Monday, March 04, 2013
Forum: Do you consider a nuclear armed Iran a problem? If so, how would you deal with it?
Every week on Monday morning, the Council and invited guests weigh in at the Watcher's Forum, short takes on a major issue of the day.
Chuck Hagel, John Kerry and probably John Brennan are now confirmed as the heads of our national security/foreign policy team, and President Obama recently used the sequester as an excuse to avoid deploying an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf. These items and the waiver ridden sanctions are sending an obvious signal to the Iranians on how President Obama views a nuclear armed Iran.
This week's question: Do you consider a nuclear armed Iran a problem? If so, how would you deal with it?
The Razor: Most Iranians, including the opposition to the current regime, support a nuclear armed Iran. Persia has a long history and most of it was spent as a regional superpower. Nuclear weapons will prove to the world that Iran/Persia is a superpower that cannot be ignored.
I believe it’s likely that Iran will test a nuclear bomb sometime before the end of Obama’s term. I don’t see how anyone, including the Israelis, can stop it without concerted effort. Unfortunately the United States prevents this acting in concert by serving as a linchpin linking the Turks and Saudi Arabia with Israel. Elections have consequences, and I believe we will be feeling the consequences of this past election for decades to come. The Obama administration is simply blind to the threat a nuclear Iran presents, viewing Jews and Republican as greater threats than nuclear armed Iranians. As a result the necessary coalition to stop Iran is not there. Instead the Turks and Saudis will pursue their own programs and the Israelis will burn the midnight oil trying to figure out a plan to stop the Iranians on their own to no avail.
How would I deal with it? Before Iran went nuclear I would build a coalition of the willing, uniting the Gulf Arab states with Israel and Turkey to attack Iran’s nuclear sites, but Obama doesn’t have the stomach for such actions and I don’t have the power. Once Iran goes nuclear there isn’t much you can do except contain the threat by stationing anti-missile defenses in friendly nations. While a nuclear capable presents a serious threat, it will be using 1980s technology against 2010s defensive technology, decreasing the likelihood of a successful nuclear strike. If Iran is a rational actor as the Obama administration supposes, then it will be deterred by these defenses. If it’s not, then the low chances of a successful nuclear attack against an adversary like Israel and the retaliation such an attack would invite may be enough to force Iranians to act responsibly. If not and the mullahs running the show in Iran really believe that 13th Imam stuff, then we’ll be in for some interesting fireworks over Iran.
I believe the long term solution is for regime change. A secular and democratic Iran with nukes would not be a big problem just as India is not a problem. But that requires long-term efforts that this administration simply shows no interest in. Now long-term efforts at destroying the Israeli Likud, the American Republican party and the Obama administration’s domestic enemies, the present administration has lots of interest in that...
Wolf Howling: A nuclear Iran presents an existential and imminent threat to the world justifying the immediate use of military force.
Since the dawn of their religion, adherents to the Shia'ism observed a 'wall between mosque and state' of sorts, with the senior clerics staying out of politics, preferring to act as advisers to - and critics of - whatever shah might be in power. In 1979, Ayatollah Khohemeini changed all of that, not merely taking control of the Iranian government, but giving his version of twelver Shia'ism a new mission - to spread his revolution throughout the world. The revolution was drenched in blood - and the Iranian government has stayed drenched in blood ever since. A few years ago, then Sec. of Defense Robert Gates, speaking extemporaneously on Iran, stated:
Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos, no matter the strategic value or cost in the blood of innocents - Christians, Jews and Muslims alike. . . . There can be little doubt that their destabilizing foreign policies are a threat to the interests of the United States, to the interests of every country in the Middle East, and to the interests of all countries within the range of the ballistic missiles Iran is developing.
