War with Iran, based on things that are not so

Wolf Pangloss wrote an interesting and detailed reply to Part I of my series on The Long War.  In it he describes why Iran is our enemy.  As a timely rebuttal see “The Iranian Challenge” in 19 November 2007 issue of The Nation, by Trita Parsi (Wikipedia entry).  He is the author of Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. (Yale, 2007), and president of the National Iranian American Council).  This article describes 6 myths about Iran.

  1. Iran is ripe for regime change.
  2. Iran is irrational and cannot be deterred.
  3. Iran is inherently anti-American.
  4. Enrichment equals a nuclear bomb.
  5. Iran seeks Israel’s destruction.
  6. The pressure on Iran is working.

I am no Middle East area expert, but these seem pretty accurate.  But the strategic context to this debate is seldom discussed.  Let’s consider two aspects of the wider game.

First, history shows that the very existence of a hegemon impels other states to ally against it.  Worse, our new fondness for attacking other states must incite fear and encourage alliances against us.  This is clearly happening today amongst the emerging powers of Asia — China and Russia.   Let’s not encourage this natural tendency, let alone accelerate it.  Attacking Iran would do both, at warp speed.

Second, strength encourages boldness — often disastrously so (Napoleon’s invasion of Russia).  But even worse, so does the illusion of strength.  America’s position today is precarious, with both internal and external weaknesses — both geopolitical and financial.  Note my previous posts about Peak Oil and the US dollar.  Adding the stress of another war at this time seems extremely unwise.

Note that rumors are again circulating about a strike at Iran by Israel, best stated in this January article in the TimesIsrael plans nuclear strike at Iran.  Almost certainly a bluff, in my opinion.  Using nukes would make Israel a pariah, far more so than it is today.  They would be global criminals, almost certainly hit with punitive measures such as elimination of foreign aid and trade sanctions.  These would put Israel’s very existence at risk.

For more information about Iran

17 thoughts on “War with Iran, based on things that are not so

  1. Comment unrelated to article – using the approach because I find no other way to communicate directly. Comment on site (at least on my FireFox browser): Your colors are a poor choice. The light blue is too light for me to easily read. The gray in the headers to postings is almost illegible. I’ve always appreciated you insights and look forward to regularly reading you blog as well as the longer article on DNI.

  2. American BS retoric a usual, and It is to laugh, as usual. Iran is ripe for regime change. Right, afterall it’s less stable and pecarious than the current US dictarorship.
    Iran is irrational and cannot be deterred. Right, invading and occuping overseas countries, on totally bogus permis.
    Iran is inherently anti-American. Right, for no good reason or historical precident.
    “They hate us for our Freedumb !” Enrichment equals a nuclear bomb. Right, only one country on earth, the one that’s actually used the bomb is the only one entitled to such.
    Iran seeks Israel’s destruction. Right, they all lie awake at night, planning and scheming.
    The pressure on Iran is working. Right, the USA is the world’s leader and every country follows,,,

    Pathetic.

  3. max appears to be confusing America with the rather late Roman republic. George Bush is no Gaius Marius.

    The tedious ad hominem nonsense aside, I do agree that Iran’s pursuit of Israel’s destruction is very likely nothing more than rhetoric. This isn’t to say that Ali Khamenei (and a good portion of Persians, perhaps) wouldn’t like to see the ruin of Israel. Rather that the nihilism of Iran’s leadership (when one considers the global backlash that would follow a nuclear attack on Israel) simply isn’t up to the task. Khamenei and his merry band of bearded sages are not (IMO) in the same strata ideologically as Ayman al Zawahiri or Osama bin Laden.

  4. Here’s the “existential” question about Iran: would Iran use nukes (built, bought, or stolen) to nuke Israel? Nuke America? “Yes” answers often generate fear and a desire for bold, aggressive actions. “No” answers generate a wait-and-see, incrementalist, cautious approach. Subadei and I are, I think, in the “no” camp. History (what little we have of it with nukes) suggests that nukes stabilze regions (China-Russia, India-Pakistan, Israel-Egypt?). But the uncertainty seems difficult for some to tolerate.

