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4/5/2006
WHY COOLER HEADS MUST PREVAIL ON IRAN
CATEGORY: Iran

Costs and benefits.

Short of all out war with a clear strategic goal such as unconditional surrender of the enemy, any military action taken by the United States must, in the end, take into account the price we will pay - human, economic, strategic - versus the benefits that will accrue to us in taking that action.

And if one were to tote up on paper the pluses and minuses of bombing Iranian nuclear sites to prevent the Iranian wildmen for getting their hands on a nuclear device, it would not be a pretty picture.

We would need an additional page or two for the minuses.

The gamble we took in Iraq was, at the time of the invasion, a good bet. There the potential gains to our security and our overall strategy in the Middle East far outweighed the minuses of roiling the volatile Arab street and spurring al Qaeda’s recruitment. As the war has gone on, however, the tote board is starting to look more and more even. There is still much to be gained with a successful conclusion to the Iraq operation (although lowering our sights as far as what can be realistically accomplished is now part of the game) and, of course, we’ve already benefited from getting rid of Saddam. But the minuses are starting to pile up and very soon we will be faced with the prospect of Iraq becoming a zero sum game with whatever benefits accruing to our security and strategic position in the Middle East being offset by losses to our overall security posture and an actual diminishing of our influence in the region.

We are not at that point yet in Iraq. But it is on the horizon. And if we ever do reach the point of diminishing returns outweighing any possible gain, we will have to reassess whether it is morally right to ask our men and women to remain in harms way for a cause in which there is no foreseeable gain to the United States.

One sure way to make Iraq a lost cause is to bomb Iran. If we were to take that step, the insurgents in Iraq would be joined by the two largest Shia militias - Muqtada al-Sadr’s Mehdi Army and the largest pro-Iranian militia the Badr Brigade - in armed opposition. That would put at least 350,000 angry Shias in direct military confrontation with US forces, scramble the political situation perhaps beyond salvage, and almost guarantee a humiliating retreat by US forces. Any guesses about what kind of state would emerge from this chaos?

That’s for starters. The probability of Iranian missile counterstrikes against our bases in the Middle East not to mention their ability to attack our troops in Iraq would also have to go into the ledger under “minuses” when contemplating military action against the mullahs.

How about the economic impact of a strike on Iranian nuclear infrastructure? While I have complete confidence in our navy to severely degrade the Iranian capability to interdict shipping through the Straits of Hormuz, I doubt whether we would be able to destroy their ability to cause enormous problems for tankers making their way through that vital choke point.

At its narrowest, the Straits are only 34 miles wide - easy striking distance for a variety of land-to-ship missiles that the mullahs have been buying from the French, the Chinese, and the Russians over the last two years in anticipation of just such an eventuality. It is doubtful we could destroy all of them. And what would be the resulting increase in the cost of a barrel of oil if the Iranians managed to sink a couple of tankers in the Straits? Estimates range from a premium on the spot market of $20 BBL to $50 BBL which would put the cost of a gallon of gas at between $3.05 and $4.85 a gallon (2.5 cents rise per dollar increase in a BBL with a baseline of of $2.60 per gallon - which is what it is at the gas station around the corner from where I live).

Ask an independent trucker what $5 a gallon for deisel would do to his business. And these independents carry 80% of our food from distribution centers to the grocery store not to mention stocking shelves in a wide variety of other retail businesses. If a significant number of them were unable to make a living hauling freight, the consequences to the cost of living, employment, interest rates, and a wide variety of other economic indicators would be pretty grim.

Then there is the probability that the Iranians would engage in so-called “asymmetrical warfare” or terrorism. The WaPo article detailing this eventuality makes for some pretty frightening reading:

Former CIA terrorism analyst Paul R. Pillar said that any U.S. or Israeli airstrike on Iranian territory “would be regarded as an act of war” by Tehran, and that Iran would strike back with its terrorist groups. “There’s no doubt in my mind about that. . . . Whether it’s overseas at the hands of Hezbollah, in Iraq or possibly Europe, within the regime there would be pressure to take violent action.”

Finally, from all accounts I’ve read, since it is extremely unlikely we will be able to delay the Iranian nuclear program more than 2 or 3 years, one must also factor in the probability when the Iranians rebuild their infrastructure, they will make it that much harder for us to strike the next time.

John McCain has been quoted as saying “[T]here’s only one thing worse than the United States exercising the military option; that is a nuclear-armed Iran.” Clearly that is incorrect. There are several things worse than a nuclear armed Iran starting with the probability of a humiliating defeat in Iraq, moving on to a severe downturn in our economy, followed by increasing instability in the Middle East, and ending up with the real possibility of a 9/11 type attack by Iranian supported terrorists.