That is an accurate description of the current Iranian regime. This is not a regime that knows any moral limits in its quest to expand its revolution. It is not a regime that can be trusted to act rationally, nor one that can be expected to be deterred by the policy of Mutually Assured Destruction. Moreover, each day this regime continues on its quest for a nuclear arsenal, the mad mullahs are acting as a catalyst for other Muslim countries to do likewise. As much as the threat of a nuclear armed Iran should be seen as a mortal threat, a nuclear armed Yemen or Saudi Arabia, both countries dominated by the ideology that animates al-Qaeda, present equally nightmare scenarios.
The only thing the regime of the mad mullahs has responded to since its birth in 1979 has been the application or threat of massive force. Each day that we allow the mad mullahs to continue on their quest for a nuclear arsenal simply adds more to the cost in gold and blood our nation will have to pay to end this threat - and it is a bill that could destroy us and others.
The parallels to 1936 to 1939, during which Hitler's Germany armed its war machine, are simply too blatant to ignore. Hitler was every bit as ideologically driven as the mad mullahs of today. According to post war interviews with Nazi generals, had France or Britain opted to even threaten force through at least 1937, WWII could have been avoided. Instead both opted to talk with Hitler until he was ready to release the dogs of war. In the end, WWII cost over 50 million lives and ruined the economies of Europe for decades. And do note, that was as a result of conventional war. The time for talks with Iran ended years ago. We are now just repeating the same mistakes of pre-WWII Britain and France. If we cannot change the regime of the mad mullahs, than we need to destroy it - now.
Liberty's Spirit:There is no question that a nuclear Iran is a threat to the stability of the world at large and not just a threat to the USA and Israel.While there is talk of Iran being a rational actor in the guise of the Soviet Union where MAD worked to contain nuclear war, it is not at all clear that the same principles apply to the Iranian regime. In fact it is very short sighted to think that the world is dealing with an Iranian regime, which understands or abides by, the concept of international zero-sum game play. For the one element that is necessary to invoke rationality, containment and gameplay is the idea that the opposing side does not wish or welcome destruction. That they do not believe that destruction is actually in their best interest. This therefore, is the crux of the matter with this radical Iranian Shia theocratic order.
First is the question is this Iranian regime made up of messianic theocratic ideologues, bent on the invocation of the return of the Mahdi? The fact that they openly preach and promote this religious tenant is what should be the guiding factor for analysis. While any totalitarian regime wants to control and rule the world, in this case the regime in Iran wishes to bring about Armageddon. (That is not to say that they have not built bunkers for the ruling elite while being more than willing to sacrifice the average population to achieve their goal.) The Iranian government does not fear nor shrink from its own destruction in order to facilitate their version of “peace on earth.” That it would risk such a confrontation with the State of Israel to bring this about is a realistic outcome. It is important to note as well, that the constant call for genocide against the Jewish state is part and parcel of Iranian ideology and is not something that Israel can afford to ignore any more than it could ignore the threat posed by a nuclear Saddam controlled Iraq or a nuclear Assad controlled Syria.
Second question is would containment actually work and to what end? If sanctions, which are basically starving the people of Iran, do not bring about change in the posture of the regime there is no reason to believe that containment will do anything. Remember this is a regime that brutalizes without mercy its own people in order to stay in power. Containment truly only works when in the end the ruling elite understand that they need their people in order to maintain their rule. This is not the case here as exhibited by the fact that Iran is one of the most brutal human rights violators on the planet,seconded only by North Korea in its treatment of its citizenry.
Third question is would the advent of a nuclear-armed Iran create a new arms race in the Middle East? The answer is a resounding yes.Despite the fact that since the 1970s the world has believed (known) that Israel possessed nuclear weapons the oil- rich-Arab states of the gulf never truly felt threatened to pursue a nuclear agenda. Not so if Iran goes nuclear.Saudi Arabia and other gulf states have already made it known publicly that if Iran creates an atomic weapon that they too will pursue such weaponry in order to counterbalance the Shia threat to their sovereignty.
