April 23, 2006


"I think the intellectual poverty of the administration's approach to Iran is only mirrored by the intellectual poverty in their planning of the war in Iraq." -- Ray Takeyh

Meantime, don't miss Richard Haass on Iran, writing in the FT last week.

These are the rationales for contemplating a preventive attack. The problem is that the likely costs of carrying out such an attack substantially outweigh probable benefits.

The most dangerous delusion is that a conflict would be either small or quick. Destroying Iran’s nuclear capacity would require numerous cruise missiles and aircraft. Iran would be sure to retaliate, using terrorist groups such as Hizbollah and Hamas and attacking US and British forces and interests in Iraq and Afghanistan. This would require the US to respond militarily against a larger set of targets inside Iran. What would begin as a limited strike would not remain limited for long.

Any scenario resembling the above would roil global energy markets. Oil prices would climb above $100 a barrel [ed. note: if they don't get there before!]. Iran could push the price even higher if it reduced its oil exports or took action to disrupt the regional outflow of oil. Although industrialised countries would tap into strategic petroleum reserves, a sudden and prolonged increase in prices could set off a chain of events leading to global recession.

To be sure, using military force would set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions. It could buy time. But a strike would not eliminate knowhow. Also, you cannot destroy what you cannot target, and you cannot be sure you will be able to destroy all that you do target. One certain effect would be to push Iran to try to clandestinely reconstitute a nuclear weapons programme that could bear fruit in a few years.

An attack on Iran could well trigger a popular coming together in a country that is currently divided. It risks creating a siege mentality that reduces prospects for political reform and increases the odds that Iran would produce a nuclear weapon under a regime resembling the current one.

Using nuclear weapons to destroy hard-to-reach targets would contribute to, rather than diminish, the proliferation threat. It would weaken the taboo against nuclear use—a taboo that has gained strength over 60 years—and only increase the odds that others would obtain or use nuclear weapons to promote their objectives.

Attacking Iran would further inflame US relations with Muslim and Arab countries, including those with little warmth for Iran. A US attack would also fuel anti-Americanism in Europe, and strengthen the hands of those in Russia and China calling for a reassessment of their ties with America and of their role in the world.

Given these potential high costs, Washington should be searching harder for a diplomatic alternative, one that entails direct US talks with Iran beyond the narrow dialogue announced on Iraq.

More on potential diplomatic alternatives in this space in the coming days.

Posted by Gregory at April 23, 2006 04:25 PM | TrackBack (0)

Wouldn't one way to deal with Iran be to promise to drop nuclear weapons on it if it attacks anyone else? Some sort of version of MAD. And we wouldn't really need to know if it was the Iranians behind a nuclear attack. (That's one of the objections I've heard.) Let them know that no matter who is actually behind an attack, if they go ahead and create nuclear weapons (as they have announced, no?) then we will presume that they are behind the attack.

(Remember what the Godfather said to the other dons when he was trying to make it safe for Michael to return home? "Michael gets hurt, _even in an accident,_ and I will presume it was one of you.")

Wouldn't that sober up the Iranian leadership just a bit? A guaraantee that they will get return fire?

Unrealistic perhaps. But we are living in a pretty bizarre world. Just look around.

Posted by: Raw Data at April 23, 2006 06:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The trouble is the buzz around Washington that the Teheran regime is teetering, and that an attack, even if not effective at eliminating the nuclear program, will nonetheless lead to the regime change that neutralizes the problem.

This view is honeycombed with logical fallacies, but that's not enough to prevent people like the VP and his crowd from entertaining it.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at April 23, 2006 07:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Wouldn't one way to deal with Iran be to promise to drop nuclear weapons on it if it attacks anyone else? Some sort of version of MAD."

President Chirac has already done that for France. He said something along the lines of if terrorists sponsored by any regime would use non-conventional weapons on France France would feel compelled to respond fully and in kind.