  5. A nuke is really only useful to an aggressor nation. If Iran was an aggressor nation they would be willing to use a nuke and be willing to absorb the consequences of that action, which would be complete annihilation. Perhaps this would be a good thing for them, being closer to their god and all, but I don’t think so. If they were the aggressors, it would seem to me that they are leaving god out of the equation, which would be too bad for them.

    Perhaps they would be willing to slip it to some other entity and then let that other entity become the aggressors, but I don’t think that is the way it works. It appears to me that once a nation develops a nuclear device it becomes theirs and is easily identified as theirs. I don’t know why this is true, but the recent attack inside Syria seem to point in this direction.

    If it wasn’t true, that a nation could build a nuclear weapon and sell it on the open market, then it would seem to me that, with the amount of money in the region, someone, not some nation, would have a nuke already and they would be waiting for the right moment to set it off. This might be the case, but the attack inside Syria didn’t appear to set off other strikes in other nations. It seemed to be a strategic, certain, and controlled event. The strike seemed certain of its success and perhaps even certain no other strikes needed to be made at that time.

    As Fabius said, it is the uncertainty which seems difficult for some to tolerate. Governments play on this uncertainty to get their way or to promote their agenda. If the agenda was that we cannot control the nuclear weapons coming out of N. Korea (or perhaps anywhere else), then that uncertainty would have been promoted if not exploited to the max. As it was, all stakeholders seemed certain of the situation.

    I would say the “existential” question of: would Iran use nukes (built, bought, or stolen) to nuke Israel would be yes if they could get away with it.
    But the essenctential question would be: could Iran build, buy, or steal a nuclear weapon and use it against Israel? To this I would have to answer, no, it is not in their essence.

  6. That is a more precise formulation of the question! But I don’t understand why a nuke is useful only for an aggressor nation. Isn’t it useful for defense — who would attack someone with nukes, at least with conventional military forces? How can a nation with nukes be defeated without the attacker suffering unacceptable losses?

  7. “who would attack someone with nukes, at least with conventional military forces? How can a nation with nukes be defeated without the attacker suffering unacceptable losses?”

    First of all, the prime objective of war is to win. Your question seems to deal with the sanity of the situation, when sanity does not enter into the equation, winning does.

    Would the US risk losing some of the blue states on the West coast in exchange for the annihilation of N. Korea (and of course S. Korea)? Sanity would tell us no, war would tell us yes. You do what it takes to win and I suppose you win by doing what you can get away with.

    Ask Pakistan. We told a nuclear power that we would bomb them back to the 12th (I think it was the 12th) century if they did not help us in this long war we are fighting. We showed them the nuclear exchange that would happen and Pakistan, with sanity, blinked.

    We clearly drew a line in the sand and told N. Korea that if they set off a nuclear bomb it would mean war. I don’t think China, South Korea, the War in Iraq, or any number of things has kept us from war. The fact that N. Korea has to use the nuke, to get any thing out of the program, has kept us from war. In other words, N. Korea screwed itself. The nuke represents the sum of the potentials of N. Korea. When that potential goes off, N. Korea will not survive.

    Of course as I said in the last comment, I also believe that the East and West believe they can control any nukes coming out of N. Korea, at least those who could destroy China and the US. I think this is some technical issue that, if it is ture and works, it sounds sane to me.

  8. Hmm, lots of rhetoric from Wolf Pangloss about Iran, 3GW, etc, very short on facts, historical or current. Standard neo-crazy stuff. This just plays into the hands of Al Qaeda (actually we’ve done just about everything Bin Laden has wanted over the last few years).

    Just a few points to ponder:

    (1) 3GW. Yes Germany lost, but it very nearly won. A few different strategic decisions and….
    It was also outnumbered by over 6:1 (11:1 if you include the invaded countries), with limited natural resources. Even so, it took the Allies nearly 6 years to win, with hundreds of millions more people and almost unlimited resources to draw on.

