January 10, 2008

Straits of Hormuz

Somewhat lost in all the domestic political hullabaloo of these past days was the news of several Iranian speedboats swarming US Navy ships in the Straits of Hormuz. While Bob Gates has reportedly suggested that similar occurrences have taken place in the recent past, this episode was apparently of a different degree. What explains this Iranian activity? Was it the uncoordinated act of minor, localized Revolutionary Guard players near the Straits (with the timing perhaps inspired to give President Bush a 'welcome greeting' to the region), or alternately were major national security players in Teheran aware of the action?

Put differently, was this provocation authorized by central authorities, or was it merely adventurism by lower-ranking personnel? I'd say (and this is obviously wholly speculative) perhaps something in between. Some in Ahamadi-Nejad's circle are better served by a continued tense external environment so may occasionally resort to such actions to stoke tension (particularly now in the post-NIE environment with economic grievances and assorted domestic discontent garnering relatively greater attention). Also a factor? There are parliamentary elections in the late winter, and then later the Presidentials loom, so the various factions are positioning themselves as best they can. My point is some hard-liners in Teheran may have authorized local commanders to behave this way, but it was very likely not an explicit directive emitting from Khamenei or such.

Regardless the danger, of course, is that the next time a U.S. Naval Commander (perhaps with radio communications between the parties as seemingly confused as this go around) may feel compelled to take more robust defensive measures, to include even a possible exchange of fire. A conflagration could quickly result with undetermined implications, including for our troops in Iraq. Yet another reason, in my view, to adopt (even if woefully belatedly) Baker-Hamilton's recommendations to attempt to launch meaningful dialogue with the Iranians (and at a level well above that of our Ambassador in Baghdad). Talking could well further weaken the extremists, while helping avoid renewed provocations and/or miscalculations by the parties. Which is probably a reason the residual Cheneyites in the Administration are so deathly opposed to bolder diplomatic initiatives along these lines.

Posted by Gregory at January 10, 2008 11:56 PM

This is looking more and more like something that deliberately overblown or at least been spun into the most incendiary context possible and is only slowly being downgraded in terms of provocations.

Posted by: MNPundit at January 11, 2008 01:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Do you rule out the reverse of your premise Greg? Namely that this was some staged provocation by the elements with the Bush Admin that seek to provoke Iran? And if you reject this is this because the US 'don't play that way' (and perhaps we don't, my intent is not directed at being gratuitously provocative), or because 'we did not play that way, this time'?

Posted by: jonst at January 11, 2008 07:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Don't discount the possibility that this action was designed merely to keep oil prices high.

Posted by: gregdn at January 11, 2008 09:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Didn't the US and Soviet subs use to play cat-and-mouse all over the globe during the Cold War?

Is this any more significant than those DPRK mini-subs washing up occasionally a little south of home?

Could it be truly much ado about nothing, although prior (cynical) interpretations of events are noted. It's not like the cynicism hasn't been earned.

Posted by: ante-kneel at January 11, 2008 10:04 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the majopr premise is wrong, that being that Iran did something to deliberately provide some sort of provocation.

Since the initial incident was trumpeted by the administration the following has come to light:

1. These types of encounters have been fairly commonplace.
2. Iran released its own videorecording which indicated that the Iranian ships (loosely described) where asking for identifvication, whcih is fairly normal.
3. That the statement about the US ships exploding soon did not come from the ships and quite possibly were spliced into the US tape version.
4. That the only way the Iranian craft would have been a threat is if they, like in the Cole incident, came within yards of any of the US ships.

Note that the Pentagon has not disputed in anyway the Iranian recording.

However, I agree with Greg that it would not surprise me if soem provocation were created by Iran, for the very reasons he indicates. However, I think the provocation is far more likely to be verbal.

I actually think our current adminsitration, trying to recover from the NIE report, will try to make a mountain out of a molehill so that they can, however warpedly, justify an attack on Iran before they leave office.

Posted by: john at January 11, 2008 11:23 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't really care who is behind the incident.

The fact is, speedboats, regardless of how fast they are, represent zero threat to US war ships.

If the boats get too close and the ship "feels" threatened they'll let loose with 4,500 rounds of 20mm depleted uranium rounds from their radar guided CWIS guns and the boat will be in a thousand pieces.

This is just more sabre rattling from the administration plain and simple.

Posted by: Davebo at January 11, 2008 04:01 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Residual credulity can be a bitch, Greg. I recommend a further dose of Ipecac syrup. You still haven't come fully to terms with what you were once habitually swallowing.

Posted by: AlanDownunder at January 11, 2008 08:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

WHITEWASH, or, the inter-media battle of over presenting or witholding FACTS:

Interesting item in my copy of today's San Diego Union-Tribune, subheadeded by the NY Times News Service AND the AP -- HAND-TYPED please excuse any typos:

WASHINGTON - There is a reason US military officers express concern over the tactics used by Iranian sailors last weekend: a classified $250 million war game in which small, agile speedboats swarming a naval convoy to inflict devestating damage on more powerful warships.

In the days since three US ships encountered five Iranian patrol boats in the Straits of Hormuz, US officers acknowledge that they have been studying anew the lessons from a startling simulation consucted in 2002. In that war game, the Blue Team navy, representing the United States, lost 16 major warships - an aircraft carrier, cruisers and amphibious vessels - in an attack that included swarming attacks by enemy speedboats.

"The sheer nmbers involved overloaded their ability , both mentally and electronically, to handle the attack," said LT Gen Paul K. Van Riper, a retired Marine who served in the war game as commander of a Red Team force simulating an unnamed Persin Gulf military. "The whole thing was over in five, maybe ten minutes."

This item is now nowhere, by me, to be found on AP, NYTNS, or the SD Uniom-Trib.


I'm sure BDers can supply the answer.

Posted by: neill at January 12, 2008 11:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, of course. It's because that information is classified. We wouldn't want to inadvertently tip off the enemy to our vulnerabilities.

Unless it's to create the pretext to start another optional war, in which case, no problem.

Posted by: anti-kneel at January 13, 2008 02:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

250 million you say? What a friggin waste of money.

Posted by: jonst at January 13, 2008 10:25 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Uh, neill, hate to break it to you, but the war game that you're talking about has been discussed at considerable length in a variety of venues. The folks who've been LEAST interested in talking about have been those chickenhawks eager to see another war, this one with Iran. They would like to believe that through its airpower, the U.S. can attack with impunity. Van Riper's gambit suggested that dreams of a cost-free romp in Iran would be about as reality-based as the predictions of a cost-free romp in Iraq.

This is not news to any informed person. It's your problem if you don't happen to be one of them. Idiot.

Posted by: sglover at January 13, 2008 01:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I was previously aware of the war game.

I quoted from the article for the benefit of other commenters who didnt seem to grasp that there could indeed be a significant threat from swarming fast boats, especially in combination with other platforms.

What WAS news to me was the fact that I was unable to find any significant information on it from the media that sourced the article in question. Seems rather curious.

As for your juvenile name-calling, I guess that's sort of a compensation for chronically finding yourself on the losing side of the argument, eh?

Pathetic, really.

Posted by: neill at January 13, 2008 10:18 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


One could wake me up (and I believe you too) at 3AM, after a night of heavy drinking and partying, and it would take me all of about 10 seconds to respond 'yes' to the assertion that small fast boats: "could be a significant threat..... especially in combination with other platforms"

250mil....I repeat, crazy.

Posted by: jonst at January 14, 2008 03:22 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You want tension? Bush just disavowed the NIE to Olmert, who says he's very happy about it.

