Let's not even start with the people who advocate a pre-emptive nuclear strike in the name of freedom.
4.19.2006 11:23am
Freder Frederson (mail):
I am afraid that neither of these initial comments are responsive.

Just how, pray tell, am I supposed to respond to Steyn's analysis? His "solution" is no solution at all. He advocates an aggressive, illegal war that violates the Geneva Convention, international law, treaties that are binding on the U.S., and all western concepts of "Just war". Where do I begin a "serious political discussion" of such a proposal? By saying that if the Congress approved of or the President ordered such an attack they would be committing a war crime on par with those committed by Nazi Germany and Japan in World War II?

Don't throw it out there for discussion and not provide us a clue on what your view of it is. Are you defending his position? Under what legal theory, either under international law, or if you don't believe in that, U.S. law and the Constitution, would such an attack be justified?
4.19.2006 11:24am
Jam (mail):
This Mark Styn did write anything new from a neocon mind.

I'll write my comments throughout the day on specific things he wrote.
4.19.2006 11:26am
Steve:
If decapitation with no occupation is such a credible option, maybe we should have tried it in Iraq.
4.19.2006 11:26am
Jam (mail):
Aaaargh.

This Mark Styn did NOT write anything new from a neocon mind.

I could have sworn that I typed that NOT before I clicked the "Post Comments" button.

=============================================


If you dust off the 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States, Article One reads: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: (a) a permanent population; (b) a defined territory; (c) government; and (d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.” Iran fails to meet qualification (d), and has never accepted it.


To choose not to enter into relations with other nations is not the same as not having the capacity to do so. Iran has a delegation in the UN where, I presume, they engage other nations. That is all what the UN should be, a place where nations can talk to their respective delegations without having to pick up a phone or spend jet fuel.
4.19.2006 11:29am
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
"It’s up to the Iranian people how nutty a government they want to live with, but extraterritorial nuttiness has to be shown not to pay."

Here's where the narrative goes wrong. Even *assuming* this was possible(which isn't), this type of invasion would do absolutley nothing to achieve it's stated goal. It would cause a huge spike in nationalistic fervor in Iran. Not only that, the lesson they would draw from it wouldn't be "Oh gee, we best not interfere in geopolitics lest the US slap us down." It would be "Shucks, now we *really* need nukes because this crap never happens to states with a nuclear deterrent."
4.19.2006 11:30am
Gonerill (mail):
Randy, it is in fact responsive to Steyn's article to say that pursuing his policy would lead to a huge destabilization of the Middle East to no clear purpose, that it requires resources which -- short of a draft army or the first use of nuclear weapons -- the U.S. does not have at its disposal, that it would set every moderate muslim in the region against us for generations, and that in any event the current administration has shown no ability at all to execute these kinds of grand schemes in the way they promise ahead of time. Steyn is willing to ignore all these facts, and that's crazy.
4.19.2006 11:31am
JRDickens (mail):
I think the "bomb them to oblivian" stategy is actually a sound one for the defense of the US. Steyn is a common sense writer. The stategies he espouses make a lot of common sense. Either we nip this in the bud now, or wait until it is a far thornier issue for some future generation of Americans.

The US spent trillions between the 50's and the 80's to build a truly feasome offensive capability. We have managed to hamstring ourselves into being afraid to use it. If this Iranian nuke issue is not dealt with very soon, I am afraid the decision to use it will be thrust upon us. It will be either that, or surrender.

As for the resulting oil difficulties, that issue will also need to be addressed sooner rather than later. Again, we have managed to hamstring ourselves into not exploiting the still abundant natural resources we have here in the US and have painted ourselves into this corner.

I think we just go ahead and bomb the crap out of them. Let them pick up the peices and hopefully learn that they can have whatever government they want, but will pay the consequences again and again if they choose one which decides to be beligerent(sp?) to US interests in the future.
4.19.2006 11:32am
Unnamed Co-Conspirator:
In the May issue of Commentary, Edward Luttwak makes a strong argument not to bomb Iran, at least not yet. It seems to be a responsible argument -- it acknowledges that a nuclear-armed, mullah-ruled Iran is unacceptable, but calls for a realistic assessment of the likelihood that Iran can actually achieve membership in the nuclear club. Luttwak points out, among other things, that fundamentalist Iran, which loses droves of its best and brightest every year and cannot even manage to be energy self-sufficient (it imports gasoline because it can't produce it -- apparently, refining petroleum into something usable as fuel is beyond Iran's capabilities) or keep its military airplanes functioning reliably, does not likely have the technical and industrial resources required to produce its own bomb. If that's true, the term of its nuke project may extend well beyond the expected life of its fundamentalist regime. Bombing Iran threatens to poison the environment for what Luttwak sees as a natural alliance between Iran and the US (based on strategic interests, not present ideological leanings, of course). Those who suggest that we take the extremists at their word should not be too quick to believe baseless claims that would lead us into exactly the sort of action which a corrupt and failing theocracy would need in order to immunize it from domestic challenges.

4.19.2006 11:36am
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
The problem with the 'chickenhawk' sneer (comment 2) is that it so obviously applies to the sneerer as well. Try this argument on for size:

<blockquote>If Freder Frederson thinks this is such a terrible idea, the first thing he needs to do is sign up as a 'human shield' and volunteer to be on a front line unit guarding an Iranian nuclear site and make damn sure he's sitting in front of the gates in his anti-Bush t-shirt with his protest sign before the bombing starts. And all you people who agree with him need to get down to your human shield recruiting stations today, because we are going to need lots of human shields to not fight them over there so we can one day fight them over here if we do such a reckless, stupid and insane thing.</blockquote>

I'm quite serious. If 10,000 or 20,000 Americans, some of them famous, were stationed in or near all the likely targets, Bush would not be able to attack Iran. So why haven't you signed up yet, Freder? Too gutless? Or just too hypocritical to notice that your argument against Steyn applies equally well to you?
4.19.2006 11:38am
Rob B. (mail):
Prof. Barnett,

I don't have a sufficient background in middle eastern history to comment substantively on his analysis of the geopolitical situation, but I can give what I think is a brief problem with his proposed solution.

He states the cost to denuke Iran will grow as we wait. I think this is a mistake. Actually, I belive the cost to denuke Iran will decrease as we wait for two reasons. First, the longer we wait the more likely slower acting countries (I'm thinking Western Europe) will be willing to commit mililtary resources to stopping Iran. This at least reduces American cost and overall global cost because we can spread risk and Europe is closer. Furthemore, our military is strained with commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. Assuming all of our military is not equally powerful we would either have to take troops from these countries, send over less powerful forces, or recruit new troops. If we wait we can reduce military force in Iraq, reposition troops, and recruit and properly train new forces.

The objection to this analysis is that Iran will develop nuclear weapons and then we won't be able to stop them. Most credible reports indicate this is a long way off so there is still sufficient time to take cost saving measures.

His list of 5 characteristics about Iran's foreign policy seems to indicate a regime that has huge risk potential. However, the longevity of their policies indicates this risk potential is relatively stable. Further, continuing economic isolation reduces their power to wage war daily.

In the end, I think Iran will need to be disarmed or contained. Containment is probably the preferable option because it has lower costs. A cold war can be won. On the other hand, if it must be disarmed I think we should wait to spread risk and lower cost.
4.19.2006 11:38am
Rich K (mail):
Unnamed C-C, Luttwak's argument strikes as much more far-fetched than Steyn's. It took the US four years during WWII to create an atomic weapon, and the progression of technology and the easy access to information (of the AQ Khan variety) makes it seem very plausible that Iran would be able to produce a weapon in a similar amount of time.

The point about the refineries has more to do with cost than know-how -- Iran lost a lot of refineries during the Iran / Iraq war (thanks, in large part, to the US) and it's cheaper for them to export oil / import gasoline than to build new refineries themselves.

Wishful thinking aside, there's no hard evidence that suggests that either Iran can't develop a bomb or that the regime will somehow implode before they can finish one. Of course, when they do have a bomb, we'll have hard evidence in a large crater in the middle of Jerusalem. Considering the implications of being wrong about Iran's nuclear capabilities, forced disarmament of the type Steyn suggests is a more reasonable course of action than wait-and-see.
4.19.2006 11:46am
Been There, Done That:
None of the comments take issue with Steyn's factual assertions, which are correct.

Iran does not feel bound by what you people consider "international law." Was it "illegal" and in violation of some Swiss treaty to take the US Embassy? To call for the murder of Salman Rushdie? To bomb innocent people in Buenos Aires?

Iran has all but said -- Iran, not Mark Steyn, IRAN -- has pretty much declared it will nuke Israel the first chance it gets. And with its missiles easily capable of reaching Europe, it would then demand all sorts of concessions from the West.

Instead of engaging in reflexive knee jerk "oh steyn is one of them let's call him a nut," I share Prof. Barnett's hope that commenters actually address the FACTS and the ANALYSIS.
4.19.2006 11:49am
Steve:
I don't understand how we ever ended up with a National Intelligence Estimate that says it will take 10 years for Iran to have the bomb when it's just common sense to everyone on the Internet that it can be done much faster. Did the CIA analysts not read enough blogs?
4.19.2006 11:50am
Bpbatista (mail):
History suggests that if, in 1936, the Allies had stopped the re-militarization of the Rhineland, the German Army would have overthrown the Nazi regime. History also suggests that if, in 1938, the Allies had not capitulated at Munich, the German Army would have overthrown the Nazi regime. With these lessons in mind (and I realize the analogy is not perfect), and given the Iranian clerical regime's already demonstrated hostility towards the US and our allies (recall Khobar Towers, Beirut, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, etc.) would not a prudent course be to destroy Iran's nuclear and military capabilities while also enacting economic sanctions and then leave regime change up to the Iranian people and/or military? This seems like a more rational course than merely closing our eyes and hoping that the Mullahs do not acquire a nuke and then use it as they have repeatedly claimed they will do.
4.19.2006 11:51am
JosephSlater (mail):
I can't figure out how to do the link here (feel free to discount my opinion accordingly), but Thomas Friedman has a pretty amazing op-ed in today's New York Times. Friedman, of course, was intially a big supporter of the Iraq war. His argument today is basically this: it's better to have a nuclear Iran than to try to let the Bush administration take military action against Iran, because the Iraq experience both limits our options (in terms of resources and alliances) and proves that the administration is fundamentally incompetent at this sort of thing.
4.19.2006 11:52am
Anderson (mail) (www):
I am afraid that neither of these initial comments are responsive.

I am afraid that Prof. Barnett doesn't know what the word "responsive" means. Frederson's comment was *perfectly* responsive. "Swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime--but no occupation." Drive-by regime change? That is crazy, as in, C-R-A-Z-Y. Or maybe just stupid? They're so hard to distinguish sometimes.

If posters at the VC are going to wave nutjob analysis around and saying "look at this highly credible argument," then they shouldn't be so terribly surprised when commenters say "wow, that analysis is by a nutjob."
4.19.2006 11:53am
Sawnsengbeel:
Not casting blame for the situation is one thing, but does anyone realistically believe the Mullahs of Iran would be so overtly pursuing nuclear arms if they lived nextdoor to a sanction-free Iraq? I think this point is given scant weight by Steyn, and, though I'm a supporter of the Iraq war, I don't think the political opportunity it handed Iran in this situation can be overlooked (as I think it is by Steyn in this piece).

That said, I'm a student of East Asian history, not Middle Eastern, so from what I've studied this situation seems to have some parallels with the regional alliance balancing that went on during the Korean War. If you accept that a belligerent Iraq had been a fairly reliable restraint on Iranian meddling throughout the middle east, than it building a strong, pro-American Iraq seems doubly important. Prior to WWII, Russia's expansion into Asia had certainly been thwarted by the expansion of Japanese power following the Russo-Japanese war. It was an ugly balance, but after defeating Japan and removing their army from the balance, we quickly realized the importance of reprojecting their influence in an anti-communist way to counter Mao and Stalin.

Though I cringe at parallels to the occupation of Japan and that of Iraq, I think the broader need to turn both countries into powerful, independent allies against a larger threat applies. If you're looking for a long term solution to this problem I think you have to look at whether you can rehabilitate Iraq quick enough to make it a credible counter to Iranian power before Iran gets a bomb.

Perhaps other VCers who are more knowledgeable on the subject of middle eastern history can tell me whether I'm completely wrong or not.
4.19.2006 11:55am
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
Jesus. There is approximately no universe in which iranian nukes will be used against Israel. To do so would result in Iran being turned into a glass parking lot. Iran's government has thus far proven fairly conservative--their crazyness has been mostly either domestic or for domestic effect.

The reason iran wants nukes is the same reason everyone wants nukes: it makes you a geopolitical player who is immune to significant conventional attack. This is terrible for plenty of reasons, but the spectre of an actual mushroom cloud isn't one of them.
4.19.2006 11:57am
Bpbatista (mail):
Talking about nut-jobs, Tom Friedman thinks we are safer with nuclear Mullahs than we are with President Bush! Any one who would rely on the tender mercies of Ahmadinijad and Khameni are by defition nut-jobs.
4.19.2006 11:58am
Thales (mail) (www):
Seymour Hersh's latest New Yorker piece attempts to assess the actual evidence of Iran's nuclear threat to the U.S. and makes clear that any serious person contemplating military action to take out this threat (however intense it may be, and it is fairly scant at the moment) should recognize that it will probably require the use of tactical nuclear weapons. Using those to confront a threat without genuinely trying diplomatic alternatives (also laid out in the article) would be a step that the U.S. and the world have been unwilling to take since the end of WWII. Meanwhile, we are relatively unconcerned by the proliferation between India and Pakistan, and even view it as a deterrent to nuclear war. Would someone please credibly explain why the situation in the Middle East is different, without invoking assumptions that Iran is "irrational" in the absence of any evidence?

http://www.newyorker.com/fact/content/?060417fa_fact
4.19.2006 12:01pm
Steve:
The arguments for preemptive war always boil down to "we can't take the chance." Repeat it until you believe. "We can't take the chance. We can't take the chance. We must murder the leaders of this country because we can't take the chance."
4.19.2006 12:01pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Sawnsengbeel's analysis is good as far as it goes, but having the goal of "a strong, pro-American Iraq" is very different from being able to get to that goal, especially with the Keystone Kops running our foreign policy.

As even Tom Friedman has come to realize:
If these are our only choices, which would you rather have: a nuclear-armed Iran or an attack on Iran's nuclear sites that is carried out and sold to the world by the Bush national security team, with Don Rumsfeld at the Pentagon's helm?

I'd rather live with a nuclear Iran. * * *

I look at the Bush national security officials much the way I look at drunken drivers. I just want to take away their foreign policy driver's licenses for the next three years. Sorry, boys and girls, you have to stay home now — or take a taxi. Dial 1-800-NATO-CHARGE-A-RIDE. You will not be driving alone. Not with my car.
Maybe if we didn't do EVERYTHING WE POSSIBLY COULD to make the Iranians afraid of a U.S. attack, then Iran wouldn't be so freakin' eager to get the Bomb?
4.19.2006 12:03pm
Bpbatista (mail):
If Hersh told me that it is day time, I would look out the window to check. His track record for accuracy is not very good, to put it mildly. As for India and Pakistan, the problem is not necessarily that a political entity located in Iran is acquiring nuclear weapons, the problem is the nature of the regime that is acquiring nuclear weapons. The current Iranian regime is an aggressive, theocratic regime that supports terrorism around the world, has perpetrated attacks upon the US and our allies and claims that it will be the leader of the Islamic world in a "clash of civilizations" with the West. None of those characteristics are present in India or Pakistan. Likewise, we are not concerned that Great Britain, France or Israel have nukes because the nature of the governments of those states indicated very strongly that the nukes will not be used except in self-defense and certainly not agains the US or our allies.
4.19.2006 12:06pm
Joshua (www):
Steyn's argument seems to be based on three premises:

(a) It won't be possible for Iran to be de-nuked other than by a massive use of military force against it,

(b) Since the military commitment would be so massive anyway, we might as well try to kill two birds with one stone by giving Ahmadinejad and the mullahs a good hard shove toward the edge of the cliff, and

(c) whatever nasty consequences may arise from (a) and (b) above, it's inherently preferable to letting Ahmadinejad and the mullahs have nukes.

So, to my mind the right questions should be, do you accept all three of these premises? At this point I accept (a) and (b). Not so sure about (c).
4.19.2006 12:06pm
Mitchell Freedman (mail) (www):
Randy,

I know you detest the Bush equals Ahmadinejad caricature, but please help me on the following:

Bush has said he would not rule out using nukes against Iran. Ahmadinejad says the same.

Bush has said he sees this war against Islam through religious lenses in various ways, though not directly so on most ocassions. In fact, Bush has said his invasion of Iraq was decided upon speaking with his "Father"--who he pointedly said was not GHW Bush. Ahmadinejad says this far more explicity, but he is in a far more obvious theocratic culture.

Bush has pushed the bounds of suppressing free speech at events he attends, has pushed the bounds of executive power over the 4th Amendment, and condones (by his actions) the use of torture. I'm sure if I googled a bit I could find how Ahamdainejad has done far worse in his shorter tenure, though I am well aware that Iran's government over the years have done worse before his time.

The point is that the Bush equals Ahmadinejad remains at worst an unhelpful caricature that I too reject. However, I remain concerned that Bush has shown himself to be both incompetent and foolish when he is not mendacious. This is not someone I want leading the brigade Mark Steyn is speaking of. Further, Steyn's thoughts sound somewhat like my initial, now discarded, thought of going into Iran, destroying the facilities producing nukes, and getting out. I did not call for decapitation of the Iranian government for concern that the chaos would be worse than the government. I have also come to the view that the Iranian government says these horrible things about Israel and the West because there is a significant number of people in Iran who are restless against the theocracy, something one did not, for example, see in Germany in say 1938 or 1939.

Final comment: Steyn can't past his own caricatures of the liberal-socialist crowd supposedly embracing the mullahs. If Steyn had any true knowledge of the 1979 period in which the mullahs took over Iran, he'd know most leftists were appalled at the Ayatollahs taking over and placed high hopes in Bani Sadr, the interim president--who was almost immediately run out of Iran within an inch of his life. Feminists were appalled at the Ayatollah as well. Steyn never quite mentions that the great enabler of Iranian mullahs was one particular US president named Ronald Wilson Reagan, who winked at Israeli arms sales to Iran within a week of taking over (which is a piece of evidence that suggested to some that Reagan made a pre-election deal with the Iranian government to have the hostages released on his Inauguration day)--and then of course directly provided arms to Iran through the Ollie North-John Poindexter-Michael Ledeen network. Just check the Schultz and Weinberger diaries to show the falseness of the belief that Reagan and Bush were out of the loop. And as for SAVAK, the Shah's secret police, check out Amnesty International's reports on SAVAK during the 1970s and how they went into foriegn nations, including the US, kidnapped exiles back to Iran, tortured and killed them. Just for starters.
4.19.2006 12:07pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
I think this "analysis" deserves about as much respect as it offers:

And let’s not forget Bill Clinton’s extraordinary remarks at Davos last year: “Iran today is, in a sense, the only country where progressive ideas enjoy a vast constituency. It is there that the ideas that I subscribe to are defended by a majority.” That’s true in the very narrow sense that there’s a certain similarity between his legal strategy and sharia when it comes to adultery and setting up the gals as the fall guys.


How does this state anything substantive? Steyn is actually offering the "[American president] = Islamists" garbage that Barnett himself objected to in the post.
4.19.2006 12:08pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
The problem with the 'chickenhawk' sneer (comment 2) is that it so obviously applies to the sneerer as well. Try this argument on for size:

I have the right to make the chickenhawk sneer because I am making direct sacrifices for George and Don's excellent adventure. My wife is on her second tour in Kuwait. It pisses me off when people who have not sacrificed one iota for this war are so ready to put even more people in harm's way as long as they don't have to make any sacrifices.

Bombing and decapitating the government of Iran would inflame the entire Middle East and such an action is reckless in the extreme. Even if it was not immoral and illegal, it would still be a horrible idea.

Instead of engaging in reflexive knee jerk "oh steyn is one of them let's call him a nut," I share Prof. Barnett's hope that commenters actually address the FACTS and the ANALYSIS.

I didn't just call Steyn a nut. I clearly stated why I think Steyn's idea is insane (the clincal term I used was "batshit crazy"). Destroying the political infrastructure of a country, especially in such a volatile region of the world, and then just standing aside and hoping it works out for the best, is the definition of batshit crazy. And no matter what the people of Iran think of their government, they are going to be even the less enamoured of the people who are raining death and destruction down on them.

Iran does not feel bound by what you people consider "international law." Was it "illegal" and in violation of some Swiss treaty to take the US Embassy? To call for the murder of Salman Rushdie? To bomb innocent people in Buenos Aires?

Yeah, that's a real good eighth grade argument for justifying an illegal war--well they did bad things so we are justified in doing bad things too.
4.19.2006 12:08pm
Mitchell Freedman (mail) (www):
Sorry, the next to last paragraph's opening sentence should read "...at best an unhelpful caricature..." I was thinking of how much I did not agree with any characterization of Bush as being the same as the Iranian leader and wrote "worst" instead of "best."
4.19.2006 12:09pm
Observer (mail):
1) It's interesting that most of the folks above who attack Steyn offer no advice of any kind about what, if anything, the US should do about Iran's development of nuclear weapons. I am left to assume that they fall into the "What me worry" camp, or to put it more politely, that they believe "We can live with a nuclear Iran."

2) There are two reasons for asserting that "We can live with a nuclear Iran." The first is that the Iranians are not aggressive and don't threaten other states. I don't think I need to respond to this. I am not aware of any other nuclear power threatening to nuke its neighbors (as the President of Iran recently threatened Israel.) The second is that, as Rob B. puts it, we can "contain" Iran. This bears much closer inspection.

3) On the one hand, we have the statements of the President of Iran that he would be prepared to sacrifice tens of millions of Iranians in order to exterminate all the Israelis in a nuclear war. We have other statements from him and other Iranian leaders supporting martrydom and boasting about their willingness to die to serve Islam versus the decadant West's fear of death. On the other hand, we have lots of westerners saying we shouldn't take seriously what the Iranian leadership is saying because at heart they are just as rational as we are.

4) So we come to a very difficult cost/benefit question. Bombing the Iranian nuclear program into dust would have serious near terms costs. Iran and its allies surely have the ability to retaliate, from stirring up trouble in Iraq to suicide bombings throughout the West. Not bombing the Iranian nuclear program into dust would have potentially far more serious long term costs, ranging from nukes slipped into the hands of AQ or other jihadists, to a nuclear war between Israel and Iran. Will we look back 25 years from now, after DC or NYC has been turned into a radioactive parking lot, and say we could have done something about this but were afraid of the costs? Anderson and Frederson, can you promise us this will not happen?

5) I take the Iranians at their word and I take their threats very seriously. However, I think we can afford to wait another few months, to give the Chinese and Russians an opportunity to stop blocking action by the UN.
4.19.2006 12:09pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Ahh yes, smear Hersh without evidence. I've heard the "inaccurate" charge before, never with examples, always in right wing talking points fora, like National Review. What, pray tell, has that particular Pulitzer Prize winning journalist been inaccurate about? Would we have known about My Lai or Abu Ghraib if not for his accurate journalism (incidentally, he presents the compelling use of the anonymous source that the press has largely forgotten in recent years).
4.19.2006 12:14pm
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
All evidence points to Ahmadinejad's insanity being mostly for domestic effect.
4.19.2006 12:14pm
Chukuang:
Hmm. I’m not a professional mullah, so I can’t speak to the theological soundness of the argument, but it seems a religious school in the Holy City of Qom has ruled that “the use of nuclear weapons may not constitute a problem, according to sharia.”

And the US obvious believes that it doesn’t constitute a problem for Christianity. Both the USSR and China believed it didn’t constitute a problem for Communism. What’s the point?

Well, there’s a surprise. How do you solve a problem? Like, sharia! It’s the one-stop shop for justifying all your geopolitical objectives.

Replace “sharia” with “freedom” or “democracy.”

Kooks with nukes is one-way deterrence squared…
If Belgium becomes a nuclear power, the Dutch have no reason to believe it would be a factor in, say, negotiations over a joint highway project. But Iran’s nukes will be a factor in everything.
But is the political power in Iran at present more “insane” than that in China during Mao’s reign? The CCP consistently said that it would win a nuclear exchange with the US because it could afford to lose more people. Is there any greater reason to believe that Iran will us the bomb on the US or its allies than the PRC in the 60’s, or North Korea or Pakistan now?