    So 2GW can beat 3GW, but at enormous cost and you’de better have, at least, a 5:1 advantage.

    The real question is? Can 2GW (current US tactics) beat 4GW? Well after 2 trillion $ spent and 50,000-60,000 casualties, the answer seems to be NO. Oh, I suppose we can try to kill the whole population, but even that seems impossible unless we use nukes and gas. We’ve used a couple of billion bullets, killed about a million already and forced out 3-4 million and they are still fighting. Can’t see the US nuking Baghdad after spending $500M on their ’embassy’ and the green zone.

    (2) Nuclear

    Even Israel (when you strip out their ‘lobbying’ for the US to attack) have admitted they can live with a nuclear Iran, or even a nuclear armed Iran (2 very different things).

    Historically nukes are a defensive weapon, the ultimate deterrence. If you have nukes people think again about attacking you. Iraq didn’t have nukes (and we knew it), North Korea has, guess who was invaded.
    The IAEA are doing a good job, Iran, at present, seems to be doing a ‘Japan’. No nukes but the capacity to make them fairly quickly if necessary. Rational strategy, copied by many other countries as well. They also have a compelling economic reason for nuclear power (which no one seems to acknowledge), which backs up the Peak Oil argument. They are running out of oil and gas, particularly exportable oil and gas. They know it as well. Their own consumption has risen dramatically as their standard of living has risen. They have large reserves of Uranium, so nuclear power is economically logical for them.

    (3) Hezbollah, Land mines and other trivea.

    Even the most cursory study of Hezbollah’s history tells you that they are no threat to the West (a problem for Israel though, but that’s their problem), heck they’re even protecting the UN forces in Lebanon right now. They are no lapdog of Iran or Syria either. Useful allies, yes, but they will go their own way for their own interests. They will not self destruct to help Iran or Syria.

    This talking up the Hezbollah threat seems to come from the fact that even the neo-cons realise that Al Qaeda wouldn’t lift a finger to help Iran, or maybe just realise that it would be impossible to spin that story.
    For some interesting stuff about how Hezbollah thumped Israel and what they actually are, see Alister Crooke’s and Mark Perry’s articles: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/others/hezbollah.html

    Also their series on “How to lose the War on Terror”: http://www.atimes.com/atimes/others/howtolose.html

    The Iraqis are perfectly capable of making their own mines, plus it will take decades to run down their stores of ex-army equipment. Even the US Army, plus the (non politically doctored) intelligence dismisses that argument. This “we are getting thumped, we can’t lose, therefore it must be someone else’s fault” argument is interesting and, if you think of it rather pathetic for a ‘hyperpower’.

    (4) Afghanistan

    Iran and the Taliban hate each other. Without Iran’s considerable help it would have been a much tougher job (maybe impossible) in overthrowing the Taliban (thanks to their links with the Northern Alliance). The idea of Iran helping them is about as likely as a Rangers fan cheering for Celtic (look it up).

    (5) Iranians as Nutjobs

    I work a simple rule, ignore rhetoric and watch beviour.
    – 9/11, and all those Iranians holding a candle lit vigil for the US. Do they hate Americans, no they want to be like them, do they hate US policies, yes. Polls have consistently shown this throughout the Middle East.
    – Iranians, offering and providing assistance against Al Qaeda (who also hates them).
    – Iran assisting the overthrow of the Taliban.
    – Iran, being prepared to have its enrichment and recyling done overseas if the US would drop sanctions and agree to a security agreement.
    – Iran, offering again (they’re persistent) to negotiate everything (nuclear, Israel, etc).
    – Iran, a semi-democracy. Much more democratic than, say, our ‘friends’ Pakistan or Egypt or Saudia Arabia.
    – Iran, dealing with Israel (quietly of course).
    – Iran, working with Turkey.

    The tragedy about all this is that Iran is desperate to come into the West’s fold, but we are pushing them into Russia’s and China’s arms. They are now an ‘observing’ member of the SCO, how long until they are a full member and (possibly) come under Russia’s nuclear umbrella? Now that’s a real worst case scenario for the US and EU. Putin’s visit to Iran a couple of weeks ago was very interesting. The Chinese foreign minister is due there shortly as well.