"Ya know, Ehood, ah tried ta get some a them Golf States to hand Amedinajad's ass to him, but they went all, like, peace and love on me. Pussies. So, dude, whatever you think needs to happen, ya know, over there, ya can count on us to join yer colition a tha willin'. Cause ah know, ah just know, he's got some a them noocular blender thingies, an he's a fixin' ta make him a noocular bomb just as sure as James Baker's gay. That twit."

Among many other things, this idiocy continues Bush's insane devaluation and demoralization of the intelligence community.

Posted by: Adams at January 14, 2008 11:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What part of the intelligence community-there's an oxymoronic hoot-that delivered the NIE also delivered the WMD-in-Iraq sermon? Lemme guess: they got a classified text message from "curve ball."

What say we forgot about the demoralization part of the IntelCom and worry about the intel part. They might start by tracking a dude named Bin Laden, when they're not feeling all weepy, of course.

Posted by: resh at January 15, 2008 08:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

That the American warships were most likely in Iranian territorial waters when this incident happened has been kept very quiet. However, it paints the incident in a very different light. The Asia Times is one of the few publications to pick up on this.

Posted by: blowback at January 15, 2008 10:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


It's pretty obvious that radical Conservative extremists in Iran and al Qaeda; Israel's Likud Party, AIPAC, AEI, and Heritage; and The Theocons/Rudy Giuliani types want to incite war between the United States and the Middle East.

Instead, let's throw an old extremist Muslim cleric, Norm Podhoretz, and the Rev. Pat Robertson in a broom closet and let 'em fight it out.

We'd save millions of lives and trillions of dollars.

We'd also laugh our asses off.

Posted by: Mark at January 15, 2008 12:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

(pajamas media)

The release of the recent NIE report on Iran’s nuclear program, together with General Petraeus’ declaration that Iran has stopped supplying weapons to anti-U.S. Shiite militants in Iraq, was interpreted as a sign of improvement in Tehran-Washington relations by many Iran-watchers. The Iranian press seemed to be particularly excited. Most notable were those representing Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who wants better relations with the West. One of his outlets got completely carried away by the new thaw. This was shown by an article in Entekhab News, which quoted Russian and Swiss sources claiming that U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates had secretly met with Ahmadinejad to discuss regional developments. Meanwhile, some Iranian officials, including Iran’s Supreme Leader, decided to reciprocate what they viewed as U.S. efforts to improve relations. This was seen in Ayatollah Khamenei’s statement last week in the city of Yazd that relations between Iran and the U.S. will not be broken “forever.”

However, in a single move, the nascent improvements between the two countries were pushed aside, and suspicion and recrimination returned to the forefront of Iran-U.S. relations.

The new crisis centers on reports from the U.S. that on Sunday, January 6, Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) boats buzzed three U.S. warships in the Strait of Hormuz in an aggressive manner. The U.S. presented its case in a video that was released by its Department of Defense. The video also showed the USS Hopper crew asking the IRGC boats to identify themselves and their intention. However, there was no response. The only voice contact from the IRGC side was a message threatening the U.S. navy ship, saying that it is going to explode in a “couple of minutes.”

Immediately after that, Iran released its own video, which completely contradicted the U.S. version. In the Iranian video, the IRGC boats are seen politely communicating with the U.S. ships. Furthermore, unlike the U.S. video, the Iranian report showed the Iranian boats as stationary. They were not behaving in an aggressive manner in any way, shape, or form. To make a difficult case more confusing, two days after the incident, the U.S. Fifth Fleet said that it had “no way to know” that the explosion threat came from an Iranian boat.

For now, the international community should be thankful that the U.S. warships held fire. Even if there are doubts about the Iranian warning that the ships would explode, what cannot be ruled out is the way in which the IRGC boats were playing chicken with the U.S. ships. This was very dangerous. The U.S. navy has been on tenterhooks since the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which was also carried out by a small boat. Furthermore, in the 1980s, Iran used many such small boats to attack U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf. Therefore, from what can be seen, the U.S. had every reason to protest and to feel threatened.

Judging by the past behavior of Iran’s Supreme Leader, he should frown upon the IRGC’s recent action, as it could have dealt a heavy and unnecessary blow to Iran’s recent diplomatic achievements . Khamenei is a calculating strategist. To him, international opinion and consensus are important, much more important than they were for Ayatollah Khomeini, his predecessor. This is why Iran has been so successful in its foreign policy adventures in Lebanon and Iraq during his term, whereas during Khomeini’s term Iranian foreign policy achieved far less.

However, when it comes to dealing with the international community, Iran’s president is not so careful. This is because Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s position inside Iran is in a downward spiral. Inflation is twice as high as it was when he took office. He has failed miserably in his promises to cut unemployment and corruption. Meanwhile, Ali Larijani, his rival, seems to be back in action. His recent trips to Egypt and Syria, as the representative of the Supreme Leader, were taken by Ahmadinejad’s supporters as a challenge to the president’s efforts to control Iran’s foreign policy.

With parliamentary elections coming up on March 14, 2008, Ahmadinejad needs to do something to improve his position. Otherwise, his supporters would lose badly, as they did in the municipal elections of December 2006. One factor which could boost his position is a conflict with the U.S. In fact, this could be the only savior of his failing presidency. The recent incident in the Persian Gulf could have been a move by Ahmadinejad and his IRGC allies, who are also disappointed with Ayatollah Khamenei’s order to reduce their anti-U.S. activities in Iraq.

With eighteen months to go before Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stands for reelection as president, it is possible that he and his IRGC allies will try similar provocative moves, especially against Israeli and U.S. interests. Jerusalem and Washington should be careful not to fall into Ahmadinejad’s trap. Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei should ensure that his president does not take his country into an unnecessary conflict for the sake of cheap electioneering.

Meir Javedanfar is the co-author with Yossi Melman of “The Nuclear Sphinx of Tehran – Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the State of Iran.” He runs Middle East Economic and Political Analysis (Meepas)

Posted by: neill at January 15, 2008 06:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

apparently Iran is suffering through a cold snap right now, and people are freezing to death in Teheran. Natural gas supplies are limited or non-existent in the north of the country. The price of bread has skyrocketed.

while sitting on a sea of oil, Iran's production is so inefficient that they IMPORT 40% of their gasoline. One of their main suppliers, Turkmenistan, has cut them off because of unpaid bills.

Posted by: neill at January 15, 2008 09:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I thought Gates met surreptitiously with Ahmadinejad and, if so, how does their diplomatic rendezvous square with Ahmadinejad's "provocative moves" so soon thereafter? Any decent honeymoon period ought to last at least a month. I realize Ahmadinejad is a fucking wackjob, but why bother meeting in the first place if his political future is keenly predicated on saber-rattling?

And why is Gates meeting with him anyway since he's the West's antichrist? Allowing that the ISG recommendations for mideast backslapping make sense, and I'm not convinced of such, there's got to be somebody else over there to hug and kiss who doesn't self-identify with the forces of darkness.

I can see the future; Obama will be having brunch with Ahmadinejad, al-Assad and al-Sadr, and all the Bakerites will dance in glee. The US will have found its voice, Hilllary might add.

A night latre, Hezbollah will suicide-bomb the restaurant and declare that the infidels are polluting the food, air and culture. And all the bin Ladenites will dance in glee.

Posted by: resh at January 15, 2008 09:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the Russians and the Swiss are full of it.

Posted by: neill at January 15, 2008 09:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Guess The Navy Times has the story.