Posted by: Shaun at April 23, 2006 07:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Again, the Bush administration has demonstrated its intellectual bankruptcy in the realm of international relations. To threaten a nation before exhausting other rational options as an alternative to actual warfare, is simply showing the international community their glaring superficiality and lack of imagination.
Each side, the United States and Iran, has to swallow their pride and sit down at the negiotation table. Bilateral deal-making should have been initiated prior to the actual invasion of Iraq.
The price of oil will only increase as each side rattles their sabres at each other on the world stage. With the price of gas hovering around $3.00 a gallon before the actual vacation season begins in the United States will continue to hurt workers in the service industries and has already burdened the average citizen with tax imposed by this sabre rattling.
The United States is at a strategic disvantage in its confrontation with Iran. Our troops, some who have already done two and three tours in the theater of combat in Iraq, will be easy targets for Iranian medium-range missiles. Now that the troops have hunkered down in their bases during the civil war in Iraq, they would make an easy target. A single, co-ordinated attack on American bases could produce casualties in the mid-thousands. How do you think that would play out with the citizens back home, who are already rather disillusioned by the progress of the war. Iraq has a "target-rich environment" to borrow a favorite phrase used by von Rumsfeld during his press conferences.
Here I am referring to the large United States Embassy being built within the concrete barriers of the green zone. A massive missle attack on this embassy would be the modern equivalent of VC guerillas invading the United States embassy in Saigon during the Tet Offensive of 1968. That is only one target among many that I am sure Iranian agents have been investigating in Iraq since the American occupation. The Iranian blowback would be felt throughout the capitals of Europe, Israel and probably the United States.
One would have thought that the Bush administration had learned its lesson in hubris in Iraq. The elected Iraqi politicians are still haggling about just forming a government. An attack on Iran would either set back that actuality or even make that possiblity a moot debate.
All this buzz within the betlway of the Iranian regime being on the edge of collapse is just wishful thinking. As various federal government studies have shown, the carpet-bombing of German cities during the Second World War hardened the resolve of the civilian population. I am sure that after an American missile attack, Iranians would put aside their political differences and come together for national unity and defense of their country.
And I think that one could make a good argument that President Bush would have to go back to Congress for another war resolution specifically addressing the issue of nuclear proliferation in Iran. Republicans would consider that a third rail issue in the upcoming national elections.
I think it's time for the beltway boys to start acting like mature men and consider the huge consequences of an attack on Iran. No one really likes growing-up and seeing the world realistically, but sooner or later most of us make a conscious decision to become adults in our affairs. I think it's that time within the beltway. In fact, I think it's lond overdue.

Posted by: George Hoffman at April 23, 2006 09:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Do we have time with respect to Iran, or not?

This, it seems to me, is the key question. I don't disagree with those who say that the prospect of the current Iranian regime coming into possession of a nuclear arsenal is unnerving. For decades advocates of nonproliferation have argued that the more nations have nuclear weapons the more likely it was that one of those weapons would go off, and they were talking mostly about states that had no record of using terrorism as an instrument of policy.

But if that prospect is several years distant we have options that we may not if the thing is directly upon us. We can try direct negotiations, though personally I regard this as a fool's errand unless we both know what we want and what the Iranian regime wants. We can refine planning for military action against the day when we are not mired in Iraq, though I am skeptical that any practicable armed action would produce the results we are looking for. We could do both of these at the same time.

We can also address the greatest weakness of our position with respect to Iran, which is the low state of our knowledge about internal Iranian politics and the best ways to influence them. In addition to information available from public sources there seem also to be opportunities to penetrate Iranian society and government with our intelligence services and those of our allies. Iran is not the closed book Iraq became under Saddam Hussein; this could change, but at the moment the regime's strident rhetorical attacks on the West appear not to have been matched by the comprehensive restrictions on the movement of foreign nationals in Iran that was a feature of Saddam's regime, as well as most of the old Communist countries. If the Iraqi situation does at some point settle down -- admittedly when this will happen is anyone's guess -- the flow of Iranian religious pilgrims to holy sites in Iraq could open new intelligence-gathering opportunities.

The universe of options with respect to influencing Iranian politics is, it seems to me, fairly large, ranging from routine public diplomacy drawing attention to the domestic needs Tehran is neglecting as it pursues confrontation with the West to a future effort to overthrow the regime from within. There is no need to choose a specific course right now. But unless an Iranian nuclear arsenal is right around the corner we should not be thinking about this problem in terms of "solving" it within the next year or so, but of instead of taking deliberate steps toward a solution that will only present itself some years from now.

Posted by: Zathras at April 23, 2006 09:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One hitherto untried way to deal with iran is to . . . deal with Iran. Actual direct, official, US-Iranian diplomatic contacts. As the Iranians themselves proposed in May 2003. We don't have to invite them to join NATO. We just have to actually talk to them, as we talked to the Soviets, Communist China and umpty-ump other uncuddly countries.

Posted by: Jim Henley at April 23, 2006 09:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"...the buzz around Washington that the Teheran regime is teetering, and that an attack, even if not effective at eliminating the nuclear program, will nonetheless lead to the regime change"

Yeah, "buzz" is right (though not the kind usually thought of): I realize it always is a chancy thing to bring up the issue of "reality" when dealing with the Bush 43 Administration, but do they have any, you know, actual proof of this? Or is this just another case of "reality-making" from the whizkids in the Pentagon and WH? Another "greeted as liberators with candy and flowers" scenario?

One knows that the Iranian mullahcracy might not have the universal approbation of the populace at large - but every single analysis I have read from any source pretty much concludes that the regime has enough support from the sector of the population that counts - the armed sector- to maintain its hold on authority, and wishful thinking from Washington or Beverly Hills ain't gonna make that change.