    Note that China has just been appointed to re-build Iraq’s power system! That really tells you where the power and influence is heading in the future. Who’s going to get the economic benefits from Iraq after the US leaves? Note also that Russia has played a brilliant game, recovering and growing its influence in the Middle East after the hatred it generated over Afghanistan (which proves there is hope in the future for the West, after we finally get smart).

    Watching a couple of centuries of Western influence in the Middle East evaporating daily is a tragedy that the historians will wrangle over for decades to come.

    (6) The “Long War” might be more accurately called the “Long Suicide” … though it might not be so long.

    Some Russian commentators were recently saying that the Putin Government thinks the US is in a death spiral. I have nightmares that they might be right.

  9. oldskeptic, I agree with your points. And it does look a bit depressing, but we have pulled ourselves out from worse holes. At some point it comes down to faith in the America People. Without that, the only alternative is to choose a Patron.

    As for 4GW, I am confident that we will find a solution. 2GW and 3GW methods are, by definition in my opinion, useless. Time is our enemy, so we have to work fast. I have a series soon giving a typology of 4gw solutions. You might find this of interest.

  10. Actually to be correct you mean MacArthur. Patton (sorry to his fans) was an idiot. Mac wanted to be the US emperor, might have pulled it off as well, if he didn’t like the money and power he had in Asia. Like Bill Lind I channel a hero. In my case I channel Monty for military things. I always think “what would he say about this”. Now, he would say, trust Americans. They are tough, adaptable and smart. Their leadership is rubbish. But give them some decent guidance, point them in the right direction …then move over and get out of their way. So if Monty had that confidence in the US people, well I think you US guys should have that as well.

    I also channel another hero, totally non-military. A guy called Stafford Beer. One of his maxims was, “don’t solve a problem, dissolve it”.

    Think big picture. Think longer term. Think smart. The future of Iran was that young guy on the ABC (Australian), with pierced nose and lips. Or the woman CEO, or the woman film director.

    Me, if I was the US President, I’d go to Tehran, tomorrow, a Nixon moment. “you want nuclear power, have we got a deal for you”. “Security, of course”. “Can you help us with Iraq?”. “How about helping us to get Bin Ladin” (the reply is, “well we offered to help but you didn’t want us”, the reply back “I’m sorry, I know you’ve been trying to help us, but this is a new administration and it is all different now ..now what can you give us, and so on ……”)

    Result, huge money gained by selling reactors to Iran (under careful supervision by the IAEA of course), helps the US trade deficit and stops the Chinese, French (though they may have just blown it) and Russians gaining a foothold. Iranian help to stabilise Iraq, etc, etc, etc. As an aside it totally screws the UK, but as they are they the “oldest enemy”, so what. As for the Australians, who cares?

    Encourage Turkey/Iranian cooperation (sorry Kurds). Beg (if necessary) to get Turkey into the EU. The aim is two strong and stable regional powers that are allies and friends and are wedded to the West

    Don’t forget Egypt as well. Oh, I go on for hours about this.

  11. Dealing with the 4GW issue, the Aussies and NZ are far closer to the answer. If we want an answer, this is where it is to be found. Not the UK, not the US, not many EU countries, come here.

    Just as we did in Malaysia, Vietnam, Solomons and East Timor.

    Yes we can do 4GW well. We also do the 2 & e 3GW well also. Quoting Monty, reaching up and grabbing the book and paraphrasing,: “if Monash (Australian General) had been in charge of the Allied forces, then WW1 would have ended a year earlier”. Another famous quote was “God what I would have given for the Australian 9th division at D-Day”. Also note that Aussie troops were first in the world to beat the Japanese, fighting their way.

    As a recent example, a lot of soldiers that have come back from East Timor now spend their time raising funds for the country (I’m indirectly involved). And many, actually most, have learned the basics of the language.