Of course, discussion of Iranian nuclear weapons has to include what options are available to Israel. And surprisingly, those options seem to be few and far between:

[O]ne of the take-aways from my recent Israel trip is that Israeli national security bureaucrats — diplomats and generals — have far greater confidence that there are numerous potential solutions to the growing Iran crisis short of bombing them in an invasive, hot attack.

One of the issues that came up in many of the national security related discussions I had was that Israel has maintained and cultivated a very strong human intelligence network inside Iran. The two nations were close strategic allies 25 years ago — and continue, in many behind-the- scenes ways, to communicate and possibly even to coordinate certain actions. It doesn’t mean that Israel is ready to appease Iran’s regional ambitions, but it does mean that I have witnessed far more worries about Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s anti-Holocaust and anti-Israel rhetoric in the U.S. than I did in Tel Aviv or Jerusalem.

Many serious Iran watchers in Israel think that chances are relatively high that “internal developments” will emerge in Iran to constrain Ahmadinejad’s “political options and political life.”

TALK TO THE ISRAELIS — the ones responsible for national security there. I found their sensibilities on Iran to be remarkably well informed, nuanced, confident, and sensible.

Nearly everyone I spoke to in Israel who ranged in political sympathies from the Likud right to Maretz left thought that the tone of the AIPAC conference had been too shrill and that Israel thought it wrong-headed and too impulsive to be engaged in saber-rattling with Iran at this stage.

In the past, I’ve been occasionally critical of Israeli influence over U.S. decisionmakers when I felt that American and Israeli national security interests were not as convergent in some respective case as some argued. However, in this instance on Iran, Israel’s national security thinkers and diplomats are on the side of logic — and it is in American national interests to hear the Israeli position and consider the roots of their surprising position.

I would be perhaps less sanguine about a regime change having any effect whatsoever on Iranian nuclear ambitions. The only alternative at this point seems to be former President Rafsanjani who initiated the Iranian nuclear program in the first place back in the late 1980’s and early 90’s. Combine that with a clear mandate from the Iranian people - who, like the Pakistani people see building a nuclear device as a question of national pride - and it becomes clear that even if the Supreme Council roused itself and ousted President Ahmadinejad, nothing would change in the Iranian drive to build nukes.

Israel is the one nation that would be in the Iranian crosshairs from the minute the mullahs went nuclear. And if the Jewish state is resigned to the Iranians getting nukes, then perhaps we should be looking at what our regional response should be in that context.

This monograph by the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) examined the question of what the United States could do in the region with a nuclear armed Iran. Here are some of their options:

* Engage in traditional deterrent strategies such as making it clear to Tehran that the use or threatening the use of nuclear weapons has reciprocal disadvantages to the regime.

* Allow the development of nuclear weapons by states threatened by Iran such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

* Employ a regional military strategy against the regime by building credible alliances.

* Work with dissident groups to create an armed, united opposition that could affect regime change.

These are just a few of the unsatisfactory but realistic options open to us if we resign ourselves to the reality of the Iranian government going nuclear. The question then becomes, are they better than bombing?

In the short term, one would have to say it’s a wash - equally bad outcomes to a bad situation. But in the longer term, the non-military options have a chance of isolating the Iranians and confronting their ambitions in the region. For those reasons, I think that unless something dramatic happens to change the situation, as it stands now the best course of action for the United States is to follow non-military actions, proceeding from the assumption that the Iranians will have a bomb in 3-5 years.

With their oil wealth, an exploding population that is becoming increasingly literate, and economic and strategic alliances forming with both Russia and China, Iran is going to be a threat to the region with or without nuclear weapons for the foreseeable future. By forgoing the military option, we can still confront the mullahs and stifle their dreams of dominating the region with their nuclear arsenal.

By: Rick Moran at 9:50 am
27 Responses to “WHY COOLER HEADS MUST PREVAIL ON IRAN”
  1. 1
    Dean Kimball Said:
    10:02 am 

    Great post Rick - well reasoned and persuasive.

  2. 2
    kreiz Said:
    10:17 am 

    Ditto, Rick. The issue boils down to how far we will go to protect Israel, given that Israel is the most likely and reachable target of Iran’s hostile ambitions. Israel isn’t a weak sister; it’s fully capable of protecting its regional interest. If this thing is couched in terms of US exposure (similar to Iraq), it doesn’t comport to the most likely scenarios.

  3. 3
    Paul Hooson Said:
    10:43 am 

    I’m deeply sorry if we got off on a bit of a bad foot over some differences I had about your blogs name and artwork, which I felt detracted from your often well-written meassage, Mr. Moran.