Posted by: Jay C at April 24, 2006 12:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That the neocons are pushing for strikes against Iran is a clear illustration of the two very simple principles that guide their view of foreign policy:

-- when evaluating potential threats to the US, engage in worst-case scenario thinking.

-- when evaluating the outcome of aggressive US action, engage in best-case scenario thinking.

Posted by: Les Brunswick at April 24, 2006 01:43 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Of course any neo-conservative strike has to clear the supreme military-strategic test: will it help the midterms? The greatest and most important battle this year will be in November. The best and most effective minds of the administration are focusing on the planning. Field Marshall Rommel, correction, Rove is in full charge. Overwhelming forces are being rapidly concentrated, painstakingly detailed operational plans are being finalized with Prussian efficiency. Elder Moltke would be impressed. One wonders if only a tiny fraction of this effort would have been dedicated to waging the war in Iraq... Well, you have to have priorities.

Posted by: llwyd at April 24, 2006 10:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was'nt aware that we have said we were going to attack Iran? Why talk like we are?
They've said they would attack us.

Posted by: plainslow at April 24, 2006 05:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Do we have time with respect to Iran, or not?"

Harmon and Hoekstra said yesterday that we just dont know.

Pundits quote time frames in support of the policies they like - the hawks routinely at WOC and elsewhere routinely cite time frames of a year or less. Those opposed to military action routinely quote 5 to 10 years, from a NIE, that, IIUC was written before the recent rounds of Iranian announcements.

Sitting here, it could be a year. It could be ten years. I dont know. It would be nice if those holding forth on both sides would at least admit what they dont know.

Posted by: liberalhawk at April 24, 2006 06:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ok so Iran shouldn't have nuclear weapons becuase of this taboo. So we break this taboo by nukes against Iran. My head hurts.

Plainslow - according to Bush we weren't goint to Iraq either but the Cheney wink-wink-nudge-nudge game left pretty much no one indoubt that it was on the table. That does not necessarily mean that we will attack Iran, but don't assume that just because no one in the administration came out on TV and said "we are going to bomb Iran" or whatever, that it isn't on the table. All this talk is by way of reminding people that all this talk is quite similar to what was going on before Iraq.

Posted by: ET at April 24, 2006 08:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dear Blank (you know who you are!):

You seem to be attempting to draw a bright line between intelligence analysis done by analysts and whatever it is that policy makers do with intelligence. But I would argue that what they do is in fact analysis, and that there is not only nothing wrong with that, but that it could not be any other way.

Intelligence is information. It is used to inform policy. Because we know (or think we know) a particular fact or set of facts, we devise a policy to deal with those facts. When policy makers do that, they are analyzing intelligence, in the sense that they are interpreting it, and acting on their interpretations.

The logical conclusion of your argument seems to be that only professional analysts, working in offices and organizations set up for the purpose, should ever analyze intelligence. In your world, it is illegitimate for anyone but a certified analyst to analyze and interpret intelligence. But wouldn't this make analysts into policy makers? If they were the sole arbiters of truth, then policy makers would have no choice but to act on the interpretations of the analysts. In which case, there would be no need and no purpose for policy makers.

Maybe an example will clarify what I mean. Newspaper reports in the long run-up to the Iraq war were full of accounts (sourced anonymously, of course) that intelligence analysts didn't think Saddam Hussein posed much of a threat. He was contained, his WMD programs were stalled, he would only attack if provoked, etc. They based this on open-source material and on intelligence.

Policy makers, looking at the same information, came to a different conclusion than the analysts. They thought Saddam did pose a threat. Ultimately, the President agreed. And he made policy accordingly.

Isn't that his right? Isn't that what the people elected him to do? No one elected the analysts. The analysts are hired to serve the President and his statutorily appointed aides. There is no legal, constitutional, moral or prudenatial rule which says that the analysts must be heeded. Often they are. Their work is appreciated even when they are not. But, in the final analysis, it falls to others to make the final analysis.

All Hersh has described is a yet another unit in DoD that anaylizes intelligence. Super-hawks don't like the analysis that they are getting elsewhere. They are more suspicious of the world and more convinced of the omnipresence of threats. Isn't that their right? Aren't the allowed--no, obliged--to think through all the information before them and draw conclusions to the best of their abilities, even if the professional analysts disagree?

Your bottom-line objection comes down to the flow chart. You don't like where this is taking place. To which I say: what's the difference? The super-hawks are going to disagree with softer-line analysis anyway. So they hire some extra people to help them examime intelligence and refine their thinking. Who cares where they sit? How is the republic in danger if they're in OSD? You have not, to say the least, made a compelling case that it is. You haven't made any case, in my view. The claim that the chain of command is somehow compromised is not convincing. The President still gives the orders, and SecDef still carries them out. There is no chain of command either inherent or implied in the analysis of intelligence.