A big chunk of Western civilization, consciously or otherwise, has given the impression that it’s dying to surrender to somebody, anybody. Reasonably enough, Islam figures: Hey, why not us?

My God, where to begin with all the problems here. Does Steyn or an other thinking persona really believe that Islam is a monolithic entity with this kind of thought process? There are innumerable local reasons why these ideas are popular in a large number of placed. There is no Islam as a single entity just as there was no Communism. Cuba, North Korea, Vietnam, China, and the USSR have traveled very different often contradictory paths because they are/were different places, cultures, people, etc. If we keep thinking along the lines of “Islam thinks X” we’ll never get any closer to understanding the pull of these ideas and how to combat them (which I strongly believe we should do).

Ayatollah Khomeini saw himself not as the leader of a geographical polity but as a leader of a communal one: Islam.

But again, does the movement really work this way? Mao saw himself as the leader of a world-wide revolution. He was wrong.

Ahmadinejad is a notorious shoot-from-the-lip apocalyptic hothead who believes in the return of the Twelfth (hidden) Imam and quite possibly that he personally is his designated deputy

Glad no superpowers have leaders you believe that the second coming is immanent and that God Himself had a hand in choosing them to lead in this important time.

So the question is: Will they do it?
And the minute you have to ask, you know the answer.

Why is this? Didn’t we have to think about whether the USSR, the PRC, India, and Pakistan would or will use nuclear weapons? Just because some states obviously won’t, doesn’t mean that we have to assume that less obvious states definitely will.

Back when nuclear weapons were an elite club of five relatively sane world powers, your average Western progressive was convinced the planet was about to go ka-boom any minute…Now a state openly committed to the annihilation of a neighboring nation has nukes, and we shrug.

Perhaps people have actually learned that these fears were not as well-grounded as they thought they were. Perhaps the blustering of aggressive governments sounds less convincing now.

The main problem is that Steyn never really gives us a why. Why would they do it? Supporting terrorist cells is bad, but it’s not a nuclear attack. What would Iran possibly have to gain by taking actions that would injure the West but assure its own annihilation? Most importantly, how the heck would we “decapitate the regime” and destroy all its nuclear capabilities without occupation and without ensuring the long-lasting hatred of the Iranian people and just about everyone else in the region? I don't want Iran to have nuclear weapons, but I don't believe that the kinds of actions Steyn proposes won't result in a far more problematic outcome in a pretty short period of time, and without doing anything significant to stop nuclear proliferation.
4.19.2006 12:20pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Observer, if al Qaeda wants nukes, it has plenty of places to get them besides Iran. Pakistan is to me a very likely source, given the deep ties between the Taliban and the Pakistani intel establishment. Or they could probably get a Russian one.

There is very little evidence that we can wipe out the Iranian nuke program. Set it back, sure. But that will teach them how to make an even better-defended system, and it will tend to fulfill your prophecies about Iranian antagonism to America. And if we use tactical nukes, we are *guaranteeing* the destruction of American cities with nuclear weapons.

Of course, given the proliferation tolerated by the Clinton and Bush administrations, we are going to lose a city or two anyway. Our border security is a joke. If we really feared a nuclear Iran, we'd be fixing that. So, evidently, we DON'T fear it. And the question then becomes, what's really going on here?
4.19.2006 12:20pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
1) It's interesting that most of the folks above who attack Steyn offer no advice of any kind about what, if anything, the US should do about Iran's development of nuclear weapons. I am left to assume that they fall into the "What me worry" camp, or to put it more politely, that they believe "We can live with a nuclear Iran."

As I stated yesterday, we simply do not have a credible military option available against Iran because of Bush's incredibly inept handling of foreign policy and the military over the last four years. When he admits we can't do anything militarily about Iran's program that won't make the situation worse. Only then we can start to realistically address the problem with the only option we have left--and that is diplomacy.

Of course George Bush will never admit that he has neutralized our military, and he is not interested in diplomacy. So our only hope is that we can hang on until there is a competent administration in place in this country that can deal with the situation like responsible adults.
4.19.2006 12:23pm
Nunzio (mail):
Wouldn't Israel just take out Iran's nuclear capability, as it did with Iraq's?

Also, Tom Friedman is a bit short-sighted b/c Bush and his boys will be out of power in under 3 years while a nuclear Iran will be around for awhile. The Bush foreign policy leaves much to be desired (as does Tom Friedman's flat-earth foreign policy).
4.19.2006 12:25pm
AppSocRes (mail):
We don't know Iran has the imminent capability to develop nuclear weapons. We don't know what the current Iranian regime would do with nuclear weapons if it did get them in the near-term. We can reasonably speculate that if the current regime does soon get nuclear weapons and if it actually chose to use them -- either as a weapon or as a creditable threat to back some blackmail scheme -- the rest of the world will sit up and take notice. At that point we could probably act decisively to replace the mullahs with a real government. Of course, if the mullahs actually do get to use their nuclear toys, then all the posters who've been advocating caution will immediately blame the Bush administrations for not mounting "surgical strikes" before the carnage occurred.
4.19.2006 12:26pm
sushizero (mail):
These are the most explosive news of the weeek. It is being reported by Sergey Kurginyan, a very well known Russian political analyst with strong Kremlin ties that:

1. Iran has already gotten several nuclear bombs from Pakistan. It probably happened during last 6 months.

2. Any bombing raid against Iran will have great difficulties to elminate Iranian missles with Pakistani nuclear warheads. They are in hardend silos build with the help of Chinese &North Korean military. Bombing Iran "nuclear facilities" does not make sense because all nuclear boms will keep coming from Pakistan that Bush administration still considers to be an important ally of US.

3.Pakistan is very advanced in the process of manufactuing nuclear warheads for Saudi Arabia, Syria and Egypt. Bush and the CIA do not want even to hear about it. Their policy toward Pakistan was worse than stupid. They have spent bllions of our money on clever con man/general and now Bush, Rice, the State Department and the CIA do not want to admit that they were duped.

4. Bombing Iran is meaningless if Pakistan nuclear facilities will be left standing.

5. All Pakistani nuclear bomb designs are of Chinese &Soviet origin. Non-proliferation treaty is a joke for Musharaf, Ahmadinjad, Saudis and the rest of their crowd. Islamic H-bomb paid for by Saudis is becoming a reality.

6. Ahmadinejad and his cohorts in Pasdaran (Homeini Revolutionay Guards) have created a very extensive list of Iranians (greater than 5 million) who must be arrested with some of them executed immediately after arrest. That will be the greatest cleansing of Iran from internal dissidents.

7. Ahmadinejad needs only an excuse to start the purge of dissidents. This is why he constantly invites US and Israel to attack him and his regime.

The only way to solve Iranian nuclear bomb problem and to save ourselves once and forever from Moslem H-bomb is to strike decisively at the entire Iranian leadership, all power ministries, all military and security structures. Killing 10-20 thousands of those who are the backbone of the regime during the first hour or even the first day of hostilities is more important that anything else.

Every public meeting with participation of the top Iranian leaders is a useful opportunity to cut all heads of the monster at once.
Every religious celebration with Ahmadinejad and his cabinet is an opportunity.

It is utterly stupid not to use US small tonnage nuclear warheads on Iranian leaders since that could be a very hard to forget lesson for Saudis, Pakistanis and Egyptian leaders.
This must be combined with the coordinated US attack on Pakistani nuclear installations, research labs, nuclear plants and missile factories.

Pakistan should not be left as a viable country as a penalty paid for what it has done to the rest of the world.

Arab coastline of Iran along the Arab Gulf that contains 95% of Iranian oil is populated by Arab tribes that are severely discriminated against by Iranians. It should be declared independent from Iran and it should be used for 50 years by US as a compensation for Moslem aggression with 2% of profits going to locals. It should be under US control till 2060 or later.
4.19.2006 12:29pm
Ship Erect (mail) (www):
It's interesting that most of the folks above who attack Steyn offer no advice of any kind about what, if anything, the US should do about Iran's development of nuclear weapons.


Couple of thoughts:

- Treat their claims of desiring only nuclear energy seriously by offering to give them the necessary nuclear technology and operations. We'll set up, say, ten nuke plants, which we'll gladly operate for them. After all, if energy is what they want, they'll take it.

- Then, the through-the-looking-glass move, perhaps unfeasible and crazy, but if invasion with an army that does not exist is on the table, why not: Sell them nuclear weapons. Offer to protect them. They want nukes for defense, right? We're now defending them.

They're expecting the U.S. to be bullies. Why should we play their game?
4.19.2006 12:32pm
eddie (mail):
It's tough separate the facts from the deductions Mr. Steyn's article. But in simple terms, the "war on terror" has created a chimera, the islamofascist terrorist, that inhabits various parts of various regimes scattered across the world. Victory will only be assured when that spirit is crushed and completely extinguished.

Now that is perhaps not an ignoble goal. However, because this enemy has been completely dehumaized and tranmogrified into a spirit and belief, the only available remedies seem to be the total annihilation of vast portions of the population of several different countries immediately: the rationalization goes something like this -- these fanatics (a) don't play by any rules, (b) have no tolerance for anything that is not theirs and (c) once they become nuclear (and is that ever defined, does that mean one nuke that can only be hand delivered, does it mean one nuke that is sent by airmail, does it mean hundreds of nukes) the first thing that they will do is explode the big one either in the U.S. or in Israel? I still haven't really seen any definition of a threshold that would mean they have arrived. So, in truth, actual nuclear capability is irrelevant to the discussion. Since "they" can be trusted in any way, even the peaceful use of nuclear energy is a threat in and of itself. (I would argue that just being is sufficient for the reciprocal fatwa that our country intends to issue against each of the countries

[Please I am not an America hater; I simply do not buy into this game theory view of geopolitics.]

And we're back to an argument that is the oldest in civilization (!?); I better get you before you get me, because this town aint big enough for the two of us.

The real questions about the "long" war is whether we as a people and nation are ready to send millions of "enemies" to their maker. Because the nature of the beast is such that if you leave even one relative of a relative of a relative the jihad will survive. This is the true "holy" war. We certainly cannot be restricted by the restraints of civilization, because our enemy is not. In order to save ourselves we must first determine who we can trust, and only those ready to kill all others without remorse, mercy or hesitancy shall pass that test.

Welcome to the future. And we call ourselves an advance culture that has embraced modernity and left the primitive ways of tribalism behind?

And let's at least be honest that this will be a precision weapon cakewalk and that the Iranian people are simply waiting for us to do this.

There's a new sheriff in town and he does't have to wait for you to draw your weapon or even determine if you have a weapon (since by that time it would be too late).

I guess this is what goes for enlightened discussion of "realpolitick" on a global level these days.

And what djins will float out of their bottles when the the US unleashes a tactical nuclear strike? Unless those tactics include total annihilation.
4.19.2006 12:32pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Wouldn't Israel just take out Iran's nuclear capability, as it did with Iraq's?

I wonder. If the Iranian program is as well laid-out and defended as we've heard, then Israel may not have the capacity to hit them all. Any IDF experts out there?

Israel's other defense of course is retaliation in kind. But given the small size of Israel, that would be poor consolation.
4.19.2006 12:33pm
Houston Lawyer:
The same people who are arguing that we shouldn't strike Iran now will be making those same arguments after we lose a large chunk of New York or San Francisco to a nuclear blast. We can strike now with conventional weapons and kill thousands or strike later with nuclear weapons and kill millions. As Steyn says, we have no good choices here.
4.19.2006 12:33pm
Dave D (mail):
As to justification (as if we needed more), Iran has been at war with the U.S. for twenty-five years. Taking over embassies is an act of agression. Providing funding and support to terrorist groups that kill Marines in barracks (ie. Beruit) is agression. The list goes on for over twenty-five years. Now we have a nut case who thinks his calling in life is to usher in the 12th Imam, and we allow this fantasy freek a nuclear bomb? Steyn is right about bad choice verses worse. There are worse things in life than war...how about a total economic meltdown due to a nuke in one of our cities. The last thing on earth we will be worrying about when that happens is the Geneva Convention or what anyone else thinks.
4.19.2006 12:40pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
The same people who are arguing that we shouldn't strike Iran now will be making those same arguments after we lose a large chunk of New York or San Francisco to a nuclear blast.

I have actually wondered that--not "the same people" part, but whether we'd retaliate in kind. I assume that Houston Lawyer's hypo includes proof that Iran supplied or sent the bomb in question.

There is something a little barbaric about killing a million Iranian civilians because their government killed a million American civilians. What did the incinerated Iranian women and children do to deserve their deaths?

One could argue that the Iranian civilians' deaths are the fault of their own gov't, not of ours. I don't find that terribly convincing.

The bottom line remains that if we didn't retaliate in kind, we would invite future attacks on our civilians. At any rate, I have just thought about it more than Bush or Rumsfeld would. In fact, Rumsfeld's response to an Iranian attack might be to nuke Syria, because it's a better target. (Cf. his reaction to 9/11.)
4.19.2006 12:45pm
Gonerill (mail):
It is utterly stupid not to use US small tonnage nuclear warheads on Iranian leaders since that could be a very hard to forget lesson for Saudis, Pakistanis and Egyptian leaders.
This must be combined with the coordinated US attack on Pakistani nuclear installations, research labs, nuclear plants and missile factories.

Pakistan should not be left as a viable country as a penalty paid for what it has done to the rest of the world.


Lunacy. Ask yourself, what would happen if a foreign power exploded a small-tonnage nuke in New York or LA, or just DC if they were targeting the leaders --- at the next inauguration, say. Would it "teach us a lesson"? Would America learn not to interfere with Iran or Pakistan? Would people quickly realize that it's better not to mess with these powers? Would Americans roll over having been slapped? If you don't think so, what makes you think tens of millions of Iranians, and many others, wouldn't react in the same way, and find every possible way to harm the US and its allies, possibly for generations to come? It's astonishing how people who pretend to strategic expertise seem unable to take the first step in strategic thinking, viz, put yourself in the other guy's shoes and ask what you would do.
4.19.2006 12:48pm
llamasex (mail) (www):
Didn't we already play this game? It's like Groundhog day. Here we go again throw the army at the problem to protect us against paranoia.

Why focus on Iran, is Ahmadinejad a nutso? Maybe, but he seems a hell of alot saner than Kimmy in North Korea. Shouldn't we be invading countries in order of priority, North Korea has a way crazier leader and is alot further along in their bomb development.

Or if its Islam that scares you (and around here lately that seems to be running up and down the flagpole), Pakistan seems like a better place for military action and de-nukification. Hell, Pakistan is why Iran might be a problem, it was Khan who gave Iran AND OTHERS their nuclear bombmaking playset. They are much closer to Al-Qaeda, though not run by a madman, the people he appoints aren't secure.

Then the question of resources comes into play, not just our army who isn't treated like a collection of human beings these days, its a tool to throw at people we are scared of. So beyond the human lives at risk we should look at $$$. Flat out can we really afford another war? Our Iraq bill isn't even finished and estimates top out at $2 trillion and more responsibility $1 trillion and change. For that cost as the front page of Something Awful said "we could have flown everyone in Iraq to America and given them each $16,000 to start their new life". This is money we could really change America with and people want to toss it out at some potential threat, which isn't even the biggest threat out there.

Sorry it isn't worth it.
4.19.2006 12:51pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
It's astonishing how people who pretend to strategic expertise seem unable to take the first step in strategic thinking, viz, put yourself in the other guy's shoes and ask what you would do.

Gonerill, you are too smart for this thread!
4.19.2006 12:55pm
Ted Frank (www):
I have the right to make the chickenhawk sneer

Unless you believe in a military dictatorship, you don't have the right to make the sneer. We live in a constitutional democracy with civilian control of the military, and it's not the case that civilians who don't serve in the military don't get a voice.

You can argue that more civilians should serve in the military (though the military itself seems to disagree with that idea), but that's a different issue than whether a civilian gets to participate in the debate over foreign policy.
4.19.2006 12:55pm
Observer (mail):
Anderson - I hope you realize you are undermining the "containment" theory. That theory holds that we can deter Iran from supplying jihadists with nukes by threatening to rain nukes down on Iran if one of theirs is set off in the US. I've even read a number of folks (none here) who claim that we will be able conclusively to identify the source of any nuclear device set off in the US (I have my doubts). So if the mullahs and jihadists think that we will not want to kill millions of innocent Iranians in revenge for a nuclear bomb going off in the US (especially if we can't prove conclusively that Iran was the source of the bomb), then where is the deterrence? Say goodbye to containment.
4.19.2006 1:03pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Steyn is right about bad choice verses worse. There are worse things in life than war...how about a total economic meltdown due to a nuke in one of our cities. The last thing on earth we will be worrying about when that happens is the Geneva Convention or what anyone else thinks.

You know you people talk a good game but you are unwilling to make the smallest sacrifice to make your neo-con and imperialist dreams come true. If you want eternal and everlasting war in the middle east then let's talk seriously about paying for it and building up the military to fight it.

We need a much bigger army. Bombing Iran and just leaving it to its own devices ain't gonna cut it. We are going to need lots of boots on the ground to at, the very least, secure the Persian Gulf and the oil fields so we can keep the oil flowing. That's going to mean an occupation force of at least a million or so, and every one of them is going to be American, the Brits will be out of there. That means Increasing the active duty military by at least a million and a half or so. There is only one way to do that, and that is a draft.

And now we need to talk about paying for all this. Putting all this on a credit card just can't continue. We will need immediate and severe tax increases to pay for this military buildup, along with enforced rationing of petroleum products to deal with the inevitable disruption and price increases.

Are you all willing to sign up for this? Or are you just blowing hot air and willing to fight this war as long as your contribution just consists of typing tough words on blogs?
4.19.2006 1:05pm
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
"I've even read a number of folks (none here) who claim that we will be able conclusively to identify the source of any nuclear device set off in the US (I have my doubts)."

There is no doubt. Analytical spectrography is incredibly accurate.
4.19.2006 1:07pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Unless you believe in a military dictatorship, you don't have the right to make the sneer. We live in a constitutional democracy with civilian control of the military, and it's not the case that civilians who don't serve in the military don't get a voice.

What I am sneering at are those who are so willing to put the military in harms way and support aggressive and reckless military action yet would never consider joining the military themselves and are not even willing to pay for the costs of this war, believing that some magic Laffer fairy will, at some time in the future, make the deficit go away.
4.19.2006 1:10pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Anderson - I hope you realize you are undermining the "containment" theory.

Um, no, as you would realize had you read my comment (see "bottom line").
4.19.2006 1:15pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
There is no doubt. Analytical spectrography is incredibly accurate.

Without actual samples of the suspect countries' weapons grade fissionable material, at best we could rule out where it didn't come from. So while we probably have samples of Russian, British and French (the latter two could probably safely be ruled out without testing anyway) weapons grade uranium, I doubt we have any Pakistani, Indian, Chinese or North Korean weapons grade uranium and probably couldn't get our hands on any Iranian either.
4.19.2006 1:20pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):
Oh, Brother.


Frederson's comment was *perfectly* responsive. "Swift, massive, devastating force that decapitates the regime--but no occupation." Drive-by regime change? That is crazy, as in, C-R-A-Z-Y. Or maybe just stupid? They're so hard to distinguish sometimes.


Saying something is crazy is NOT responsive. Saying WHY it's crazy (without saying, "Well, it's obvious"), is responsive.

Since you have a hard time distinguising, maybe this will help.

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 1:25pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Unless you believe in a military dictatorship, you don't have the right to make the sneer. We live in a constitutional democracy with civilian control of the military, and it's not the case that civilians who don't serve in the military don't get a voice.

I'm beginning to think that maybe a military dictatorship is what we need. It beginning to seem like the uniformed military are the only rational people we have left in government.
4.19.2006 1:27pm
The Mad Pigeon (www):
Overall I found the Steyn piece accurate, but he made the same singular mistake I've seen in every mainstream analysis on Iran: that Iranian history begins in 1979. I do disagree with current Iranian national security policy, but by knowing the full context I understand where Iran is coming from.

With that, I picked out some key words from the Steyn article to formulate my argument: the buffer zone, uniting Islam, military credibility, and democracy.

The first key phrase, the buffer zone, arguably defines Iran's foreign policy. If you look past the revolution, even past the Muslim conquest of Persia in 650 AD, you'll find that not only has Iran reaped the economic benefits of their central location, but Iran has also felt the pain of numerous outside powers carving out their territory. By 1979 the US was just another in a long line of outside actors laying claim to Iran.

Indeed, thanks to the foreign pressure Iran formed a cultural solidarity unlike her neighbors in Iraq and Afghanistan (despite the latter's own experiences with empire-minded foreign powers). Unlike the tribal nature of Afghanistan or even Saudi Arabia Iranian's identify themselves as Iranians first, then Baluchis, Azeri's, etc. Combine this sense of nationalism with Iran's waxing and waning periods of power and then you can begin to grasp why the current regime preaches such an aggressive security policy. Persia used to be a force to be reckoned with, before the Muslim conquest and after, when Persia notably contributed arts and letters to Muslim culture (for example, as French was adopted the language of the courts in Medieval Europe, so was Persian during the Islamic golden years of ~650 AD to the mid-Eighteenth century). Iran is tired of outside powers dictating how they should run their affairs; Iran wants to dictate how they run their affairs.

Thus, perhaps the first crucial lesson of national security studies is nations will do what they think is best for their own security, despite how ludicrous it seems to outside observers. Don't think like a Westerner, think like your target country. Is Iran's desire to become a nuclear power outlandish? From our eyes, yes. But the US doesn't have foreign and belligerent troops occupying adjacent countries, nor do we have to seriously worry about being conquered. Frankly, I'd be paranoid, too. Thus if you felt threatened by another state you really can't stand up to conventionally, but could fight unconventionally, wouldn't you consider pursuing alternative routes of defense? (As an aside, also keep in mind Iran signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty in 1967 which allows them to buy weapons-grade material for civilian use). Concluding this point, yes, Iran is a buffer state, and this status defines their security strategy.

My second point, uniting Islam, is a short one: to quote Steyn, "Who better to unite the Muslim world under one inspiring, courageous leadership? If there’s going to be an Islamic superpower, Tehran would seem to be the obvious candidate." Not so much--the Sunni world's in no hurry to have a Shi'a state call the shots; not even the Arab Shi'a are toeing the line. I don't doubt Iran can aspire to inspire, but they'll never truly lead.

Third, is Iran a credible threat to the US, and vice versa? As stated above, for a contained state such as Iran WMD and the use of terrorism for military policy by proxy are lucrative tools, and witnessing the dismemberment of Iraq did not soften Iran’s stance on their nuclear program. Disregarding WMD, though, Iran still has an impressive collection of military equipment, to include 3rd and 4th generation aircraft, capable armor, and above all, motivated troops: the Shi’a theme of martyrdom has a powerful effect on Iran’s willingness to fight. Remember the waves of unarmed Iranian youth who stormed Iraqi positions during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war? I argue this will not be another Operation Iraqi Freedom. If we strike first, if we come across as the bully, Iran will stand and fight; and if you look at an Iranian terrain map you'll notice it's much deeper than Iraq, with rugged terrain that favors the defender. Finally, just by watching the news you'll observe Iran training constantly, and employing combined arms tactics. As we formed a cadre of leaders in Vietnam how vowed, "never again," so did Iran groom battle-hardened strategists during the Iran-Iraq war. In short, and to use the technical military term, I assess a war with Iran will suck.

Finally, Steyn is spot on that Iran is, in fact, the most vibrant Democracy in the Middle East. That's right: Democracy. People vote. Men and women. And women get elected. They vote for candidates who have a say and make a difference in domestic policy. Indeed, what gave Pres. Ahmadinedjad so much political clout wasn't necessarily his security or religious beliefs, but rather his business acumen as the popularly elected mayor of Tehran. Of course, what gives Iran's democracy such bad press is the ultimate veto power invested in the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei, but given the above mentioned history of Persian identity Iranians are far more committed to a national democratic process than their tribal Afghani neighbors. I'll take my US democracy over Iran any day, but Iran's sure is better stacked against Saudi Arabia or Egypt (I think it'd be unfair this early in the game to include Iraq).

So that's my assessment in a nutshell. I'm sure some readers will think I'm an Iranian-flag waving traitor, but I do this type of analysis for a living--and what I just wrote barely scratches the surface. My job is to be the devil's advocate to my boss and tell him exactly how our opponent plans to kill us, and I cannot think like a Westerner if I'm to investigate the issues.
4.19.2006 1:29pm
Dave D (mail):
We are all missing the point of Steyn's article. That being by talking openly about the unspeakable, that the unspeakable perhaps may not be necessary at all. Iran seems to have no qualms about making open threats, perhaps it is wise to show that two can play that game. Oh,you say we are too civilized to stoop to their level. Unfortuanately ruthlessness can only be addressed through ruthfullness. Non-violence is an effective weapon only against adversaries who share your conscience. For some reason, I don't get the warm fuzzies that President A. and his mullah minders share our conscience.