Sounds like Norman Podhoretz dabbled on the radio. The "shouting insults and jabbering vile epithets" gave the sire of John P. Normanson away.


‘Filipino Monkey’ behind threats?

By Andrew Scutro and David Brown - Staff writers
Posted : Tuesday Jan 15, 2008 17:55:47 EST

The threatening radio transmission heard at the end of a video showing harassing maneuvers by Iranian patrol boats in the Strait of Hormuz may have come from a locally famous heckler known among ship drivers as the “Filipino Monkey.”

Since the Jan. 6 incident was announced to the public a day later, the U.S. Navy has said it’s unclear where the voice came from. In the videotape released by the Pentagon on Jan. 8, the screen goes black at the very end and the voice can be heard, distancing it from the scenes on the water.

“We don’t know for sure where they came from,” said Cmdr. Lydia Robertson, spokeswoman for 5th Fleet in Bahrain. “It could have been a shore station.”

While the threat — “I am coming to you. You will explode in a few minutes” — was picked up during the incident, further jacking up the tension, there’s no proof yet of its origin. And several Navy officials have said it’s difficult to figure out who’s talking.

“Based on my experience operating in that part of the world, where there is a lot of maritime activity, trying to discern [who is speaking on the radio channel] is very hard to do,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead told Navy Times during a brief telephone interview today.

Indeed, the voice in the audio sounds different from the one belonging to an Iranian officer shown speaking to the cruiser Port Royal over a radio from a small open boat in the video released by Iranian authorities. He is shown in a radio exchange at one point asking the U.S. warship to change from the common bridge-to-bridge channel 16 to another channel, perhaps to speak to the Navy without being interrupted.

Further, there’s none of the background noise in the audio released by the U.S. that would have been picked up by a radio handset in an open boat.

So with Navy officials unsure and the Iranians accusing the U.S. of fabrications, whose voice was it? In recent years, American ships operating in the Middle East have had to contend with a mysterious but profane voice known by the ethnically insulting handle of “Filipino Monkey,” likely more than one person, who listens in on ship-to-ship radio traffic and then jumps on the net shouting insults and jabbering vile epithets.

Navy women — a helicopter pilot hailing a tanker, for example — who are overheard on the radio are said to suffer particularly degrading treatment.

Several Navy ship drivers interviewed by Navy Times are raising the possibility that the Monkey, or an imitator, was indeed featured in that video.

Posted by: Mark at January 16, 2008 02:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


So I take it the Iranians are so inept as to let their people freeze to death in the middle of their Capital. And they are "inefficient" with their oil production......but their demons when it comes to nuclear power?

Posted by: jonst at January 16, 2008 02:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

which point are you contesting, and based on what?

Posted by: neill at January 16, 2008 07:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think the Bush administration's line is that the Iranian's are super warriors, with mega-armies.

Kind of like the first Bush Admin line, back when Schwarzkopf was hiding in his bunker insisting we needed a ground attack, so he wouldn't feel left out, while up on the line (where he was too cowardly to visit) the Iraqis were abandoning the ill-maintained tanks at amazing rates, and fleeing in all directions -- the political line came down so everyone had to pretend the Iraqi army was super-army, and the Republican Guard was monster strong, even while they were fleeing.

Then, of course, as well know, Schwarzkopf forgot how he had swore his primary mission was to eradicate the Republican Guard, and he let them all slip away to the north, and so the great first Gulf War turned out to be a big waste of money and time, and just a prelude to bringing everything back again later and spending far more than twice as much money, much to the happiness of the contractors and war profiteers (not just the Bush family, but zillions of other war profiteers).

All of which was great testimonial to how pathetically the Pentagon E-ring perfumed princes perform, with their sleazy rear-kissing specialties, and their lack of experience with actual fighting -- and how sad it is that no Defense Secretary in 20 years has cared to do anything, even after the debacle of the First Gulf War -- the idiocy of putting the 82nd Airborne across the line from heavy armor, the scandal of how all the ready reports turned out to be lies when the troops reached Iraq, and of course, above all, how the B-52 and Warthog performed beautifully, and all the new expensive toys were nearly worthless pieces of junk, from the Patriot to the useless new bombers. What did the Pentagon do as a result? Try to kill the Warthog, so they could shift the money to expensive junk instead.

Posted by: Samuel Liper at January 17, 2008 01:48 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Stopping Iran:
Why the Case for Military Action Still Stands
Norman Podhoretz
February 2008

Save the name-calling. All substantive, fact-based critique of the issue at hand is much appreciated.

NormanPodhoretz from Commentary:

Up until a fairly short time ago, scarcely anyone dissented from the assessment offered with “high confidence” by the National Intelligence Estimate [NIE] of 2005 that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons.” Correlatively, no one believed the protestations of the mullahs ruling Iran that their nuclear program was designed strictly for peaceful uses.

The reason for this near-universal consensus was that Iran, with its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, had no need for nuclear energy, and that in any case, the very nature of its program contradicted the protestations.

Here is how Time magazine put it as early as March 2003—long before, be it noted, the radical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had replaced the putatively moderate Mohamed Khatami as president:

On a visit last month to Tehran, International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] director Mohamed ElBaradei announced he had discovered that Iran was constructing a facility to enrich uranium—a key component of advanced nuclear weapons—near Natanz. But diplomatic sources tell Time the plant is much further along than previously revealed. The sources say work on the plant is “extremely advanced” and involves “hundreds” of gas centrifuges ready to produce enriched uranium and “the parts for a thousand others ready to be assembled.”
So, too, the Federation of American Scientists about a year later:

It is generally believed that Iran’s efforts are focused on uranium enrichment, though there are some indications of work on a parallel plutonium effort. Iran claims it is trying to establish a complete nuclear-fuel cycle to support a civilian energy program, but this same fuel cycle would be applicable to a nuclear-weapons development program. Iran appears to have spread their nuclear activities around a number of sites to reduce the risk of detection or attack.
And just as everyone agreed with the American intelligence community that Iran was “determined to develop nuclear weapons,” everyone also agreed with President George W. Bush that it must not be permitted to succeed. Here, the reasons were many and various.

To begin with, Iran was (as certified even by the doves of the State Department) the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world, and it was therefore reasonable to fear that it would transfer nuclear technology to terrorists who would be only too happy to use it against us. Moreover, since Iran evidently aspired to become the hegemon of the Middle East, its drive for a nuclear capability could result (as, according to the New York Times, no fewer than 21 governments in and around the region were warning) in “a grave and destructive nuclear-arms race.” This meant a nightmarish increase in the chances of a nuclear war. An even greater increase in those chances would result from the power that nuclear weapons—and the missiles capable of delivering them, which Iran was also developing and/or buying—would give the mullahs to realize their evil dream of (in the words of Ahmadinejad) “wiping Israel off the map.”

Nor, as almost everyone also agreed, were the dangers of a nuclear Iran confined to the Middle East. Dedicated as the mullahs clearly were to furthering the transformation of Europe into a continent where Muslim law and practice would more and more prevail, they were bound to use nuclear intimidation and blackmail in pursuit of this goal as well. Beyond that, nuclear weapons would even serve the purposes of a far more ambitious aim: the creation of what Ahmadinejad called “a world without America.” Although, to be sure, no one imagined that Iran would acquire the capability to destroy the United States, it was easy to imagine that the United States would be deterred from standing in Iran’s way by the fear of triggering a nuclear war.

