January 8, 2007


If you so dumb, how come you ain't poor? (Spengler, 1/09/07, Asia Times)

On the assumption that Iran had a reasonable shot at obtaining deliverable nuclear weapons by late 2007 or 2008, I forecast last year - wrongly - that Western powers would attack Iran. There is a consensus among the major powers' intelligence services that Iran will not have nuclear weapons until 2010, and more likely 2012. Neutralizing Iran may be easier than I anticipated. [...]

There has been an inordinate amount of nonsense written about US decline, complete with Russian and Chinese designs to benefit from America's embarrassment in Iraq. The reality could not be more different. Neither Moscow nor Beijing has the remotest desire to see the US withdraw from the region or lose power, for two reasons. The first is that America's presence in the region ensures that little wars will remain little. The second is economic. America's economy and particularly the appetite of American consumers for imports remains the locomotive of the world economy, most emphatically of China's. China's trading relationship with the United States is an irreplaceable pillar of national prosperity, and the means to generate the national savings China requires to establish what President Hu Jintao calls "the harmonious society".

If, hypothetically, the Persian Gulf were to go up in flames and the price of oil were to double, the US economy would tumble into recession. China's even more oil-sensitive economy would experience a double blow, in the form of higher energy costs and reduced exports to its major markets in the industrial world. By the same token, if Central Asia were to slide into chaos, the biggest loser would be Russia.

Russia and China will bargain hard in return for providing cooperation to the United States, as I wrote on January 2, but their interests ultimately overlap with America's sufficiently to create a concert of nations to contain Iran. If economic pressures do not succeed, the option of a military strike remains ready.

That, I suppose, is the point of the January 6 report in the London Sunday Times that Israel is prepared to use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's capacity to build nuclear bombs. Israel has no intention of doing any such thing in the near future. With the prospect of an Iranian nuclear device at least three years away, why would it? But the Sunday Times report at least reminded Tehran of what might be in store should it continue to misbehave.

Indeed, Iran is so easy to deal with and the back-up options so good that we need make no concessions to China and Russia.

Posted by Orrin Judd at January 8, 2007 8:13 AM

"With the prospect of an Iranian nuclear device at least three years away..."

What I would find amusing - if it were not so serious a subject - is that commentators throw out these estimates as statements of fact. If I have learned anything here over the last few years, it is that these intelligence estimates are nearly always wrong (eg., fall of USSR, Iraq WMD, Afghan quagmire).

Why would these estimates be correct this time and what are the consequences if they are not?

Posted by: Rick T. at January 8, 2007 10:15 AM

In addition, you don't account for the general 'will' of the USA (and its leadership) in your softballs on Iran. Sure, the Soviets were always papier-mache, but in the 1970s, the US was play-doh. The 1980s were a bit different.

Iran may be imploding, but if the US is just going to file its nails and change the channel, it doesn't have to be really strong to cause big problems, now does it?

Posted by: ratbert at January 8, 2007 10:49 AM

I often enjoy Spengler's contrarian takes on things, but I think he underestimates the sheer irrationality that can govern unstable and failing powers. There are domestic pressures that force undemocratic leaders into short-term thinking, to say the least, and sometimes they are just plain divorced from reality. It's in China's best interests to be on good terms with Japan too, but the Chinese leadership makes a consistent policy out of whipping up anti-Japanese hysteria among the proles, in order make ultra-nationalism serve (to keep them in power) where Communist ideology has now failed.

Posted by: Lisa at January 8, 2007 11:18 AM

They'll get nukes once they're our allies again, and not before.

Posted by: oj at January 8, 2007 12:51 PM