Perhaps a better tack would be to prepare for the inevitable oil crises and strangle Irans economy through a full naval blockade of their oil exports. Sink any ship leaving their port. This would not be too pleasant for the oil consuming countries, but perhaps better than nuclear or full military strikes. We should clearly say that Iran has in effect declared war on the U.S. (which it has) and list the long list of aggressions, and proceed to starve Iran to death until their is an uprising. Support disident groups through money and hope more is not needed. Ruthless people only understand ruthless responses. It is all a matter of degree.
4.19.2006 1:29pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Actually, I apologize to Observer; my antihistamine-dazed brain thought that "containment" and "deterrence" were synonyms. Doh.

But "containment" is very, very implausible.

Inspector C: do you *really* need spelled out to you what's crazy about using massive military force to take out a regime, and then just going home, leaving destruction, chaos, and vengefulness in your wake?
4.19.2006 1:30pm
Ubertrout (mail) (www):
Randy, in answer to your question, I don't think that Steyn's argument that Iran is not a nation because it lacks the capacity to enter into diplomatic relations with other nations is correct. However, otherwise his analysis seems mostly reasonable.

To my mind his most important point is that the Embassy Seige was a formative experience for Iran - it taught them that if they made the options unappetizing, America would simply take the easy and "peaceful" road. The failure of Jimmy Carter lies behind Iran's ultra-agressive stance.

And the Iranians know that going in guns blazing is an unappealing option. We'd face a standing army larger than our own. We'd be facing a populace that is almost entirely favorable to their own nation having the bomb, both out of national pride and pan-Islamic ideals (pro-Western individuals are still often pro-bomb also from national pride). We'd draw intense ire or worse from the Iraqi Shiites, who are a majority and thus far have more or less been friendly to the US in the past 2 years, quite possibly plunging Iraq back into chaos. There'd be ire throughout the arab world, feeling that an Islamic nation should have the bomb, possibly leading to a US-backed regime or two having serious troubles. All of this said, a nuclear weapon in the hands of Iran may well be something which is simply unacceptable. And as noted, it would be a bargaining chip we would have no counter to to slowly bend the world to their ways.
4.19.2006 1:30pm
Anonymous Liberal (mail) (www):
Let's put aside for a second the fact that Steyn has been disastrously wrong about everything for the last four years. And let's assume for the sake of argument that we can somehow muster a sufficient number of troops and military resources to go into Iran with "swift, massive, devastating force" (presumably by dropping everything that we are currently doing in Iraq). Steyn thinks we should swoop into Iran--unilaterally and unprovoked--defeat its military, decapitate the ruling regime (presumably including its religious leaders), and destroy its nuclear infrastructure. *If* all this goes according to plan, we should then leave the Iranians, frightened and angry, to fend for themselves in a state of destruction and anarchy.

Such a plan *if successful* might indeed be a significant setback to Iran's nuclear ambitions. But let's consider the obvious costs.

1) Such an attack would undoubtedly provoke significant Iranian retaliation against U.S. interests in Iraq and around the Middle East, including possible terrorist attacks at home.

2) Decapitation of the Iranian regime and destruction of its military would likely result, at least temporarily, in another failed state in the heart of the Middle East, one that would function as a safe-haven and launching pad for terrorists.

3) Whatever new regime eventually rises to fill the power vacuum would likely be even more hostile to U.S. interests, more determined to secure nuclear weapons, and would enjoy greater support from the newly radicalized Iranian population.

4) The price of oil would sky rocket, likely leading to a worldwide energy crisis.

5) The U.S. would likely lose any remaining support it has from our traditional allies. Worldwide anti-American sentiment would reach never-before-seen levels, particularly in Europe and the Middle East. The attack would prove to be a recruiting bonanza for Al Qaeda and other militant groups.

And these are just the obvious results. If history tells us anything its that the unforeseen consequences of actions are often more problematic than the obvious ones. The world is a complex, chaotic system, not a deterministic one. Actions on the scale of those proposed by Steyn inevitably result in wildly unpredictable outcomes, which is all the more reason why they should not be embarked upon hastily or with insufficient necessity and forethought.

Steyn is total lunatic.
4.19.2006 1:33pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):

Inspector C: do you *really* need spelled out to you what's crazy about using massive military force to take out a regime, and then just going home, leaving destruction, chaos, and vengefulness in your wake?


Consider these assumptions:
1. This is the only way to go (I admit, it's arguable).
2. You're biggest concern is American lives and interests.

If you agree with the above two (I do), then your above comment is moot. In other words, yes, I do need you to explain it to me. Side bar - vengefulness is not the goal - destruction of a dangerous regime (making it non-dangerous) IS the goal. All other considerations are secondary.

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 1:44pm
The Mad Pigeon (www):
Allow me to change my opening statement from "accurate" to "reasonably accurate, given Mr. Steyn seemed to stop his historical analysis at the eve of the revolution."
4.19.2006 1:46pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):
Anon Lib,

You know, it's interesting that you complain about Steyn's article by pointing out that "Decapitation of the Iranian regime and destruction of its military would likely result, at least temporarily, in another failed state in the heart of the Middle East, one that would function as a safe-haven and launching pad for terrorists."

What makes this point interesting, is that this is entirely what Bush has been trying to avoid in Iraq for the last 3 years. Yet you and your ilk make the same complaint.

Go in and remove a regime and help it become free? No, can't do it. Go in and remove a regime and leave it alone? No, can't do it.

Tell me, please what CAN we do then?

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 1:48pm
SLS 1L:
We went to war in Iraq based on the threat of Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, which turned out to be effectively nonexistent. This should lead us to some pretty serious skepticism about the reliability of our intelligence concerning Iran's nuclear weapons, both (a) the extent of their nuclear programs and (b) their location.
4.19.2006 1:49pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):
And another thing. Anon Lib's post was a rehash of why an idea is not good. How about some ideas from Anon Lib (and other Libs) about what TO do?

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 1:49pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
1. This is the only way to go (I admit, it's arguable).
2. You're biggest concern is American lives and interests.


Both of these arguments are not satisfied by Steyn's plan, especially the second. How on earth could such an action conceivably be good for American lives and interests? To assume that Iran is going to take their devastated country and suddenly become a passive good egg is just a ridiculous and dangerous assumption. It's like playing Russian Roullette with only one empty chamber--the chance of a very bad outcome is much more likely than a good one.
4.19.2006 1:50pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):

This should lead us to some pretty serious skepticism about the reliability of our intelligence concerning Iran's nuclear weapons, both (a) the extent of their nuclear programs and (b) their location.


Would you rather we wait until we have proof, as in a smoking crater in Tel-Aviv? What then, when we could have avoided it?

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 1:51pm
Randy Barnett (mail) (www):
To remind some of the commentators who are a bit nasty about the VC, I specifically posted the link to Steyn's piece to elicit criticisms of it because I am genuinely interested in thoughtful criticisms of his analysis. Indeed, I personally want to be persuaded by thoughtful criticisms of his analysis. It is a virtue of the blogosphere that it is a 2-way medium and I want to take advantage of that characteristic.



Some of the comments above are substantively responsive to his actual analysis, others are not. Those that are responsive, however, mainly concern weighing the likely consequences of acting now using conventional forces vs. acting later using nuclear ones. Anonymous Liberal's post is the best example of this (before his ad hominem "Steyn is a total lunatic" remark). This assessment of likely consequences is highly pertinent to the discussion.



But I am perhaps even more interested in critiques of the "story" Steyn tells about the Iranians and the jihadist movement. Is this a credible narrative and, if not, why not? The Mad Pigeon's response, posted after I started composing this one, is a good example of what I am looking for.



Again, name-calling is not helpful to assessing the merits of Steyn's narrative. At least it does not help me.
4.19.2006 1:52pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):
When someone comes up behind you, and says, "I have a gun. Give me your money". Do you turn around and say, "I don't believe you"?

Are you willing to take whatever consequences this action imposes?

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 1:52pm
Jam (mail):

To the realpolitik Right, the issue was Soviet containment: the shah may be our sonofabitch, but he’d outlived his usefulness, and a weak Iran could prove too tempting an invitation to Moscow to fulfill the oldest of czarist dreams—a warm-water port, not to mention control of the Straits of Hormuz.


So where is the analysis on how Mossadeh's government would have been an invitation to Moscow?
4.19.2006 1:54pm
Jam (mail):

To the Left, the shah was a high-profile example of an unsavory U.S. client propped up on traditional he-may-be-a-sonofabitch-but-he’s-our-sonofabitch grounds: in those heady days SAVAK, his secret police, were a household name among Western progressives, ...


Glad to know that whatever the SAVAK was, it was not so bad.
4.19.2006 1:55pm
Jam (mail):

Ayatollah Khomeini wrote to Moscow. “I openly announce that the Islamic Republic of Iran, as the greatest and most powerful base of the Islamic world, can easily help fill up the ideological vacuum of your system.”


Would there have been a Khomeni if Mossadeh had not been overthrown?
4.19.2006 1:57pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):

To assume that Iran is going to take their devastated country and suddenly become a passive good egg is just a ridiculous and dangerous assumption. It's like playing Russian Roullette with only one empty chamber--the chance of a very bad outcome is much more likely than a good one.


This is a good response. Thanks.

I would only ask why you think this way. The way I see it, if you disarm a robber by shooting his arm off, he won't be shooting you (to use a poor analogy). If you devastate the enemy, they don't have the wherewithal to use against your interests. If this is done on a repeated basis, then there will be even less threatening governments to worry about.

I know it's simplistic, but sometimes simplicity needs a better look.

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 1:57pm
Bryan Long:
1. Reinstate the draft.
2. Put the country on total war footing.
3. Massive conventional attack on Iran.

If diplomatic channels fail, that seems to be the only way of going about disarming Iran--or confirming that it isn't yet armed. There might also be the possibility that the Iranian government would capitulate somewhere in between those steps; or maybe it would provoke a preemptive invasion of Iraq.

As for Steyn's article, it is the perfectly awful work of an uneducated journalist whose writing is more notable for dreadful jokes and curious displays of ignorance than compelling reasoning. Then again, I suppose a person could argue--as Steyn does--that an invasion of Iran four years after the end of the Vietnam War would have been met with other than rioting in the streets; he can even be forgiven for presenting as fact the dubious assertion, denied by the CIA and most of the hostages, that Ahmadinejad was one of the embassy hostage-takers. And who doesn't like a good, if completely irrelevant, swipe at Bill Clinton or Jack Straw, those vile mullah-enablers?

But the notion of monolithic Islam, blithely ignoring the thousand-plus years of continuing strife between Sunni and Shi'a that is far more vicious than any of the violence directed towards at the non-Muslim world, is positively brain-damaged. What does Steyn have to support such an assertion? An unattributed quotation from one anonymous Muslim protestor in Canada.

Of course, in Steyn's vision, not only is Islam monolithic, it is also irrational and damn near suicidal. Why? Because certain individual Muslims have made statements to that effect; this somehow translates into an Iranian government that is straining to finish that a-bomb so it can kill some Westerners and joyfully face nuclear martyrdom.

That's nuts. Iran is posturing, both for the sake of the domestic image of the regime and to bolster its prestige abroad by razzing the hated Americans. And there's no reason we shouldn't posture in return: witness Bush's refusal to rule out a nuclear strike on Iran. But the idea that the Iranians are eager to assure their own annihilation by practicing nuclear terrorism--a notion Steyn supports on the slender thread of a Hezbollah terrorist attack and a hostage crisis decades in the past--doesn't wash. The idea that Iran is seeking a nuclear deterrent as insurance against an American invasion, just like that 'irrational' Kim Jong-il, does.

This isn't to say that we should allow them to have it, or that it might not very well require a massive military undertaking to accomplish. But Steyn is typically off the mark as to the why of it, and it undermines his entire argument: he resurrects a discredited Cold War stereotype and simply replaces monolithic, bloodthirsty and irrational 'world communism' with monolithic, bloodthirsty and irrational Islam.

If a bunch of Viet Cong huddled in caves didn't fall for the 'madman theory,' it shouldn't pass muster with us either. (As for Steyn's regime decapitation thesis, I think that has been sufficiently bludgeoned to death by previous posters. Assuming the American people would swallow it, playing hunt-the-WMDs in Iran would have to look like a scaled-up version of the Iraq War to succeed in definitively eliminating Iran's nuclear capability. But would that be anything more than a matter of replacing many theoretical, if unlikely, American or Israeli civilian deaths, with thousands upon thousands of very real fatalities among our citizen-soldiers?)
4.19.2006 1:58pm
Anonymous Liberal (mail) (www):
What makes this point interesting, is that this is entirely what Bush has been trying to avoid in Iraq for the last 3 years. Yet you and your ilk make the same complaint.

Insp. Callahan, what do you know about me or my "ilk"? I made the very same argument before the Iraq war. I thought invading Iraq was ill-advised and poorly thought out. The Bush administration did not seem to have any real idea what they were getting themselves into. They clearly had not given much thought to the aftermath of invading Iraq. Now, over three years later, we find ourselves in the untenable position of either: 1) staying in Iraq and expending additional blood and treasure in what may turn out to be a futile attempt to hold the country together or 2) leaving and allowing the country to degenerate into Bosnian-style civil war. That's a terrible position to be in. And it pales in comparison to what a ill-advised invasion of Iran might lead to.
4.19.2006 1:59pm
Bruce Wilder (www):
Enough has been said about the superficial insanity of Steyn's recommended course of action.

As "Big Picture" analysis of the last 25 years, though, Steyn's narrative was no more persuasive. Where did it go wrong? Where did it go right? That narrative is disjointed, superficial, filled with snark and pointless trivia, legalistic, devoid of consideration of all sorts of relevant historical, social, political and economic context. Steyn makes Tom Friedman look like a friggin' genius!

I don't know that there is any point in doing a more serious or detailed critique. If Barnett admired Steyn's analysis in the first place, he's not going to understand what is wrong with it. But, I suppose I ought to try.

Proportionality.

The ability to control any situation depends on the ability to anticipate and recognize consequences based on having an adequate model of the situation, combined with the ability to respond proportionally, in order to control outcomes.

Does Steyn have an adequate model? His model appears to consist of "the Iranians are lawless and insane. They held hostages. They blew up a community center in Argentina." His geopolitics is a lazy gaze at a world map, listing off Iran's neighbors. On the dynamics of Iran's internal politics, Steyn's big contribution is a snarky riff on a Clinton one-liner, from a speech at Davos.

Others have noted that Steyn does not propose to respond proportionally or to control the outcome.
4.19.2006 2:01pm
Jeek:
I think this answers a lot of the objections that have been raised here:

To Bomb, or Not to Bomb
By Reuel Marc Gerecht
The Weekly Standard
24 April 2006

WHEN I WAS RECENTLY in Paris, a French diplomat explained to me why he--and many others in the French foreign ministry--thought the United States would, in the end, bomb Iran's nuclear-weapons facilities. Owing to Chinese and Russian obstreperousness, the United Nations would probably fail to agree on any sanctions, let alone a sanctions regime with sufficient bite to intimidate the mullahs. The Europeans--at least the French, Germans, and British if not the Italians--would do a bit better, primarily because the French, despite their laissez-passer cynicism and their Gaullist pride vis-à-vis the United States, have developed a strong distaste for the clerics. The mullahs did, after all, once bomb Paris and kill a slew of prominent Iranian expatriates on French soil; and the French don't particularly care for religious Third Worlders' joining the nuclear club.

France might even lead the sanctions charge against Tehran--an astonishing historical moment for the Fifth Republic, which has usually aligned itself with Muslim Middle Eastern regimes or cultivated a profitable neutrality, especially when the United States was involved on the opposite side.

But this nouvelle différence française, alas, would not in all probability dissuade the Islamic Republic's nuke-loving theocrats. The Iranians would proceed, my French friend thought, with little of the dialogue-of-civilizations finesse and moderation they exhibited during the presidency of Mohammad Khatami--probably the period when the clerical regime made its greatest advances in its nuclear-weapons program. Iran's most politically savvy cleric, Ali Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, is trying hard to align most of the clerical establishment behind him, even the reformist and dissident mullahs who hate his guts, to ensure the fire-breathing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, doesn't scare foreigners too much with his Khomeinist language and thought. Rafsanjani, the true father of the Islamic Republic's nuclear "energy" program, loathes the diehard ex-Revolutionary Guard Ahmadinejad, who threatens to ruin, among other things, Rafsanjani's hitherto successful strategy of dividing the Europeans from the Americans.

But Rafsanjani probably won't be able to corral Ahmadinejad. (He who triumphs at home is likely to triumph abroad, and the new president has been remarkably successful in replacing provincial governors and appears to be commencing a fresh purge of the country's universities.) In any case, the Americans will grow more anxious. Tehran will likely become even more bellicose toward the United States and Israel. Adding fuel to the fire, the clerical regime will continue to test new and improved ballistic missiles, extending range and payload.

The Iranian-American enmity will, my French friend reasoned, kick into high gear. The White House will admit that it can no longer diplomatically maintain the international processes designed to thwart the mullahs' acquisition of nuclear weaponry. George W. Bush, who has described a bomb for the terrorism-fond clerics as "unacceptable," will decide that further delay in attacking the known crucial facilities will only allow the mullahs to disburse clandestinely sufficient enriched uranium to fabricate nukes. The administration may well get a strong indication, either through its own resources or those of a foreign-intelligence service, that Iran is very near the red line in the production of weapons-grade uranium, and all the geostrategic and terrorist possibilities of a clerical nuke that now seem frightening but abstract will seem imminent. Therefore, so they reason, the Americans will let loose the U.S. Air Force and Navy even though George W. Bush, the State Department, the CIA, and the Pentagon really would prefer to do anything else.

So: The black-white rigor of French logic aside, does bombing the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities make sense? What are the downsides of such action? Do the negatives outweigh the good that would come from the demolition of Iran's facilities? The repercussions from an American strike, inside Iran and out, would surely be massive. The French are certainly right: The diplomatic process, no matter how hard the Europeans and the Americans may try, is coming to a close. Unless the Iranians prove more helpful than they have been since the election of Ahmadinejad and, as important, since the highly intelligent and tough former Revolutionary Guard commander Ali Ardeshir Larijani assumed responsibility for the nuclear portfolio in August 2005, it will take a near miracle to keep the diplomatic dialogue going on this subject for more than another twelve months.

TO AVOID THINKING about preventive military strikes or a public avowal of failure against the clerics, the Bush administration may have one more "realist" moment, and attempt to bribe the clerical regime into giving up its uranium-enrichment capabilities. It does not appear that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, let alone the president, really believes that "carrots" could satisfy the mullahs' two-decade-old appetite for nukes. To believe in such "realism" when it comes to the clerical regime, you have to believe that economics trumps politics among the ruling elite. Yet modern Middle Eastern--and especially Iranian--history clearly shows that ideology has run roughshod over economic pragmatism.

Oil and natural gas aside--and in Iran, even counting oil and gas--the Muslim Middle East has been an economic basket case in great part because the region's political elites have been repeatedly enamored of toxic ideas: Marxism, socialism, communism, fascism, and now increasingly Islamism, but never Adam Smith, Milton Friedman, or even the illiberal state-driven capitalisms of East Asia. Economically oriented American and European "realists" usually cite Iran's chronic unemployment, especially among the young, as a driving catalyst for pragmatic change among the ruling elite. Yet it is distinctly odd, then, that Iran's last two presidents, Khatami and Ahmadinejad, have fairly ardently advocated socialist economics in their campaigns. The Islamic Republic's dirigiste, unproductive, and corrupt economy was in great part built by revolutionary mullahs, who are its largest political and economic beneficiaries. Freer and more open trade in Iran usually means someone I know--preferably someone I know in my family--gets rich. It does not mean political pragmatism, which is what Westerners, especially Americans, think it does.

As president in the 1990s, Rafsanjani was encouraging greater European investment in Iran and his version of a "dialogue of civilizations" at the same time he was authorizing hit squads to knife and gun-down feared or disliked Iranian expatriates in Europe. If the Europeans had responded with anger, sanctions, or paramilitary actions against the Iranians and their allies who were involved with these black operations, it's conceivable the clerics would have become more pragmatic. But Europeans who believed in "engagement"--the idea that negotiation and trade produce political moderation--always won the day, so no machtpolitik lesson was ever delivered to Tehran. European engagement with Iran during Khatami's presidency certainly didn't moderate Iran's internal politics; Khatami became weaker each day after his election, and those more hotly faithful to Khomeini's vision became stronger. One can argue there was a limited "Khatami effect" on Iran's foreign policy: The killing teams stopped sojourning in Europe. But the political killings continued inside Iran, gaining in frequency.

If Rafsanjani and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's successor, Ali Khamenei--the two great, purely political clerics of the Islamic revolution--had ever been really desirous of altering American attitudes and attracting significant U.S. investment to Iran, they would have used their subsidies to the Lebanese Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas--all three clients of Tehran--to restrain terrorism against the Jewish state. Longstanding Iranian support for terrorism against Israel and Jews worldwide has been one of the principal obstacles to détente between the United States and the Islamic Republic. If the Iranians had behaved somewhat better in this regard, it would have gone a long way--especially under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, who both were hoping at various times to see moderation among the mullahs--toward thawing U.S. trade with the Islamic Republic.

Yet the Iranians have never wavered in their support of anti-Israeli terrorists. Ideology has easily trumped commercial good sense, even when clerical Iran was at its most "liberal," when Khatami, Rafsanjani, and Khamenei regularly opined about how critical economic progress was for the health of the Islamic Republic. Furthermore, any honest review of Rafsanjani's and Khamenei's speeches and writings since 1979 would quickly reveal that both gentlemen hate the United States more than they hate Israel. Jews dominate America, of course: Rafsanjani, Khamenei, the ex-"Anonymous" CIA analyst Michael Scheuer, and the American academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, the authors of "The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy," might find chatting together about "Jewish influence" pleasant and insightful. But in the mullahs' eyes, Israel's evil is subordinate to America's "world-devouring arrogance." We're not the "Great Satan" just because three million Jews live in America. And Rafsanjani's and Khamenei's views on this subject are the coin of the revolutionary clerical realm.

All that said, the gut-wrenching nature of contemplating a preventive military strike against the mullahs' nuclear facilities may still be enough to push the Bush administration to explore secretly the possibility of a "grand bargain" with Tehran. There are those in the administration who really do believe that the clerics want the nukes primarily because they're scared of their neighbors, some of whom (the Israelis and the Pakistanis) have atomic weapons. This line of argument has become a trope for the geostrategic and dovish crowds. They don't see the mullahs' pursuit of power as the manifestation of God's will via nuclear weaponry in the hands of Iran's clerics, Islam's truest vanguard. Such "realists" are always irretrievably secular. Yet, it's a good bet that Secretary Rice doesn't share this perspective: She seems to think that Iran's ruling clerics see themselves in a good-versus-evil struggle where there is no possibility of permanent compromise. And Secretary Rice would be right in that assessment.

Even if the secretary still has strong "realist" instincts--she is, after all, a disciple of Brent Scowcroft, Bush One's national security adviser, and she is surrounded in the State Department by foreign service officers who live to negotiate--it won't matter. The Iranians won't play ball. If the Bush administration tries a Libyan or North Korean approach, it will look nearly as foolish as President Clinton and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright did when they tried in 2000 to apologize their way into getting President Khatami to engage Washington and to cooperate with the FBI in its search for the Iranian culprits behind the deadly Khobar bombings in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

The Clinton administration's handling of that affair remains the single dumbest American approach to the mullahs since 1979. The hapless, not-so-secret negotiating efforts of Carter's national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski with the provisional Iranian government in 1979--which was a major factor behind the U.S. embassy's seizure and the collapse of the moderate government of prime minister Mehdi Bazargan--and the not-so-secret trip in 1986 to Tehran of Reagan's national security adviser Robert McFarlane both made more sense than Clinton's attempt through apologia to break bread with and divide the Middle East's premier power politicians. Although the Bush administration mercifully doesn't have the same penchant for apology as its predecessor, one should have enormous sympathy for the current national security adviser, Stephen Hadley, if he gets tasked with the job of reaching out to the Iranians one last time. The American ambassador in Baghdad, Zalmay Khalilzad, has a less dangerous assignment.