    But, you make some excellent points in your well written analysis of the potential costs of any armed conflict with Iran.

    Indeed another serious problem is that with Iranian nuclear research lab bunkers buried so deeply, the current U.S. military bunker buster technology weapons may well prove to be ineffective at destroying uranium enriching technology sold by the Pakistani nuclear weapons Khan labs to Iran.

    After a 2001 military report, the Bush Administration sought to build a generation of nuclear bunker busters known as Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrator(RNEP) bombs, but Congress has feared international treaty as well international community alarm or sanctions against the use of such bombs, so instead huge conventional bombs have been constructed or are being tested.

    In the Vietnam War era, the huge 15,000 pound Daisy Cutter was the largest conventional bomb of the time. Now the 21,000 pound MOAB(Massive Ordnance Air Blast), Big Blu a 70,000 pound experimental bomb and a new 700 ton chemical bomb are under construction or being tested.

    Both Osama Bin Laden potentially hiding deep in caves in either Pakistan or Afghanistan as well as the Iranian nuclear program are protected by their deep bunker nature, that current pentagon weapons may be totally ineffective at reaching. For this reason, military action against either one may be delayed for some time until the Pentagon can build a bigger and better bunker buster.

    While it is difficult for elections to be a little more free like they once were in Iran, where the previous president was a moderate, who sought better relations with the U.S., as long as the Iranian situation does not spin out of control very soon, this possible future change in leadership to a more moderate leader may prove to be the most safe path given all the horrible possibilities that a war with Iran brings. No war works out perfect. There are always things that go wrong. And all caution needs to be taken with such serious conditions that could result.

  4. 4
    Hawkeye Said:
    11:56 am 

    Regime change really seems to be the only good option, not perfect, but good. Unfortunately, the U.S. seems to put too little effort into it. That is perhaps not surprising though with our State Department - State and the CIA have been two of our biggest foreign policy problems for decades.

    Trying to keep the Iranians from getting nukes has the same fatal flaws as every domestic gun control law: the bad guys always figure out how to get them anyway, and the problem isn’t the weapon, it’s the hand that holds it. Many nations have nukes. The problem with adding Iran to the list is that is is dominated by fanatics led by an apocalyptic lunatic.

  5. 5
    Dave Schuler Said:
    1:15 pm 

    As you know, Rick, I’ve written about this situation frequently and, as you must also know, I don’t favor either invading or bombing Iran for reasons that you’ve outlined. However, I disagree that the SSI alternatives are realistic.

    I’ve posted frequently on deterrence. Right now the vital psychological component of deterrence is completely absent. Lots of people in the U. S. think we are bluffing. What do the Iranians think?

    One of the reasons we don’t want the Iranians to have nuclear weapons is that we don’t want the Saudis or Egyptians to have them. Should we allow ourselves to be put into the position where we’re defending heinous regimes hammer and tongs to keep the nuclear weapons they have out of the hands of terrorists if the government should fall? Doing so would completely undermine the activities of the last five years (if that hasn’t happened already). If this is the only alternative, we’d be better off wiping Iran off the map (and, as I said, I oppose military solutions).

    Regional military alliance? Every regime in the region is either tottering, irrelevant, or are more worried about us than the Iranians. The only regional power of consequence whose participation would be an asset is Russia and I believe that the most we can expect from them is taking a wait and see posture. And it might be impossible to get that from them.

    Work with dissident groups. Great idea if you’ve got a Wayback Machine on you. At this point the realistic estimate for an Iranian bomb is about five years. Does anyone really think the hypothetical dissidents can go from invisibility to overthrowing the regime in five years?

    I think the real realistic alternatives are either
    1) to accept that Iran will get the bomb, other Middle Eastern countries will too, and that one of them will put a bomb in the hands of terrorists. We need to take our borders and other entry points much more seriously and be prepared for a world with significantly more expensive oil.

    Or 2) Start preparing the American people for the necessity of a very bloody conflict with Iran.

    In the past I’ve suggested blockade and that’s probably an option, too. But the likelihood is pretty good that blockade would escalate into a full-blown shooting war rapidly.

  6. 6
    Freedom Fighter Said:
    1:37 pm 

    Hi Rick,

    A few points…

    First of all, America has a choice.And it’s not necessarily all-out war and occupation.

    These are not people who are going to play nice if we stop bothering them. We can either confront Iran now, when they are relatively weak, or later, when they are stronger. It’s really that simple.