Thus I don't see how you get to the point where you can even ask the question: Are Straussians secretly trying to bring down the government?

By the way: you err when you argue that these guys are collecting. Hersh doesn't claim that. So unless you know something the rest of us don't . . .

Antongiavanni | May 12, 2003 | 05:37 AM

West Coast NeoCons @ The Remedy

Go read the thread for historical kicks!

NeoCons intellectually defending lying!

Fun for the whole family!


Posted by: SomeDude at April 24, 2006 08:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Off topic (sort of)

BTW, Greg,
There will be a rally by the Save Darfur Coalition on the Mall in DC this sunday. Thought you should know.

Posted by: liberalhawk at April 24, 2006 09:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

No doubt ET. Of course that was after 17 resolutions. I have'nt seen that many yet in this case.
I don't want them to attack them. They can prepare, but no attack.
Just find it odd that everyone looks at what we might do, but dose'nt look at Iran the same, even though they have come out and said what they want.

Posted by: PLAINSLOW at April 24, 2006 09:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm going to keep hammering on this until someone addresses it.

Liberalhawk and Zathras, the question is absolutely not "how much time do we have until Iran gets the bomb?" This is the exact kind of false, psuedo-anti-war argument that led us into Iraq. Just like the problem with the Iraq war was not whether or not Saddamn had WMD, although the fact that GWB misled the whole world, quite deliberately, with the help of a core of groupthinking enablers, is a separate and related problem. The problem with the Iraq war is that it represents an unsustainable, destabilizing, and almost instantly arbitrary policy paradigm of miltary overaggression ("pre-emption") that will weaken, corrupt, and ultimately neutralize the US as a world leader.

The Iraq war was very obviously the wrong war at the wrong time for the wrong reasons, with almost inevitable and currently-occuring bad consequences that outweigh whatever incremental progress might be made in the Muslim world. Another war with Iran will be the exact same equation.

Stopping Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons is not worth overt hostile military operations, period, not under any circumstances but under the broad set of circumstances that is current reality.

It doesn't matter when they're going to get them, because they are going to get them, and all military options that the nation is willing to consider have remote to zero possibility of permanently preventing them. Meanwhile they all promise rather large and pointless costs.
Any sort of half-assed, hope-for-the-best military option will be exactly like the last war and be exactly as dissapointing.

Posted by: glasnost at April 25, 2006 12:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
They've said they would attack us.

Did they? When? I hate to be a net.pest, but do you have a reference for this?

Posted by: Jim Henley at April 25, 2006 02:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

He has advocated the destruction of an ally. That's how wars start.


I haven't heard the US goverment say wipe any country off the map, yet we talk like it's a given. This man has said what he wants, and people are talking about it like it's a childhood prank. It is'nt.

Posted by: plainslow at April 25, 2006 03:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I know this will disappoint glasnost, but I'd hope any American administration could come up with an alternative to preemptive war that didn't involve preemptive surrender.

Posted by: Zathras at April 25, 2006 05:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't understand why we should blustering out of Iran as gospel -- in general, political blustering is pretty far from gospel. Why anyone would propose Iran's political bluster to be more credible than the average, escapes me.

Posted by: frank wallace at April 25, 2006 05:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Why anyone would propose Iran's political bluster to be more credible than the average, escapes me.

For political advantage, of course.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 25, 2006 07:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"I don't understand why we should blustering out of Iran as gospel -- in general, political blustering is pretty far from gospel. Why anyone would propose Iran's political bluster to be more credible than the average, escapes me."

when someone says they want to kill someone and they are in the process of getting a weapon that would make it possible to killl someone, I tend to take their statements seriously.

Posted by: liberalawk at April 25, 2006 10:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes, exactly. Bush has announced he intends to get regime change in iran, and he's angling pretty hard for UN approval to do that.

I take it seriously indeed.

We can't believe much of what Bush says, but when he says he wants to start another war he probably means it.

Posted by: J Thomas at April 26, 2006 02:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

> when someone says they want to kill someone and they are in the process of getting a weapon that would make it possible to killl someone, I tend to take their statements seriously.

The US has a history of ignoring ongoing genocide, much less planned genocide -- and this is fairly defensible from a strategic point of view -- Saddam slaughtering Kurds was not a major factor in oil geopolitics, and had no obvious repercussions.

Now, Iran slaughtering Jews in another country is another story, as that would involve transnational killing, but, noone even alleges that that is happening, only that the possibility looms in the future. Or, maybe less, that it claims the possibility looms in the future.

Of course, Israel is in a MUCH better position to defend itself than were the Kurds, who lacked air power and logistics, and really, all the ability to cause damage at a distance -- Israel possesses those abilities in spades.

Posted by: frank wallace at May 1, 2006 11:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.

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