    Plus great training and ruthless military dicipline. A few years ago, a decorated SAS sergeant, was done … over beating up an East Timorese, not killing him, just beating him up.

    So there is a model …. and Kilkillen is from where?

  12. “Yes we can do 4GW well.”

    Yes, it is called Modern Warfare. We (USA) also did it well here in the US against the Native American population. In fact we started doing it in Iraq. The first governing counsel was modeled after the governing counsel put in place to control the Native Americans.

    Modern Warfare was also successful in Australia, Central America as well as in the Philippines.

    It is not that the US doesnt know how or is not good at Modern warfare, it just wasn’t the strategy for going into Iraq. The civilian leadership over the military engaged in a religious movement. It was, as Bush said, a new Crusade into the Middle East.

  13. A few issues with all of this.

    1. Iran is looking for a negotiating position for a Regime on the decline. First, they used the “carrot” of working with the U.S. in Afghanistan and against AQ while also trying to make a deal between the moderates (Khatami) and our government. In our arrogance, we told them to shove off. So what does the Ayatollah do next? Brings in the “stick” in the form of AN, with the backing of less radicalized, but hardline, individuals like Rafsanjani. The Iranian Regime is now demonstrating how hard they can make things for us by forcing up the price per barrel through rhetoric, killing Americans and Israelis through their proxies and regional supporters, and causing regional escalation through the threat of nukes and increasingly aggressive war games.

    2. We are validating the Iranian Regime in the eyes of the people. They do not like the lack of progress within their government, but are becoming more afraid of an American or Israeli strike than they are about the government being controlled by the Basij and IRGC hardliners.

    3. Iranians also have an impressive history and sense of pride. Why should Pakistan, of all places, have nukes and not Iran? Why should Iranians, with a declining state-controlled economy and an inability to process their own crude oil not have nuke power in order to drop energy costs and allow more oil to be sold for export? These are legitimate questions.

    So while there is no “reasonable” doubt that Iran is developing an atomic bomb (not tomorrow, though) and backing violent proxy movements in the region with weapons and money (trust me, that is not BS by the American Right), and they must be dissuaded from this kind of activity, we are doing ourselves no favors in regards to our foreign policy of attempted intimidation. Maybe if the State Dept. guys were doing their jobs (vice whining about having to go to Iraq, bunch of pansies) we would not be in the position we are currently in and could have cut a deal that would have allowed Iran to reform by giving the moderates a real victory that would have calmed-down the true power brokers in the country (the bonyards and the Ayatollah).

    The US is simply naive, while the Iranians have to use aggressive policies and rhetoric to keep the Regime in power. By manufacturing a threat, the Regime is bonding the people to it and killing any attempt at internal reform, as reformers can be imprisoned or killed as enemies of the state and traitors.

    Do we need to challenge the IRGC and other hardline elements? Absolutely! Do we need to do this in a way that radicalizes a sympathetic Iranian population who overthrew a violent dictator in an attempt to have a democracy that has been hijacked by crazed nuts disguised as spiritual leaders? No.

    Note to oldskeptic: Patton barely made it through West Point, but he won battles. MacArthur was maybe some sort of freaking genius, but he was a coward in the Philippines, caused tons of unnecessary casualties in the Pacific simply to appease his ego, and caused us to blow our successful ops in Korea. Currently, our highest-ranking generals all have PhDs and such. Yet, Sherman, Patton, Puller, John Paul Jones and many other successful American military commanders may have not had a bunch of sheepskins on their “I love me wall”, but were plain spoken and victorious. I would rather have “dumb” winners on my side, instead of academics.
    BTW, Monty wasn’t all that great either. Made D-Day much harder than it had to be, because he cared more about having things his way than doing to best thing to win. Much better examples of British commanders than him.

  14. oldskeptic, I appreciate your skepticism over Iran, but I think you have to be careful about accepting anything from Asia Times at face value.

    Though I find the pseudonymous Spengler remarkably insightful.

  15. Spengler is a loon. But I agree with Wolf, he’s a remarkably insightful loon. One of our rare originally thinkers.

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