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Iran: Upping The Anxiety

Pinch hitting for Daniel Drezner, Siddarth Mohandas tries to make me worried:

Well, here’s what: we don't want a radical anti-American regime with links to terrorist organizations to have nuclear weapons. It's another version of the Pakistan problem--there may in fact be powerful figures in the country crazy enough to let slip nuclear weapons to terrorist groups. That said, the prospect of state-ending retaliation may be enough to give these people pause. Now, let me call again on Fareed Zakaria as an expert witness. He suggests that the most likely dangers are geopolitical. A nuclear Iran, in his view, would prompt Egypt and Saudi Arabia to start looking into these weapons. More ominously, Israel would not sit by idly as Tehran closed in on a working bomb and would likely launch a preemptive strike on Iranian nuclear facilities. At which point, the world’s most strategically important region would presumably spontaneously combust. And you thought we had problems now.
OK, then. To be clear, I'm not saying it would be a good thing for Iran to become nuclear armed or even that this is something I feel indifferent about. The question is, given the options available for preventing it, how big is the downside risk. The clearest point made is, I think, the one about the destabilizing effects of an Israeli airstrike. But are we supposed to believe that preventing an Israeli air strike by launching an American airstrike would be preferable in any significant way? I can't see the case, but I would appreciate a counterargument on this score if anyone has one on offer.

The point about prompting Egyptian and/or Saudi nuclearization strikes me as weak -- Israel has had nuclear weapons for some time and Iraq, as we know, was developing them at one point, and neither of those developments promted either Egypt or Saudi Arabia to go nuclear. Similarly, the "madmen give nuclear weapons to Hezbollah" scenario strikes me as a bit, well, far-fetched. It's similar to the Pakistan problem except (a) less realistic, and (b) less threatening to the USA. Pakistan's Sunni jihadi elements are much more likely to strike America than is Hezbollah whose main aims are in Lebanon and whose secondary aims are in Israel. This is a good reason, perhaps, for Israel to launch an airstrike, which returns us to the question of whether launching a US airstrike to head off an Israeli one makes any sense from the US perspective. Again, I don't see it, but I'm open to persuasion.

So where does this leave us? Zakaria's preferred solution is for the US and it's European allies to get on the same page. On the one hand, carrots -- namely normalization of relations, enhanced trade, etc. On the other hand, sticks -- European sanctions (we've already got 'em) and maybe airstrikes. As far as the carrots and the sanction stick, I'm agreed. As far as the airstrikes, well, there you go again -- why not just let Israeli strikes be an implicit stick?

Now we agree on this much:

Looking to the future, our and the Iranians best hope is that the so-called Third Force, the embittered generation born after 1979 who have known nothing other than life in a dystopian theocratic experiment, can organize, topple the regime, and build some kind of decent state. After delivering 25 years of political repression and economic stagnation, the mullahs are certainly vulnerable. Interestingly, the students leading the democracy movement say that the best thing the United States can do to help them is not to get involved in Iran’s internal power struggles, so that the students can't be tarred as traitors by the conservative hardliners
That seems quite right. I hasten to add, though, that there are no reasons I'm aware of for believing that a democratic Iran would abandon it's nuclear ambitions or, necessarily, it's support for Hezbollah, though this latter point is harder to make out.

August 12, 2004 | Permalink

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Matthew Yglesias makes his case that we should be less worried about a nuclear Iran. (Also read Siddharth's response, Matthew's reaction) Though he makes some good arguments, this is getting into very dangerous territory. There seems to be a movement... [Read More]

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» Living with a nuclear Iran? from CommentaryPage.com
Matthew Yglesias makes his case that we should be less worried about a nuclear Iran. (Also read Siddharth's response, Matthew's reaction) Though he makes some good arguments, this is getting into very dangerous territory. There seems to be a movement... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 12, 2004 1:41:49 PM

» Living with a nuclear Iran? from CommentaryPage.com
Matthew Yglesias makes his case that we should be less worried about a nuclear Iran. (Also read Siddharth's response, Matthew's reaction) Though he makes some good arguments, this is getting into very dangerous territory. There seems to be a movement... [Read More]