Running alongside the near-universal consensus on Iran’s nuclear intentions was a commensurately broad agreement that the regime could be stopped from realizing those intentions by a judicious combination of carrots and sticks. The carrots, offered through diplomacy, consisted of promises that if Iran were (in the words of the Security Council) to “suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, to be verified by the IAEA,” it would find itself on the receiving end of many benefits. If, however, Iran remained obdurate in refusing to comply with these demands, sticks would come into play in the form of sanctions.

And indeed, in response to continued Iranian defiance, a round of sanctions was approved by the Security Council in December 2006. When these (watered down to buy the support of the Russians and the Chinese) predictably failed to bite, a tougher round was unanimously authorized three months later, in March 2007. When these in turn failed, the United States, realizing that the Russians and the Chinese would veto stronger medicine, unilaterally imposed a new series of economic sanctions—which fared no better than the multilateral measures that had preceded them.


What then to do? President Bush kept declaring that Iran must not be permitted to get the bomb, and he kept warning that the “military option”—by which he meant air strikes, not an invasion on the ground—was still on the table as a last resort. On this issue our Western European allies were divided. To the surprise of many who had ceased thinking of France as an ally because of Jacques Chirac’s relentless opposition to the policies of the Bush administration, Nicholas Sarkozy, Chirac’s successor as president, echoed Bush’s warning in equally unequivocal terms. If, Sarkozy announced, the Iranians pressed on with their nuclear program, the world would be left with a choice between “an Iranian bomb and bombing Iran”—and he left no doubt as to where his own choice would fall. On the other hand, Gordon Brown, who had followed Tony Blair as prime minister of the UK, seemed less willing than Sarkozy to contemplate military action against Iran’s nuclear installations, even as a last resort. Like the new chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, Brown remained—or professed to remain—persuaded that more diplomacy and tougher sanctions would eventually work.

This left a great question hanging in the air: when, if ever, would Bush (and/or Sarkozy) conclude that the time had come to resort to the last resort?

Obviously the answer to that question depended on how long it would take for Iran itself to reach the point of no return. According to the NIE of 2005, it was “unlikely . . . that Iran would be able to make a nuclear weapon . . . before early-to-mid next decade”—that is, between 2010 and 2015. If that assessment, offered with “moderate confidence,” was correct, Bush would be off the hook, since he would be out of office for two years at the very least by the time the decision on whether or not to order air strikes would have to be made. That being the case, for the remainder of his term he could continue along the carrot-and-stick path, while striving to ratchet up the pressure on Iran with stronger and stronger measures that he could hope against hope might finally do the trick. If he could get these through the Security Council, so much the better; if not, the United States could try to assemble a coalition outside the UN that would be willing to impose really tough sanctions.

Under these circumstances, there would also be enough time to add another arrow to this nonmilitary quiver: a serious program of covert aid to dissident Iranians who dreamed of overthrowing the mullocracy and replacing it with a democratic regime. Those who had been urging Bush to launch such a program, and who were confident that it would succeed, pointed to polls showing great dissatisfaction with the mullocracy among the Iranian young, and to the demonstrations against it that kept breaking out all over the country. They also contended that even if a new democratic regime were to be as intent as the old one on developing nuclear weapons, neither it nor they would pose anything like the same kind of threat.

All well and good. The trouble was this: only by relying on the accuracy of the 2005 NIE would Bush be able in all good conscience to pass on to his successor the decision of whether or when to bomb the Iranian nuclear facilities. But that estimate, as he could hardly help knowing from the CIA’s not exactly brilliant track record, might easily be too optimistic.

To start with the most spectacular recent instance, the CIA had failed to anticipate 9/11. It then turned out to be wrong in 2002 about Saddam Hussein’s possession of weapons of mass destruction, very likely because it was bending over backward to compensate for having been wrong in exactly the opposite direction in 1991, when at the end of the first Gulf war the IAEA discovered that the Iraqi nuclear program was far more advanced than the CIA had estimated. Regarding that by now notorious lapse, Jeffrey T. Richelson, a leading (and devoutly nonpartisan) authority on the American intelligence community, writes in Spying on the Bomb:

The extent that the United States and its allies underestimated and misunderstood the Iraqi program [before 1991] constituted a “colossal international intelligence failure,” according to one Israeli expert. [IAEA’s chief weapons inspector] Hans Blix acknowledged “that there was suspicion certainly,” but “to see the enormity of it is a shock.”
And these were only the most recent cases. Gabriel Schoenfeld, a close student of the intelligence community, offers a partial list of earlier mistakes and failures:

The CIA was established in 1947 in large measure to avoid another surprise attack like the one the U.S. had suffered on December 7, 1941 at Pearl Harbor. But only three years after its founding, the fledgling agency missed the outbreak of the Korean war. It then failed to understand that the Chinese would come to the aid of the North Koreans if American forces crossed the Yalu river. It missed the outbreak of the Suez war in 1956. In September 1962, the CIA issued an NIE which stated that the “Soviets would not introduce offensive missiles in Cuba”; in short order, the USSR did precisely that. In 1968 it failed to foresee the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia. . . . It did not inform Jimmy Carter that the Soviet Union would invade Afghanistan in 1979.
Richelson adds a few more examples of hotly debated issues during the cold war that were wrongly resolved, including “the existence of a missile gap, the capabilities of the Soviet SS-9 intercontinental ballistic missile, [and] Soviet compliance with the test-ban and antiballistic missile treaties.” This is not to mention perhaps the most notorious case of all: the fiasco, known as the Bay of Pigs, produced by the CIA’s wildly misplaced confidence that an invasion of Cuba by the army of exiles it had assembled and trained would set off a popular uprising against the Castro regime.

On Bush’s part, then, deep skepticism was warranted concerning the CIA’s estimate of how much time we had before Iran reached the point of no return. As we have seen, Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, had “discovered” in 2003 that the Iranians were constructing facilities to enrich uranium. Still, as late as April 2007 the same ElBaradei was pooh-poohing the claims made by Ahmadinejad that Iran already had 3,000 centrifuges in operation. A month later, we learn from Richelson, ElBaradei changed his mind after a few spot inspections. “We believe,” ElBaradei now said, that the Iranians “pretty much have the knowledge about how to enrich. From now on, it is simply a question of perfecting that knowledge.”

We also learn from Richelson that another expert, Matthew Bunn of Harvard’s Center for Science and International Affairs, interpreted the new information the IAEA came up with in April 2007 as meaning that “whether they’re six months or a year away, one can debate. But it’s not ten years.” This chilling estimate of how little time we had to prevent Iran from getting the bomb was similar to the conclusion reached by several Israeli experts (though the official Israeli estimate put the point of no return in 2009).


Then, in a trice, everything changed. Even as Bush must surely have been wrestling with the question of whether it would be on his watch that the decision on bombing the Iranian nuclear facilities would have to be made, the world was hit with a different kind of bomb. This took the form of an unclassified summary of a new NIE, published early last December. Entitled “Iran: Nuclear Intentions and Capabilities,” this new document was obviously designed to blow up the near-universal consensus that had flowed from the conclusions reached by the intelligence community in its 2005 NIE.1 In brief, whereas the NIE of 2005 had assessed “with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons,” the new NIE of 2007 did “not know whether [Iran] currently intends to develop nuclear weapons.”

This startling 180-degree turn was arrived at from new intelligence, offered by the new NIE with “high confidence”: namely, that “in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear-weapons program.” The new NIE was also confident—though only moderately so—that “Tehran had not restarted its nuclear-weapons program as of mid-2007.” And in the most sweeping of its new conclusions, it was even “moderately confident” that “the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear-weapons program.”