    Israel is only important to the mullahs as a means of uniting the Arab/Muslim world behind Iran’s main goal which is to be the leader of that world in a jihad that brings on the return of the Hidden Imam and worldwide Islamic dominance.

    As a matter of fact, Israel is less at risk of a nuclear attack right now at the hands of Iran or their terrorist allies than the United States.

    Using nukes on Israel, even if successful would only trigger Israel’s highly developed second strike capacity on Iran.So there’s no great gain there. And there’s no pressing need to do so, since Iran has Hezbollah and Hamas in place.

    Iran can afford to fight Israel down to the last `Palestinian’.

    On the other hand, there’s nothing to stop Iran from clandestinely giving a suitcase nuke or two to its friends in al Qaeda for use on the Great Satan..and then claiming non-involvement.

    Iran’s real goal is not destroying Israel..at least not right now. Their area of expansion is the oil and gas rich areas of the Caucasus and Central Asia, to which end they have a loose alliance with al Qaeda.This also has the side benefit of outflanking the US positions in Afghanistan and places like Uzbeckistan. That’s what the
    attack last year on Nalchik was all about.J O S H U A P U N D I T: Iran begins processing 2nd batch of uranium; Bush and Putin meet

    Worried about the price of gas now? Wait `till Iran owns and/or controls a bigger piece of the energy pie.

    I certainly agree with you that Iraq is a problem..but that’s largely because President Bush insisted on keeping it together as one country, and more importantly, in the flush of enthusiasm over Arab democracy forgot the lessons learned from America’s previous experiences in democratization in Germany and Japan, allowing Iran’s proxies to run freely and win in the election.
    J O S H U A P U N D I T: Iraq’s political crisis continues, or `What we have here is a failure to communicate’

    Thus we have a situation where we have been stymied and held hostage in Iraq by the people who invented chess!

    The best way to take action, BTW is not necessarily to concentrate on Iran’s nukes, which are dispersed and hidden anyway. The key is cash flow and isolation.

    Taking out Iran’s oil and gas fields and its ports along with as many nuclear sites as we can find will have the following effects:

    A)The Russians will no longer build nuke facilities for the Iranians if they aren’t paid

    B) Russia and China will find Iran much less interesting without all that oil and gas to sell

    C)Iran (and Syria, BTW) will receive the same sort of message Qaddafi received from Reagan in the `80’s and may decide that bankrolling and harboring Islamic terrorism has more drawbacks than benefits. Plus we will have severely damaged Hezbollah, al Qaeda and Hamas

    D) Iran’s proxies in Iraq-including Jaafari-will suddenly discover a new feeling of compromise and rationality and allow us to finish what we started there..or we can simply do what should have been done from the first and establish an independent Kurdish ally as a base in the region.

    E) Iran can be successfully isolated until its rotten regime crumbles from within.Contrary to the opinions expressed here, i think that a defeat like this would hasten that, rather than drawing the populaton towards the regime.

    Spike in gas prices? Maybe. But that is a consequence of the US failing to fully utilize its own energy resources. If rationing is necessary for awhile as a consequence until that situation can be corrected, so be it. The cost would be cheaper than the coat of a dirty bomb set off in Los Angeles or New York.

    Sorry for the length of all this..!

  7. 7
    Rick Moran Said:
    1:41 pm 

    Paul:

    I’m very sensitive about this site - sort of like a baby. I too apologize for the rough language.

    I’m afraid I don’t share your belief that a “moderate” will emerge in Iran after Ahmadinejad. That faction has been pretty much dehorned thanks to a concerted effort by the radicals to purge that element from IRanian politics and society.

    As I mentioned, the alternative would be Rafsanjani who is only slightly less radical than Ahamdinejad (he succeeded Ayatollah Khomeini upon that worthy’s death) but more subtle in his hatred of America and Israel. He wants to wipe the Jewish state off the map - but he’s smart enough not to say it out loud.

    Dave:

    I’ve read and been influenced by your writings on this subject (as you can probably tell). I agree that the SSI options are unsatisfactory - especially helping the Saudis and Egyptians go nuclear. And deterrence is also problematic although if the Iranians are stupid enough to bomb Israel with nukes, the mullahs will be sitting on top of a pile of radioactive rubble.

    That said, I think if we start approaching the problem from a proliferation angle, that might - just might - keep the nuclear genie in the bottle as far as other countries in the region getting nukes. The IAEA under Barradei has been something of a nuclear enabler but that’s only because they hate confrontation with near nuclear states like Iran and NoKo. They can be bullies when they want to be and we should allow them free reign with nations that want to test the nuclear waters.