The Arab Spring has shown the world how unstable Arab governments happen to be. The nation of Bahrain, which has a considerable Shia presence, has been dealing with an ongoing uprising backed by Iran, in much the same way that Arabia has had to deal with the ongoing Shia instability in their oil rich areas. Iran is already making mischief in these nations and it would only intensify if they could threaten the use of a dirty bomb or nuclear assault on these nations. (This is also not to say that there are not gross human rights violations in the Gulf States, something that needs to be dealt with but that is a discussion for another time.)
Furthermore, the world’s oil supply, which goes through the Straits of Hormuz, would undoubtedly be compromised by an Iranian threat. Iran as it has wanted to do for generations would hold OPEC and the oil nations hostage to threats and thereby influence the price of oil. Since the world’s economy basically runs on oil, not just for gasoline but for the products we use in our daily lives, this scenario could effectively ruin the world’s economy. This way Iran without firing a shot would actually have dominion over the world.
The question is how to deal with a nuclear Iran. Understandably the world is hesitant to start a military conflict. Not because they don’t think they would win in the end, but because democratic nations tend to shy away from war. It is because these nations are created by THE PEOPLE who understand that they will be sending their sons and daughters to die, while i na totalitarian regimes they simply don’t care about such outcomes. Furthermore,after coming off of over a decade of war, the USA and its allies are loath to pursue a military option. Additionally the cost in treasure to actively seek a military option would derail the already weak US and European economies. Simply put the population, and by extension the political class ruled by punditry and polls, is tired of conflict and looks only in the immediate instead of long-range realities.
Another threat that looms is also terrorism. Iran is the leading procurer of worldwide terrorism. They fund Hezbollah, Hamas and other major terror groups worldwide. It is assumed that there are any number of Hezbollah cells around the world, especially in the USA, which Iran may be able to activate if attacked. The truth is that the USA and other democratic nations are sorely lacking in their ability to handle massive terror attacks. While Israel has developed a defense posture in dealing with terror, it is not realistic that the USA, or Europe for that matter, would be able to mimic the Israeli actions, merely because of the size of the nation (or Union) and the porousness of its borders. Sadly 9/11 actually taught the USA nothing about Homeland security and our own government has left us even more vulnerable to attack today than we were over a decade ago.
However, in the end military intervention may be the only way to deal with the issue of a nuclear-armed Iran. While stuxnet and targeted assassination have been helpful in delaying the advent of a nuclear-armed Iran it will not hold it off forever. The only way is to destroy the actual infrastructure created to produce a nuclear bomb and sadly that can only happen with an active assault. Considering drone warfare has come along way in the last decade the issue for an initial assault on Iranian strongholds could be whether the drones can carry the needed bombs rather than send human pilots into the fray. This may be an effective first strike, followed then by a “shock and awe” strategy from USA battleships in the gulf. The known or acknowledged placement of the Iranian factories appears to be in sparsely populated areas and there is reason to believe that civilian casualties may be minimized unless the Iranian regime decides to use human shields to its benefit. Sadly collateral damage is a side effect of war and it is also one of the reasons to avoid war. However, use of human shields is a war crime (as is firing purposely at civilian targets) and one that is not to be seen as a reason to curtail a war of preemptive self-defense.
The truth be told, this would be only the beginning of the assault and would possibly be the beginning of a world war. The issue is the attitudes of the Russians and the Chinese. These are the rational actors in play, not Iran. The Russians are protecting Iran and Syria at the moment, trying to regain its footing as a power-player in the Middle East, and the question of their reaction or their capability to respond to an attack on Iran is important. The issue here would be is Putin truly willing to stake the economy of Russia on supporting Iran beyond words? Or would this actually play to Russia’s benefit because a war with Iran would raise oil prices, benefiting the Russian failing economy. Furthermore the Russian military is still in a shambles and not even up cold war standards. They can barely defend themselves never mind defend another nation. They also have an in-country terrorism issue and would additionally have to deal with the outgrowth of Iran-inspired-Islamist attacks.
