“Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while reaching for a stick.”
Tom and Joe have (respectively) blogged the case for immediately and unilaterally invading or bombing Iran in response to their obvious intention and capability to build nuclear weapons: The Case for Invading Iran and Our Darkening Sky: Iran and the War.
I’m unconvinced, and I think that they are overlooking several critical points which need to be considered in making a decision of this import.I want to get something up quickly, and will beg forgiveness for not writing at greater length of with more cites. I have a feeling this will develop in the comments and next few days.
First, let me put two issues aside.
I think that the moral justification for preemptive war in Iran is not as great as that for Iraq, but certainly exists. It’s on thing – as Israel has done – to build nuclear weapons and to use them to deter others from attacking you. It’s another to build them and in parallel threaten the existence of neighboring countries. One key difference between 9/10/01 and 9/12/01 is that on the 12th, we came to realize that people who made insane threats and had some history of acting on them could no longer be ignored as colorful.
I have no doubt that our army – even limited in capabilities as they are today – could demolish the Iranian army in short order.
Given that I believe that invading Iran wouldn’t be wrong, and that it’s arguable possible, why cavil? The problem with invading or bombing, of course, is what then?
What then in Iran, what then in the face of a world order that will be implacably hostile to us, and what then in the face of a more-united Islamic world.
And while we’ll push back the hands on the proliferation clock, let’s not mistake that for stopping it.
Because, simply, once you’ve built a bomb, building another one is just busywork. And while we might destroy the infrastructure Iran is building to create a bomb, as long as we face a movement that means to do us harm, there will always be a place and a way to rebuild infrastructure.
That’s one of the reasons I supported the invasion of Iraq; because our task is to push back a movement, not defeat an army. We need time in Iraq to keep moving it toward stability to show the rest of the Islamic world that there are options other than kleptocracy and a Caliphate. Does invading Iran now advance that cause?
We’ve made a series of errors that have gotten us to this place; for convenience’s sake, I’ll start with Carter’s ineffective nonresponse to the taking of our embassy in Iran – which in my mind marks the real beginning of the modern Islamist war against the West. Since then, we’ve done nothing to lessen our dependence on imported oil, across three Presidents. Most recently, I’ll lay blame at the feet of President Bush, who missed two clear opportunities: to build the strength of the military over the last four years – which would have required sacrificing domestic programs plus a real effort to spend political capital building support for the war, and to engage the Iranian regime and reach out to the non-insane citizens and politicians that make up a large part of the Iranian polity.
But we’re here, now, and no where else.
Could we smash the Iranian oil infrastructure, depriving them of cash and Europe and China of fuel? Of course. Child’s play. Could we drop the Iranian electricity grid, possibly slowing the centrifuges to a halt? Sure. Could we destroy the Iranian army, and do a smash-and-grab raid on the suspected weapons development sites? Probably.
Do we really think that the moderate, pro-Western forces within Iran would survive – I mean physically, not politically – much less be able to take over the country in the face of one of these acts? Do we think that an Iran which had been bombed or invaded would be more or less pro-Western?
What do you think the impact would be on the balance of the Islamic world? How long before someone else starts buying the tools to make a bomb, or buys a completed bomb?
We need to do four things in parallel as regards Iran, starting pretty much right now.
First, we need a national energy policy. It’s not a matter of saving trees, it’s a matter of national defense. We should have done it a decade ago, but tomorrow’s the soonest we can start. Doing this not only has real impacts, but sends clear signals about our intentions and capabilities as well.
Next, we need to build up our invasion-ready forces, by planning with allies, expanding the Army, and rebuilding some of the capability that has been used up in Iraq. We should have been doing this since 2002, but starting today is better than starting tomorrow. See above re signalling capabilities.
Next, we need to sit down and start talking. We need to talk to the Iranian regime, to their opponents, to Russia and China most of all. What are we talking about?
* To the regime, our unwillingness to allow Iran to become a state locus for a worldwide Islamist movement – we may not be perfectly happy for them to be an Islamic state, but we’ll be tolerant of it.
* To their opponents, we need to be giving whatever encouragement and tools we possibly can.
* To Russia and China, we need to make it clear that we’re not planning on taking their oil away.
Why are we talking in the face of a ticking bomb?
Well, because to quote someone smarter than me, “Diplomacy is the art of saying ‘nice doggie’ while reaching for a stick.”
While we’re doing that, a few things may happen. The dog may stop growling. We may get a stick.
Or we may get bitten.
I don’t want to get bitten by a dog. But my willingness to risk a dog bite goes up when I’m carrying a gun.
Because I can say with a lot of confidence that the dog will only get one bite.
Chirac just “flashed wood” (showed the butt of his gun) as the New York gang kids used to say. I’d say we need to be even clearer about it, and suggest that a variant on MAD, or what I’ve called “the Godfather defense” (note that commenter “Boyd”: http://www.windsofchange.net/archives/007986.php#c32 suggested a variant in the comments to Joe’s piece) – “if anything happens to my children – if they should be struck by a car, or catch the flu…” We make it clear that while we are discussing this issue, a nuclear attack on Israel or the US will be met with an immediate potentially-nuclear attack aimed at all the Iranian nuke-producing facilities, their conventional forces (esp. the domestic security forces), their C3, and regime leadership. We need to publicly put the assets in place to enforce that threat. It would be nice if some of those assets has other flags on them, and I’m guessing that given the state of things, they just might.
The Iranian leadership may have been infected with a memetic virus that makes them suicidal and insane. But I somehow doubt the entire country has.
Let’s remember that Iran is 30 minutes away from becoming a sheet of glass at our command. That power is real, and gives us both the space to maneuver and the responsibility to use it wisely.