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» Living with a nuclear Iran? from CommentaryPage.com
Matthew Yglesias makes his case that we should be less worried about a nuclear Iran. (Also read Siddharth's response, Matthew's reaction) Though he makes some good arguments, this is getting into very dangerous territory. There seems to be a movement... [Read More]

Tracked on Aug 12, 2004 1:44:49 PM

» Living with a nuclear Iran? from CommentaryPage.com
Matthew Yglesias makes his case that we should be less worried about a nuclear Iran. (Also read Siddharth's response, Matthew's reaction) Though he makes some good arguments, this is getting into very dangerous territory. There seems to be a movement... [Read More]

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» Living with a nuclear Iran? from CommentaryPage.com
Matthew Yglesias makes his case that we should be less worried about a nuclear Iran. (Also read Siddharth's response, Matthew's reaction to that.) Though he makes some good arguments, this is getting into very dangerous territory. There seems to be... [Read More]

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Comments

JOHN KERRY WOULD BE A DISASTER AS PRESIDENT BECAUSE…

He has no record or, more importantly, no advisors with a record of successfully conducting foreign policy because they are afraid of war and against war as an instrument of foreign policy.

The first question I will answer is;

IS WAR A LEGITIMATE ANSWER TO PROBLEMS BOTH FOREIGN AND DOMESTIC?

My answer is yes and I cite:

1 – The first great democracy, Athens, was a military state that gained prominence through military conquest and used the spoils to promote the greatest culture of its time.

2 – Aristotle’s most illustrious student, Alexander, spread Hellenistic Civilization throughout the known world enrichening the lands he conquered.

3 – The Romans, most notably under Julius Caesar, further spread their Greek derived civilization, by military conquest, to the Western lands not reached by Alexander civilizing the barbarians of Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Portugal.

4 – The Prophet Mohamed spread his civilizing religion militarily.

5 – Charles Martel, at the battle of Tours, stopped the Muslim invasion that would have turned Western Europe into an Islamic Caliphate and destroyed Western Civilization forever.

6 – William Duke of Normandy conquered Anglo Saxon England enrichening the language and culture of those little islands to the point that English became both the language and wellspring of the democratic capitalism that has done the best job of all competing political systems of alleviating the miseries of the great masses of humanity while greatly enrichening them.

7 – The Medieval Wars of Religion reformed Christianity and removed the deadening heel of the Papacy from the neck of Christian Europe.

8 - It was the American Colonists military prowess that allowed them to break free of the British Monarchy and create the greatest Democracy ever.

9 – The Civil War eliminated the “original sin” of slavery.

10 – World War I stopped the first German drive to enslave all Europe.

11 – World War II stopped the second drive of Germany to enslave Europe and the drive of Imperial Japan to enslave all Asia.

12 – The Korean War stopped the advance of Communism in that peninsula.

13 – The Vietnam War stopped the advance of Communism in Southeast Asia.

14 – The gulf War liberated the Kuwaitis and removed a threat to the petroleum lifeline of Civilization.

15 – The Afghanistan War liberated her people from their Taliban and al Qaeda oppressors making America safer.

16 – The Iraq War liberated her people from a murdering despot, removed an al Qaeda ally and source of WMDs from power making America safer.

Therefore it should be clear...

http://pep.typepad.com/public_enquiry_project/2004/08/john_kerry_woul_1.html


Posted by: Adrian Spidle | Aug 12, 2004 1:04:24 PM

ROTFL!!

Is this "opposites day"? Or just "lie your ass off and hope someone is confused by it?

Posted by: MattB | Aug 12, 2004 1:23:04 PM

Iran's reformists, while anti-Israeli, are less interested in direct involvement with the conflict, and so would be less likely to provide military support for Hizbullah and similar groups. However, as Dr. Ali Ansari (one of the top Iran experts) said when he came to Madison, the reformists have nationalist tendencies. From my notes of the time:

"He did, however, go into one issue that troubled him about the possible direction of the revolution: Grass-roots Persian nationalism today is far greater than it was even under the Shah. Iranians today are buying literature about the greater Persian nation and the need to reconstitute the old Persian Empire, and there is a renewed interest in pre-Islamic stories and monuments. Ansari said even the regime was starting to play this game, promoting stories like the Shahnama on state television as propaganda. He thus feared that in the future, Iran might behave in an aggressive manner toward its neighbors."