ALTHOUGH THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION has no desire to have the Great Iran Debate--just mentioning a preventive military strike at the State Department or the Pentagon is not a socially acceptable, polite thing to do--the clerical regime will probably force the administration to have it soon. The recent reporting that suggests the Bush administration--or at least the dark side of it in the Pentagon and the vice president's office--is already gearing up for a possible military confrontation with the clerics is, to put it mildly, at odds with the diplomacy-centered, keep-the-handcuffs-on-hawkish-U.N.-ambassador-John-Bolton approach of the State Department, which dominates Iran policy. Although this may change, the Pentagon and the vice president's office seem to have little role in the administration's Iran discussions, and in neither place do you find bombing enthusiasts or strategists trying to game scenarios reminiscent of the run-up to the 2003 war against Saddam Hussein.

The Pentagon's Central Command, which handles the Middle East and is led by General John Abizaid, has no doubt begun to look at the theoretical question of what preventive military strikes might entail, as well as what might happen in the region if the Islamic Republic were to go nuclear. (For example, would the United States be obliged to change its deployments in the region to handle a more aggressive, nuclear-armed clerical regime?)

This is, of course, what prudent, farsighted generals do even if they know--as General Abizaid surely does--that his civilian bosses are as allergic to the use of preventive military strikes against the clerics as are probably most senior military officers in CENTCOM. It in fact would be negligent of Abizaid not to look down the road and realize that the sophisticated reflex to dismiss the possibility of preventive military strikes could change overnight if the United States were actually staring in the face a rabidly anti-American theocracy on the threshold of nuclear weaponry.

In any case, whether Abizaid thinks striking is a good or bad idea is irrelevant: Military men are obliged to think about the strategic ramifications of the Islamic Republic's going nuclear. It doesn't take great powers of prognostication to see that the Iran conversation will remain theoretical and easy until that point when the United States really believes that the mullahs are on the verge of obtaining the bomb. From that moment forward, the conversation in Washington, which really hasn't been that serious, will become deadly serious. (No one in the government or out ought to have much confidence in CIA estimates about when Iran will have weapons of mass destruction. The current five to ten-year estimate could die overnight.)

Critical point: The Iranians--not the Americans--control this discussion and are circumscribing the diplomatic avenues the Bush administration is still determined to pursue. Tehran's mullahs are unlikely to allow us any running room. Rafsanjani's and Ahmadinejad's recent statements about Iran succeeding in enriching uranium (level unspecified) and its readiness to begin industrial-scale production mean, among other things, that the clerical regime believes it now has the advantage (which it does).

The United Nations has again proven incapable of handling this challenge (the Russians and the Chinese will, so the Iranians believe, continue to block sanctions). And the Iranians have little reason so far to fear the Europeans. The Germans have repeatedly shown themselves uncomfortable with tough sanctions against Tehran, and the recent comments made by the German foreign minister recommending direct U.S.-Iranian talks signify, translated into Persian, that the Germans really don't like the sanctions approach, even when pushed by France. Rafsanjani and Ahmadinejad are also saying that it's too late; you can't bomb us now since we've crossed the enrichment threshold. This certainly isn't true--the Iranians don't have enough centrifuges constructed and running--but it could become true, much faster than the Bush administration would like.

The clerical regime may well be calculating that they cannot adequately maintain the secrecy of their nuclear-weapons program. The opposition group the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq exposed their highly secretive efforts in 2003 (and earlier warned foreign-intelligence services about it) and quite likely will do so again when Iran is farther down the road to weaponization. So the regime might as well be as public as possible about basic enrichment--that is, get as many centrifuges constructed, running, and enriching to non-weapons grade under IAEA observation though not control, and thus allow a very rapid break-out to weapons-grade enrichment whenever the ruling clergy chooses. By doing it so publicly, in an in-your-Western-face manner, the mullahs hope to reinforce public approval and tap into Iranian nationalism to buttress the regime. The mullahs are under no delusion about their small base of support in the population; Ahmadinejad, on a recent Caspian Sea meet-the-people tour, was blasted with popular dissatisfaction. The new president's honeymoon appears to be already over.

The Iranians are making the astute call that if they can get the West to acquiesce now--if they can get the West to believe they really are on the verge of industrial-scale enrichment--then they're much safer than if they drag this out. America is, so CNN says (and the Iranian English-speaking elite faithfully watch CNN), tied down in Iraq. Politically, President Bush is obviously weak. Down the road, circumstances might not be so propitious. And the Iranian nuclear-weapons program is now technically probably ready to advance. Add it all up, and the current Iranian push, coming from both Rafsanjani, who the Europeans had surreally hoped would stop this program, and Ahmadinejad, is tactically brilliant. Unless Rafsanjani's and Ahmadinejad's rhetoric and actions now provoke more intense European resolve (and if this doesn't do it, nothing will), no sanctions strategy is likely to congeal effectively.

And the Bush administration hasn't been helping. It has been loath to ramp up the specter of military strikes to reinforce a sanctions-threat in European-Iranian nuclear negotiations. The president would actually be wiser to allow Seymour Hersh's "wild speculation" in the New Yorker to be seen as acceptable contemplation in his White House. This might cause British foreign minister Jack Straw to go apoplectic, but it would send the correct signal to Tehran, with its finer appreciation of power politics. So given the exhaustion of diplomacy, should we prepare to bomb? Or should we give it up, admit we can't stop the clerics from getting the nuke, and try to contain and undermine the Islamic Republic's atom-armed theocracy as best we can?

THE REASONS NOT TO BOMB are many, and some are pretty compelling. The thoughtful anti-bomb critics believe such an action is unfeasible (too many possible sites to attack and therefore no guarantee of success without a land invasion), too convulsive (the Iranian people will rise in nationalist indignation; the Europeans and the rest of the "international community" will go ballistic), too dangerous (Iran will unleash a small army of clandestine agents to smite us in Afghanistan and Iraq, ending America's Iraq project and costing numerous American lives in both countries; reborn Persian terrorist holy warriors might strike us everywhere else), and politically unwise (we will silence the Iranians who want change in their country since the nation will rally around the mullahs). Let us look first at the arguments that really shouldn't scare us.

* If we bomb, we will kill off the internal Iranian opposition. This is perhaps the weakest argument against a preventive strike. Although it would be nice to have Iranian society evolve quickly into something more democratic than theocracy, the odds of this happening before the regime gets a nuke aren't good. It could be decades before this happens; preventive military strikes would have the immediate benefit of delaying Iran's possession of nuclear arms for a few, perhaps several, years. In any case, it is highly unlikely that an American strike would arrest Iran's intellectual progress away from theocracy. This process has been going on since the 1980s--Iran's loss to Iraq in the Iran-Iraq war was an important catalyst to questioning and dissent.

It's much more reasonable to assume that the Islamic Republic's loss to America--and having your nuclear facilities destroyed would be hard to depict as a victory--would actually accelerate internal debate and soul-searching. It's unlikely that many Iranians would feel any affection for an American attack--we would certainly see rampant nationalist and Muslim indignation from many quarters--but the discussion would be much more complicated than just anti-Americanism. It would be, as it was during and after the Iran-Iraq war, double-edged, and probably painful for the ruling clergy, who have not been beloved for a very long time. And the reasons they are not liked are felt each day.

This would not change with an American attack against nuclear facilities. Iranians' growing criticisms of their own society, especially those criticisms advanced by folks who were, or still are, loyal to the revolution--most famously Grand Ayatollah Ali Montazeri, the "defrocked" onetime successor to Khomeini--simply cannot be blown away by foreigners' actions, any more than, in an American context, left-wing intellectuals' concern about social justice, or American blacks' revulsion at the indignities of state-sanctioned racism, could have been stopped by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It's likely that an American attack on the clerical regime's nuclear facilities would, within a short period of time, produce burning criticism of the ruling mullahs, as hot for them as it would be for us. This is not to say that American attacks would produce a counterrevolution. Not at all. It's just to say that such attacks would not make most Iranians love the mullahs more.

An attack would surely introduce uncertainties into Iranian politics, something the clerical dictatorship has tried to avoid. It's worthwhile to remember what happened after the USS Vincennes accidentally shot down a civilian Iranian airliner in 1988. Iranians appeared furious. Even among those who hated the clerical regime--even among Iranian expatriates who'd been driven from their homeland by Ayatollah Khomeini and loved the United States profoundly--vengeful wishes were common. (More than a few astute folks in America's counterterrorist community have long believed that Pan Am 103's destruction above Scotland in 1989 had its origins in a clerical decision to strike back for the Vincennes action. Libya's Muammar Qaddafi, who had his own desire for vengeance against the Americans, entered the picture later.)

Yet within a fairly short time, you could see that many Iranians had flipped: They were almost thankful. Most seemed to assume America had blown the airplane from the sky intentionally, yet they were now giving credit to America for helping to break Khomeini's will to continue the war against Saddam Hussein. America had chosen sides--in most Iranian eyes, atrociously in favor of the Butcher of Baghdad--but the war had been stopped. The detested war-loving mullahs had been broken.

Mutatis mutandis, the emotions surrounding an American strike against the regime's nuclear facilities would be complicated. With or without an American strike on the clerics' nuclear sites, the advance of democracy in Iran will likely have many anti-American overtones (less perhaps than elsewhere in the Muslim Middle East, since theocracy has improved America's image in Iran enormously as the mullahs have failed to fulfill the promises of the Islamic revolution). A surge in anti-Americanism, even if it lasted long, would not save the regime from the intellectual aftershocks of a U.S. attack on its nuclear-weapons facilities. Iran's political and democratic dissidents, especially among the clergy and the left-wing lay crowd, have often been very anti-American. They would no doubt remain so even as they found themselves questioning whether the regime had lost its mind getting into a war with the world's only superpower.

* If we bomb, the Iranians will rise in righteous indignation and a new generation of anti-American Shiite holy warriors will be produced (as if the Sunni terrorists weren't bad enough).

Iranians might rise in righteous indignation. Nations don't like to be bombed. But there is simply more to it than that. If we delayed Iran's acquisition of nuclear weaponry by even three years, that might turn out to be a great success--if in those three years something happened that would have been vastly worse if Tehran had had nuclear weapons. If Saddam Hussein had developed nuclear weapons by 1991, then he might still be in Kuwait, and we would have a rabid predator loose in the Middle East. This didn't happen, it strongly appears, because the Israeli attack on the Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981 and/or the American attack on Saddam in 1990-91 and subsequent sanctions derailed his plans for weapons of mass destruction. Some similarly dangerous situation could arise now, causing us to thank God that the Islamic Republic didn't have a nuke. Under such circumstances, whether the Iranian people were angry at us, short-term or even long, would really be a secondary issue.

And as explained above, anger at the United States is likely to be double-edged, cutting toward the ruling clergy as well as us. We shouldn't become paralyzed from fear of Shiite death-wish believers coming at us again. It's possible. What makes a terrorist Muslim holy warrior is usually complex and personal, and an American airstrike on Iranian nuclear facilities might provide that special explosive ingredient to some.

However, it's not likely, and it's especially not likely that the clerical regime would be able to produce and export these holy warriors as an automotive company does cars. The Islamic Republic ceased to produce holy warriors by the end of the Iran-Iraq war in 1988. (The death of Khomeini in 1989 also stole a charismatic element from the brew that had produced an amazing number of young men who lived to die.) Even in Lebanon, where Hezbollah is just across the border from Israel, Shiite holy warriors have receded--at least those who want to immolate themselves and others for the cause. This disease is obviously alive among the Sunnis, but it seems extinguished among the Shiites.

Blame Khomeini, the Iran-Iraq war, and nationalism. The type of millenarian hope that many faithful Iranian men had at the beginning of the revolution died out in the war and in the unjust and increasingly corrupt society the mullahs built. Millenarian despair--the recognition that God's perfect society isn't accessible on earth but just might be accessible through a gloriously violent and fraternal death--also burned itself out in the unending, pointless slaughter of the eight-year Iran-Iraq war and the increasing pettiness and deceit of an aging Islamic Republic. There are certainly diehard true believers in Iran--Ahmadinejad appears to be one--but the internal chemistry of Iranian society doesn't produce many anymore among men under 25, the key age group for marrying a killer faith with testosterone. The potential for chiliastic rapture--the fraternity of death that young men can have most easily in brutal combat--has just dried up.

Something so secular and adventitious as an American airstrike on a nuclear facility is very unlikely to bring back that magic, that love of God and man, that can send young boys across minefields on motorcycles. The rise of a less religious nationalism in Iran is a sign of declining jihadism. Nationalism in the Sunni radical world has been in retreat (even if it still often defines the contours of "globalized" radical Islamic thought) as holy warriorism has been increasing. An offended God is a vastly more important element in jihadism than an offended nation-state. If Ahmadinejad declares that thousands of young men will sign up to become martyrs in terrorist attacks upon Americans if the United States bombs Iran, don't believe him. He's dreaming. He's having a flashback.

If opponents of preventive bombing conjure up illusions of Sunni militants--or just the "one billion plus Muslims worldwide"--outraged at American actions against the Islamic Republic, then one should remind them of the Arab and Muslim streets that were supposed to rise in jihad a half dozen times against Westerners since 1914 but didn't. Imagining Arab and non-Arab Sunnis, particularly the truly violent Wahhabi set, who hate Shiites almost as much as they hate Americans, going on the warpath on behalf of a nuclear-defanged Shiite Iran is numbingly hard, though obviously not impossible for those who believe the Islamic Republic is only a menace because America--especially President Bush--is determined to demonize it.

* If we bomb, the international community will go ballistic.

They probably would. And this is certainly a more serious limitation on American action. Americans really don't like acting alone, braving the censure of other, particularly Western, nations. Taken individually, most Americans probably don't care much what France or Germany or Spain or Italy thinks. Great Britain is the exception, especially in perilous times. Americans, particularly liberal Americans, do care, however, when "the West" isn't with us, and it probably wouldn't be with us in a bombing run on Iran's nuclear sites. As Robert Kagan tirelessly points out, the inability to project much military force inevitably starts to alter the ethics that sanction the use of force. Europe's relative military weakness now makes anti-Americanism the natural state. Would the anger be worse than what we went through with the Iraq war? Hard to tell.

America's contracting-out of its Iran policy to the British, French, and Germans--the so-called EU-3--since 2003 has made the foreign-policy elites in those countries somewhat more sensitive to American concerns and more alarmed by the clerical regime's nefarious behavior. It's hard to love the mullahs. Westerners try now and then, especially, if they can find a cleric like Khatami, who is personally appealing, at least more than Rafsanjani and Khamenei. The Islamic Republic long ago would have captured Europe's undying Third World love if it had not been for the regime's treatment of women. Although some Western female journalists have tried to depict Iranian women as liberated under their headscarves and veils, these sentiments have an uneasy time with other reporting that shows Iranian women, however strong-willed and independent, being severely abused by the regime's Islamic-law system. The phenomenal global success of Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran has also made it more difficult to view the Islamic Republic's internal ethics, particularly regarding women, benignly.

The clerical regime's behavior and rhetoric has been too dark for too long for it easily to gain sympathy in the West as an innocent Third World Muslim country being picked on by a warmongering George W. Bush. But anti-Americanism is deeply rooted in Western Europe, especially in Germany. Much of Europe came very close to sympathizing with Saddam Hussein. It's a decent bet that the longer European and American diplomacy continues on the Iranian nuclear question, the more condemnation the United States will encounter when it abandons this process, even if the process has been without content for months.

The real question remains, Is a nuclear weapon under the control of Ali Khamenei "unacceptable"? If it is, then enduring the heat of hostile European opinion ought to be sustainable. Living through the Iraq war has been an unhappy experience--for those who see the world first and foremost through a transatlantic lens, downright nerve-wracking. But the sky has not fallen. It would probably not fall--at least not in Europe--if we attacked the clerics' atomic-weapons programs.

* If we bomb, the mullahs will hit us in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Using its Revolutionary Guard and intelligence-ministry forces, the Islamic Republic could strike us in both countries. You don't need to imagine reborn Iranian Shiite holy warriors running amok to see cause for concern. If you had to pick one reason that the Bush administration would not strike the Islamic Republic's nuclear facilities, this would probably be it.

It's impossible to overestimate the Iraq fatigue that now afflicts the administration. The American military is stressed out. Although it's difficult to say what Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld's view is--his entire civilian staff seems to have recused itself from giving a forceful opinion on the Iranian nuclear issue--the military brass will likely fight any preventive military strike against Iran for fear of the repercussions in Iraq. Their views may be unfounded, but it seems likely President Bush would hesitate to dismiss these concerns.

Ultimately, the clerical regime itself will determine whether the United States strikes its nuclear facilities. If it acts in a rash manner, deploying frightening language and new ballistic hardware, if it gets caught engaging in serious nastiness in Iraq or terrorism abroad before it has enough centrifuges up and running, then it's certainly possible to imagine the president, even the senior officers of the U.S. Army, deciding America has no choice. As we get closer to the "red line" for Iran's atomic-weapons programs, it's not at all unlikely we will concentrate on Iran's threat independent of Iraq.

Viewed calmly, Afghanistan and Iraq shouldn't make or break the decision on whether to strike Iran's facilities. In both countries, the Iranians are only as good as their proxies. It seems highly unlikely that the clerical regime would try to deploy large numbers of Revolutionary Guards and intelligence officers in open combat in either place. The Iranians would be operating without benefit of cover. (They stick out like sore thumbs in both countries.) They would be inviting U.S. attacks on Iran--and not on nuclear facilities, but on Revolutionary Guards Corps camps, military installations, and intelligence facilities. Such things are critical to the regime's survival. The regime certainly remembers that the U.S. Navy essentially annihilated the Iranian regular and Revolutionary Guard navy in one day at the end of the Iran-Iraq war. It's doubtful the clerical regime would like to repeat the experience. Indirect terrorism is the clerical way, and that's what one would expect in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere.

The mullahs could certainly find Iraqi and Afghan recruits to help, but whether these attacks could reach and maintain an amplitude sufficient to change the political or military fate of either country is open to question. Terrorism against Americans in either place is likely to kill the natives as well, perhaps lots of them. If the Iraqi Shia discovered that the Iranians were blowing up their women and children, there would be hell to pay for those Iranians so unfortunate as to be working in or visiting Iraq.

An Iranian offensive in Iraq would certainly stress the entire Shiite community. If the Americans were to alienate seriously the Shiites--something we have not yet done--then we could be in serious trouble. If the young radical Moktada al-Sadr were forced from the political process (there was a time for this, but that time is now past), we might see him take up arms for Iran. If he remains inside the political system, then it's unlikely he will destroy the system in which he's a player. There just isn't that level of affection, certainly not fealty, between him, his men, and the Iranians.

The same is true, probably more so, for the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq (SCIRI), the dominant Shiite political party within the United Iraqi Alliance. Though formed under Iranian patronage, and no doubt still benefiting from Iranian largesse, SCIRI is an Iraqi Arab Shiite party with stronger ties now to the holy Iraqi city of Najaf than to Tehran.

The Iranian press sometimes carries stories about how the Iraqi Shia are no longer theirs. The former exiles, whom Iran once saved, are becoming adult ingrates. The Iranians are right. If in 12 to 24 months, the Iraqi political system isn't functioning and Shiite Iraqis are not committed to the system in place, then the Iranians really won't be able to hurt us in Iraq, since the country in all likelihood will have collapsed. If we bomb by then, it might be difficult to tell the difference between Iraqi-and Iranian-inspired mayhem. If the political system is working, then the Iranians will probably be, for most nasty purposes, operating alone. They will certainly be able to cause us pain, but they won't be able to bring down the Iraqi political system. And if they can't do that, then they can't really hurt us.

Which brings us to the last and most stultifying concern:

* If we bomb Iran's nuclear facilities, we cannot fully verify the damage we've done without a land invasion. And Iranian terrorist reprisals against our troops, if sustained and deadly, might force us to consider the unthinkable: a large-scale land invasion of the Islamic Republic.

The EU-3 negotiations and the IAEA inspections and deliberations have certainly made it easier to contemplate an aerial bombardment of Iran's nuclear facilities. By their actions and words, the Iranians have told us that there are certain sites that are critical to their program--especially the enrichment and conversion facilities at Natanz and Isfahan. If the Iranians had backup facilities, their dogged efforts to free these sites from IAEA control would make no sense whatsoever. We didn't know this 24 months ago, but we do now. Taking out a handful of sites such as these, even when underground, is feasible. We would have to be prepared to bomb these facilities more than once, but the United States certainly has the capacity to stop the Iranian government from continuing any substantial work on these premises. (Even if we couldn't completely collapse underground facilities using conventional bunker busters, we could certainly paralyze any above-ground efforts to repair them.)

It's also reasonable to assume that, given the enormous effort the clerical government has put into building up its program over the last 15 years (this is truly the clerical regime's Manhattan Project), if these sites were wiped out, they could not be replicated overnight. It would probably take a few years to rebuild them and their machinery. That delay might be critically important down the road, depending on events in Iran and elsewhere. It might not. The only thing for sure is that the United States would have to be prepared to bomb the clerical regime's facilities again, and the second time round, the regime would try much harder to hide these places, which would likely mean that it would take the Iranians several years to rebuild their nuclear program more securely. Overhead satellite cameras and Iranian opposition groups--especially the unpleasant but occasionally insightful Mujahedeen-e-Khalq organization, the group that publicly revealed the Natanz facility--would dog them. The CIA, too, might on occasion contribute something of value. Though this is certainly no guarantee of accurate, constant intelligence coverage, it's probably enough to make things difficult and time-consuming for the mullahs.

Bombing the nuclear facilities once would mean we were declaring war on the clerical regime. We shouldn't have any illusions about that. We could not stand idly by and watch the mullahs build other sites. If the ruling mullahs were to go forward with rebuilding what they'd lost--and it would be surprising to discover the clerical regime knuckling after an initial bombing run--we'd have to strike until they stopped. And if we had any doubt about where their new facilities were (and it's a good bet the clerical regime would try to bury new sites deep under heavily populated areas), and we were reasonably suspicious they were building again, we'd have to consider, at a minimum, using special-operations forces to penetrate suspected sites.

All of this would probably transpire over many years, perhaps a decade or more, and it certainly could go in a different direction. The regime could fall, or it could evolve in a healthy direction, from internal convulsions, but it would be unwise to allow a bloodied clerical regime to get a nuclear weapon. The United States obviously does not want to get in the same place that it was with Iraq in the 1990s, launching periodic air attacks but not knowing whether the mullahs' nuclear activities had escaped our detection. There is no way the Europeans would have the stomach for this--and probably few Americans would, either.

Terrorism is in the ruling clergy's DNA--which is one of the reasons we don't want them to get the nuke; it's even a bigger reason we don't want them to get a bomb after we've been pummeling them. And if the mullahs responded to a successful U.S. attack against their nuclear facilities with a lucky terrorist strike against a big American target overseas or on the mainland--again, it's unlikely the clergy would do this without pretty good camouflage through non-Iranian terrorist groups, and such large-scale terrorist operations are always very difficult to execute, especially with the United States and others surveilling the Iranians and their allies closely--the United States would have to respond massively against the Islamic Republic. A land invasion might not be necessary, but if the regime were to kill thousands of Americans it's hard not to envision a U.S. president asking Congress for a declaration of war and an all-out invasion of Persia.

ALL OF THIS IS FRIGHTENING. It reinforces the temptation to accept the status quo rather than going on the offensive. Inaction is the default position of "realists," which explains their staying power. However, one significant terrorist attack by an Islamic Republic protected by nuclear weapons, and many might view as necessary what had seemed reckless. If the Iranians even carried out a "minor" terrorist act--for example, blowing up a U.S. embassy and killing and maiming one hundred officials--the United States in a post-9/11 world would have to unleash hell against the clerical regime. To absorb such a hit without a massive reprisal would be to invite much worse nuclear-protected terrorism.

If the Revolutionary Guard Corps, which oversees the Islamic Republic's nuclear weapons program, were to give a wing of al Qaeda material for a dirty bomb, what would the United States do in response? The regime's past fondness for Ayman al-Zawahiri, the occasional movement of al Qaeda members through Iran both pre-and post-9/11, and the "arrest" and "detention" of some al Qaeda members in the Islamic Republic to this day are, to say the least, disconcerting. What would we do if we were pretty sure they'd ordered a terrorist attack--say, 80 percent sure--but we were 100percent sure they had nuclear-armed ICBMs?

If either Rafsanjani or Ahmadinejad were ever to follow through on their wild rhetoric against Israel with a nuclear strike--and this is certainly a possibility unprevented by either man's ethics--then the path now deemed reckless might seem, even to the dovish Europeans, in retrospect like a morally compelling course.