Whatever else one might say about the new NIE, one point can be made with “high confidence”: that by leading with the sensational news that Iran had suspended its nuclear-weapons program in 2003, its authors ensured that their entire document would be interpreted as meaning that there was no longer anything to worry about. Of course, being experienced bureaucrats, they took care to protect themselves from this very accusation. For example, after dropping their own bomb on the fear that Iran was hell-bent on getting the bomb, they immediately added “with moderate-to-high confidence that Tehran at a minimum is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons.” But as they must have expected, scarcely anyone paid attention to this caveat. And as they must also have expected, even less attention was paid to another self-protective caveat, which—making doubly sure it would pass unnoticed—they relegated to a footnote appended to the lead sentence about the halt:

For the purposes of this Estimate, by “nuclear-weapons program” we mean Iran’s nuclear-weapon design and weaponization work and covert uranium conversion-related and uranium enrichment-related work; we do not mean Iran’s declared civil work related to uranium conversion and enrichment.
Since only an expert could grasp the significance of this cunning little masterpiece of incomprehensible jargon, the damage had been done by the time its dishonesty was exposed.

The first such exposure came from John Bolton, who before becoming our ambassador to the UN had served as Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security, with a special responsibility for preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Donning this hat once again, Bolton charged that the dishonesty of the footnote lay most egregiously in the sharp distinction it drew between military and civilian programs. For, he said,

the enrichment of uranium, which all agree Iran is continuing, is critical to civilian and military uses [emphasis added]. Indeed, it has always been Iran’s “civilian” program that posed the main risk of a nuclear “breakout.”
Two other experts, Valerie Lincy, the editor of Iranwatch.org, writing in collaboration with Gary Milhollin, the director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control, followed up with an explanation of why the halt of 2003 was much less significant than a layman would inevitably be led to think:

[T]he new report defines “nuclear-weapons program” in a ludicrously narrow way: it confines it to enriching uranium at secret sites or working on a nuclear-weapon design. But the halting of its secret enrichment and weapon-design efforts in 2003 proves only that Iran made a tactical move. It suspended work that, if discovered, would unambiguously reveal intent to build a weapon. It has continued other work, crucial to the ability to make a bomb, that it can pass off as having civilian applications.
Thus, as Lincy and Milhollin went on to write, the main point obfuscated by the footnote was that once Iran accumulated a stockpile of the kind of uranium fit for civilian use, it would “in a matter of months” be able “to convert that uranium . . . to weapons grade.”


Yet, in spite of these efforts to demonstrate that the new NIE did not prove that Iran had given up its pursuit of nuclear weapons, just about everyone in the world immediately concluded otherwise, and further concluded that this meant the military option was off the table. George Bush may or may not have been planning to order air strikes before leaving office, but now that the justification for doing so had been discredited by his own intelligence agencies, it would be politically impossible for him to go on threatening military action, let alone to take it.

But what about sanctions? In the weeks and months before the new NIE was made public, Bush had been working very hard to get a third and tougher round of sanctions approved by the Security Council. In trying to persuade the Russians and the Chinese to sign on, Bush argued that the failure to enact such sanctions would leave war as the only alternative. Yet if war was now out of the question, and if in any case Iran had for all practical purposes given up its pursuit of nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future, what need was there of sanctions?

Anticipating that this objection would be raised, the White House desperately set out to interpret the new NIE as, precisely, offering “grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically—without the use of force.” These words by Stephen Hadley, Bush’s National Security Adviser, represented the very first comment on the new NIE to emanate from the White House, and some version of them would be endlessly repeated in the days to come. Joining this campaign of damage control, Sarkozy and Brown issued similar statements, and even Merkel (who had been very reluctant to go along with Bush’s push for another round of sanctions) now declared that it was

dangerous and still grounds for great concern that Iran, in the face of the UN Security Council’s resolutions, continues to refuse to suspend uranium enrichment. . . . The Iranian president’s intolerable agitation against Israel also speaks volumes. . . . It remains a vital interest of the whole world community to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran.
As it happened, Hadley was right about the new NIE, which executed another 180-degree turn—this one, away from the judgment of the 2005 NIE concerning the ineffectiveness of international pressure. Flatly contradicting its “high confidence” in 2005 that Iran was forging ahead “despite its international obligations and international pressure,” the new NIE concluded that the nuclear-weapons program had been halted in 2003 “primarily in response to international pressure.” This indicated that “Tehran’s decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach rather than a rush to a weapon irrespective of the political, economic, and military costs.”

Never mind that no international pressure to speak of was being exerted on Iran in 2003, and that at that point the mullahs were more likely acting out of fear that the Americans, having just invaded Iraq, might come after them next. Never mind, too, that religious and/or ideological passions, which the new NIE pointedly neglected to mention, have over and over again throughout history proved themselves a more powerful driving force than any “cost-benefit approach.” Blithely sweeping aside such considerations, the new NIE was confident that just as the carrot-and-stick approach had allegedly sufficed in the past, so it would suffice in the future to “prompt Tehran to extend the current halt to its nuclear-weapons program.”

The worldview implicit here has been described by Richelson (mainly with North Korea in mind) as the idea that “moral suasion and sustained bargaining are the proven mechanisms of nuclear restraint.” Such a worldview “may be ill-equipped,” he observes delicately,

to accept the idea that certain regimes are incorrigible and negotiate only as a stalling tactic until they have attained a nuclear capability against the United States and other nations that might act against their nuclear programs.
True, the new NIE did at least acknowledge that it would not be easy to induce Iran to extend the halt, “given the linkage many within the leadership probably see between nuclear-weapons development and Iran’s key national-security and foreign-policy objectives.” But it still put its money on a

combination of threats of intensified international scrutiny and pressures, along with opportunities for Iran to achieve its security, prestige, and goals for regional influence in other ways.
It was this pronouncement, and a few others like it, that gave Stephen Hadley “grounds for hope that the problem can be solved diplomatically.” But that it was a false hope was demonstrated by the NIE itself. For if Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons in order to achieve its “key national-security and foreign-policy objectives,” and if those objectives explicitly included (for a start) hegemony in the Middle East and the destruction of the state of Israel, what possible “opportunities” could Tehran be offered to achieve them “in other ways”?


So much for the carrot. As for the stick, it was no longer big enough to matter, what with the threat of military action ruled out, and what with the case for a third round of sanctions undermined by the impression stemming from the NIE’s main finding that there was nothing left to worry about. Why worry when it was four years since Iran had done any work toward developing the bomb, when the moratorium remained in effect, and when there was no reason to believe that the program would be resumed in the near future?2

What is more, in continuing to insist that the Iranians must be stopped from developing the bomb and that this could be done by nonmilitary means, the Bush administration and its European allies were lagging behind a new consensus within the American foreign-policy establishment that had already been forming even before the publication of the new NIE. Whereas the old consensus was based on the proposition that (in Senator John McCain’s pungent formulation) “the only thing worse than bombing Iran was letting Iran get the bomb,” the emerging new consensus held the opposite—that the only thing worse than letting Iran get the bomb was bombing Iran.

What led to this reversal was a gradual loss of faith in the carrot-and-stick approach. As one who had long since rejected this faith and who had been excoriated for my apostasy by more than one member of the foreign-policy elites, I never thought I would live to see the day when these very elites would come to admit that diplomacy and sanctions had been given a fair chance and that they had accomplished nothing but to buy Iran more time.3 The lesson drawn from this new revelation was, however, a different matter.