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Aug 12, 2004 1:28:15 PM

Seriously, Adrian. I would really like to know:

Are you delusional?

Just a liar?

If the latter, what is so important about Bush being back in the WH that justfies lying and furthering the destruction of the U.S. (militarily, fiscally, reputation, etc.)?

Fact -- Afg is ruled by warlords, producing most of the world's opium to fund terror.

Fact -- Iraq is a terrorist recruiter's wet dream.

Fact -- the U.S. is too weak and loathed to do anything about Iran and N. Korea getting nukes.

Fact -- the U.S.'s balance books look like that of a bannana republic.

Fact -- Bush is the first since Hoover to oversee a net loss of jobs and decline in the markets. The first ever to turn a record surplus into record deficits.

Fact -- Bush is more concerned with the election than the security of the U.S., and will burn agents for political gain.

America safer? Terra, terra, terra!!

Posted by: MattB | Aug 12, 2004 1:29:37 PM

Er, didn't Saudi Arabia ***fund*** Pakistan's nukes? So who's to say they don't have nukes themselves?

Posted by: praktike | Aug 12, 2004 1:36:42 PM

Matt,

Focusing on the actor's potential motives with this subject matter is dangerous. Mostly because it becomes irrelevant as States lose their grip on this stuff. We already have such a scenario in the Soviet Union. In my opinion we probably should have spent half of our defense budget over the last decade locking that shite down. Did you read Kristof's stuff in the NYT yesterday?

The Hezbollah example may be far-fetched, but the point is its the action of trading this stuff on the black market to begin with that is the makor concern. The "Who" becomes just window dressing after awhile. You can play the "well would group X really ever do this game all day long, but as more balls and players hit the field, your chances of getting blindsided just keep going up and up.

In short, its the means and material.

Posted by: Waffle | Aug 12, 2004 1:54:50 PM

"Er, didn't Saudi Arabia ***fund*** Pakistan's nukes? So who's to say they don't have nukes themselves?"

Er, does anyone remember the freighter that was carrying intermediate-range missle parts, and was stopped by the Spanish? That we let go because we "had no grounds under intl law" to stop it? (Like that has stopped this crew before) Do those who remember seriously believe those missles were headed toward Yemen? Or was it through Yemen?

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 12, 2004 1:58:03 PM

What are you saying, Bob? The only thing more important to Bush than the ultimate security of the U.S. is following International Law!

Posted by: MattB | Aug 12, 2004 2:00:28 PM

MattB, the administration is seriously worried about the election.
The only thing that helps Bush's popularity is war.
So they're floating the 'We! Must! Attack! Iran!
Now!' theme, to see if it works.

Posted by: Barry | Aug 12, 2004 2:02:24 PM

Could you even be sure that airstrikes would take out Iran's nuclear facilities?

Posted by: Tim H. | Aug 12, 2004 2:06:45 PM

Why should we assume that Israel would limit itself to conventional methods to prevent Iran from becoming nuclear armed? Mullah Rafsanjani, who is high up on the Mullah food-chain, has publicly stated that incinerating Israel, even at the cost of losing all of Iran, would be worthwhile because Islam would still survive. Probably bluster, but if you were responsible for Israel's survival could you dismiss the possibility that it was not? Iran has been successful in developing missile technology that puts Tel Aviv within range. What could happen when the Shalib 5, 6 7 ... come on line and NYC is within reach?

The Argentine bombing demonstrates that Hizbu'allah will operate outside Lebanon. All the Palestinian terror groups pass freely between the West Bank and Lebanon and it would be naive to believe that Hizbu'allah does not participate in terrorist raids in Israel. Beside, why should we assume that Iran would limit itself to Hizbu'allah as an agent? Are there not 300 Al Qaeda receiving sanctuary in Iran now?