Deterrence theory may well work against the clerical regime, but it ought to be admitted that we have never before confronted a regime where anti-Americanism, violence, terrorism, and God's writ have been so intermarried. The Soviets in their hatreds were positively ecumenical. What we are dealing with in the Islamic Republic's ruling revolutionary elite is a politer, more refined, more cautious, vastly more mendacious version of bin Ladenism. It is best that such men not have nukes, and that we do everything in our power, including preventive military strikes, to stop this from happening.

The opponents of military strikes against the mullahs' weapons facilities say there are no guarantees that we can permanently destroy their weapons production. This is true. We can't guarantee the results. But what we can do is demonstrate, to the mullahs and to others elsewhere, that even with these uncertainties, in a post-9/11 world the United States has red lines that will compel it to act. And one nonnegotiable red line is that we will not sit idly and watch a virulently anti-American terrorist-supporting rogue state obtain nukes. We will not be intimidated by threats of terrorism, oil-price spikes, or hostile world opinion. If the ruling clerical elite wants a head-on collision with a determined superpower, then that's their choice.

No matter what happens, it is long overdue for the Bush administration to get serious about building clandestine mechanisms to support Iranians who want to change their regime. This will take time and be brutally difficult. And overt democracy support to Iranians--which is the Bush administration's current game plan--isn't likely to draw many recruits. Most Iranians probably know that this approach is a one-way invitation to Evin prison, which isn't the most effective place for expressing dissent. However we go about assisting the opposition, the prospects for removing the regime before it acquires nuclear weapons are slim.

So we will all have to wait for President Bush to decide whether nuclear weapons in the hands of Khamenei, Rafsanjani, Ahmadinejad, and the Revolutionary Guards Corps are something we can live with. Given the Islamic Republic's dark history, the burden of proof ought to be on those who favor accommodating a nuclear Iran. Those who are unwilling to accommodate it, however, need to be honest and admit that diplomacy and sanctions and covert operations probably won't succeed, and that we may have to fight a war--perhaps sooner rather than later--to stop such evil men from obtaining the worst weapons we know.

Reuel Marc Gerecht is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a contributing editor to The Weekly Standard.
4.19.2006 2:08pm
Jam (mail):
Somebody said that the take over of the uS Embassy in Teheran was formative to present day Iran. I agree. But why was the Embassy taken over? Is diplomatic immunity still to be respected if the successful overthrow of a government was financed and executed out of an Embassy? What was the role/involvement, maintaining the Shah in power, of our Embassy in Teheran?

If Turkey was financing and executing the overthrow of our Central government from their embassy, should the diplomats' immunity be respected? I do not think so.

Argentina should have immediately declared war against Iran and should have arrested ALL of the Iranians in the Iranian Embassy. Execution of the perpetrators would also have been appropiate.
4.19.2006 2:16pm
Vovan:
Here are some quote's from Stein that are simply factually wrong:

The difference in Iran is simple: with the mullahs, there are no London escort agencies on retainer to supply blondes only. When they say “Islamic Republic,” they mean it.
- This was only true when Khomeni was in power, and even then the Iran-Iraq war caused him to abandon much of his islamic principles. Rafsanjani advocated economic modernization, and everyone one else were simply and utterly corrupt - in short "the blond whores were there as well"

At the point of expiry of the Soviet Union in 1991, the peoples of the central Asian republics were for the most part unaware that Iran had even had an “Islamic revolution”; 15 years on, following the proselytizing of thousands of mullahs dispatched to the region by a specially created Iranian government agency, the Stans’ traditionally moderate and in many cases alcoholically lubricated form of Islam is yielding in all but the most remote areas to a fiercer form imported from the south
-again this is for the most part wrong, the Central Asian and all Caucasian republics except Azerbaidzhan, are Sunni. Furthermore, they retain much of their tribal pre-islamic customs that have conveniently merged with Sufi order - a form of mysticism that is persecuted by the Shia's. In short , Iran is NOT the major religious influence in the region - Saudi Arabia and Turkey are.

As clashes of civilizations go, this one’s between two extremes: on the one hand, a world that has everything it needs to wage decisive war—wealth, armies, industry, technology; on the other, a world that has nothing but pure ideology and plenty of believers.
- As many actual statistical analysises showed -THERE IS NO CLASH OF CIVILIZATIONS. It's just not there, in fact muslims are more likely to kill other muslims and animists than christians. For example in most civil wars, religion is not even correlated with the occurence of violence.
4.19.2006 2:17pm
eeyn524:
Barnett: It paints a very credible scary picture...and where, if anywhere, his narrative goes wrong.

OK, you want a serious response.

For one, Steyn's article has some outright factual errors; for example, the claim that Ahmadinejad was part of the embassy takeover. It also has some distortions and exaggerations; for example, Rajsanjani's remarks about Israel (bad enough but not what Steyn claims) or the claim that Iran seeks a "Jew-free" middle east (there's 50K in Iran, oppressed yes, expelled or killed no). I'd say his need to mix in this kind of dishonest stuff makes the whole argument less than credible.

More importantly, the whole article has a jokey guy-in-a-bar mood that isn't appropriate to a serious proposal to kill a few 10 thousands of people and precipitate another war. If you want a serious response, it needs to be a serious proposal. There are some out there (still wrong, but at least serious). Steyn's isn't one of them.

Finally,
4.19.2006 2:21pm
Jam (mail):
According to Gordon Prather the Iranians are not even in violation of the NPT.
4.19.2006 2:22pm
Justin (mail):
First of all, Randy, if you think this is something that needs to be treated seriously, then you're probably coming from a vastly different set of base assumptions. Other people, who (to put it kindly) have more mainstream assumptions, are unlikely to be able to convince you.

Here's the basic substantive synapsis of any coherent resposne.

1) Steyn's plan lacks the political commitment given the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans lives lost (to go along with the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iranian lives lost)
2) Steyn's plan lacks the political commitment due to the meltdown of the economy it would cause
3) Steyn's plan would destabilize the middle east
4) Steyn's plan will not accomplish its goal - it will at most delay the creation of nuclear weapons
5) Steyn's plan will make every country in the world want to develop nuclear weapons in the hope of deterring what it deems as a most irrational United States
6) Steyn's plan could very well lead to diplomatic and economic sanctions, if not military intervention, by other powers (including China and the EU) - at some point, our habit of randomly invading countries for no reason and killing massive numbers of people are going to make us an imminent risk to human rights and global security.

Other response that will not convince you:

Law and Politics

Matt Yglesias

Belgravia Dispatch (previously posted)


I think you're being unfair by complaining about the quality of the response. In fairness to those who think the Mark Steyn piece is absolutely nuts, it *is* absolutely nuts. You expecting the responses to be civil and serious is like coming in and post to someone advocating that we institute an 100% tax on all income and wealth (written at a high school level), that you're not sure it's a good idea, that it sounds reasonable but you could see that there are problems with it, and that you want to be reasonable posts...but that you should treat the stuff seriously and keep the discourse respectful.

I feel dirty and disgusting treating Steyn's proposal seriously. Like being a respectful dissenter to genocide or something. Steyn's plan is a shot in the dark at the cost of millions of lives and billions of dollars, and if you want to treat the dismissive posts of what some might refer to as "sane people" as having no argument rather than the at least equally plausible "can't even begin to describe why this is stupid" reason for being dismissive, that's your perogative, but I think if you step back, you might give the latter a little more credance than you previously have.

And, correct me if I'm wrong, but aren't you a liberterian? How on earth do you square this idea being sane with the principles (and distrust of the government) of liberterianism?
4.19.2006 2:27pm
Jam (mail):

I feel dirty and disgusting treating Steyn's proposal seriously. Like being a respectful dissenter to genocide or something.


You encapsulated the postings expressing the opinions about "Bombs Away" Steyn's piece.
4.19.2006 2:40pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):
Justin's post above is a perfect example of the elitism that passes for discourse on the left today. Example:


In fairness to those who think the Mark Steyn piece is absolutely nuts, it *is* absolutely nuts.


Jeez. Why is this exercise so difficult? Why don't you just explain why you think it's nuts?


You expecting the responses to be civil and serious is like coming in and post to someone advocating that we institute an 100% tax on all income and wealth


This is based on the assumption that this proposal is so insane, it goes without saying. What makes this statement true? Because it isn't for a lack of people who agree with it.

Your tax analogy is a strawman from the word go. No one is advocating a 100% tax on all income and wealth. Not even staunch communists. However, there are PLENTY of people who are advocating what Steyn advocates.

Are they all nuts too? What makes Justin the final arbiter of what's nuts, and what isn't?


Steyn's plan is a shot in the dark at the cost of millions of lives and billions of dollars


Does Justin know of some point in human history where this philosophy was tried? Could you point out where this exact philosophy was even attempted, where it did cost millions of lives and billions of dollars? And if it was tried, did the opponent surrender?


...having no argument rather than the at least equally plausible "can't even begin to describe why this is stupid"


Because that's what Professor Barnett asked for. Humor him (and the rest of us) as to why you can't begin to describe.

In war, NOTHING should be off the table. We very well could eventually get to the point where total annihilation may be the only option - maybe it won't.

The next question is, "Where does Justin draw the line"?

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 2:44pm
Taimyoboi:
Mr. Barnett,

I think one criticism to be found here:

"But if you divide it ideologically, the mullahs are ideally positioned at the center of the various provinces of Islam—the Arabs, the Turks, the Stans, and the south Asians. Who better to unite the Muslim world under one inspiring, courageous leadership? If there’s going to be an Islamic superpower, Tehran would seem to be the obvious candidate."

While I think cooperation between Sunni and Shi'ite Muslims is possible, and they've certainly been able to coopeaate before, I believe Steyn overplays how long or how deep such a relationship could last.

There seems to be sufficient friction between traditional Sunni states like Saudi Arabia, and states like Iran that would tend to prevent to formation of a pan-Islamic state like the kind Hussein had in mind during the 80s and 90s. And, from what I gather, a number of Arabian states like UAE and Saudi Arabia are quite actively pushing for the United States to engage Iran in some way (militarily or politically) behind the scenes.

My guess is that the situation in Iran is more discrete and separate from the problems festering in Europe or Southeast Asia than Steyn suggests. For example, my suspicion is that the popularity in more the more ardent adherence to Islam in Europe is more a fad among youth disenchanted with economic prospects that any real solidarity with regimes their parents fled from.

I do think that Steyn is more or less right about how dangerous Iran is though, even if they aren't pulling the strings behind every confrontation between Islam and their neighbors.

Iran's actions and public statements place the idea that they are pursuing uranium enrichment solely for energy generation are well past the point of credulity.

I think the situation merits stronger action than is currently being taken, and I also don't think it precludes resorting to military means.
4.19.2006 2:46pm
ForestGirl:
Prof. Barnett,

When I read Mark Steyn's article this morning, I thought it was terrifying and I too was hoping to be persuaded that he was wrong. I was trying to think who I could send it to who could argue the opposite side without descending to "Mark Steyn is an idiot" when I saw your post. Unfortunately, with the exception of The Mad Pigeon, you don't seem to have had much luck either.

I wasn't really looking for anyone to point out the dangers of Steyn's solution--those seem fairly obvious. But what about his arguments that lead up to the solution? Everyone seems to be ignoring the smaller (and to me scarier) points he made, like this one:

"If you think, for example, the European Union and others have been fairly craven over those Danish cartoons, imagine what they'd be like if a nuclear Tehran had demanded a formal apology, a suitable punishment for the newspaper, and blasphemy laws specifically outlawing representations of the Prophet."

Steyn's overall premise seems to be that Islamists are a grave threat to Western civilization and that Islamists with atomic bombs will be unstoppable. His conclusion is untenable to some, but is his premise unreasonable? I don't think it is at all, but would be happy for someone to explain why they think that there is no threat.
4.19.2006 2:47pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
In war, NOTHING should be off the table. We very well could eventually get to the point where total annihilation may be the only option - maybe it won't.

Oh, so now you are saying genocide may be a reasonable and acceptable solution to the Iranian problem. And if we think genocide is acceptable, that makes us better than the Iranians exactly how? Isn't that exactly how the President of Iran plans to deal with the "problem" of Israel?
4.19.2006 2:53pm
SLS 1L:
Amen to what Justin said, but I'd add that this administration has an awful track record with Middle Eastern war. Even if this would be a good idea if competently administered, Bush &Co. have given us ample reason to believe that they'll find some way of screwing this up.
4.19.2006 2:53pm
Unnamed Co-Conspirator:
Rich, I'm not sure I follow your point regarding the refinery issue. Iran, which sits on top of the world's largest natural gas supply, is presumably able to use its energy wealth to pay for its nuclear program, including any illicit acquisitions of equipment or materials, but somehow, that wealth isn't sufficient to enable it to refine petroleum into gasoline?

You should read Luttwak's piece, rather than just relying on the info that I pulled out of it for my comment. His argument isn't that military force should be ruled out. He argues (more persuasively than is possible to do justice to in a blog comment of appropriate length) that we should treat assertions that Iran is capable of producing a weapon with some skepticism, and that skepticism should lead us to proceed cautiously. He acknowledges that a military option might be necessary, and also acknowledges that dictatorships, even those, such as Iran's which aren't really totalitarian, don't tend to collapse under their own weight without at least a little push. Nevertheless, it would seem wise to be mindful of the consequences that military action may have on Iran's eventual alignment (i.e., with the US or against it), once the mullahcracy does collapse.

Isn't it fairly obvious that the hardliners in Iran, including their puppet president, would benefit from and are trying to provoke an attack by the US or Israel? Such an attack, although it would almost certainly disrupt or destroy Iran's nuclear weapons program, would almost as surely give Iran's government an extended lease, whereas without an external attack, They'll have to live with being encircled by US forces (in Iraq and Afghanistan).

Israel or EU (each being within range of Iranian missiles) may have a compelling reason to attack sooner rather than later, but we have much to lose by such a course of action, so it makes sense to make sure we don't jump the gun.
4.19.2006 2:58pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):

Oh, so now you are saying genocide may be a reasonable and acceptable solution to the Iranian problem. And if we think genocide is acceptable, that makes us better than the Iranians exactly how?


And here we go with the knee-jerk emotional moral argument. My premise was that we may get to the point where we have no other choice - I didn't say we're there now. Of course, you may believe that there can NEVER be such a situation. I choose to be more open-minded.

For example - assume that there will come a time that we KNOW Iran has nukes, they've fired them off at the top 10 U.S. cities, and our early warning system isn't working (say it's been infiltrated by terrorists). What do you do then?

To answer your point - I really don't care about whether we're "better" than they. The task at hand is to stay alive, to survive, as a country. I'd rather be alive than know that I'm going to die, from no fault of my own, in two minutes. Feeling good about myself because I didn't stoop to the Iranians' level does nothing for me in three minutes, because I'll be dead.

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 3:04pm
eeyn524:
Steyn via Forest Girl: imagine what they'd be like if a nuclear Tehran had demanded a formal apology, a suitable punishment for the newspaper, and blasphemy laws specifically outlawing representations of the Prophet.

It would be about like if North Korea demanded something equally silly. Be a bit more on the alert, otherwise ignore it, since it's most likely just bluster.

And in any case, they haven't even used what they've already got. Iran claims they could field 40,000 trained suicide bombers. At 2% success rate and 100 victims per success, you're already up to Nagasaki level. Somehow, when the UK failed to prosecute Rushdie, nothing like that happened.

Islamists are a grave threat to Western civilization and that Islamists with atomic bombs will be unstoppable.

Grave threat, maybe, in the sense that lives would be lost. Unstoppable - not even close. The combined military strength of all Islamic countries, plus a nuclear Iran, wouldn't be comparable to the ex-Soviet Union. And that's making the unlikely assumption that they would be united. Steyn's whole essay is filled with words like "unstoppable" that aren't plausible.
4.19.2006 3:14pm
Taimyoboi:
"Other people, who (to put it kindly) have more mainstream assumptions, are unlikely to be able to convince you.
1) Steyn's plan lacks the political commitment given the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of Americans lives lost (to go along with the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of Iranian lives lost)."

Talk about mainstream assumptions...

If I recall, there were also 'mainstream' assumptions about American causalties in Iraq as well, also numbering in the tens of thousands.
4.19.2006 3:16pm
Unnamed Co-Conspirator:
Anderson, this isn't really so hard to understand, is it? God forbid that it ever comes to such a thing, but the reason to kill two or ten million of theirs if one of their nukes kills a million of ours isn't revenge, it's deterrence, and deterrence of not only the target, but of anyone else who might be thinking about attacking us. Of course, having an idea of who the attacker was is important, but doing nothing in the wake of a nuclear attack on the US is a clear signal that the US may be attacked with impunity. A principled unwillingness to use nuclear weapons to protect the US should absolutely disqualify one from being president.
4.19.2006 3:17pm
Jam (mail):

For example - assume that there will come a time that we KNOW Iran has nukes, they've fired them off at the top 10 U.S. cities, and our early warning system isn't working (say it's been infiltrated by terrorists). What do you do then?


How would ou even know that it was Iran that fired them? How would you even know that anything was fired?
4.19.2006 3:18pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Anderson, this isn't really so hard to understand, is it? God forbid that it ever comes to such a thing, but the reason to kill two or ten million of theirs if one of their nukes kills a million of ours isn't revenge, it's deterrence, and deterrence of not only the target, but of anyone else who might be thinking about attacking us.

UCC, that is indeed the conclusion I came to; it's hardly a foolproof argument morally. How many women &children am I allowed to incinerate to make it less likely that my own civilians will be incinerated? But pragmatically, it's a lock.

Btw, kudos to Justin's rebuttal to Randy Barnett. And all you commenters who are "but what about *serious* rebuttals to Steyn?"--you haven't been reading the thread. There are plenty of smart, knowledgeable people commenting here. (I'm just not one of them.)

One more thing--all this "BUT WHERE'S *YOUR* SOLUTION, YOU HIPPIE PEACENIKS???" is silly. Steyn doesn't have any "solution" either. Unless you thought Ann Coulter's "invade their countries, kill their leaders, &convert the rest to Christianity" was a "solution."

Bush has placed us in a *terrible* position vis-a-vis Iran. It is not the fault of anyone else that we can't come up with a good solution. We can just suggest not making things any worse than they already are.
4.19.2006 3:29pm
Nietzsche:
When you look long into the abyss, the abyss also looks back at you.

Be careful that you not become that which you despise.
4.19.2006 3:32pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
For example - assume that there will come a time that we KNOW Iran has nukes, they've fired them off at the top 10 U.S. cities, and our early warning system isn't working (say it's been infiltrated by terrorists). What do you do then?

Okay, it's nice to have paranoid fantasies about superduper terrorists wiping out our early warning systems and taking over Cheyenne Mountain (have you ever been there--it would be quite an infiltration), and then lobbing nukes over the ocean. But in that case a retalitory strike, although not genocide, would certainly be justified.

The way I read your post, you seemed to be indicating that some time in the future it may be necessary to commit genocide (not just a military strike to cripple their military capabilities but total destruction of the country and extermination of the country's population) to preemptively prevent Iran from using their nuclear weapons. There is no justification for this under any circumstances. Such an action is immoral.
4.19.2006 3:39pm
TomCS:
One of the fascinating aspects of the debates on this blog is the picture it gives some Europeans of the narrowness of the US intellectual geo-political worldview, or at least of a relatively well educated, relatively non-ideological slice of it. So let's try to widen the scope of this a little.

First, as Pidgeon pointed out, the Iranian mentality, and sense of its geopolitical role is a great deal more complex than Steyn, or many current commentators, acknowledge. Iran has historically seen itself as out of, and indeed above, the Arab islamic mainstream, and wanted little to do with the desert thugs of the Ibn Saud in their various incarnations, including as rulers of Iraq. One of the odder aspects historically of their present situation is that they are promoting islamicism over iranian nationalism, but objectively they can probably see no conflict in the short term at least.

There is a high level of paranoia in their world view: for much of their history they have been in fear of attack and subversion from all sides, and as Shia heretics did not see their islamic arab (or Afghan, also Sunni) neighbours as natural friends. Their most recent and bloody war was after all with Iraq. Of their dynasties, one was imposed by Afghan warlords and another with the help of Cossacks. With that goes the historical pride of the oldest continuing civilisation in Asia after China, and of being the cultural core of the islamic caliphates: when French was the language of the Russian Imperial Court, Persian had the same role in Istanbul.

Second, just to help shed a little light into the historical black hole before the Islamic revolution and the occupation of the US Embassy. I am not privy to the thoughts of those who sanctioned the takeover, but please do not believe that the US Embasy in Tehran was ever a normal diplomatic building or operation. It was as much a diplomatic repesentation as the State/CIA operations in the Baghdad green zone are today. It was the operations base of the coup which overthrew the democratic government and re-instated the Shah (remember that Roosevelt?) after the end of the Allied wartime occupation, and it provided the security support to the Shah and in particular to SAVAK, an organisation whose methods seem very similar to those being used in Iraq today. The new revolutionary islamic regime had every justification in seeing the US Embassy as an immediate and enduring real threat to its authority: possibly by sending in "students" they were trying to soften a more overtly military invasion of the premises. Paranoid is as paranoid finds, but the Iranians have had good reason to believe that the USA has been historically out to get them. You reap what you sow.

Third, however, the Iranians are not now focussing on the US angle. They are focussing on the Palestinian problem. If this nuclear show-boating is anything, (and I do not exclude the possibility that all they are trying to do is exercise their rights as signatories of the NPT to develop civil nuclear) it is about forcing a solution to the running sore of the occupation of Palestine. The fact that Saddam tried to play poker with WMD he didn't have (and lost) may not discourage them from trying the same ploy again, but this time with WMD they demonstrably do have.

So let's encourage both the diplomats and the neocon analysts to get back to the real and increasingly urgent business of promoting a "fair" two state solution, which respects the rights of the indigenous arab populations of Palestine, and their democratic wishes to be represented by the government they have elected. At one point, not so long ago, Bush even sounded half serious about that. It may require serious out-of-the box thinking to get there: how about the US offering to withdraw its security guarantees to Israel, and to ensure that Israel does not have nuclear weapons itself, to encourage it to live with rather than against its neighbours, if Iran drops any attempt to achieve nuclear weapons?
4.19.2006 3:53pm
Chukuang:
How would ou even know that it was Iran that fired them? How would you even know that anything was fired?


Radar. And physics.
4.19.2006 4:03pm
k parker (mail):
Bpbatista,
History suggests that if, in 1936, the Allies had stopped the re-militarization of the Rhineland, the German Army would have overthrown the Nazi regime.


True, but your formulation is a bit weak. It isn't just an inference (which is what I get from the phrase "history suggests".) Some of the individuals from the German General Staff have explicitly said such plans were in the works.
4.19.2006 4:04pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
how about the US offering to withdraw its security guarantees to Israel, and to ensure that Israel does not have nuclear weapons itself, to encourage it to live with rather than against its neighbours, if Iran drops any attempt to achieve nuclear weapons?

TomCS, you had me nodding until the end. One, it is incredibly unlikely that the U.S. could withdraw those guarantees. Two, it is INCREDIBLY unlikely that Israel would give up its own nukes ... *especially* after losing the U.S. guarantee. Three, neither Israel nor Iran are anywhere near trusting each other enough to make this a possibility.

I would settle for the U.S. taking a more neutral approach to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute, rather than rubber-stamping whatever the Israelis do. Even that might suffice to show enough good faith that we could negotiate something with Iran. They could be a really good ally in future if/when Saudi Arabia ceases to be Saudi.
4.19.2006 4:08pm
Observer (mail):
It seems to me that the criticism of Steyn falls into the following categories:

1) Whatever danger Iran poses, the costs of waging war against Iran are too high. As the Professor points out, there isn't a lot of disagreement on the cost side of the equation. The disagreements are all over the benefits of denying the bomb to Iran (or the costs of not doing so).

2) Iran doesn't really pose a danger.
a) All of its threats (e.g., to nuke Israel and to send thousands of suicide bombers to the West) are just posturing and we should ignore them. There is no conflict in the world today between radical Islam and the West - Steyn is making this up.
b) The real danger to world peace today is GWB.
c) Even if the mullahs are dangerous, we can contain them.

IMHO, the notion that we are not engaged in a world wide struggle with political Islam is far removed from reality. I see no reason not to take the mullahs at their word. I therefore agree with Steyn that a nuclear armed Iran poses a mortal threat to the West. For me at least, the tougher questions have to do with means and methods. I think the mullahs will back down if confronted by sanctions (including a blockade of oil shipments) and a united UN.
4.19.2006 4:08pm
Inspector Callahan (mail):

I think the mullahs will back down if confronted by sanctions (including a blockade of oil shipments) and a united UN.