  8. 8
    ProCynic Said:
    2:05 pm 

    Rick,

    I luv your blog, but I gotta disagree with your post. For two reasons which I will try to encapsulate very quickly.

    1. Deterrence will have no effect on the Iranian regime. They are not the Soviets. The mullahs and Ahmadinejad think they are on a mission from Allah. if you think your objective is divinely sanctioned, you’re not goign to fear death, for yourself or others. See, e.g. Muhammad Atta.

    2. Isolation won’t work. We tried that with Iraq, Cuba and others and it has failed everywhere it has been tried. To many parties have too much to gain from Iran to keep it isolated.

    We either stand up to them now or later. This is 1938 all over again.

  9. 9
    Dave Schuler Said:
    2:23 pm 

    Thanks, Rick. I think we’re more in agreement than disagreement.

    Freedom Fighter:

    There’s no real evidence that the Soviet Union ever had suitcase nukes. We just don’t know. I think that it’s a reasonable inference that if any were in the hands of terrorists they’d already have used them. At any rate Iran will not have the ability to produce such a thing for the foreseeable future.

    As to attacking Irans ports and oil infrastructure we won’t do it preemptively so there’s no use fantasizing about it. What we’d do if actually attacked is another story altogether.

    However, you’re right about the cash flow angle. That’s why I’ve suggested blockade. We have the resources to do it and they’re available and, even with their new weaponry (which may not be that new), Iran doesn’t have the resources to do much about it.

    If we had the will we certainly have the ability to neutralize Iran’s oil production: I’m pretty confident that our special forces could keep Iran’s pipelines non-functional (much as terrorists have damaged Iraq’s). Two can play at that game.

  10. 10
    Citizen Deux Said:
    2:51 pm 

    Iran presents a threat not just in the potential acquisition of nuclear arms, but in the very seminal world that they are even now exporting terrorism to the rest of the world. It is known that they are the funding behind Hezbollah and should we ever kick over the rock on their archives, we will likely find them behind efforts to destabilize Saudi Arabia and the rest of the world.

    We saw the effects from the tanker wars in the 80s on our oil flow. Any action against Iran would definitely push up oil proces, but I think we often underestimate the capability of our military. I certainly hope there is sufficient pressure from within to alter their behavior. Lord knows their economy is in a shambles. I do not advocate such action against Iran, however, until they demonstrate a willingness to “play nice” we must keep the sword loose in the scabbard.

  11. 11
    Freedom Fighter Said:
    3:59 pm 

    Hi Dave,
    Good stuff as always with you!

    First off, we have no way of knowing what the Russians (or for that matter, Saddam)had, and what was sold to whom.Unfortunately, we did not insist on destruction (or at least adequate controls)of the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal as the price for the billions in aid we gave them.I grant you that al Qaeda may not have nukes AT THIS MOMENT.

    A suitcase nuke or a radiological `dirty bomb’ is relatively easy to make, provided one has access to radioactive materials. Russia, given its own problems with Islamic terrorism might be at least a little circumspect about giving it to someone like al Qaeda. Iran would have no reason to hold back except as a temporary strategic ploy to enable it to get its nuclear weapons program totally online.

    If Iran is able to enrich uranium (and it is doing so as I write this) they have everything they need to put together a radiological dirty bomb for use by others on the Great Satan.

    Just a matter of time.

    As for the `blockade’ aspect this will not work by itself for the same reason sanctions won’t..because Iran has land borders, especially with its ally Russia, and because it has soimething people want to buy REAL REAL bad.

    Take out the oil fields, whatever miitary/nuclear facilities we can find and THEN isolate them, and things look a lot better.

    You should know, BTW that Putin’s actions in allying with Iran mirror Stalin’s Comintern Pact exactly, IMO..and just like Stalin, Putin will keep supplying the mullahs with arms and raw materials until Iran deems the time right to attack him and topple Russia.

  12. 12
    dougf Said:
    4:11 pm 

    So may I presume that the ‘base’ of your utilitarian argument is that Iran will not use nuclear weaponry even should it manage to develop it ? They are spending billions just to indulge themselves, and compensate for perhaps some physical shortcomings? And of course to threaten their neighbours and protect themselves from US actions at any future point. All for show and not for go if you will.

    If so, I certainly agree with your analysis. In fact, I am not really in favour of ‘limited’ wars, unless it’s a police-type action. If the cause is sufficient to engage in combat then the cause is sufficient to pursue “all out war with a clear strategic goal such as unconditional surrender of the enemy.”

    I just wonder how you managed to decipher Iranian intent from the lunacy that seeps daily from the theocrats in Tehran? Are they really ‘rational’ actors and not vision-seeing madmen ?

