Tuesday, March 27, 2007

My Musings on Iran

I contributed to today's NRO symposium Tehran Seizure.

It proved to be very difficult for me to write this short contribution. (TWR readers will recognize why the previous entry is about Sun Tzu, by the way.) I don't know if I made the points well that I was trying to convey--namely, if you threaten war or military action, you have to be prepared to carry it out--and you better have done your cost-benefit analysis for whatever course of action you undertake. And most importantly, if you bait the bear in his lair, be prepared for a violent reaction.

I think Larry Johnson and Pat Lang's update piece for TNI is pretty stark--that there are no good, cheap, easy or "safe" options.

The Leader of the Islamic Revolution, the Chairman of the Expediency Council, and the President of Iran - each in their respective (Iranian) New Year messages have essentially stated that Iran will not surrender on the nuclear issue. They are not interested in a diplomatic surrender. (They have resurrected the imagery of Oil Nationalization of 1950, the Coup of 1953, etc.) From the Iranian perspective, this is not about the nuclear development in Iran – it is about the Iranian power. They will not surrender.

There is no Iran option if you are interested in surrender of Iran - you will have to kill 5 to 7 percent of their population. For which you will have to use nuclear weapons.

There are no Iran options that diminishes the power of that state; you do not have Iraq or Afghanistan to try to bleed them, so to speak.

On the narrow issue of the Iranian nuclear capability, you can bomb Iran and set back he nuclear program a few years. But then you will undoubtedly start a multi-year war of attrition with Iran that you cannot win.

You can start a major air campaign and destroy much of their military hardware but - again - that will not diminish their power; their will to fight will not have been dented.

Attacking Iran also entails giving up your projects in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Personally I think that such a war would be a declaration of Western (and in particular American) political bankruptcy in the Persian Gulf and the Levant.
For US, given her obduracy, war is the only option. US is against the Iranian power (at least that is how it is understood by the leaders of Iran). US and Iran both covet Iraqi oil. And each thinks that the other is going to give-up and fold, leaving a lot on the table.

A limited war for limited aims, like the war of China against Vietnam, might look quite attractive for USG. I do not recommend it but I do not see any serious alternatives for US – she has painted herself in a corner. (There is the alternative of trying to use UN sanctions – like those that were imposed on Iraq after 1991 and hoping to either weaken Iran or cause her to lash out – like Japan Oil Embargo by US on the eve of WWII. This option is impractical for a variety of reasons).
Nick--agree with your assessment here that your NR contribution didn't quite hit the mark. Perhaps writers' block was setting in or you were being too careful given the likely audience for what you were writing (trying to present a sane, Burkean conservative analysis to people who want red meat and are gung-ho to go to Tehran).

What you should have said is simple, Iran is calling our bluff, we want to do all these pinprick attacks and we aren't prepared for the consequences.
The taking of 15 British Sailors is obviously a provocation.

The sad reality (as stated in your article) is there are no good options in dealing with Iran.

What disturbs me most about this story is not the unknown unknown ends, but the peculiarity of the beginning.

How it was possible for Iran to capture 15 British Sailors?

Were these Sailors unarmed?

Were they not in communication with other vessels in the naval command, or able to call in air support?


What kind of assault ship or tactics did the Iranians use to overpower, commandeer, and capture 15 British Sailors without a fight?

Why would the Sailors who were supposedly on an interdiction mission not defend themselves against attack?

The entire story stinks of something untoward.

There is a very good option in dealing with Iran.

Accept her the way she is and work with her - or - leave her alone.
Your comments were an oasis in a desert of jackasses.
Why does the National Review care about the incident involving UK & Iran?

Are they not Americans? Why do they care about a foreign power so much?
You'd have made your point more clearly if you'd said what your second commenter said:

Iran is calling our bluff, we want to do all these pinprick attacks and we aren't prepared for the consequences.

That would have been more direct, but it would have increased the backlash from NRO to inconvenient levels.

To merely say, "if we're going to do it, we should understand that the things we do have costs" - allows an understanding of exactly what those costs may be to be slid under the mental horizon.

Of course, I agree, and think it was very perceptive of you to note, that Iran is not exactly calling out bluff, but more specifically, hedging against a perceived pending attack, and quite possibly leveraging for the return of its own personnel in Iran.
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