I thoroughly agree (see, I'm not in it for the genocide at all!!!). But is a united UN possible? That's another 100-comment post, I guess. Suffice to say that if a united UN is impossible, we would have to go it alone. Bringing us back to the current situation.

TV (Harry)
4.19.2006 4:14pm
Jam (mail):
Out of curiosity, how many in here think that the Draft will be instituted if we go into Iraq? How many are of drafting age? How many have children of, or soon to be, drafting age?
4.19.2006 4:15pm
Glenn Bridgman (mail):
"IMHO, the notion that we are not engaged in a world wide struggle with political Islam is far removed from reality."

Why hello there paranoid style of politics.
4.19.2006 4:16pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Observer, are we threatened by "radical Islam" or "political Islam"?

Iran is definitely an example of the latter, but the former needs some defining.

Also, "Iran's threats are posturing" is not the same as "there is no conflict." The main thing about Iran's threats is, they sound like the bragging of a very, very insecure government. Iran has much to fear from the U.S. Hence, it shoots its mouth off in order to bolster its public image. As someone said, Iran is not totalitarian like Germany in 1938 or N. Korea today. They have to keep the people happy.
4.19.2006 4:16pm
Jam (mail):
How many in here, who advocate attacking Iran, WILL join the military if we indeed attack Iran?
4.19.2006 4:16pm
Observer (mail):
TomCS - The curent elected government of the Palestinian Authority has said that it is prepared to cease murdering Jewish civilians as soon as the occupation ends - and it defines the "occupation" as Jews controlling any land anywhere between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. In other words, as soons as the Israelis are prepared to commit national suicide, the Palestinian Arabs will stop killing Jewish children in their beds.

Your point is irrelevant in any event. Israel and the Jews are just a whipping boy for the Iranians and Arabs. If they cared in the slightest degree about the Palestinian Arabs they would have welcomed them into their countries the way the Israelis accepted 500,000 Jewish refugees from the Moslem countries of the middle east, rather than forcing them to stay in "refugee camps" forever. If all the Jews were driven into the sea, do you think that the Islamists would be our friends? That they would give up their dreams of extending fundamentalist Moslem rule throughout the world? Why would you think that?
4.19.2006 4:18pm
ForestGirl:
eeyn24:

I would be perfectly happy to ignore such "bluster" but it seems that, among others, NYU, Comedy Central, and Borders bookstores aren't. I returned to the US last year after 2 1/2 years in Berlin, and the Europeans also aren't ignoring this bluster. The Germans are debating in Parliament whether their Turkish population (the number of Turks in Berlin is the second largest in any city in the world after Istanbul) should be allowed to force girls into arranged marriages. The Swedish, as Steyn points out, are closing down websites that show the cartoons. Theo Van Gogh was murdered a few years ago and a 15-page Islamist diatribe was pinned to his chest for a movie he made and the overwhelming response was: we shouldn't insult other people's religion. Meanwhile the Dutch parliamentarian Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who participated in the film, remains in hiding after numerous death threats--bluster that can't be ignored since her colleague is already dead. Of the cartoons, quoting from Prof. Volokh: "the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has also recently publicly condemned a Danish newspaper for publishing the drawings. Arbour said that she "deplore[d] any statement or act showing a lack of respect towards other people's religion," and "appointed to UN experts in the areas of religious freedom and racism to investigate the matter."

My fears of a "grave threat" are that no lives will even have to be lost, but that we are already going down without a fight. Will the threat of nuclear weapons make us tougher? I doubt it.
4.19.2006 4:20pm
TomCS:
Anderson

I don't think the US is ready to denuclearise Israel either, but I put the thought out there to help our fellow commenters see just how unbalanced the perspective behind this thread is. What is wrong with effective denuclearisation of the whole Middle East as the underlying change needed to resolve the nexus?
Is really reining in the Zionists a fair trade for ensuring that the mullahs don't get a usable deterrent?
4.19.2006 4:24pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Is really reining in the Zionists a fair trade for ensuring that the mullahs don't get a usable deterrent?

I think it's mainly a trust issue; the Israelis would think we were crazy if we demanded they de-nuke, and you have to admit, they have an argument.

(Given the jingoism around here, it's amazing that none of these people stop to think how their nationalism would play out if they were citizens of a 3d-world country (is there still a Third World?). They would *hate* the U.S., it seems pretty clear.)
4.19.2006 4:29pm
Jason Fliegel (mail):
Fred Kaplan makes a case for negotiating with Iran that makes a lot more sense to me that Steyn's piece.
4.19.2006 4:34pm
strategichamlet (mail):
A question to those in favor of pre-emptive, (hopefully) disarming strikes against Iran: Would you have supported such strikes against the USSR, PRC, North Korea, or Pakistan before they completed their nuclear projects?
Personally I consider at least two out of those five to have been significantly more dangerous to US security than Iran, yet in previous situations we have always stayed our hand. Even after time none of those have turned into even remotely happy situations, but so far none of them have yet used them. I understand that Iran is a hideous and dangerous nation, but I think the burden of proof, due to the obvious costs of any attack, would be on those who argue that they are MORE dangerous than the other nuclear nations. If your rejoinder involves religous fanaticism or insanity, remember that one of the other guys mentioned claims that his dad was god and that he hit a hole in one four consecutive times on his first golf outing.
4.19.2006 4:34pm
Francis:
I can easily imagine Steyn's argument being written in Chinese, with the US as the target. Bush's popularity is in the low 30's, probably comparable to the popularity of the ultra-conservatives. The last two elections were, according to our China Steyn, stolen by the Republican party, and mainstream Republicans talk openly about devising ways of ensuring majority status in perpetuity. So, our Chinese Steyn thinks, the evangelical neocon theocrats have captured the American govt and have sworn emnity to the Chinese. China must launch a decapitating strike as soon as possible, before we launch one on them.

etc.

Taken to their logical conclusion, the arguments made by Steyn and the posters here reduce to two options:

a. live with a nuclear Iran;
b. commit to a multi-generational hostile occupation of Iran, Iraq and probably other Muslim countries that rise up in support of those two.

Yet nowhere, not once on this thread, has any pro-Steyn poster committed to advocating for the massive changes that such a war footing would wreak on our society.

so i join with Freder. unless you are willing to live with (and actively support, over the objections of people like me) a draft, punitive levels of taxation, massive changes in civil liberties, massive changes in environmental laws etc., you are NOT SERIOUS about waging war on Iran. As Freder notes, the best way to ensure that a nuke is delivered in the US in the near future is to decapitate the Iranian govt and withdraw. Retribution may be a while coming, but it would most certainly come.
4.19.2006 4:38pm
The Mad Pigeon (www):

How many in here, who advocate attacking Iran, WILL join the military if we indeed attack Iran?



I'm in the military, and I'm not looking forward to the prospect. I might be biased since I've been studying Iran professionally since 1994, but I feel pretty confident saying the material and physical bloodletting will be significant--in other words, Joe Public will need a damned good explanation.

I can't really comment on the politics of attacking, unfortuntely. My job is to merely carry out military policy if the President says, "go."
4.19.2006 4:41pm
Jam (mail):
ForestGirl: You are describing an European, a German specifically, self-inflicted problem.

Not our problem.
4.19.2006 4:41pm
Jam (mail):
TheMadPigeon: My personal commitment to you is to make sure, to the best of my ability, that your time as a soldier is in pursue of you oath of duty and not for grandiose schemes in search of vainglories. I want for you and your comrades to truly be defenders of our rights and liberties, not to be used under guises, while at home we lose that which you seek to protect.
4.19.2006 4:51pm
SG:
Francis:

You neglect a third possibility: That we agree to live with a nuclear-armed Iran, but Iran does not agree to live with us. In which case we get all the drawbacks of option 2, but only after we've experienced one or more nuclear detonations on our soil killing countless of our fellow citizens.

Other people are sure it won't happen. I'm not so sure. strategichamlet asks a good question. There's no good answer, we're left with picking the least bad.

BTW, while I don't agree with Freder, I thank his wife for her service, and Freder for his sacrifice.
4.19.2006 4:52pm
Davide:
Two questions.

(1) Might I ask those not in favor of military action with regard to Iran what they would say (or do) if Iran's president had threatened the US with being "wiped off the map"?

(2) To those who believe the Iranian president's statement regarding his plan to destroy Israel is insufficient evidence supporting military action, what do you make of the following rhetoric?

"Our basic objective will be the destruction of Israel. The Arab people want to fight."

This comment was made by then-Egyptian president Nasser before launching the 1967 war against Israel shortly thereafter.

Should one have not seriously credited President Nasser in 1967 as well? Or should we have instead negotiated with him? Or provided him with fuel?
4.19.2006 4:55pm
Jam (mail):
Davide: I propose to do the same thing we did when a Chinese general made a similar statement with regards to California.
4.19.2006 4:59pm
Davide:
Jam, what is your answer to the first question?

Second, your comment (which I assume, of course, was facetiously made) is off-base. I am not saying that any time any individual (regardless of rank or position) makes a hostile comment, then military action is warranted. I am sure many individuals, at many times, have said worrisome things.

What I am saying is that when middle eastern leaders of Islamic countries say identical things about destroying Israel, and one of them instigated military action against Israel thereafter in a manner
consistent with his statement, why should we ignore what the second middle eastern leader said?
4.19.2006 5:07pm
Shangui (mail):
I would be perfectly happy to ignore such "bluster" but it seems that, among others, NYU, Comedy Central, and Borders bookstores aren't.

ForestGirl:

The situations are hardly the same. NYU made the choice (the wrong one, in my opinion) to limit attendence at one of its events. It didn't decide to make a pre-emptive strike against, say, a local Mosque. Comedy Central made what was probably a business decision. And a good one: there's no doubt they got a lot more publicity this way and that is there goal. I hope you understand that the goals and stakes involved with the US gov't attacking another state are a bit different.

And I think we can agree that the possiblity of small-scale terrorist actions against NYU, Comedy Central, and Borders is of a different order than setting off a nuclear device is NYC. If terrorists distantly supported by Iran blow up a Borders, it's clear that the US would be unlikely to invade or drop nukes on Iran in response. Thus such actions, while evil, are certainly more likely. There's less incentive for a state (or especially individuals vaguely connected to that state) to NOT carry out such activities. But it doesn't follow from this that the state would do something like a full-scale attack that would demand a response. When Iran says they plan to send some suicide bombers into Isreal we should take them serious. When they say they will destroy the US we obviously react differently. And even if attacking Iran might slow their nuclear program, it would do nothing to stop the kind of terrorism you imply and would probably even make it worse.
4.19.2006 5:07pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Might I ask those not in favor of military action with regard to Iran what they would say (or do) if Iran's president had threatened the US with being "wiped off the map"?

Not a good comparison from your p.o.v., Davide. Iran CAN'T wipe the U.S. off the map, but in theory at least it could do this to Israel, which takes up much less map.

To answer your question, the correct response is "try it and your few survivors will glow in the dark for weeks afterwards."

Bear in mind, folks, that no one ruling Iran got there by being some starry-eyed idealist. The mullahs are not going to let any Supreme Leader tell the rest of them what to do, and they are not going to want to sacrifice themselves, their families, and their nation to score points in the Afterlife.
4.19.2006 5:19pm
abb3w:
ForestGirl:
Steyn's overall premise seems to be that Islamists are a grave threat to Western civilization and that Islamists with atomic bombs will be unstoppable.

Note that those are two separate premises. The former he supports rather well; Iran in particular seems unwilling to accept a place in the community of nations, but the tenets of Islam in general are also difficult to reconcile with equity of non-Islamic states. There are doubtless other cultural influences that may moderate this; Steyn implicitly dismisses them, a major weakness in his case. It seems plausible to me to assume they will be inadequate, but the assumption should be examined.

Barring such internal influences to moderate the fanatic Islamics from imposing conditions on outside non-practioners, and to dampen the historical Caliphate expansionist imperial ambitions, the next question is what external influences will resist the spread. Would fear of international action be enough to disuade Iranian leaders from, say, nuking Israel? Possibly, possibly not. However, those leaders seem to be making de minimus effort to portray themselves as rational actors. If it's being done as a political tactic, it's not one of benefit for the international community to encourage nor reward (lest it be repeated... and imitated). Ergo, the international community should take that aspect at face value.

So, assume that Iraq gets the bomb. Assume the question is not whether Iraq will use it; but where and when. I see four main possibilities: nuclear strike (covert or missile) against Iraq as part of an invasion (either before or after US withdrawal); missile strike against Israel; missile strike against an EU member; or a covert (terrorist) strike against the US. An actual EU strike seems the least likely; the US would put on it's NATO hat, and see how high we can make the rubble bounce. (If there's someone clever in the White House, we might politely ask the Russians if they would like to join us. Given the fallout pattern of an EU strike, I'd give three out of five they would, and one out of five they'd beat the US to the punch.) International tolerance of Islam would probably become nil.

While I dismiss utterly the chance of a missile strike against the US (I don't think they're crazy enough to risk THAT scenario), smuggling in a bomb and "disavowing all knowlege" is a little more plausible. I think we're likely to lose a major port city. We would likely be able to retaliate in kind, but the world wouldn't sit back and let us bounce the rubble a while, and the Islamic states would condemn the retaliation against whoever as being done with insufficient evidence. However... while it might not stop them outright, it would certainly result in them slowing down.

If Iran use nukes to go into Iraq, it would be disasterous for the US and Iraqi's... but (depending on the kilotonage used) the fallout would go largely back into Iran. Short term, this might well cut both out of the international oil supply equation, making the OPEC crisis of the 70's look like fun times. Longer term, the environmental impact would probably yield a backlash within Iran. Not a bad scenario, really... once you get past nukes being used.

No, the nastiest scenario is Iran nuking Israel. Israel would retaliate; the only question is, how much international backing will they have? Will the US help, despite Russian and Chinese fondness for Iranian oil? Will any of the countries betwixt Israel and Iran get involved... and on which side? ("Archduke Frankie" springs to mind.) Iran may be stoppable... but not before Israel is seriously radioactive.

Steyn also makes another (unrelated) presumption: that if war is inevitable, sooner is better. I would disagree for one major reason. Under most scenarios, a war with Iran is likely to involve the unavailability of Iranian oil on the world market for an extended period. The most immediate step the US should undertake would be a program to reduce US dependence on foreign oil; it will benefit the US regardless of whether there is a war or not, and if we can postpone the war it will furthermore leave us better prepared to handle it.

The main problem with the chickenhawks is that they fail to comprehend the logistic requirements and planning needed to properly undertake a war. God doesn't fight on the side of the biggest battalions; he fights on the side of the best prepared quartermasters.
4.19.2006 5:23pm
The Mad Pigeon (www):

God doesn't fight on the side of the biggest battalions; he fights on the side of the best prepared quartermasters.


And if I may add, "amatuers study tactics; professionals study logistics."

As an aside, nothing like having work closed for the day thanks to a spring blizzard!
4.19.2006 5:28pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Hey, you nuke experts: How can Iran hit Israel with anything serious without harming Jerusalem, home of the Dome of the Rock &other sites holy to Islam? Could they take out Tel Aviv, say, without harming Jerusalem?

(This is a serious question.)
4.19.2006 5:29pm
Observer (mail):
Anderson - Israel is about the size of New Jersey; it should be possible to dump fission nukes on Tel Aviv, Haifa, and several other locations without doing anything to Jerusalem, save perhaps for some wind-spread radioactive dust. That of course wouldn't destroy the Dome of the Rock, just render them a little hot for a while and the mullahs undoubtedly would view waiting for them to cool down to be a small price to pay for getting rid of all the troublesome Joooos.
4.19.2006 5:57pm
jdd6y:
mad pigeon - thanks for the analysis, it was very insightful

I'm amazingly frightened by most of the comments. It seems as if our policy is going to be based on Hollywood movies and not reality.

That people are willing to invade other countries so cavalierly is shocking in the wake of Iraq. The intelligence in that invasion turned out to be poor. And our ability to occupy Iraq has proven to be non-extant. Stability? The costs, backbreaking. I don't see the same people calling for spending cuts or tax increases to finance these wars. So, the war will simply lead to even more inflationary policies from the Fed. Are we really going to let one rather impotent, temporary leader destroy the wealth of the American people? Constant foreign wars have bankrupted every formerly great civilation. Do people not realize that? Without the Iraq war, our finances are a mess. Add in Iran, even assuming no retaliation in the U.S., or global disruption in the oil markets, an extra trillion dollars of debt would be crisis-creating.

I hope people come to their senses and realize that Iran has every right to build nuclear weapons and it makes total sense for them to want to do so. After all, what sovereign nation wants to have some country from 6000 miles away tell them how to behave? We didn't like it 200 years ago anymore than they do, now. We have meddled in their affairs for a long time. If I were Iranian, I would not like nor trust the U.S., either.

Certainly, there is risk in any choice - this guy may actually believe what he says and want to attack Israel - and perhaps there is a greater than zero chance he could utilize Iran's military to achieve that. But an attack or invasion merely will push back a later, more difficult reconing, incurring all sorts of direct and indirect costs. At some point, other nations have to be allowed the same privileges as we enjoy.
4.19.2006 6:01pm
Jam (mail):
Davide: My answer is to do and say nothing. A frown with a shake of the head is an understated way of saying "NUTS!"

Speak softly and carry a big stick.

Of course, when to use the big stick is the issue and when/how to answer "bluster."


The Mad Pigeon: Napoleon, even Germany in their eastern front, learned that one, the hard way. Or should I say, the soldiers did.
4.19.2006 6:03pm
Jam (mail):
Observer: A "dirty bomb" is of such a small strategic impact, it would have zero effect in crippling Israel and a certainty to cause hell to rain on Iran. Justified, I may add.
4.19.2006 6:08pm
Meryl Yourish (www):
Five years ago, Hashemi Rafsanjani said that they could easily destroy Israel with nuclear weapons, because one bomb would destroy Israel, whereas the response would only harm a part of Islam.

They don't care as much about the Dome of the Rock as they do about eliminating the infidels from the Islamic Waqf. Read the Hamas charter.

As for killing palestinians while they're at it--well, the Islamic world has proven they care little for them. A quarter of a million thrown out of Kuwait after the Iraq war; thousands more hounded in Iraq now that their patron, Saddam Hussein, is gone; Jordan refuses to take the refugees from Iraq--no, the Muslim world won't care about that particular collateral damage.

It isn't a question for nuke experts. It's a question for experts on fanatical Islamists.

I am not an expert, but I do believe that the Iranians truly want to destroy Israel. They've been saying it for nearly thirty years, and I don't believe it's only rhetoric.
4.19.2006 6:20pm
strategichamlet (mail):
Meryl,
The Chinese have been saying for 50 years that they want to take back Taiwan and they've actually taken steps to achieve that capability, but still no one suggests pre-emptive strikes against their medium range missiles or naval units.
4.19.2006 6:38pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
I am not an expert, but I do believe that the Iranians truly want to destroy Israel. They've been saying it for nearly thirty years, and I don't believe it's only rhetoric.

When you've been saying for *30 years* that you want to destroy something, clearly it's not your # 1 priority?

If Iran had wanted to buy a nuke (price no object) and blow up Israel, it could have done it long ago. It seems as if they have other priorities.

And thanks for the replies on the bomb-effects issue.
4.19.2006 6:41pm
Dogtown (mail):
I have read the whole piece, and appreciate Steyn's ability to confront their nuttiness head on. But also conside that Iran has demonstrated their inabilities with technology, and with building and running large organizations. The mullahs are hated by most Iranians, and they are having to resort to increasingly brutal methods to enforce their rules.

Ahmadinejad is fulfilling his expected role as the mouthpiece of the mullahs, sounding more like Baghdad Bob every day, and looking just as foolish. But they may just further isolate themselves, first with the world community, then finally with their own people. They don't have the same clamp on their population as Saddam did, or Kim jong Il. Information is making its way out by people in the know, and with that along with our satellite intelligence, we should be able to wait it out much longer. The technological precision of a nuclear program still is beyond their reach, but if the day comes when their capacity equals their rhetoric, we can punish them, hopefully with withering force. Doing so prematurely would feed right into Ahmadinejad's expectations of inciting nationalism and support he does not currently enjoy within Iran, by baiting the U.S. into attacking the country.
4.19.2006 6:45pm
Mark Buehner (mail):
We've been kicking this around the comment section at WOC like crazy for a few weeks. These are the conlusion i've drawn:

-Invading Iran is at best a monumental project the American people arent remotely prepared to take on (in blood and treasure and patience). At worst it could be the kind of disaster that changes the balance of power in the world, ie. creates what we are seeking to thwart.

-On the other hand, history and what we know about Iran stronly suggests there is no amount of carrots more valuable to Iran than nuclear weapons. And any stick becomes obsolete after Iran goes nuclear. If Iran is to be stopped, we must stop them- almost certainly forcibly. Is it impossible to destroy Irans nuclear program through the air? Maybe, but it can most definately be damaged and set back. You dont need to smash every bit to grind the program to a halt. Just break the right bits.

-It may be possible to conventionally deter Iran (although this is by no means certain considering the fanatacal leadership). Even if we are willing to accept that, the true danger is what would happen to the weapons during any uproar in the regime. Be it collapse, coup, or (worst of all) democratic revolution, the threat of a man like Ahmadinejad with his back to the wall and his messianic martyrs in control of the nations nukes is intolerable in the extreme.

Imagine the scenario of the famous 'Youth of Iran' finally rising up to oust the regime, mullahs are being hung from lamposts, and Ahmadinejad is holed up in his last bunker with his nuclear toys. Who, exactly, do we retaliate against? The ugliest part of Nuclear Iran is that it must become our vital interest to support stability in Iran, no matter how they direct international terrorism. No matter how they stomp on the democratic reformers looking to the US for aid, we must turn our backs from them. It has been pure, unmitigated luck that no nuclear weapons (that we know of)have gone off the grid with the breakup of the Soviets and Pakistans various issues. Anybody wanna take that bet on Iran?
4.19.2006 6:48pm
Francis:
Meryl: Given that:

(a) the US could develop two different atomic weapons using 1940's technology and a 1940's economy;
(b) the science underlying the technology is well understood;
(c)AQ Khan most likely told the Iranians how to implement some really neat improvements (cascading centrifuges) that the US didn't have for the first Bombs; and
(d) it is relatively cheap and easy to tunnel into the side of a mountain so deeply that only a nuke will destroy the facility;

what would you do?

If your answer is smash-and-leave, what do you think the Iranians will do? And if the evidence shows that they've rallied 'round the flag and started a brand new deeply buried crash program to develop a nuke, what then? how many preemptive raids are you willing to launch?
4.19.2006 6:51pm
Vovan:
Ok, this is the excerpt of the speech from Rafsanji

US-British support for Israel

Because colonialism and imperialism will not easily leave the people of the world alone. Therefore, you can see that they have arranged it in a way that the balance of power favours Israel. Well, from a numerical point of view, it cannot have as many troops as Muslims and Arabs do. So they have improved the quality of what they have. Classical weaponry has its own limitations. They have limited use. They have a limited range as well. They have supplied vast quantities of weapons of mass destruction and unconventional weapons to Israel. They have permitted it to have them and they have shut their eyes to what is going on. They have nuclear, chemical and biological weapons and long-range missiles and suchlike.

If one day ... Of course, that is very important. If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.


He is talking about acquiring Nukes, but the main objective is NOT to nuke Israel, but to restore balance of power in the region. I am sure that there are other places where he claims to wipe Israel off the map, BUT this is not one of them. Both the City Journal article and some of the commenters are misleadingly misquoting Rafsanjani at this particular instance.
4.19.2006 6:59pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Imagine the scenario of the famous 'Youth of Iran' finally rising up to oust the regime, mullahs are being hung from lamposts, and Ahmadinejad is holed up in his last bunker with his nuclear toys. Who, exactly, do we retaliate against?

This is an excellent argument for immediate strikes to destroy the nuclear armament and industries of Pakistan.

Leaving aside the implicit notion of Ahmadinejad in a bunker with his finger on a big red History Eraser Button. I suspect it's a bit more complex than that. For one thing, he's not the one who would control the nukes. For another, the personnel who would be necessary to implement a strike are very unlikely to do so on behalf of a toppling regime.
4.19.2006 7:05pm
Sydney Carton (www):
Hope is not a policy. And I'm sure everyone on this thread who discounts the danger Iran poses will smugly remark at the nuking of an American city: "How were we supposed to know?"

