As the outcry in favor of an attack on Iran goes on, unchecked and accelerating, the single most basic calculation is being made frivolously, if at all. And the most aggressive supporters of an attack, by their unwillingness to address honestly and realistically the consequences of that attack, seem to be making the same horrendous blunder these same actors made in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq.
The calculation? Would an aggressive, unprovoked war against Iran be better, or worse than an Iran with either a small number of primitive nuclear weapons, or a relatively well developed ‘breakout capacity’ to produce a warhead quickly if a need was perceived? While the answer to this question seems obvious to me, whatever the outcome it should be discussed more widely and in much greater depth.
The blunder? Once again, yes, of COURSE the US is massively militarily superior to Iran, and can destroy the air force, suppress the air defenses and bomb the facilities. Just as there was never any real doubt that the US invasion of Iraq would, in short order, topple the regime and occupy the capitol, there is no real doubt that these strikes can be carried out successfully, with minimal loss of American lives. But it’s odd that after the years of blood-soaked horror in Iraq, after nearly a decade of grinding stalemate in Afghanistan, we have heard so little from the most fierce advocates of this new war about how to plan for, and to what extent possible mitigate, the various retaliatory options available to the Tehran regime.
When you think about it, there are only two reasons given to justify military action to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear power:
1. Iranians are Insane, millennial, suicidal in their hatred for and intent to destroy Israel
2. An Iranian Nuclear Weapon would lead to a Mideast Arms Race
As to the first point, where is the evidence? I’ve known a lot of Iranian people over the last four decades, and frankly, the only generalization I can honestly make about them as a people is that they tend to dress much more stylishly than me. Seriously, in order for this position to move from a paranoid, racist fantasy into the realm of valid data contributing to an important policy decision, shouldn’t there have to be some historical evidence for this behavior? What countries has Iran invaded? If they are so desperate to attack Israel that they’re perfectly willing to lose their power and their wealth and their lives and see their country and their nation decimated, how can one explain that NONE of them seem to be willing to die to try to attack Israel up until now? They have jet fighters, missiles, destroyers and submarines. They have vast resources and a large unconventional warfare capability. But nothing. Is this collective madness somehow linked to equipment or methodology, such that it only manifests itself with nuclear weapons? Because that would be a bizarre pathology – I hate you with such extreme passion that I’m willing to die to strike at you – uh, as long as I can use nukes. Otherwise? Meh. I’m just not buying it.
As to the second point, that one at least has some evidence for it – but most of the evidence is against it. Israel has had a viable nuclear weapons program for over thirty years, and for most of the nations in the middle east there is no more hostile power in the region. It makes sense that whatever development they were going to do towards a strategic deterrent would have been motivated by Israel’s arsenal, and the addition of a few Iranian weapons won’t particularly change the calculation. I think it’s reasonable to assume that both Saudi Arabia and Egypt have developed a “breakout” capability, where they can, in a time frame they consider sufficient, put their own weapon together.
But in the course of this discussion, it’s important to remember a couple salient points. First, Iran, as a signatory to the NPT, is subject to IAEA on-site inspections and monitoring. Now certainly the inspection regime isn’t perfect, but what we do know for certain is that Iran has not diverted ANY fissile materials from the legitimate energy program. We’ll know when Iran decides to produce a weapon, because that will be the point they kick out the inspectors and abrogate the treaty. And they’ll still need a year or more to produce the weapons grade HEU and create the first actual bomb. Even then, the first generation nuclear weapons are huge, finicky, complex devices. It can take a decade for a new nuclear power to figure out how to build a reliable weapon that can be mounted on a missile. So even after they built a bomb, they would find it almost impossible to deliver it. In short, the case for war against Iran, even if one could be made, is years away from a decision point..
To be honest, I don’t believe there is any appetite for war with Iran in Washington. If there is to be war with Iran, it will be because the true hate-filled lunatics in the region, Netanyahu and Lieberman, start it. And it’s fair to note they DO have the history.