China, not truly having too much of a dog in this fight however, will not be pleased with the assault on a sovereign nation (also being somewhat of an outlier on many issues herself, such as human rights, they would feel that at some time their sovereignty might not be a bar to international actions if they accept an attack on Iran without condemnation) however, at present China is too busy causing trouble in the South China Seas, and fighting with Japan, Taiwan and other southeast Asian nations,to bother beyond going to the UN. Truth is for China; they don’t want an issue with the USA as they will not get paid back for their loans. Their economy itself is on the verge of an implosion and they need these loan repayments to stay afloat.China relies too heavily on the west for its survival and is not ready to destroy the American goose that laid the golden egg.
In conclusion, Iran’s nuclear capability would set off anuclear arms race in the Middle East, making it a far more dangerous arena than heretofore experienced. The only way to stop Iran is military action by the USA, not Israel. Since this is a worldwide issue, a world leader needs to take the forefront of the issue and not leave open the possibility that the attack will not and could not be openly supported by major players in the region.
Will this happen? Unfortunately considering the foreign policy team put into play by President Obama this scenario is highly doubtful since they all seem to believe in the success of containment, that Iran is a rational actor and that Israel is being overly sensitive to Iran’ calls for genocide.Unfortunately they do not see the exponential issues of a nuclear arms race,the future instability of the world and the threat to the world economy that anIranian bomb creates. Additionally being anti-American power, the Obama administration would seek to minimize the presence of American actions and rely on leading from behind as they have been doing since day one of this administration. Sadly it’s this self-castration by the USA that makes the advent of a regional or even global conflict more absolute as the lack of a coherent power player in the Middle East creates a vacuum whereby the totalitarian regimes feel free to pursue any policy that why wish and threaten the world as they see fit. The truth is that if the world does not take care of the Iranian nuclear threat today, it will be plunged into a far greater and more deadly global conflict within the next decade.
The Noisy Room: As long as Iran is a sharia state, an Iran armed with 'anything' militarily speaking is a problem. Cease all commerce with them, discourage commerce with them and provide Israel with whatever she needs to protect herself.
I will even take it further... In my opinion, Iran has been our nemesis from the beginning. They are the biggest exporter of terrorism in the world and have been at war with Israel through proxies for some time. Rumor has it, they have cells here in the US and they will at some point attack us from within and from without. Iran is the one we should have gone to war with when the Iranian hostage crisis occurred decades ago. We should never have let them begin development of nukes. We knew they would use them at the very least as leverage to extort the planet into getting what they want - power and the spread of a worldwide caliphate. Now, they are on the verge of having nukes to use against the Little Satan and the Great Satan. We should be sabotaging their cyber networks and their military and nuke capabilities.
We are over the red line of deterring conflict. I do believe all that is left is war, but our leadership is content with Iran having nukes. He's okay with our enemies having nukes; you have to appreciate the irony that he wants rid the domestic population of small arms. Obama supports Islam and condones it and believes all Islamic states should have nuclear capability, so he will not preemptively strike Iran. But war is coming. The question is, will America survive? I believe Israel will, I'm just not so sure about the US.
JoshuaPundit: There's one thing that's critically important and frequently missed in discussions about foreign policy and the Middle East in particular, in my opinion. We have to see the Iranians as they see themselves, and realize how they see us.
The Iranians see themselves as a nation of destiny and rising power with a history of empire and Allah on their side.
To the Ayatollahs, we are a decadent, waning power that fears them, and with a single exception that occurred during President Reagan's term, our entire interaction with Iran since 1979 bears this out to them. They have overrun an American embassy and taken our diplomats hostage, ordered and sponsored attacks on U.S. troops in Lebanon, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Afghanistan, forced what they consider a precipitous American retreat from Iraq, openly threatened us and countries we consider our allies including Saudi Arabia. They've even imprisoned and held U.S. citizens for ransom.And they've made an open mockery out of any attempts at negotiation for years.