What effect would a nuclear armed Iran have on global oil supplies and prices? The Persian Gulf autocrats could not ignore Iran oil related directives if the message were wrapped in "Iran's vital interests" language. Would it be good policy to allow a regime that considers the USA its mortal enemy the power to crash the global economy? Khomeni once stated that the only economy that Iran needed was hay for horses because people needed only Islam. More the stuff for novels than a policy consideration, but who is to say that the Mullahs would not deliberately create global economic chaos to bring the world to Islam?

I'm convinced that prevention is by far the lesser evil. How that could or should be accomplished is open to debate. I would very much like to see the candidates address Iran.

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 12, 2004 2:06:55 PM

Barry, of course, you are right. "War!" and "Lie about Kerry!" and "Snuggle with Soulless McCain."

http://graphics7.nytimes.com/images/2004/08/10/politics/mills650.jpg

Posted by: MattB | Aug 12, 2004 2:29:21 PM

1)no there are no 300 al qaeda receiving sanctuary in iran right now. al ansar is receiving some sort of sanctuary in northwest iran but u can hardly call them al qaeda.
2) khomeini's craziness has diminished substantially since his death in 1988. iranians are ruled by a bit more pragmatic mullah's.
3)hezbollah is a syrian problem. iranians have all but disengaged themselves from lebanon.
4) there is no good reason why iran and israel are enemies in the first place. both nations are opposed to arab power.

Posted by: captainblak | Aug 12, 2004 2:32:51 PM

"Mullah Rafsanjani, who is high up on the Mullah food-chain, has publicly stated that incinerating Israel, even at the cost of losing all of Iran, would be worthwhile because Islam would still survive."

I'm not at all familiar with the wind patterns of the Middle East and Central Asia, but wouldn't nuking Israel and Iran cause most of the region to suffer heavy fallout? Mecca could be uninhabitable for years. The Islamic world would dwindle down to parts of North Africa and the 'stans.

Posted by: Maureen | Aug 12, 2004 2:35:13 PM

The point about prompting Egyptian and/or Saudi nuclearization strikes me as weak -- Israel has had nuclear weapons for some time and Iraq, as we know, was developing them at one point, and neither of those developments promted either Egypt or Saudi Arabia to go nuclear.

Largely, presumably, because they rely on the massive Syrian chemical retaliatory force (and until the cold war ended, the Russian nuclear force, although how that fits in is less clear, now).

Posted by: cmdicely | Aug 12, 2004 2:56:13 PM

Waffle -

I think you're correct. I'd add that no assumptions can be made who might get the stuff. As we've seen in Pakistan, there's always the specter of independent actors with access who are willing to sell the materials. Basically, we've been quite remiss in not securing materials in vulnerable places like Russia, and we have no control over the security of materials in places like Pakistan (I'm sure we've quietly put pressure on them after the Khan affair, but still...) or Iran.

But that doesn't mean that we can't exert influence on these states. Aside from airstrikes (either by Israel or the US) or (god forbid) invasion of Iran, are there any other options? A corollary of the axis of evil rhetoric is that the US will hold states within the axis we've defined accountable for future acts. Is that implied threat enough to motivate Iran and North Korea (and Pakistan, though their motivation is slightly different) to keep a tight lid on any materials they may have? I don't know for certain, but I hope that the answer is yes. MAD worked with the USSR in the Cold War, and it could work in this situation as well.

I do know that our fight is with Islamic radicalism. Airstrikes on Iran may temporarily knock out their nuclear programs, but as with the Iraq war, airstrikes will guarantee legions of followers for the radicals. Our task going forward is to somehow marginalize/isolate radicalism within the Muslim communities and nations so that their allure fades. That's the discussion that needs to take place, not one in which we speculate on who is or isn't willing to send B-2's into Iran.

Posted by: Jon | Aug 12, 2004 3:00:20 PM

In addition to my earlier comment, part of assisting the "Third Force" come to prominence in Iran is steering clear of their internal affairs, namely airstrikes on their nuclear program. Send in the B-2's at the first sign of trouble, and that "Third Force" vanishes before our eyes. That doesn't mean we can't talk tough privately with the Iranian leadership about disseminating nuclear material and the consequences for them, but it does mean allowing the TF time to agitate for change. We may feel that time isn't a luxury we have, but to achieve long-term stability and deflate radicalism's prominence, it's a luxury we must find a way to afford.

