25 June 2007

On Iran

My good friend Henry asked me to share my thoughts with him on Iran, and the prospects of war with that nation. Below is my response:

Iran is a complicated issue. I hear the drumbeats of war. The United States has four carrier groups in the Persian Gulf, and has the capacity to stage an assault from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, and Iraq. I highly doubt that we would go through the motions of setting up forward bases and moving hundreds of ships without really intending to launch an attack. We are amassing a dossier of crimes that could be used to legitimate an attack: Iranians are holding American citizens hostage currently, we've heard much about Iran providing materiel for some of the Shia insurgents in Iraq, and just tonight I've read claims from the British that the Iranians have made incursions into Iraq. Information like this is strategic, and is released to the public only when it is advantageous to a particular cause - and this cause is military action against Iran.

If indeed the Iranians succeed at their nuclear program, we would be within our right to launch a strike. My worry is that we will attack before we have exhausted the various diplomatic options and covert operations.

I've read a bit about Iran, and I'll recommend this article for you:


In it, Peter Hitchens sounds a cuationary note about how Iran defies description, and I think he's right. The notion of "Islamofascism," a stereotype if ever their was one, may lead us into war, but a keener understanding of what Iran is about, and what role it has played in the middle east historically, may yet lead us to what we desire without firing a single shot.

I honestly think that two things work in our favor here. First is the Iranians' general incompetence. This is a country that sits on vast reserves of oil, yet has to import energy and will soon be forced into rationing fuel. This is a country that took a generation to build a proper international airport. Their nuclear effort may yield a result a notch above North Korea's pathetic test, but still...I'm not sure they pose the dire threat that we in the US are told they do. I find it amusing that allegedly the Iranians are looking to the North Koreans for technical assistance in developing long-range missiles, when apparently the DPRK failed to properly detonate an atomic bomb and tossed several "long range" missiles a few miles out to sea last year.

Another thing is the survivalist intentions of the Iranian regime. For all of Ahmedinejad's apocalyptic bluster, I'm not sure the mullahs are prepared to expend their country on the altar of Ahmedinejad's dispensationalism. The only way that Iranian theocracy has survived the last generation is by carefully balancing the crazed religious ideals that form the nation's raison d'ĂȘtre with the need for continued legitimation in the eyes of its people. Unlike the Taliban, who were singularly self-destructive, Iran has at least kept up the pretenses of regular elections, economic development, and engagement with the modern world. I honestly think that Ahmedinejad will be sacked long before he has the opportunity to push the nuclear button. I also think, however, that hopes for a secular revolution are ill-founded. The theocracy is entrenched and is probably not going anywhere soon. A future Iranian president (who isn't the real power anyway -- indeed why are we treating Ahmedinejad like a real head of state when we didn't give the same courtesy to his predecessor, Khatami?) will probably preserve the infrastructure of a nuclear program, as he might see the strategic necessity of being just a few turns of the screw away from an assembled bomb.

Rather than embarking on a military adventure that would cause significant loss of life (these people have no compunction against using human shields) and further slander our name in the Middle East, we should focus our efforts on exacerbating the cleavages that exist within and without Iran. Within Iran we have the secular vs. the theocratic. Outside Iran, there is the natural animosity between Shia and Sunni. We should work these, somehow, to our advantage.

A few longer term thoughts:

I'm far more frightened about Pakistan than I am Iran. For all its failings, Iran's regime appears to be more stable than Pakistan's. Musharraf's days may be numbered and after him, who knows who will pull the levers of power there? Pakistan is a known nuclear power that is perpetually on the brink of unrest.

Radical Islam is a grave threat to us, and we in the United States haven't come to terms with the fact that the Saudi Wahhabi sect has given much of the Muslim world the religious justification to do significant violence against the West. And yet we turn a blind eye to this and continue to prop up corrupt and corrupting regimes in the Middle East with our oil money. The sooner we move away from oil, the sooner we will provoke change - by economic necessity - in the Middle East. I'm all for bringing our troops home, raising taxes, and working with the EU and our other allies on a bold project to develop a new energy source as soon as possible. That is where our long-term security lies.