The Iranians were even complicit in 9/11. Even the 9/11 Commission's report mentioned that, and evidence of Iran's role in 9/11 was a major part of a ruling in Federal court.
Yet we have never responded in the way the Iranians would respond themselves to a nation they did not consider strong and a threat. We have responded in a way that validates their view of us.
Allowing a nuclear Iran would be a significant security threat to the United States. The danger comes not only from the weapons themselves, but from the attitude inherent in the Shi'ite mentality, and particularly in the Twelver sect...and whom the Iranians might decide to give those weapons to, and who else in the region might began to fashion nuclear weapons of their own as a result.
Containment is impossible, because we are not dealing with rational actors here. There's a significant amount of Shi'ite theology that actually welcomes apocalypse as the vehicle for the return of the Hidden Imam and Allah's kingdom on earth. Agreement is impossible because we have nothing they want except perhaps our complete retreat from the Middle East, certainly nothing they're willing to trade their nuclear weapons program for, which they see as insuring their rise as the dominant power in the region. President Obama's farcical removal of Moamar Khaddaffi after he'd given up his nuclear program and was actually helping us take out Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb has pretty much insured that no one else is going to do anything like that again unless they have pretty compelling reason. That especially applies to Iran.Not only that, but to the Iranians we are not only infidels with whom no agreement is binding, but fools for constantly falling for these continued 'negotiation' gambits' that simply spin out the game and buy them time.
Regime change, while desirable is probably not going to make as mush of a difference as people seem to think,nor should it be our concern, except over the long term.
How would I handle this? First, I would sit down with the JCS and map out a contingency plan assuming we don't already have one. In fact, I once sketched out what this might look like with the assistance of some very interesting accomplices a few years ago, and while it would have been far easier to pull off then and some details have changed (for instance, we no longer have forces in Iraq) , most of it is still valid.
Once that was done and what needed to be deployed was deployed, I would invite President Ahmadinejad to the White House without any preconditions. Notice that I would make the Iranians come to me on my turf rather than meeting in Europe or some Islamic country with an underling, or involving any other power.
President Ahmadinejad would almost certainly not come, which of course would be an answer in itself. If President Ahmadinejad did come to America, we would have a meeting and what would probably be a very short conversation about settling our differences. That conversation would almost certainly not be productive, but it would establish that an attempt at diplomacy was made.
I would then immediately ban from using the American banking system any nation processing Iranian oil payments or transactions with Iran's central bank. The Iranians would certainly find others to launder transactions for them on a gold basis like our 'ally' Turkey', but given the state of the rial and Iran's economy generally this would be a devastating blow. It would essentially force countries to choose to deal with Iran or with America and the U.S. market.
Since I doubt this alone would stop Iran from its nuclear ambitions I would have no compunctions about ordering a pre-emptive strike if I thought it necessary.I would involve no other nation, since some of them have already signaled their refusal to cooperate ( UK, Turkey) and others might be untrustworthy or demand a high price for their assistance.
Aside from having our Navy sink anything Iranian that floated and destroying Iran's ports, I would take out Iran's missile sites ( many of which are aimed at the oil facilities of the GCE countries) and anything suspected of being a nuclear facility,with particular attention being paid to taking out supporting infrastructure so that surviving machinery like centrifuges couldn't simply be moved and hidden. I would either completely destroy Iran's refineries and pipeline networks for oil and natural gas or have an assault ship like the USS Boxer land Marines to invade and hold Kharg Island, Iran's main oil terminus in the Persian Gulf.This would allow us to control Iran's oil flow, should we care to. If we left Kharg Island, I would destroy the facilities beyond repair as well as Iran's oil fields and infrastructure.That would take care of any future misuse of Iran's oil money.
Except for Kharg Island, I would not have any U.S. troops invade, nor would I involve America in any nation building.I would make a point of leaving a devastated Iran as a warning to others.
Such an attack would have been infinitely simpler and less destructive if it had been done some years ago, and a strong stance at th every beginning back in 1979 might have made the whole thing unnecessary. But given the reality of today that's what it will take.