Posted by: Jon | Aug 12, 2004 3:12:20 PM

"4 – The Prophet Mohamed spread his civilizing religion militarily.

5 – Charles Martel, at the battle of Tours, stopped the Muslim invasion that would have turned Western Europe into an Islamic Caliphate and destroyed Western Civilization forever."

I can practically FEEL the cognitive dissonance...

Oh...after the Vietnam War, much of Indochina was communist with many countries in S.E. Asia having a dictatorship of some form (communist or not), so I'd hardly consider the Vietnam War to be a "success".

Posted by: Gozer | Aug 12, 2004 3:37:06 PM

"4 – The Prophet Mohamed spread his civilizing religion militarily.

5 – Charles Martel, at the battle of Tours, stopped the Muslim invasion that would have turned Western Europe into an Islamic Caliphate and destroyed Western Civilization forever."

I can practically FEEL the cognitive dissonance...

BUT YOU CAN'T, THAT'S YOUR PROBLEM. BOTH EVENTS WERE ADVANCEMENTS FOR HUMANITY. IT'S YOUR MYOPIA THAT PRECLUDES YOUR UNDERSTANDING.

Oh...after the Vietnam War, much of Indochina was communist with many countries in S.E. Asia having a dictatorship of some form (communist or not), so I'd hardly consider the Vietnam War to be a "success".

Posted by: Gozer

YOU ARE HISTORICALLY BLIND. THAILAND, MALAYSIA, SINGAPORE AND INDONESIA WERE ALL SAVED FROM COMMUNISM BY OUR LIMITED STAND IN VIETNAM.

SHEEZ YOU PINKOS DON'T KNOW MUCH HISTORY, DO YOU?

ADRIAN

Posted by: Adrian Spidle | Aug 12, 2004 4:10:09 PM

I give up. In what way was Charles Martel's victory an advance for humanity? Since you specify Muhammad's campaigns against Mecca as an advance, are you therefore assuming Islam was an improvement for Mecca, but would not have been for France? What about the massive intermediate stage that was the conquest of the Persian Empire and most of Byzantium? And if you see Islam as civilizing, are you implying at the Middle East had no civilization prior to Islam?

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Aug 12, 2004 4:47:42 PM

Ignore the troll. If you consider me a troll, for the vicious rant I just posted in the post below, ignore me too.

Najaf is getting pounded, Bush/Cheney are hitting a higher gear and looking scarey, and this just looks like a really bad day.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 12, 2004 5:00:44 PM

Najaf is getting pounded

Correction. Al Sadr militia, comprising in no small part Iranian fighters, is getting pounded.

There is a difference.

Posted by: Warthog | Aug 12, 2004 5:09:19 PM

Don't forget the secession movement in southern Iraq and the fact somebody just bombed something in Spain.

Posted by: Brian Ulrich | Aug 12, 2004 5:10:13 PM

"There is a difference."

I wish there was as big a difference as you seem to think. Our marines are pretty good, but not pure snipers who can kill without doing damage to the surrounding property. Try reading and looking at the pictures, the cemetary is getting pounded, the Shrines are in jeopardy. And we really don't know what is going on. We seem to be avoiding the residential and civilian areas, but al Jazeera has been kicked out and the American press is worthless, so we may never know.

And Warthog I don't know if you care about anything, or are just a Bush puppet, but I would feel a lot better about this if we did Fallujah first.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Aug 12, 2004 5:47:08 PM


Well, here’s what: we don't want a radical anti-American regime with links to terrorist organizations to have nuclear weapons.

Let's not forget that Iranian government is confronted (and have been, for decades now) by a couple of powerful states that already have thousands of nuclear weapons and developing more as we speak. These states are known to make use of various covert methods (like political assassinations) that aren't really any different from those of terrorist organizations, nor do these states ever hesitate to kill thousands of people to achieve their goals.

And so, isn't it only natural that the Iranian government is trying to develop a deterrent?

If our government really wants to ease the tension, why wouldn't it make some friendly gesture, or, perhaps, lead by example and dismantle its own nuclear program? And other WMD program related activities.

Posted by: abb1 | Aug 12, 2004 5:47:24 PM

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