    If they are just sort of nuts, then I think you are undoubtedly correct. If they are really playing at being a second-rate Reich, then I vote for the full-scale route. As a previous poster implied— one 1938 was more than sufficient for any lifetime.

  13. 13
    Rick Moran Said:
    4:19 pm 

    Dougf:

    You ask the $64,000 question about Iranian intentions. The question I am asking is can we stop them from building a nuke even if we bomb them? With their infrastructure so spread out, it’s not a certainty by any means.

    That said, would placing a nuclear umbrella over our allies in the region (as we did in Europe) give us any kind of deterrence? I think it might. If they’re loony enough to commit national suicide, I doubt whether bombing will stop them anyway.

  14. 14
    Brett Said:
    4:55 pm 

    Rick,
    thoughtful analysis, but I think you might be guilty of static scoring. Yes, the “insurgents” are making Iraq more expensive than might have been initially anticipated, but what would have been the costs of inaction? War is always the least worse of two bad options. How does these ~10,000 innocent Iraqis killed by terrorists compared with the Butcher of Bagdad’s average annual toll? (20,000-50,000) We were spending $30 billion a year enforcing “no-fly” zones, how much more would we have spent to keep Saddam properly “contained”?
    Will military action against Iran be really, really expensive? Yes.
    Will it cause massive fighting, and a defeat in Iraq? Possibly, but could a nuclear armed Iran cause massive fighting and a defeat in Iraq? If their behavior right now (developing nukes, supporting terrorists, aiding fighters in Iraq) is not sufficient to overcome the costs of confronting them when they DON’T have nukes, how high will the bar be when they DO have nukes? They can make things dicey in Iraq if we bomb their nuclear facilities, but once they have nukes, there is nothing to keep them from driving us out of Iraq anyway.

  15. 15
    Hawkeye Said:
    5:15 pm 

    Rick,

    There is a serious problem with the “nuclear umbrella:” credibility.

    If Iran wanted to employ a nuke against us or another state in the region, passing it through terrorist hands would be the likely means, and that brings us to the problem.

    A wave of ICBMs from the USSR would have been clear and unarguable. A bomb detonated by a terror group is not. Would we really massively retaliate against Iran under those circumstances? I don’t count on it.

    I think the Israelis are a more credible deterrent. If they tell you “when the terrorists explode a nuke in Isreal we know where it came from and we are coming after you,” they have to be taken seriously.

    If you could convince the mullahs that the first mushroom cloud to appear in the US or a friendly country would result in their ashes glowing in the dark for the rest of the century, it would work. The problem is that I doubt they would believe it. And for good reason. The lawyers at DoJ and DoD would want probable cause and a warrent for the strike, and the hand wringing in Congress would paralyze us. The only reason it didn’t after 9-11 was the current occupant of the White House, and he won’t be there forever.

  16. 16
    Andrew Said:
    6:01 pm 

    Rick,

    Good post as always. I see this is a discussion we’ve both visted before:

    http://rightwingnuthouse.com/archives/2006/01/19/thinking-the-unthinkable/

    And to just correct Freedom Fighter, a suitcase nuke is not “relatively easy to make” - it’s actually quite difficult and will be beyond Iranian capabilities for many years. The Iranians will have enough problems putting nukes onto their missiles. A suitcase radiological weapon is much easier to make, but won’t be nearly as effective as a larger weapon.

    Also, I don’t believe the Iranians are as crazy as some think. They want nukes for the same reason that most others want them - to guarantee their security. Once they have a deliverable weapon, they can be reasonably certain that we and the Israeli’s will not attempt to militarily topple their government. Also, they see Russia to the north, Pakistan to the east and Israel to the west as competitors for influence and a nuclear Iran will certain be more influential in some ways. Finally, there is National Prestige and the prestige that comes with being “in the club” even if it’s covertly.

  17. 17
    Freedom Fighter Said:
    8:17 pm 

    Hi Andrew;
    I beg to differ with you about suitcase nukes..any coutry capable of completing the `nuclear cycle’ is capable of putting one together.

    And the radiological bomb you claim is `not nearly as effective’involves the death of several hundred people at a minimum, the evacuation of a major city and an environmental cleanup costing billions and lasting for years.

    I think that’s rather effective, thank you.

    As for your other point, I frankly don’t care about Iran’s paranoia or their need for `security’.

    Please see my earlier postup thread on Iran’s goals.

    As for `competition’ Israel would be happy to be left alone, Pakistan is trying to maintain its political equilibrium and Russia has allied with the mullahs in the hopes of financial gain and a degree of security on the borders (a vain hope, I might add).