If this strikes you as somewhat Roman, I can only reply, Iran Delenda Est.
Virginia Right!: A nuclear armed Iran is clearly a problem from the viewpoint of Israel. It is also a problem for the stability of the entire Middle East. Most of us who are pro Israel understand that.
However, for those who are anti oil, it may be the perfect solution to their goal. Massive instability in the region would necessarily cause the price of oil to skyrocket even more than it has already. And since most of those who seek political power through the control of energy want to drive the prices up to push the world off of oil, this is a quick means to that end.
Many of these same people also share the disillusion that eliminating, or at least neutering Israel will bring stability to the Middle East. That is not to say that they are all in favor of the extermination of Israel, though some would be OK with that, just that some are gullible enough to believe that Israel and Jews are the root cause of conflict in the region.
With nuclear weapons aimed at Israel, world leaders would no longer be asked to reign in the rogue state, relieving people like Barack Obama from the responsibility and pressure to protect Israel - a task he is, at best, ambivalent about doing. And at worst, well, let's just say Obama's education in his formative years should be alarming to friends of Israel.
How I would deal with the problem if a nuclear armed Iran is simple. Israel has the right to protect herself and we have a responsibility to allow her to do just that. The US should use their veto power in the UN Security Council to keep the rest of the world from deciding Israel's fate. Israel is an ally and deserves the opportunity to make those decisions and has the right to self protection. And if a preemptive strike is the decision, so be it.
A North Korea-like rogue nation in the Middle East is the last thing the world needs. It is impossible to control North Korea. And they are a poor state. Imagine the same dynamic with an oil rich nation like Iran with the ability to sabre rattle and threaten with no possibility of repercussions.
And how long will it be until every unstable Theocracy in the Middle East has a nuclear weapon if we allow Iran to obtain - and ultimately proliferate - such weapons. It is doubtful that a nuclear Iran can be controlled or even contained. I shudder to think about the consequences of a nuclear Hamas.
The Glittering Eye: Iran's getting the Bomb would present a situation very different from any of the other countries with nuclear weapons. In the case of first countries with nuclear weapons (United States, Soviet Union, United Kingdom, France) none of those countries had denied it was developing nuclear weapons.
The next cohort of nuclear powers (India, China) developed their nuclear weapons as deterrents against the other. Neither of them denied their development programs. Next in line, Pakistan, developed its nuclear weapons under very similar circumstances.
Iran's situation would be much more like that of North Korea. North Korea's development program was a de facto secret (as practically everything else going on in the country is) and was discovered pretty much be accident. North Korea never denied its development program but it hadn't advertised it, either.
Israel is believed to have nuclear weapons but we don't know for sure the size of its nuclear arsenal, if any. Israel is not a signatory to the NPT. To the best of my knowledge it has never denied having nuclear weapons.
A couple of notable difference between North Korea and Iran: Iran doesn't have a patron of the sort that China is for North Korea, Iran can afford to produce a substantial arsenal of weapons, and Iran openly supports terrorists.
An Iranian nuclear weapon would almost certainly start a nuclear arms race in the very volatile Middle East. I don't thinkthat's a situation that we can tolerate.
Consequently, a nuclear-armed Iran would
- be untrustworthy since it had developed its nuclear weapons while repeatedly denying it was doing so
- be capable of producing a substantial arsenal
- present a threat of transferring nuclear weapons to terrorists
- threaten its neighbors (including Russia and China) and us
Ideally with the cooperation of Russia and China who are, after all, more threatened by Iran than we are but without it if necessary, we should avoid the bluster that has characterized past statements by the last two administrations on the subject and merely say that if Iran tests, uses, conveys, or transfers the technology for a nuclear weapon or threatens us or anybody else with nuclear weapons, we'll consider it an act of war and respond in such a way as to end the threat, whatever that may require.
Well, there you have it.
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