April 18, 2006


You Wanna Talk? Let's Talk: The case for negotiating with Iran (Fred Kaplan, April 17, 2006, Slate)

The Iranians' call for more nuclear talks is probably a snare, designed to knot up the West in fruitless diplomacy while they accelerate their drive to build atomic bombs. Yet President Bush should take them up on their offer...

It's not an easy title to win, but no one writes more nonsense about how America should interact with its enemies than Mr. Kaplan.

Three Reasons Not to Bomb Iran—Yet (Edward N. Luttwak, May 2006, Commentary)

I know of no reputable expert in the United States or in Europe who trusts the constantly repeated promise of Iran’s rulers that their nuclear program will be entirely peaceful and is meant only to produce electricity. The question is what to do about this. Faced with the alarming prospect of an Iran armed with nuclear weapons, some policy experts favor immediate preventive action, while others, of equal standing, invite us to accept what they consider to be inevitable in any case. The former call for the bombing of Iran’s nuclear installations before they can produce actual weapons. The latter, to the contrary, urge a diplomatic understanding with Iran’s rulers in order to attain a stable relationship of mutual deterrence.

Neither position seems adequately to recognize essential Iranian realities or American strategic priorities. To treat Iran as nothing more than a set of possible bombing targets cannot possibly be the right approach. Still more questionable is the illogical belief that a regime that feels free to attack American interests in spite of its present military inferiority would somehow become more restrained if it could rely on the protective shield of nuclear weapons.

In contemplating preventive action, the technical issue may be quickly disposed of. Some observers, noting that Iran’s nuclear installations consist of hundreds of buildings at several different sites, including a number that are recessed in the ground with fortified roofs, have contended that even a prolonged air campaign might not succeed in destroying all of them. Others, drawing a simplistic analogy with Israel’s aerial destruction of Iraq’s Osiraq nuclear reactor in June 1981, speak as if it would be enough to drop sixteen unguided bombs on a single building to do the job. The fact is that the targets would not be buildings as such but rather processes, and, given the aiming information now available, they could indeed be interrupted in lasting ways by a single night of bombing. An air attack is not a demolition contract, and in this case it could succeed while inflicting relatively little physical damage and no offsite casualties, barring gross mechanical errors that occur only rarely in these days of routine precision.

The greater question, however, is neither military nor diplomatic but rather political and strategic: what, in the end, do we wish to see emerge in Iran? It is in light of that long-term consideration that we need to weigh both our actions and their timing, lest we hinder rather than accelerate the emergence of the future we hope for. We must start by considering the special character of American relations with the country and people of Iran.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2006 7:41 AM

The key to peace remains credible deterrence. The opponent must believe that the penalty for attacking the United States is not just to be killed but to be erased from the face of the earth as though his people had never lived.

Getting hit with one Iranian nuke would not be the end of the world for America; massive retaliation would be the end of the world for Iran.

Ponder the morning after some limited, surgical strike on Iran's nuclear capability. Has anyone been converted or "reformed?" Rather, have they not been merely inflamed with hatred and resolve.

What we see here is the gun-control mentality: the idea that if we make guns a little more inconvenient to obtain, moving the supply curve slightly, criminals will undergo conversion and reform and stop demanding guns.

Of course this is absurd. The street criminal continues to demand his gun and the market adjusts to the modification of supply.
In the case of rogue states demanding nuclear weapons the same principle obtains.

A much better solution to the problem of Iran would be a rearmed and reconstructed Iraq, suitable stiffened by Imperial forces. The second Iran-Iraq war fought under our air power would be short and conclusive.

Posted by: Lou Gots at April 18, 2006 3:20 PM

Lou -

Think about that again. Would an Iraqi army seize and hold territory? How much? How many Iranians would have to die before the surrender? Would the Iraqis march through Qom? All the way to Tehran?

It might be like the situation at the end of WWI, with an aggrieved and restless loser, shocked at failure (to perceived inferiors).

Posted by: jim hamlen at April 19, 2006 1:00 AM

Look, there is no painless, convenient way to solve this. It also doesnt really matter "what we wish to see emerge in Iran". We must do what we can do. What we should do is forcibly blockade Irans oil exports and wipe out the Iranian economy.

I am quite serious about this. Of course, oil prices would explode, but a bombing campaign will do that, too. And we can take it better than they can. We can also take it better than China, which will be given a reason to think about how these rogue regimes threaten their oil supplies and wouldnt an accountable government be better? And let Russia know that all those nuclear technology and SAMs may not be paid for - as the Iraqi debts never were paid.

An unilateral blockade is exactly the kind of aggressive behaviour that gets you appeased. Not by Iran, but by the self-interested actors of the "international community".

It will hurt the class of self-interested Iranian businessmen and bazaris who I believe are more relevant than pro-democracy students.

An oil crisis will happen anyway, once Iran can blockade the Persian Gulf or bombs Saudi installations. The power of Iran lies in its oil. The greater power lies with those who can take it away. At the moment, thats us. That moment may soon pass.

Posted by: wf at April 19, 2006 5:08 AM