    Respectfully, Iran is an existential threat to the West,and while I’m certain this is not your intention,I would point the same sort of statements you made in the last paragraph of your post were also made about Hitler and the nazis.

    People didn’t think they were a threat either…until it was too late.

  18. 18
    Freedom Fighter Said:
    8:21 pm 

    correction, the line about the death toll of a radiological `dirty’ bomb should have read “several HUNDRED thousand people”.

    mea culpa

  19. 19
    Pierre Legrand Said:
    9:11 pm 

    Rick,

    Interesting post but doing nothing means that we allow them to supply weapons to terrorists who use those weapons to kill our soldiers. Which they have been doing since 1983. Seems that sooner or later we might need to deal with that sort of attitude.

    Pierre
    The Pink Flamingo Bar

  20. 20
    Andrew Said:
    10:14 pm 

    Freedom Fighter,

    I guess I’m lucky that my wife is a nuclear engineer who has worked non-proliferation issues for the government for many years, and so I can speak with some authority on this matter. Creating a “suitcase” bomb is several orders of magnitude more difficult than simply creating a bomb. The enigneering required is very difficult and requires a level of expertise, precision, and experience in working with and building nuclear weapons the Iranians simply don’t, and won’t, have for some time. Even if they had a valid suitcase bomb design (let’s assume the Russians gave them one) and the tools and knowledge necessary to build it, that is still no guarantee it will work, or work as designed. We are lucky here in the US in that we can use our considerable bomb experience, expertise and the most advanced computers on the planet to virtually test our bombs. Nations with developing programs don’t have that advantage, and without testing, extremely advanced designs are prone to a high failure rate. And testing is impossible if you want to keep your program covert. The Iranians jumping ahead to such an advanced device would be similar to them jumping ahead in their ballistic missile program to ICBM’s with MIRVs. It’s simply not as easy as it appears.

    A nuclear truck-bomb is much more feasable option, but obviously isn’t as tactically flexible as a “suitcase” design.

    As for a radiological device, it’s very unlikely any RDD would kill anywhere close to several hundred thousand people minimum. Actually, your first statement is correct - it would probably kill several hundred people minimum. The upper limit of deaths would depend on a lot of factors, including uncontrollable ones such as weather. It would also make a big difference if you included things like increased cancer deaths years down the line in your figures. It’s impossible to predict the precise number of deaths, but it’s safe to say that “several hundred thousand minimum” isn’t remotely close to the truth. Even the “worst case” scenario of a large RDD in Manhattan at noon would probably only kill 2-3 thousand people. The real effect of an RDD weapon, beyond the pyschological, is the disruption caused by the contaminated environment. If a bomb were detonated in Manhattan, efficiently particulated and dispersed into the air, and had favorable weather and winds that blew the material the length of the island, then large swaths of that city would become unsuitable for long-term habitation until it was cleaned up. The expense from that disruption and clean-up would be enormous, not to mention the displacement of millions of people. That is the real power of an RDD, not mass casualties.

    And just to think logically for a minute - if a suitcase size RDD (or any RDD) would kill several hundred thousand people MINIMUM, then why develop conventional nukes at all since they are so much harder to make? Several hundred thousand is more deaths than a small conventional nuke would probably cause. And considering that the fire in the Chernobyl reactor pumped hundreds of pounds of RDD material into the atmosphere, you’d think we would have seen millions of deaths from that, especially considering the plume crossed through half of Europe and eventually circled the globe.

  21. 21
    Andrew Said:
    10:55 pm 

    I almost forgot your other points. You need to look at things from the Iranian perspective:
    - Their two mortal enemies have nukes (Us and the Israelis)
    - One state that borders them has nukes (Pakistan)
    - Their mortal enemy, the US, now has signifcant military forces and has invaded two strategic countries on its borders, and is publically considering military action against them.
    - Because of geography and their lack of conventional capabilities, they know they could not defend against a conventional attack from the US.
    - They have few real friends in the region - the Arab countries are, at best, distrustful of them because they are both Persian and Shiite. Iranian promotion of “Islamic revolution” is certainly unpopular among the Arab monarchs. Relations with Sunni-dominated Pakistan have only recently started to improve from decades of hostility.

    Given these realities, it’s pretty easy to see why they would want a nuclear capability. You say you don’t care about Iran’s paranoia or what it views as its security needs - well you should if you want to understand the whole picture. Iran internal politics is much more complex than most realize.

    You’re right, I certainly did not mean to make any comparisons to Hitler or the Nazi’s, for there is little to compare. I fail to see any similarities to 1930’s Germany and europe beyond the rhetoric.