It was in the course of a public debate with one of the younger members of the foreign-policy establishment that I first chanced upon the change in view. Knowing that he never deviated by so much as an inch from the conventional wisdom of the moment within places like the Council on Foreign Relations and the Brookings Institution, I had expected him to defend the carrot-and-stick approach and to attack me as a warmonger for contending that bombing was the only way to stop the mullahs from getting the bomb. Instead, to my great surprise, he took the position that there was really no need to stop them in the first place, since even if they had the bomb they could be deterred from using it, just as effectively as the Soviets and the Chinese had been deterred during the cold war.

Without saying so in so many words, then, my opponent was acknowledging that diplomacy and sanctions had proved to be a failure, and that there was no point in pursuing them any further. But so as to avoid drawing the logical conclusion—namely, that military action had now become necessary—he simply abandoned the old establishment assumption that Iran must at all costs be prevented from developing nuclear weapons, adopting in its place the complacent idea that we could learn to live with an Iranian bomb.

In response, I argued that deterrence could not be relied upon with a regime ruled by Islamofascist revolutionaries who not only were ready to die for their beliefs but cared less about protecting their people than about the spread of their ideology and their power. If the mullahs got the bomb, I said, it was not they who would be deterred, but we.

So little did any of this shake my opponent that I came away from our debate with the grim realization that the President’s continued insistence on the dangers posed by an Iranian bomb would more and more fall on deaf ears—ears that would soon be made even deafer by the new NIE’s assurance that Iran was no longer hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons after all. There might be two different ideas competing here—one, that we could live with an Iranian bomb; the other, that there would be no Iranian bomb to live with—but the widespread acceptance of either would not only preclude the military option but would sooner or later put an end even to the effort to stop the mullahs by nonmilitary means.


And yet there remained something else, or rather someone else, to factor into the equation: the perennially “misunderestimated” George W. Bush, a man who knew evil when he saw it and who had the courage and the determination to do battle against it. This was also a man who, far more than most politicians, said what he meant and meant what he said. And what he had said at least twice before was that if we permitted Iran to build a nuclear arsenal, people fifty years from now would look back and wonder how we of this generation could have allowed such a thing to happen, and they would rightly judge us as harshly as we today judge the British and the French for what they did at Munich in 1938. It was because I had found it hard to understand why Bush would put himself so squarely in the dock of history on this issue if he were resigned to an Iran in possession of nuclear weapons, or even of the ability to build them, that I predicted in these pages, and went on predicting elsewhere, that he would not retire from office before resorting to the military option.

But then came the new NIE. To me it seemed obvious that it represented another ambush by an intelligence community that had consistently tried to sabotage Bush’s policies through a series of damaging leaks and was now trying to prevent him from ever taking military action against Iran. To others, however, it seemed equally obvious that Bush, far from being ambushed, had welcomed the new NIE precisely because it provided him with a perfect opportunity to begin distancing himself from the military option.4

But I could not for the life of me believe that Bush intended to fly in the face of the solemn promise he had made in his 2002 State of the Union address:

We’ll be deliberate, yet time is not on our side. I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit the world’s most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world’s most destructive weapons.
To which he had added shortly afterward in a speech at West Point: “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long.”

How, I wondered, could Bush not know that in the case of Iran he was running a very great risk of waiting too long? And if he was truly ready to run that risk, why, in a press conference the day after the new NIE came out, did he put himself in the historical dock yet again by repeating what he had said several times before about the judgment that would be passed on this generation in the future if Iran were to acquire a nuclear weapon?

If Iran shows up with a nuclear weapon at some point in time, the world is going to say, what happened to them in 2007? How come they couldn’t see the impending danger? What caused them not to understand that a country that once had a weapons program could reconstitute the weapons program? How come they couldn’t see that the important first step in developing a weapon is the capacity to be able to enrich uranium? How come they didn’t know that with that capacity, that knowledge could be passed on to a covert program? What blinded them to the realities of the world? And it’s not going to happen on my watch.

“It’s not going to happen on my watch.” What else could this mean if not that Bush was preparing to meet “the impending danger” in what he must by now have concluded was the only way it could be averted?

The only alternative that seemed even remotely plausible to me was that he might be fixing to outsource the job to the Israelis. After all, even if, by now, it might have become politically impossible for us to take military action, the Israelis could not afford to sit by while a regime pledged to wipe them off the map was equipping itself with nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. For unless Iran could be stopped before acquiring a nuclear capability, the Israelis would be faced with only two choices: either strike first, or pray that the fear of retaliation would deter the Iranians from beating them to the punch. Yet a former president of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani, had served notice that his country would not be deterred by the fear of retaliation:

If a day comes when the world of Islam is duly equipped with the arms Israel has in its possession, . . . application of an atomic bomb would not leave anything in Israel, but the same thing would just produce damages in the Muslim world.
If this was the view of even a supposed moderate like Rafsanjani, how could the Israelis depend upon the mullahs to refrain from launching a first strike? The answer was that they could not. Bernard Lewis, the leading contemporary authority on the culture of the Islamic world, has explained why:

MAD, mutual assured destruction, [was effective] right through the cold war. Both sides had nuclear weapons. Neither side used them, because both sides knew the other would retaliate in kind. This will not work with a religious fanatic [like Ahmadinejad]. For him, mutual assured destruction is not a deterrent, it is an inducement. We know already that [the mullahs ruling Iran] do not give a damn about killing their own people in great numbers. We have seen it again and again. In the final scenario, and this applies all the more strongly if they kill large numbers of their own people, they are doing them a favor. They are giving them a quick free pass to heaven and all its delights.
Under the aegis of such an attitude, even in the less extreme variant that may have been held by some of Ahmadinejad’s colleagues among the regime’s rulers, mutual assured destruction would turn into a very weak reed. Understanding that, the Israelis would be presented with an irresistible incentive to preempt—and so, too, would the Iranians. Either way, a nuclear exchange would become inevitable.

What would happen then? In a recently released study, Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that Rafsanjani had it wrong. In the grisly scenario Cordesman draws, tens of millions would indeed die, but Israel—despite the decimation of its civilian population and the destruction of its major cities—would survive, even if just barely, as a functioning society. Not so Iran, and not its “key Arab neighbors,” particularly Egypt and Syria, which Cordesman thinks Israel would also have to target in order “to ensure that no other power can capitalize on an Iranian strike.” Furthermore, Israel might be driven in desperation to go after the oil wells, refineries, and ports in the Gulf.

“Being contained within the region,” writes Martin Walker of UPI in his summary of Cordesman’s study, “such a nuclear exchange might not be Armageddon for the human race.” To me it seems doubtful that it could be confined to the Middle East. But even if it were, the resulting horrors would still be far greater than even the direst consequences that might follow from bombing Iran before it reaches the point of no return.

In the worst case of this latter scenario, Iran would retaliate by increasing the trouble it is already making for us in Iraq and by attacking Israel with missiles armed with non-nuclear warheads but possibly containing biological and/or chemical weapons. There would also be a vast increase in the price of oil, with catastrophic consequences for every economy in the world, very much including our own. And there would be a deafening outcry from one end of the earth to the other against the inescapable civilian casualties. Yet, bad as all this would be, it does not begin to compare with the gruesome consequences of a nuclear exchange between Israel and Iran, even if those consequences were to be far less extensive than Cordesman anticipates.

Which is to say that, as between bombing Iran to prevent it from getting the bomb and letting Iran get the bomb, there is simply no contest.