Iran is practically shouting that it wants a war. The question is whether it will be on our terms, or theirs. That people are willing to give the benefit of the doubt to a fundamentalist Islamic regime that has been the primary sponsor of international terrorism for over 25 years is beyond me. It is DELUSIONAL to place one's hope in such a regime, especially now that it's trying to acquire nuclear weapons.

Of course attacking Iran poses serious problems, and serious consequences. Whoever thought international nuclear brinksmanship was a walk in the park? And that's the issue: NUCLEAR brinksmanship. Were this some threat regarding conventional weapons, it'd be a different story entirely. But with nukes, why take the chance?

Everyone here who nit-picks a possible military solution to Iran is engaging in classic denial techniques: denial that Islamism is a problem, minimizing/discounting the threat of nuclear-armed Islamic fundamentalists, rationalizing that Iran has a "right" to nukes, ad hominin attacks on Steyn, projection/blaming of Israel or America for the situaition, shifting the argument to Iraq, appeals to ignorance over historical conflicts with Iran (today is the anniversary of Operation Praying Mantis), ignoring the question of how to deal with Iran by blaming Bush for everything. I'm still waiting for people to start engaging in language games, and the denial of objective reality (example: "it doesn't matter if Iran nukes America, because how can we REALLY know the truth of things?"), and then this thread will have degenerated into a farce.

But reality has a way of asserting itself. So yes, feel free to minimize the threat of Iran. In fact, I hope the minimizers are right and that Iran isn't a threat. And if you must live in a deluded world for your own psychological sanity, have fun. But if America or Israel is attacked, I'll bet that the short-term pleasure you got from denying this problem will pale in comparison to the horror you have when you realize that people answer "how were we supposed to know?" with: we told you, but you just didn't listen.
4.19.2006 7:13pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
But reality has a way of asserting itself.

Apparently not.
4.19.2006 7:15pm
Sydney Carton (www):
Anderson, please clarify. Are you suggesting that if, in fact, Iran nukes a city, that would not be an example of reality asserting itself in the face of your delusions?
4.19.2006 7:20pm
eng:
Iran doesn't need nukes to be immune from invasion; it already controls too much of the world's daily production of oil.

The trouble with their oil weapon though is that they themselves feel the pinch in the purse, and more importantly the oil weapon cannot be directed toward overly specific policy goals.

The article is basically correct in its assertion that a strong contingent of the islamic world is out to conquer at all costs. The people who have the most to fear from this are the true Liberals.

As an aside, the arrogance of 'soliders' and 'solider's families' in speaking as if they had a special say in these topics is disgusting to me. To claim that I have not given one iota in the Iraq-War is amazingly ego-centric. To those people, I suggest they return all of the salaries and benefits immediately. They should also relieve me of the taxes that I pay for equipment--and then they can preach about their special sacrifice. If the draft comes back, we can talk again. Until. the next time someone mentions their special connection to a war-zone, we should politely decline to pay any attention to their attempt at arguing by authority
4.19.2006 7:35pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Sydney, you have more free time than I, but let's see:

Iran is practically shouting that it wants a war. Says you. A more realistic interpretation is that Iran is very much afraid of a war. If Iran *wanted* a war, the Iraqi border is right there.

Everyone here who nit-picks a possible military solution to Iran is engaging in classic denial techniques ... Really? Leaving aside some of the straw men, what about "denial that a preemptive nuclear strike would make the U.S. a pariah and virtually guarantee the nuclear attacks on our soil that we are supposedly trying to avert"? How's that for denial?

In fact, I hope the minimizers are right and that Iran isn't a threat. And if you must live in a deluded world for your own psychological sanity, have fun. By your own standards, anyone who hopes that is delusional, so I think you've chosen your words poorly here.

But if America or Israel is attacked, I'll bet that the short-term pleasure you got from denying this problem will pale in comparison to the horror you have when you realize that people answer "how were we supposed to know?" with: we told you, but you just didn't listen.

There's no "how were we supposed to know" here. We lived with the threat of nuclear attack from Russia and China for 40-odd years. As noted upthread, the Communist ideology was thought to be every bit as dangerous as the "Islamist" ideology is said to be in your comment.

Frankly, I think a nuclear attack on the U.S. is inevitable. (See John McPhee, The Curve of Binding Energy, which eerily forecast an attack on the WTC.) There is too much stuff already out there and too many people who hate us.

Our best options are (1) border control, (2) trying not to gratuitously antagonize nation-states (so's to leave the al-Qaedas of the world as our only nuclear threats), and (3) refraining from the use of nukes except as retaliation for a nuclear attack, thus maintaining their "taboo" status as best we can. *Your* "reality" will get this country nuked a lot sooner than mine, I contend. Maybe I'm wrong. One of us certainly is.
4.19.2006 7:39pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Matt Yglesias, not a starry-eyed liberal, apparently wouldn't meet the Barnett "responsiveness" test:
The more honest among the hawks, including Mark Steyn in a recent City Journal article, admit as much. Only “regime change” can keep Iran nuke-free. But we don’t have the troops to occupy the country. Steyn’s “solution” is for the United States to overthrow the Iranian government but skip the occupation.

This is so mind-bogglingly stupid as to defy belief. It couldn’t possibly work. What would it accomplish? You need to believe that a stable, viable, democratic government would just emerge overnight -- perhaps by magic -- and immediately establish control over all of Iranian territory. It’s a fantasy, a dream. Whether hawks actually believe this is or are just pretending to do so, counting on conscription (or something) to provide the troops necessary for an occupation, I couldn't say. Either way, these are not people who should be listened to or in any way given a respectful hearing.
Read the rest, as they say.
4.19.2006 8:05pm
SG:
Anderson,

Matt Yglesias doesn't correctly state the argument being put forth (i.e., he's beating a strawman). The argument here is to overthrow the Iranian regime and skip the occupation, and who cares about the aftermath. No one is proposing or even hoping that a stable, viable, democratic government would emerge from the rubble, overnight or anytime soon. The post-bellum situation would certainly be chaos and anarchy, but if it was chaos and anarchy without access to nuclear weapons, that would be acceptable.

It's not an inherently bad plan. We've gone back and forth on the drawbacks, but not the positives. Were Iran to be thrown into chaos, it would be a severe blow to Iraqi insurgency, remove Syria's mutual defense partner, defund Hamas, and cripple Hezbollah. Leaving it in chaos would also send the message to other potential adversaries that the Iraq experience hasn't spent the US's ability to project force, which would have a valuable deterrent factor.
4.19.2006 8:25pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
No one is proposing or even hoping that a stable, viable, democratic government would emerge from the rubble, overnight or anytime soon. The post-bellum situation would certainly be chaos and anarchy, but if it was chaos and anarchy without access to nuclear weapons, that would be acceptable.

Okay, see, that is what I call objectively "silly," to use no stronger word. You're proposing to make Iran exactly the America-hating playground for terrorists that Steyn et al. are claiming is such a bad thing. 9/11 should have been a pretty big clue that there are LOTS of bad things that can happen without the use of nukes.

Leaving aside the moral issue of causing the horrors you so casually describe because Iran *might* use the Bomb offensively. Like I was saying earlier, when do we bomb Pakistan? And North Korea? And can we *really* trust the Russians?

(Leaving the computer, thank god--have fun, hawks &doves!)
4.19.2006 8:31pm
Unamused:
A nuclear Iran, however, would be worse than a non-nuclear one. Enough worse, that it’s worth trying to see what kind of diplomatic concessions the Iranians might want in exchange for giving their program up.


Voluntary exchanges only work if each party values the object to be given up more than the object to be received. If the Iranians really do want nuclear weapons, then there's nothing they'll take in exchange.

Maybe if we stopped trying to impoverish their country and overthrow their government while threatening to bomb them, they’d agree to rigorous inspections.


Maybe if our government stopped threatening people with fines, incarercation, and physical violence for breaking the law, they'd agree not to break the law.

If so, we should take the deal. If not, then we’ll live with it.


If we can live with it anyway, why bother trying?

But under no circumstances should war be an option.


So if we say explicitly that we'll never use force, they'll be more likely to cooperate with us.

Starry-eyed liberal? No, but bleeding-idiot-philosophy-major liberal, yes. Yglesias should let grownups run interstate relations and stick to his Getting To Yes knitting circle.

If I were hearing the "batshit crazy" crowd say that it should be our explicit policy to respond with massive nuclear retaliation against the state most likely to have supplied a nuclear weapon used against us, I'd be a little less worried about "living with it." But I hear that crowd fussing about even retaliating in kind, so I worry.
4.19.2006 8:38pm
SG:
Well, if 9/11 showed what can happen without nukes, imagine what can happen with them.

BTW, as I recall (and I might be mistaken), wasn't Clinton preparing for military action against North Korea to preempt them, before Jimmy Carter involved himself and "solved" the problem? And of course, don't forget the Cuban Missile Crisis. So there's certainly history for the other alternative.

One problem is that the more people insist that there is no military solution, the more likely a violent outcome becomes. A strong, united show of resolve, up to and incuding the use of force, provides the strongest possible incentive to get the Iranians to stand down peacefully.

So please, don't leave aside the moral issue. Just recognize that every choice has moral implications, including the choice to do nothing.
4.19.2006 8:42pm
SLS 1L:
SG:
No one is proposing or even hoping that a stable, viable, democratic government would emerge from the rubble, overnight or anytime soon. The post-bellum situation would certainly be chaos and anarchy, but if it was chaos and anarchy without access to nuclear weapons, that would be acceptable.
What about the people of Iran you cavalierly propose to condemn to anarchy, chaos, and all the evils that follow? Like mass starvation and civil war lasting indefinitely? Do Iran's innocents count for nothing in your calculus? Why not just nuke the country into oblivion? Unlike this proposal, that would at least shut down Iran's nuclear programs for good.
4.19.2006 9:09pm
Sydney Carton (www):
Anderson, respectfully, you're still engaging in denial strategies.

"If Iran *wanted* a war, the Iraqi border is right there."

A Classic red herring. Iran's desire for war does not mean it's ready to fight one now: in fact, that is why it's developing its nukes. Without nukes, any country that openly attacks the USA is doomed in a conventional fight. Nice try.

"what about "denial that a preemptive nuclear strike would make the U.S. a pariah and virtually guarantee the nuclear attacks on our soil that we are supposedly trying to avert"? How's that for denial?"

This is a diversionary tactic and/or straw man's argument. I didn't suggest a pre-emptive nuclear strike. I don't know if anyone else on this thread did, and I don't credit the reporting of Hersh (despite that, of course it's necessary for ANY president to say that "all options are on the table"). I prefer a massive conventional bombing campaign. Anyway, again, nice try.

"By your own standards, anyone who hopes that is delusional, so I think you've chosen your words poorly here."

Yes, it was poor wording on my part. Sorry about that.

"There's no "how were we supposed to know" here. We lived with the threat of nuclear attack from Russia and China for 40-odd years. As noted upthread, the Communist ideology was thought to be every bit as dangerous as the "Islamist" ideology is said to be in your comment."

Again, this is a weak analogy and ultimately a category error denial technique. The communists, for all their faults, were not suicidal, nor did they believe that a catestrophic nuclear war would be necessary for their ultimate aims. Islamists, as we all know, are readily available as suicide bombers, and Ahmadinejad may believe that a nuclear war is necessary to usher in the age of Islam. This distinction is important because it exposes the degree to which deterrence applies, and whether the Islamists would initiate a nuclear attack to fulfill their religious desires.

"Frankly, I think a nuclear attack on the U.S. is inevitable."

The perfectionist fallacy - that we'll never be able to prevent a nuclear attack, so why bother trying. Another classic denial technique.

"Maybe I'm wrong. One of us certainly is."

Given that all your arguments are typical denial strategies, I'd say you are.
4.19.2006 9:12pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Thales, Hersh promised us that Bush was disgusted with Gen. Franks and was going to fire him.

So there's one example of the evidence you say no one ever brings forward.

Hersh just made that up. Pending a whole lot of independent evidence, I'll go forward on the working assumption that his New Yorker story about Iran was imaginary, too.
4.19.2006 9:43pm
SG:
SLS 1L:

In answer to your question: I would take no pleasure in the sufferring of innocents. But my belief is that if Iran acquires nuclear weapons, a lot more innocents; Iranians, Americans, Israelis, Palestinians, Iraqis and others will suffer. I fear that left unaddressed, the outcome you describe ("nuking Iran into oblivion") very well might come to pass. I'd like to avoid that.

Is your moral concern applied equally? Do you support an American withdrawal from Iraq, even though it would leave the same chaos in our wake? If Iran is not deterred and does as they've promised and nukes Israel, will the suffering concern you at all? As I said in another comment, every choice has moral consequences, including inaction.
4.19.2006 9:47pm
Emanuelson (mail) (www):
Abb3w Said:
The most immediate step the US should undertake would be a program to reduce US dependence on foreign oil; it will benefit the US regardless of whether there is a war or not, and if we can postpone the war it will furthermore leave us better prepared to handle it.
I'm not sure I agree that we should Iran back on the shelf while we go developing new alternative energy options, but I think the arguments for non-petroleum energy grow stronger every day. A realistic alternative source of energy (say, something equivalent to a barrel of oil for $50 a unit) would change the calculus(es) dramatically. Without the massive influx of cash from high oil prices, whould Iran even have the resources to build a nuclear arsenal? If petroleum became just one energy option among many available, would the mullahs be able to hold the world (and especially certain key countries) hostage over it?

I think the answer to the first question is debatable. I think the answer to the second is not.
4.19.2006 9:52pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Without (for now) offering anything pro or con about Steyn, it will be useful to get some indisputable facts on the record.

Here's one: Although Ahmedinijad only swam into the consciousness of Americans a few months ago, the things he has been saying are not 1) idiosyncratic; 2) new; 3) based on a 'return of the 12th imam.'

My offer of proof: In Geraldine Brooks' 'Nine Parts of Desire,' published in 1994, the exact same words Ahmedinijad uses about Israel in 2006 were used by one of Brooks' contacts in Iran.

The program of Iranian Islam is, without question, devoted to the extermination of the Israelis.

Whether that is the No. 1 item in the program is arguable, perhaps. That it is not the program is not arguable.

That many Muslims talk about Israel as a 'one-bomb state' suggests that they have a well-developed concept of 'limited nuclear war.'
4.19.2006 9:58pm
josh:
Professor:

Here's where his logic fails: IRAQ
4.19.2006 10:42pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
The question of when to respond to insane policies of aggression is a nice one.

When it was all over Churchill wrote that there was a time when Hitler could have been stopped 'with a stroke of the pen.'

We now understand that action at any time would have ended up being cheaper than action at any later time with respect the the Nazi regime.

Also with Japan.

But with the USSR, it turned out oppositely. Maybe. The cost, in blood, to Americans would have been higher with any more active strategy than 'containment.' If you count brown people, the equation is more equivocal.

Iran has been non-expansionist, despite its stated foreign policy. Whether this was from incapacity or a disconnect between stated aims and actual military ability is a question.

The Iranians know very well that their military capacity is negligible. They were unable to deal with the incompetent Iraqi army.

That leaves paramilitary operations, which Iran has shown itself eager to engage in. Iran is already at war with the U.S., to the limit of its not very impressive ability.

Atomic bombs close the gap considerably. Presumably not even the nuttiest of the Iranians consider that a nuclear exchange with the U.S. would work in their favor. It is far less clear that they think a nuclear first-strike against Israel would not work in their favor.

My opinion is that they think it would, that the US would not dare to retaliate. Dozens of posts on this thread explain why they might reasonably come to such a conclusion.

One thing we ought to have learned from the 20th century: nations do not start wars only because they believe they are in a position of overwhelming military superiority. They often begin them when it appears they have no possibility of winning.

To allow Iran to have nuclear weapons on the assumption that they cannot use them requires you to believe the Iranians are not as stupid/crazy as, say, the Japanese in 1941. A hard argument to make, in my view.

A different point: If a conventional strike were used to blow in some one or two Iranian underground labs -- not necessarily the lab itself many feet underground, just the first few dozen feet at the entrance -- why would it be necessary to also make sure you had destroyed all the X number of other labs? I dunno about you guys, but I would be reluctant to go to work down there after that. Would Iranian nuke workers risk that for the state/religion? Hmmmm.

So I think that an invasion is not a necessary component of a military solution.
4.20.2006 2:11am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Harry Eager is right. The warfighting power available to the Germans in both world wars, the North Koreans in 1950, the Argentians in 1982, Saddaam in 1990, and others, was objectively inadequate to achieve the goal.
Yet they went ahead.
Why? They BELIEVED. The glasses had rose-colored lenses.
It is silly--ranging to suicidal--to depend for one's life on the rationality of anybody, much less an obvious bunch of nutcases.
There may be other reasons not to pre-emptively attack Iran, but the idea that we have nothing to worry about because of some logical process we presume the Mad Mullahs must follow is nuts.
4.20.2006 3:00am
Freder Frederson (mail):
As an aside, the arrogance of 'soliders' and 'solider's families' in speaking as if they had a special say in these topics is disgusting to me. To claim that I have not given one iota in the Iraq-War is amazingly ego-centric. To those people, I suggest they return all of the salaries and benefits immediately. They should also relieve me of the taxes that I pay for equipment--and then they can preach about their special sacrifice. If the draft comes back, we can talk again. Until. the next time someone mentions their special connection to a war-zone, we should politely decline to pay any attention to their attempt at arguing by authority

And how exactly have you contributed or sacrificed for this war? Don't give me any bullshit about your taxes because the whole damn war has been paid for with borrowed money and we have been cutting taxes throughout the entire enterprise. Maybe you're counting the $1.98 you paid for the "Support the Troops" magnet you have on your car.

My point is that at the root of Steyn's argument, and all the others that advocate similar points of view, is that we can fight this "war" without demanding any real sacrifices from the people of the United States. If these countries are such a threat, then we should be willing to act like it, and you should be willing to pay, with real (not borrowed) dollars and your own blood (or that of your children). Some half-assed measures that are almost guaranteed to make things worse just don't cut it.

If your conclusion is that the only viable response to Iran is a military one, then we need to launch a full scale invasion and that will take a huge buildup and put this country on a war footing unlike any seen since World War II. That will require tax increases, patience (at least two years to build up the necessary forces), and a draft. Are you willing to make that commitment? If not, then your are not serious about taking on Iran militarily.
4.20.2006 9:30am
Freder Frederson (mail):
The warfighting power available to the Germans in both world wars, the North Koreans in 1950, the Argentians in 1982, Saddaam in 1990, and others, was objectively inadequate to achieve the goal.
Yet they went ahead.


The same can be said about Mark Steyn and anyone who believes that we have the currently have the ability to deal with Iran militarily.
4.20.2006 10:24am
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Freder.
Depends on the goal.

Smashing the vital parts of the nuclear weapons program is probably easily done. Dealing with the results is more difficult, but not necessarily a military issue.

To be particular, and not knowing all that is possible, here are a couple of ideas: Underground facilities need doors. No door/access is so strong as to be invulnerable, or as safe as the facility itself. They are safe(r) by virtue of being small and hidden. But putting a bunker buster down the access tunnel will collapse the tunnel even if the facility is undamaged.
The places need power. That comes from outside.
When various stages of production are scattered, it means you can't destroy the whole thing very easily, but it does mean you have a choice of which stage to hit, thus putting the whole on hold. Reinforcing "on hold" from time to time is all that is necessary, or is the minimum.

People make good or bad cases about the likely results of whatever action is taken. I don't see many people saying that having a nuclear Iran is a better result.

I do see the point made that, if struck, we can strike back overwhelmingly. True. But I expect the left and the dems would object even to that. And that, I suggest, is a danger. Because if we are struck, deterrence didn't work and all that is left is mass murder. And if the mullahs are paying too much attention to the western left, they might figure they'd get away with it. Whether they get away with it or not is irrelevant to our dead.
4.20.2006 11:21am
Francis:
do see the point made that, if struck, we can strike back overwhelmingly. True. But I expect the left and the dems would object even to that.

yeah, there was sooo much resistance from the left and the dems to the invasion of Afghanistan.

Richard, i have a secret that i'm going to share with you: the "left and dems" are neither cowards nor america-haters. they are ordinary americans just like you.
4.20.2006 11:37am
Thales (mail) (www):
While my noting of the Hersh article did not directly respond to Professor Barnett's calls for criticism of the Steyn piece, it was pertinent, in that it suggests that the real choice (contra Steyn and some commenters) in confronting Iran is not conventional weapons now versus nuclear weapons later, but rather nuclear weapons now versus a range of diplomatic alternatives, including getting the rest of the civilized world on our side (wouldn't that be a good idea this time? They don't want Iran to have nuclear weapons either.) I really don't know if Hersh speculated or heard from a source who turned out to be wrong that Gen. Franks would be fired, as I have seen no such article. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't. Who cares? Why would his (or his source's) being wrong about predicting a minor future event discredit his career as a journalist? Yes, he could be wrong that Bush and the Pentagon are contemplating using nuclear force, but their lackluster denials do nothing to convince me.

More importantly, a question Hersh's article brings to the fore is what is the quality of the intelligence and foreign policy theory that tells us a) how close Iran is to a bomb and b) why they would be likely to use it against us or Israel? I see no, as in none, evidence that Iran behaves irrationally in the sense that it wants to invite its own nuclear annihilation by doing so. Remember that the folks making these predictions do have a poor demonstrated track record (and Hersh does not, on the whole--and I'd like to see his false prediction about Franks).
4.20.2006 11:39am
Dr. Weevil (mail) (www):
Since Freder Frederson keeps repeating the 'chickenhawk' sneer and has been joined by Jam and abb3w, I suppose I must restate what I wrote in the 14th comment:

The 'chicken' argument applies even better* to the anti-Steyn camp. If you truly believe (a) that Bush is likely to invade Iran or make a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear sites, and (b) that such an attack would likely lead to utter disaster and the deaths of tens or hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of innocent people, why have you not gone to Iran as human shields? Don't you have a duty to risk your life to save your country from disaster and defeat? It would only take a few thousand American volunteers stationed around likely targets to prevent a Bush strike. So what are you waiting for? Are you all cowards? Or just the kind of hypocritical fools who have come up with a pseudo-intellectual argument to 'prove' that others are gutless bedwetters and you are not, oblivious to the fact that the same stupid argument applies to you?

*I say 'even better' because many of us who agree (in whole or in part) with Steyn are ineligible for military service (I'm 53) and even those who can join up would not necessarily see action if they did. It takes many months of training to get to combat, and the Pentagon sends soldiers where they are needed, not where they want to go. You can't just sign up to bomb Iran and then bomb Iran. A new recruit may just as easily end up peeling potatoes or filing papers in Germany or New Jersey or Korea, if that's where the Pentagon sends him. Of course, a human shield could leave tomorrow and be guarding an Iranian nuclear site the next day, if the Iranians find him suitably non-spylike.
4.20.2006 11:43am
Anderson (mail) (www):
The warfighting power available to the Germans in both world wars, the North Koreans in 1950, the Argentians in 1982, Saddaam in 1990, and others, was objectively inadequate to achieve the goal.

This thread is still going? No one's mind is going to change at this point, but I can pause to address factual errors, like this one.

Germany's "warfighting power" in 1914 and 1939 wasn't "objectively inadequate." The French had more and better tanks, but didn't know how to use them. Only when Hitler invaded Russia did he take on something beyond his powers; and even then, while I don't think the Germans could have won, they came startlingly close in 1941.

As for 1914, the Germans' doom came only when the U.S. poured troops into the war. With better political guidance (i.e., a less punitive Russian peace that would've freed up more troops, + restricting submarine warfare to pacify the U.S.), Germany might've pulled it off.

Can't speak to the others, though given that the North Koreans pinned the U.S. into a corner pretty darn quickly, I'd say that it depends on whether NK was wrong to assume that the U.S. wouldn't cut &run.
4.20.2006 11:46am
DeezRightWingNutz:
Freder,

1) Taxes weren't cut during the war in Iraq, they went up. Marginal income tax rates were cut. I'm not saying that there was a cause/effect relationship, but when revenues go up, it's hard to accept the argument that taxes were "cut." Revenues are somewhat irrelevant anyway. Spending is the better measure. Even if the money was "borrowed," were still paying for it.

2) I'm always puzzled by people who demand a national sacrifice be made to win the war. Why don't we just argee to do what is necessary to win? If more needs to be done, let's do it. But why some people seem to be nostalgic for a return to saving bacon grease and going without new tires is beyond me. If you're intested self-flagilation, become a penitente.