But this still does not answer the question of who should do the bombing. Tempting as it must be for George Bush to sit back and let the Israelis do the job, there are considerations that should give him pause. One is that no matter what he would say, the whole world would regard the Israelis as a surrogate for the United States, and we would become as much the target of the ensuing recriminations both at home and abroad as we would if we had done the job ourselves.

To make matters worse, the indications are that it would be very hard for the Israeli air force, superb though it is, to pull the mission off. Thus, an analysis by two members of the Security Studies Program at MIT concluded that while “the Israeli air force now possesses the capability to destroy even well-hardened targets in Iran with some degree of confidence,” the problem is that for the mission to succeed, all of the many contingencies involved would have to go right. Hence an Israeli attempt could end with the worst of all possible outcomes: retaliatory measures by the Iranians even as their nuclear program remained unscathed. We, on the other hand, would have a much bigger margin of error and a much better chance of setting their program back by a minimum of five or ten years and at best wiping it out altogether.

The upshot is that if Iran is to be prevented from becoming a nuclear power, it is the United States that will have to do the preventing, to do it by means of a bombing campaign, and (because “If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long”) to do it soon.

When I first predicted a year or so ago that Bush would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities once he had played out the futile diplomatic string, the obstacles that stood in his way were great but they did not strike me as insurmountable. Now, thanks in large part to the new NIE, they have grown so formidable that I can only stick by my prediction with what the NIE itself would describe as “low-to-moderate confidence.” For Bush is right about the resemblance between 2008 and 1938. In 1938, as Winston Churchill later said, Hitler could still have been stopped at a relatively low price and many millions of lives could have been saved if England and France had not deceived themselves about the realities of their situation. Mutatis mutandis, it is the same in 2008, when Iran can still be stopped from getting the bomb and even more millions of lives can be saved—but only provided that we summon up the courage to see what is staring us in the face and then act on what we see.

Unless we do, the forces that are blindly working to ensure that Iran will get the bomb are likely to prevail even against the clear-sighted determination of George W. Bush, just as the forces of appeasement did against Churchill in 1938. In which case, we had all better pray that there will be enough time for the next President to discharge the responsibility that Bush will have been forced to pass on, and that this successor will also have the clarity and the courage to discharge it. If not—God help us all—the stage will have been set for the outbreak of a nuclear war that will become as inescapable then as it is avoidable now.

Posted by: neill at January 17, 2008 11:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Give Norman Podhoretz a break.

Not only does he have to hold John P. Normanson's hand at Commentary, the old man's also fighting World War XXXIX.

Posted by: Mark at January 18, 2008 10:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

neill is a whore for war.

Posted by: someotherdude at January 18, 2008 11:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

what is the effect on the region and the world of an Iranian nuke?

and based on your answer to that, what is the best course....?

Posted by: neill at January 18, 2008 11:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

neill has at last reached that magic, fevered moment at which wisdom from "The Big Lebowski" applies:

What in God's holy name are you blathering about?

Posted by: sglover at January 18, 2008 05:08 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Well, neill, I think the best course for the region (and the world) would be to shove an Iranian nuke up your ass and detonate it there. At first I supposed that there might be a problem that your sphincter might not be able to accomodate an Iranian warhead, but I do need to remember that the entire core of your being is, in fact, an ass. One problem may be that, as with so many other high tech Iranian endeavors, some or several pieces of critical technology may not be available, or may be non-functioning, resulting in a failed detonation. There may also be a problem in that the blast may not totally obliterate every last atom of neill/ass, which would, in effect, lead us back to the unnerving status quo ante neill's big ass blow-up.

On a completely unrelated topic, I'm not exactly sure what Samuel Liper was trying to say, but I agree with him that the A-10 was one kick ass piece of flying machinery.

Posted by: anti-kneel at January 18, 2008 06:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

thought so.

BDers are, by and large, an unserious, intellectually dishonest lot, completely unable to mount a coherent argument about what it is they propose we DO (as opposed to what we shouldn't do), and why that is the best thing to DO.

Dither on then .....

Posted by: neill at January 18, 2008 06:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Someone ring Neil's mommy and tell her that he is skipping his homework to type insults at adults again; she'll probably put him back on his homework, so he won't fail his school :)

Posted by: Adam Marharli at January 18, 2008 11:34 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Someone ring Neil's mommy and tell her that he is skipping his homework to type insults at adults again; she'll probably put him back on his homework, so he won't fail his school :)

It's sadly evident that the time for effective parental supervision is long past.....

Though it'd be nice if the dumb bastard would show some basic courtesy and link, instead of pasting extended fever dreams en bloc.

Posted by: sglover at January 18, 2008 11:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

thought so.

BDers are, by and large, an unserious, intellectually dishonest lot, completely unable to mount a coherent argument about what it is they propose we DO (as opposed to what we shouldn't do), and why that is the best thing to DO.

Dither on then .....

Posted by: neill at January 19, 2008 01:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

courage, mes amis!!!

state exactly why, policy-wise, I am a dumb bastard, idiot, etc.

Y'all seem to want to go on about anything else but detailed policy.

Curious, wouldntcha think, on a site like this?


Posted by: neill at January 19, 2008 02:28 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Stormin Norman wrote:

>>>>The reason for this near-universal consensus was that Iran, with its vast reserves of oil and natural gas, had no need for nuclear energy, and that in any case, the very nature of its program contradicted the protestations.

I dispute there is a "near universal consensus" on this issue. I dispute the assertion that Iran has "vast reserves of oil and natural gas". The only way to measure whether one has a "vast" supply of a commodity is to factor in how fast that commodity is being used up. How fast it will likely be used up in the future. How much of it is being discovered in other places. Let us say we are at, or near, a peak oil situation, I don't know that for fact, but there seems to be enough to say it is clearly possible. Iran's reserves become somewhat less than vast. And any leadership that is worth its salt had better be looking ahead for its nation's interest. So, I believe it is, at a minimum, plausible that in fact the Iranians DO want to explore nuclear power for civilian purposes.

>>>>>To begin with, Iran was (as certified even by the doves of the State Department) the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world, and it was therefore reasonable to fear that it would transfer nuclear technology to terrorists who would be only too happy to use it against us.

This is one of the most pernicious of those pearls of conventional wisdom. You have to accept A and B as accurate premises, to get to C. I do NOT believe that Iran is the "leading sponsor" of terrorism in the world. I do not see Hamas, the A, and Hezbollah, the B, as simple terror organizations. I don't accept that simplistic view, a view that works so well to justify Israeli excesses . I see them as organizations that, at times, employ terrorism as a weapon. I see the Israelis doing the same thing. I saw the PLO do the same thing.

Further, to leap (a leap worthy of Kierkegaard) to the conclusion that the Iranians would, willy nilly, transfer nuclear weapons into the hands of "terrorists" is ludicrous to this observer.

>>>>>Nor, as almost everyone also agreed, were the dangers of a nuclear Iran confined to the Middle East. Dedicated as the mullahs clearly were to furthering the transformation of Europe into a continent where Muslim law and practice would more and more prevail, they were bound to use nuclear intimidation and blackmail in pursuit of this goal as well. Beyond that, nuclear weapons would even serve the purposes of a far more ambitious aim: the creation of what Ahmadinejad called “a world without America.” Although, to be sure, no one imagined that Iran would acquire the capability to destroy the United States, it was easy to imagine that the United States would be deterred from standing in Iran’s way by the fear of triggering a nuclear war.