3) As others have pointed out, advocacy of a position doesn't without active involvment doens't mean you're a hypocrite or a chicken-hawk. I think armed robbers should be pursued, but I'm not signing up for the police force. I think the highway near my house should be widened, but I'm not buying an earth mover.
4.20.2006 11:53am
Freder Frederson (mail):
Even if the money was "borrowed," were still paying for it.

Apparently, you don't understand the concept of "borrowing". When you borrow money, you get it now and pay for it at some later date. However, the current and forseeable revenue stream and future liabilities this government anticipates (especially if the current tax cuts are made permanent and the promised ones are delivered, but even if they don't) means that we will never be able to pay back all the money we owe or stop running a deficit. There is no serious budget analyst or economist who can make the numbers say otherwise.

This of course is unsustainable, but this administration and many others both inside and outside government continue to act like the deficit will somehow magically disappear sometime in the future. That is reckless beyond belief.
4.20.2006 12:14pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Anderson:

Since Hitler was planning on invading Russia, it would follow that putting Russian combat power into the equation would be reasonable, ditto the Brits, since they, too, had guaranteed Poland's security.
In fact, the Germans had less combat power relative to their goals in 1939 than they did in 1914.

Keegan, in his history of WW I, has an interesting point.
Moltke, planning the attack, found he could--theoretically--get his armies to Paris. But he would need about a hundred thousand more guys to take the Paris fortresses and the city itself. But he couldn't do it. His logistics were maxed out. Every road, every railroad, every train, every loading facility, every road interesection, watering point, truck, wagon and horse, every single thing he could use to get those extra soldiers to Paris was already maxed out. Here was the boss of the Great General Staff, an outfit which had made a religion of making a science of the art of war, looking at the ironclad figures telling him he couldn't do it.
What did he do, seeing that the war was lost before it was started?
He penciled in the hundred thousand and went ahead.
From which we take a couple of lessons: One is that when somebody wants something badly enough, reality won't stop him. The other is that, given the first, it is silly to prepare based on our view of his reality. Somebody could get killed.

Francis. Ref left and dems being normal Americans.
Nope. Been around them for forty years. Nope.
The left preceded the USSR, allied with them while they existed, and survive. They are anti-west. Anti capitalism, anti-democracy, anti-freedom. Not like me. Dems would cheerfully engineer a losing war to make republicans look bad and not lose a minute's sleep. Been there, seen it.
Nope.
They may be "normal" in statistical terms, but that wasn't what you meant.
4.20.2006 12:45pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Yeah, I've never heard of a serious economist talk about "crowding out" of investment, or how inflation is really a tax. We could never collect a dollar in taxes and still pay for all the spending we wanted. We would just print the money. That is why a US Treasury debt instrument is used as a proxy (by serious analysts) for a risk-free rate. Rather than defaulting on its debt, the US would just impose a "tax" on holders of US denominated assets by printing money. That is why I said that a revenue/spending imbalance is irrelevant. Since your household doesn’t have the power to print money, its borrowing isn't really analogous to the US Treasury.

Also, I see you didn't address my argument that taxes weren't cut, just tax rates.

Again, cuts in marginal tax rates aren't necessarily cuts in tax revenues. I don't know whether we're to the right or left of the peak on the Laffer Curve, but I think even you'd grant that reducing marginal tax rates from 100% to 90% would generate more revenue.
4.20.2006 12:49pm
Enoch:
The warfighting power available to the Germans in both world wars, the North Koreans in 1950, the Argentians in 1982, Saddaam in 1990, and others, was objectively inadequate to achieve the goal. Yet they went ahead.

In all these cases, the war they got was not the war they wanted. It was not the goal of the North Koreans in 1950 to fight a UN force led by the Americans - it was their goal to defeat and occupy South Korea alone, for which their force was objetively adequate. It was not the goal of the Argentines in 1982 to fight the British - their goal was to occupy the Falklands (for which their force was adequate) and employ diplomacy to prevent a British counterattack. It was not Saddam's goal in 1990 to fight the US-led coalition - he wanted to occupy Kuwait (for which his force was adequate) and assumed the world would accept this fait accompli. As for the Germans, it was not their goal to fight the entire world simultaneously - they wanted to beat their enemies one at a time, and they thought (not without good reason) in 1914 and 1939 that their forces were adequate to do so.

So, they were not "insanely" thinking they could win the war they actually wound up fighting... they were "rationally" thinking they could win a much more limited conflict. However, once the iron dice were rolled, the consequences turned out to be unpredictable...
4.20.2006 1:04pm
Gordon:
Unless:
You volunteer to fight you can not say we should fight.
You volunteer to police you can not say we should have police.
You volunteer to patrol the border you can not say we should secure it.
You own a gun you can not say you support gun rights.
You publish pornography you can not say you support free speech.

Those all seem more like argument ad hominem than real arguments.
4.20.2006 1:07pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Enoch. Sort of my point. It was irrational verging on insane to think that the lineup of adversaries would be as required for victory.

This leads to an allied point: The impotence of the allied response to the Nazi occupation of the Rhineland, the occupation of Czechoslovakia, and the Oxford Union declaration of 1933 conspired to help Hitler think he could take his enemies in the order he desired.

It is said the the Norks felt they'd been snookered, as Dean Acheson had, earlier in 1950, commented that Korea was not in our sphere of interest. Thus, they'd only have to fight Seoul.

So there is some basis for being careful about one's statements. Might start a war or something.

The Argies: Well, with the macho bashing about in spit-shined stomping boots, and the fancy uniforms, and the mistresses, and the balls to shoot down rioting mobs, the generals looked at England, run by women--not major studs like them--and guessed wrong. Looks as if they slept through that block of instruction in cultural anthropology, no?
4.20.2006 1:44pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Thales. I give up. You say nobody cites Hersh's phony reports. I cite. You say you never heard the report. If you don't know Hersh's work, why are you defending it?

The history of non-Muslim nations (Europe in 1914, for example) may or may not be a very good guide to predicting Iranian behavior. But it's much of what we've got.

It is also instructive to look at the 1954 war against Israel. After 1948, the calculus of Arab v. Israelis ought to have been changed. 1954 suggests that it had not. Syria was probably the principal instigator of that adventure, driven by an extremely radical regime.

We are accustomed today, because we have short memories, to think of Syria as being 'radical' in the 1960s and later. But the regime that replaced the defeated Syrian government after 1954 was much more moderate.

Anybody want to argue that a regime headed by Ahmedinijad is significantly less radical than the regime in Damascus in 1954?

Unless you can make that case, I think History requires (with hee slender power of compulsion) that you expect Iran to strike out whenever it sees an opportunity.
4.20.2006 2:27pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Harry,

You "cited" a report by Hersh by attributing a false prediction to him. I do not know a) If the book or article you mention exists or b)If in it he made such a prediction. For what it's worth, I attempted in a cursory way to find an article in which Hersh falsely predicted the firing of Tommy Franks, and all my Google search revealed was postings by you on other blogs making the same assertion. You may be right, but I'm asking for a citation to a source that I can verify. In any case, I am defending Hersh's record as a journalist as a whole, which is to my mind unimpeached by any credible source, and recommending the particular recent article because it is a serious piece on the subject of confronting Iran (more serious, dare I say, than the Steyn piece that began the discussion).
4.20.2006 2:55pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Also, I see you didn't address my argument that taxes weren't cut, just tax rates.

Again, cuts in marginal tax rates aren't necessarily cuts in tax revenues. I don't know whether we're to the right or left of the peak on the Laffer Curve, but I think even you'd grant that reducing marginal tax rates from 100% to 90% would generate more revenue.

I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about or why you are obfuscating with irelevant points about whether revenues are the same as rate cuts, household budgets and inflation and reducing marginal tax rates from one nonexistent rate to another.

My point is simply this. No matter how many fancy economic theories you throw at it, the government is simply not taking in enough money to cover its current or expected future obligations. If current and reasonably expected trends continue and we don't raise taxes or drastically reduce spending, the government will never, ever, again be in the black. Although in the short term (coincidentally, by the current president's last year in office), the situation will slightly better, it will thereafter get much, much worse.
4.20.2006 3:38pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Thales. It was on NPR. I cannot pull it out of the ether for you. Hersh didn't just speculate or estimate that Bush was going to fire Franks. He said we could take it to the bank.

Obviously, he just made it up. Or, more likely, some spin doctor made it up for him and played him for a patsy.

As it happens, I am a newspaperman. I haven't seen anything serious, as we newspapermen judge such things, in The New Yorker about George Bush. Not that I make any effort to keep up with it these days, but a friend copied David Remnick's latest effort in Talk of the Town the other day. That was neither journalism nor serious commentary.

I find Steyn amusing, occasionally stimulating, but too inaccurate to be worth reading regularly. The New Yorker is no more accurate than Steyn and about as amusing as an AOL chat room.
4.20.2006 3:51pm
DeezRightWingNutz:
Freder,

You said that taxes were cut during the war in Iraq. Since revenues have skyrocketed, I don't agree with your claim that taxes were cut. Moreover, your complaint about "cutting taxes" seems to be merely an example of a larger desire to have "national sacrifice" for the war effort. Even if I stipulate that you could find examples of lack of sacrifice that I'd agree are factually true, it seems you and others are arguing for sacrifice for sacrifice's sake. Obviously, you think we should be doing more to finance the war, which I have said I disagree with. Can you provide other examples of national sacrifce that we should undertake? I've heard people, including veteran journalists who seem oddly nostalgic for WWII-style shortages, criticize Bush for not calling the country to sacrifice. I am honestly asking for non-symbolic examples. Is he trying hard enough to inspire people to join the military? Should schoolchildren save their change for the war effort? Should he go on a whistle-stop tour selling war-bonds?
4.20.2006 4:18pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Moltke, planning the attack, found he could--theoretically--get his armies to Paris. But he would need about a hundred thousand more guys to take the Paris fortresses and the city itself. But he couldn't do it.

He didn't *have* to do it. The Germans didn't take Paris in 1870, either, but they still won the war, by destroying the enemy armies &then besieging Paris, which IIRC fell in 1871. Besides which was Moltke's panicky decision to send ___ (2 corps? I forget exactly) to the Eastern Front, where they weren't even needed for the Germans to destroy the Russian 2d Army.
4.20.2006 4:48pm
Freder Frederson (mail):
Moreover, your complaint about "cutting taxes" seems to be merely an example of a larger desire to have "national sacrifice" for the war effort.

No, my concern about the cut in tax rates (btw I believe that the tax rates we were at before the current rate cuts took effect were not weighing down the economy and that revenues would be even higher if the rates had not been cut), is that our current revenue stream is insufficient to meet our current or future obligations under even the most optimistic scenarioes. There is no reasonable economist or budget analyst who can fudge the numbers or make any Laffer curve magic show the U.S. government ever going back into the black. And the government budget numbers don't even include the cost of the war, which is now costing more, in inflation adjusted dollars, than the Vietnam War. So it is just reckless to talk about extending these tax-rate cuts when the revenue stream is insufficient to meet our reasonably forseeable obligations.

And I will remind you that much of the "skyrocketing" of revenues are the result of one time events like corporations bringing their off-shore profits onshore all at once to take advantage of a time-limited tax break.
4.20.2006 5:16pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Anderson. Moltke thought he needed to take Paris to win, which means if he didn't think he could he thought he'd lose. What we/you/I think about it is meaningless. Which is sort of my point.
People do stuff which doesn't make sense. They even start wars they ought to know they'd lose. When they lose, we can point to their illogic, over the graves of millions or thousands.

It is silly to take our logic and think others will follow it. To get back to the mad mullahs. To prepare as if they'll do what we think they should do is nuts.

Implicit in my thinking here is that overpreparation might make a difference in a marginal case. If the Oxford Union had said they'd not only support, they'd fight in any effort to utterly destroy any nation in Europe which attacked its neighbors, Hitler might have had a harder time recruiting his buddies and the Wehrmacht generals--veterans of an earlier loss--to his idea that they'd win this time.
What harm would it have done?
Other kinds of preparation...the same.
4.20.2006 5:23pm
Chris Sandvick (www):
A lot of good points have been mentioned but I here is a number of ones I have not seen:

The supposed conservative nature of the Iranians is precisely because they do not have nuclear weapons and want to maintain the appearance of being the victims. They well know that they have thousands of volunteer propagandists out there working to prevent the United States from acting. After they have the bomb they do not need do be as circumspect.

Even if the apocalyptic rant is only for public consumption does that not have implications for the character of the Iranian pubic that needs to be mollified that way? Certainly the "conservative" government can be replaced by someone who believes deeds should match word? Citing Pakistan is not a counter-argument. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons and is being stabilized up by the US government, despite its odiousness, precisely so that its weapons don't fall into other hands. Pakistan is already one nightmare. We don't need a second.

Europeans should deeply worry about the comment above that Islamism in Europe is their problem. The EU/NATO without the United States is a collection of militarily weak states that probably can be fractured by dealing with them piecemeal. If Iran nukes Copenhagen, will France and England respond in kind at the risk of Paris and London? The Islamists may hate us but they have no love for Europe. And Europe is not only an easier terror target, but, if they lack US nuclear protection, is far more vulnerable to direct attack.

My take is, on the principles if not all the details, Steyn is right. Iran MUST not be allowed to have nuclear weapons.
4.20.2006 5:43pm
Chris Sandvick (www):
One other comment: I'm not a military expert but a few things seem to be clear. Iran is a third rate military power at best. It couldn't defeat Iraq in 8 years. While it has an intact military it is also a green one, with its only real combat experience dating from the 80's or in any internal security (repression?) operations they have been doing. No doubt invading them would be bloody but I'm far from convinced that is infeasibility militarily.

And if the professionals do in fact consider conventional operations impossible in Iran than why the hell is that the case? The US government’s primary job is the defense of its citizens. If the strategic assessment is that we are beholden to a non-nuclear Iran then serious re-thinking of national defense needs to happen.
4.20.2006 5:59pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
If the Oxford Union had said they'd not only support, they'd fight in any effort to utterly destroy any nation in Europe which attacked its neighbors, Hitler might have had a harder time recruiting his buddies and the Wehrmacht generals--veterans of an earlier loss--to his idea that they'd win this time.

Permit me to doubt that Hitler *or* his generals gave a rat's tail about what the Oxford Union thought.

As for Moltke's being a trifle thick, okay, but I wasn't factoring that into "warmaking power." Anyway, I suspect we agree more than not: nations go to war without really having the wherewithal to do so successfully. (You could add "France in 1870" to your list.) I just don't see Iran doing that; they are not that belligerent a nation, never have been.

(As someone cattily blogged, the UAE, our erstwhile port defenders, refuse to recognize Israel &are pals with Iran. "Israel must be destroyed" among the Mideast nations is rather less Carthago delenda est than "___ sucks and is ruining this site.")
4.20.2006 6:27pm
Anderson (mail) (www):
Oh, and for you Yglesias-bashers, see this from Matt:
Sending a giant conscript army to occupy Iran is a terrible idea. If you think our current troops lack the appropriate training for the occupation of Iraq, just wait until I'm the one doing it. Think about it.
Irrefutable!
4.20.2006 6:31pm
Wince and Nod (mail) (www):
Dean Esmay, who can be a very good thinker, says that Steyn is basically right. Those who are calling Steyn insane are not being serious or helpful. Attacking good thinkers as insane shows poor habits of thought. You should attack Steyn's premises, instead. Me, I say "Never again". How can we let a government dominated by rabid hatred of Jews get the bomb, complete with missiles which can reach Tel Aviv? That sounds truly irrational to me. Is "Never again" a meaningless platitude?

After all, if Hitler had embraced the Jews in Germany, so that Einstein, for example, had stayed there, Germany might very well have gotten the bomb first, and won. Turning European Jewry into slaves and working them to death was enormously counter productive. Hitler killed 20 million Germans with his bad ideas. Why are we so certain that the mullahs are rational?

OTOH the Luttwak piece, mentioned up-thread, does provide a reasoned counter to Steyn. Luttwak maintains that our best approach is to wait for the Iranian people to save us from their government, becuase we have ten years.

The counter to Luttwak is simple. The Iranian people had had over twenty-five years to get rid of the mullahs. Why do we think they'll actually do it now?

In this thread, we started discussing Iran, here, which just happened to be after I read Steyn.

I do think we have a little time. We should double the size of the Army and Marines without a draft, and sell war bonds to finance it. Expensive, but doable. We should start conducting public diplomacy with Iran's neighbors with the stated public goal of partitioning the territory Iran between the allies after an invasion if Iran fails to meet a hard deadline of verifiably ceasing nuclear work. If Iran misses the deadline, we should, with our allies, invade, then partion the country among them.

Yours,
Wince
4.20.2006 9:17pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Luttwak makes the elementary mistake (also made by Bush, Rumsfeld and many, many others) of crafting strategy based on what he believes an enemy will do or wants to do.

Professionals at war (and at politics, for that matter) always consider what the enemy is capable of doing and prepare for that.

When you've staked your nation on an outcome, almost all surprises turn out to be unpleasant.
4.20.2006 9:39pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
Anderson: I don't think Hitler and his cronies "cared". But they knew they were short of material. Like the Japanese--in a worse position--they presumed the democracies wouldn't and couldn't fight. They had to think that. If they didn't, they had nothing.
Now, it's possible that if the Oxford Union had gone the other way, it would have made no difference. But it might have made a difference. In any event, there would have been no harm in going the other way.
But I used that as an example of the quite overt and wide-spread pacifism that was part of the public debate in France and Britain.
Permit me to say that it is nonsense to assert that the Nazis were paying no attention.
As Mussolini said of Britain, this was once a race of magnificent adventurers and is now a line of tired rich men's sons. He'd been reading too much Wodehouse, I suppose. The Code of The Woosters hadn't impressed him. Should have.
It is nutiness squared to think that our enemies aren't trying to gauge our intentions and probably reactions. And they have nothing to go on but what we say and do.
Are you prepared they are paying no attention?
4.20.2006 9:52pm
snuh (mail):
not only would a "tactical nuclear strike" on iran be dumb, it would also be hilariously ironic. although the purported goal would be to prevent iran from breaching the non-proliferation treaty, the means [using nuclear weapons against a state which does not also possess nuclear weapons] would actually breach the NPT.

so, apparently, we must break the NPT in order to save it.
4.20.2006 10:37pm
The Mad Pigeon (www):
"Iran is a third rate military power at best. It couldn't defeat Iraq in 8 years....No doubt invading them would be bloody but I'm far from convinced that is infeasibility militarily."

Nor could Iraq defeat Iran in 8 years. Saddam dreadfully miscalculated Iran's willingness to defend herself, thinking the new Islamic regime and the purge of the Shah old guard made Iran ripe for the plucking. 8 years later Saddam's dream was nothing more than a huge pile of debt, at which point he figured Kuwait was an easy target for refilling his coffers. But I digress.

Unfortunately, the Iran military of 2006 is not the confused, leaderless and unorganized rabble of 1980. This is a force that trains constantly, studies adversary tactics and lessons learned, and could probably clobber any regional power by sheer volume alone. Let alone Iran can also project power well beyond her borders through a variety of conventional and dastardly means.

But of particular note, Iran has the one crucial asset that even the best equipped militaries can't always guarantee on the battlefield--morale, and religious morale, to boot. That right there makes them a far more lethal opponent than the well-equipped yet secular Iragi Army The US faced in 1990. If attacked first, if made out as the real or percieved victim, the Shi'a clergy can tap and unleash a wellspring of religious fervor at a scope bin Laden and Zarqawi can barely imagine.

Now take a reasonably well-trained, albeit not as well equipped, yet decidedly motivated force with the means to carry out global attacks by proxy, and back them into a corner. Better yet, do this while conducting a similar and rather unpopular operation in Iraq.

Of course, as a military member I don't get wrapped up in the politics of conflict: just the doing of conflict--but when analyzing a target I will weigh the geopolitical climate as a factor. All that said, if given one moment to present my professional analytical opinion to Pres. Bush, I'd say the long term fallout of even a limited unilateral strike against Iran would make OIF look like the Grenada invasion in scale.

Unfeasable militarily? Probably not, but I hope pessimists plan the operations...
4.20.2006 11:23pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
You mean they would hate us more? They've been gathering by the tens of thousands every Friday for more than 25 years to shout 'death to the Great Satan' (that would be me -- and you).

I'll take, as a working assumption, that if they could have done anything to harm me, they would have. If they have a nuclear bomb, then they can.

In spades for Israelis.

On what grounds are we supposed to ignore their policy statements? That they have not invaded Israel despite saying it should be wiped off the map? Oh, yeah, except for sponsoring Hezbollah etc.

The assumption that we would have to include a ground invasion as part of a military response is the kind of thinking that got Bush into trouble in Iraq, since it is based on an assumption that destabilizing western Asia, or any part of it, is a BAD THING.

If we believe in the national principle (I do), then western Asia needs badly to be not merely destabilized by remade. There are 10 states now; there should be at least 19. Start with a Great Kurdistan. Why are we so tender about the national (or Shia) feelng of the Persians and don't give a hoot about the national feelings of the Kurds?
4.21.2006 2:42am
Bob Bobstein (mail):
4.21.2006 10:34am
Harry Eagar (mail):
A hammer isn't our only tool. There is, for example, democracy, secularism and popular government, all of which we demonstate to the rest of the world, free for nothing, but in Muslim countries that has had no appeal.

Another Bush mistake. He thought it would.
4.21.2006 1:37pm
Enoch:
Iran can also project power well beyond her borders through a variety of conventional and dastardly means.

The effectiveness of which relies largely on our unwillingness to punish Iran for such acts, or even to acknowledge that Iran is the author of such acts. If we took action against Iran and they responded with terror attacks elsewhere, would that actually cripple our military capability? Probably not. We'd have more than enough ability to retaliate overwhelmingly - the only question would be whether or not we had the willpower to do so.

Iran has the one crucial asset that even the best equipped militaries can't always guarantee on the battlefield--morale, and religious morale, to boot.

Soft pink bodies, no matter how well motivated, lose out to overwhelming firepower. The Iranians found this out in their war with Iraq.

The Iranians are by no means feeble, but they're not ten feet tall, either.

Now take a reasonably well-trained, albeit not as well equipped, yet decidedly motivated force with the means to carry out global attacks by proxy, and back them into a corner.

This entails risk, to be sure - but are the costs and risks of this less than the costs and risks of allowing Iran to go nuclear?
4.21.2006 6:53pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
I don't think we can tell from out here how well-motivated Iranians are. They may be religious fanatics, thirsting for martyrdom, or they may be rather more provident people who remember (or if they are too young to remember, to have heard about) what it was like to fight for the Revolution 1980-88.

I certainly don't discount the fanaticism of fighters for Islam. Suicide bombers have either been non-existent or a wasting asset in every infidel society. Even the Japanese kamikazes were mostly draftees near the end. The supply of suicide bombers from Islam, however, seems to be steady and bottomless.

I do not, however, draw from that the conclusion that we must put up with whatever they want to demand. There are other conceivable responses.
4.21.2006 8:40pm
Enoch:
The supply of suicide bombers from Islam, however, seems to be steady and bottomless.

All things considered - and compared to the hundreds of millions of potential volunteers - the supply seems relatively meager.
4.21.2006 9:42pm
The Mad Pigeon (www):
<blockquote>
<i>Soft pink bodies, no matter how well motivated, lose out to overwhelming firepower. The Iranians found this out in their war with Iraq.</i>
</blockquote>

Indeed, the Iranians died by the millions--but they kept fighting, regardless. Overwhelming firepower can destroy a military's personnel and materiel, but if it doesn't destroy their will to fight than the side with the biggest guns can end up staying longer than expected. I can't quite recall where exactly that's happening right now...

<blockquote>
<i>I do not, however, draw from that the conclusion that we must put up with whatever they want to demand. There are other conceivable responses.</i>
</blockquote>

Nor do I mean that we <i>should</i> put up with whatever they demand. But we need to wargame the potential consequences of our responses, and I'd rather plan the worst and go in ready to deal with contingencies. I'd say <i>hope for the best</i> to finish the cliche, but hope has no place in geopolitical analysis.
4.21.2006 10:53pm
The Mad Pigeon (www):
So much for my formatting...
4.21.2006 10:54pm
Richard Aubrey (mail):
I would suggest that the motivation may be different in the regular army and the fanatic irregulars. If the former decline to be fanatical--and that possibility is why tyrants have separate, fanatical organizations--see the Wehrmacht vs. the SS--and the latter want to die, I expect the former will mostly live and the latter mostly die and the result will be pretty much zilch except for the dead guys' parents and the political system.
4.21.2006 11:52pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Probably depends how far you live from a falafel shop, Enoch
4.22.2006 1:50am