This is just sheer hysteria on ND's part. This is where someone, in the past, would say, 'give him a whiff of the vapors'. I mean, I do regret having to attack him personally, but what else is one to make of this hysterical nonsense? Let us try----it takes great effort, sort of like the effort one makes when one sits down with a earnest child watching an old Japanese Sci Fi movie, say Mothra v. Godzilla, and patiently attempts to counsel the worried child, rooting so hard for Godzilla, that, "yes, Godzilla will defeat him, little Jimmy, because Godzilla will use his fire breathing weapons to burn him---but do let us try, to believe for a second, that mullahs have a plan to take over Europe. 'Next year in Prague', whatever. Ok...we can pretend to believe that...for a moment. Are we to also believe that the US would, out of fear of triggering a nuclear war, stand by and watch this happen? A prostrate Europe....calling for the US to intervene, 'look, look, look at what the Persian hordes are doing to the Red Light District in Amsterdam, their making us all convert, and the pot coffee houses are going up in smoke'....and the US is to turn its back for fear of nuclear war? Is this the stuff he would have me believe about my fellow citizens, Neill, and the stuff you believe? This is the same US nation that stood up to Hitler, Stalin, et al? At the risk of nuclear war. Suddenly, the US nation has turned as flaccid a nation as Norman's condition? Is this infantile crap you would have me believe? Well, I have more faith in my fellow citizens.

And that section Neill, is as far as I could get in the essay. Life is too short. So I can't comment any further on it.

Posted by: jonst at January 19, 2008 06:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Does Neill have to highjack every single thread? He's killing my enjoyment of this site.

Posted by: DRS at January 19, 2008 08:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Agreed DRS.


Please feel free to have a round of STFU, on me.

Spamming this comments section with cut and paste "serious" drivel from completely discredited neocons like npod isn't serious.

Snarky little "zingers" dripping with eigth-grade level sarcasm, and rhetorical questions to attempt to make your already discredited arguments isn't serious.

Believe me, bud, you earned every bit of disdain you receive from the commenters here, as well as GD, who for some reason has occasionally tried to take you seriously.

"Unserious?" Pot, meet kettle. You're the archetype. And if you've driven Zathras away, you deserved to burn in the 9th plane of Hell and f00ked in every single one of your orifices by Cheney, Addington, and Yoo while you're at it.

Posted by: anti-kneel at January 19, 2008 09:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If Iran is only interested in nuclear for civilian purposes, then why have they been so secretive about their program?

And why buy nuke warhead plans from AQ Khan?

Pernicious pearl: >>>>>To begin with, Iran was (as certified even by the doves of the State Department) the leading sponsor of terrorism in the world, and it was therefore reasonable to fear that it would transfer nuclear technology to terrorists who would be only too happy to use it against us.

Then who IS the leading state sponsor of terror?

You are saying it is unreasonable to fear that it would transfer nuclear technology to terrorists etc etc?

>>>>>When I first predicted a year or so ago that Bush would bomb Iran’s nuclear facilities once he had played out the futile diplomatic string, the obstacles that stood in his way were great but they did not strike me as insurmountable. Now, thanks in large part to the new NIE, they have grown so formidable that I can only stick by my prediction with what the NIE itself would describe as “low-to-moderate confidence.” For Bush is right about the resemblance between 2008 and 1938. In 1938, as Winston Churchill later said, Hitler could still have been stopped at a relatively low price and many millions of lives could have been saved if England and France had not deceived themselves about the realities of their situation. Mutatis mutandis, it is the same in 2008, when Iran can still be stopped from getting the bomb and even more millions of lives can be saved—but only provided that we summon up the courage to see what is staring us in the face and then act on what we see.

Unless we do, the forces that are blindly working to ensure that Iran will get the bomb are likely to prevail even against the clear-sighted determination of George W. Bush, just as the forces of appeasement did against Churchill in 1938. In which case, we had all better pray that there will be enough time for the next President to discharge the responsibility that Bush will have been forced to pass on, and that this successor will also have the clarity and the courage to discharge it. If not—God help us all—the stage will have been set for the outbreak of a nuclear war that will become as inescapable then as it is avoidable now.

We are really arguing over which road will be 'the road not taken'.

We know which road Europe chose not to take in the late 30's, the politically more difficult one, and the cataclysmic result of misreading, or wilfully averting their gaze from, Hitler's true intentions. Hitler was a wolf.

Based on Iran's use of terror against its perceived enemies over the past 30 years (the 79 embassy takeover, 83 Marine barracks bombing, Hezbollah attacks on Israel, Buenos Aires bombing of Israeli embassy, Khobar Towers, attacks in Iraq etc) is it safe to assume that Iran with a nuke would not be a Wolf? To avert our gaze?

If not, then what to do?

Posted by: neill at January 19, 2008 05:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have followed this site for many years. Initially, and certainly through the last election, persons of differing and indeed, highly conflicting political perspectives have offered their opinions and analyses without stooping to personal invective, insults, and bombs in the "a-hole" playground slime. This was all in grand and very comfortable contrast to the rantings of the Koos Kids, where civility is considered to be the badge of an idiot.

At some point, and I don't know when, the hard left starting drifting to this site and since that time, the atmosphere has been frequently poisoned by the kinds of condescending invectives that are evident in the above posts. Whether or not you agree with Neill, the dialogue is hardly helped by heaping insults against him or by cheerleading the insulters. That kind of conduct contributes absolutely nothing to the discussion and drags it into the muck. I am sorry to see that happening here as it is an insult not only to the history of this site, but to the remarkably stimulating contributions of our host.

I have had a theory as to why George Bush was reelected. The invective against him was so coarse and so uncivil that many people were repelled by both it and its advocates and voted to prevent that mindset from gaining political power. I don’t think you convince people of your point of view by groveling in the dirt. People are persuaded by reason, by confirmable facts, and by logic. I see the same tension developing in the current primary season and my guess is that the same kind of result will obtain.

Posted by: michael pecherer at January 19, 2008 08:07 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


First off, although I know nothing of you, I'm sure, based on the general tone of your post here you were a man that stridently, but politely, opposed the Rush Limbaugh et al rhetoric of the 90s.

Be that as it may, to your theory. Well, I have a theory too. As citizens, some citizens, view what they believe to be criminally incompetent actions, that wound them mightily, mixed with a perverse sense of arrogance by the offender, and combined with furious , action packed, assaults on the foundations of freedom and the American Republic, and said citizens seem helpless to stop the attacks, the rhetoric of the citizens in question rises to aggressive and invective levels.

Almost, one might say, in inverse relationship to the bovine indifference of the mass media that is covering, if that be the word, the sliming and bankrupting of the nation's tangible, and intangible capital. It all stems from a sense of frustration and helplessness. The later two variables are, at times, higher than other times. But at all times present.

All this leads to an interesting conundrum.... how to stay civil in the face of perceived criminality and tyranny. Indeed, SHOULD one stay civil in the face of criminality and tyranny? Well, yes they should, if your theory is correct regards what got Bush reelected. (though personally, I would put my money on irrational fear, mightily and expertly stoked, by money and corporate media).

But if all you really want, by this plea for civility, is to dampen, for your own sake, the painful reality that the Republic is gone, or going away anyway, 'and can't we all at least be polite as it is poisoned' then no, bring on the incivility, where and when it is called for, until the real wolf, the wolf right here at the heart of this democracy, is defeated.

Yes, Michael...these are unpleasant times indeed.

Posted by: jonst at January 20, 2008 07:20 AM | 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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