  22. 22
    Kobayashi Maru Trackbacked With:
    12:30 pm 

    More on Iran

    Thinking further about what our new sidebar feature may be saying, we note Dan Drezner. He opines that the decision to attack Iran may already have been made, though he doubts its potential effectiveness, concluding: “all policy options still stink”….

  23. 23
    Freedom Fighter Said:
    4:40 pm 

    Hi Andrew,

    I will concede your point about the suitcase nukes, though there is no knowing wht the Russians mayhave sold Iran.

    Odd..I’ve seen several reputable scenarios of dirty bomb attacks on a major city and all place the death toll at several hundred thousands.

    Your Chernobyl comparison is not accurate IMO. (A)It was a nuclear accident, not a deliberate explosion designed with destruction in mind and (B) Chernobyl was not a major city on the lines of say, New York.

    Even if you’re correct, are you content with the idea of a terrorist attack if it merely involves fewer casualties? I hope not, and don’t believe you are.

    As for Iran, once again, I must reiterate that I’m not concerned with their paranoia OR their jihad inspired imperialist ambitions.Israel and the US are not their `mortal enemies’ on a factaul basis..though perhaps they should be, based on Iran’s embrace of terrorism and the amount of American deaths they and their proxies have been directly responsible for.

    You are correct about the Arab/Sunni rivalry with Shiite Iran, but it is not as pronounced as I think you suppose when it comes to jihad and killing off the infidel..more like a power struggle and a difference in method, but the goal is the same.

    And I believe you are mistaken about Pakistan..if relations were`so bad’ why did Pakistan & AQ Khan give them clandestine nuclear weapons technology?

    Again, I appreciate that you feel Iran is not an existential threat, and at the PRESENT TIME that’s true..the future is someting else again.

    Just imagine how many lives might have been saved if the British and French had sent a couple of combat divisions into the Rhineland to stop Hitler and enforced the Versailles Treaty to prevent Germany from rearming.

    Instead, we were urged to `understand’ Germany’s position and its need for `security’!

  24. 24
    Right Wing Nut House » THE MEDIA AND THE LEFT GO NUCLEAR Pinged With:
    6:58 am 

    [...] VINCE AUT MORIRE VODKAPUNDIT WALLO WORLD WHAT ATTITUDE PROBLEM? WIDE AWAKES WIZBANG WUZZADEM THE MEDIA AND THE LEFT GO NUCLEAR LOST: THE TRUTH ABOUT SADDAM AND NIGER URANIUM LOOKING FOR HATE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACESINCOMPETENCE PILED ON TOP OF INCOHERENCE FLOGGING DEAD HORSES THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN: THE “TWO FOR ONE”EDITION A SMALL RAY OF HOPE IN IRAQ KISSING US WITH CONTEMPT CARNIVAL OF THE CLUELESS #39: THE HALL OF FAME EDITION WHY COOLER HEADS MUST PREVAIL ON IRAN OOPS! MY BAD IT’S TIME: MEDALS OF HONOR FOR THE PASSENGERS OF FLIGHT #93 A REAL SCOOP BY ED MORRISSEY DREAMS AND MYTHS: HOLLYWOOD AND 9/11 NOT THE USUAL SUSPECTS MATT STOELLER BRAVELY STICKS HIS TONGUE OUT AT THE RIGHT A FEW RANDOM THOUGHTS ON BLOGGING, THE MEDIA, AND HOW WE GOT OURSELVES INTO THIS MESS I’VE GOT MAIL HOW I SPENT MY SUNDAY MORNING WITH C-SPAN, TAYLOR MARSH, AND MAPQUEST TWICE A VICTIM BAGHDAD AS IT IS, NOT AS WE WISH IT TO BE QUICK HITS (RATHER THAN THE USUAL BLATHER) MEDIA ALERT COHEN: TRIVIALIZING THE MOMENTUS AND COMPLICATING THE OBVIOUS IMAGE IS SUBSTANCE IN IMMIGRATION DEBATE “24″ (52) ABLE DANGER (10) Bird Flu (5) Blogging (76) Books (7) CARNIVAL OF THE CLUELESS (64) CHICAGO BEARS (9) CIA VS. THE WHITE HOUSE (6) Cindy Sheehan (11) Ethics (51) General (272) Government (30) History (50) IMMIGRATION REFORM (5) Iran (14) KATRINA (26) Katrina Timeline (4) Marvin Moonbat (14) Media (75) Middle East (24) Moonbats (44) Open House (1) Politics (156) Science (14) Space (12) Supreme Court (19) War on Terror (104) WATCHER’S COUNCIL (39) WORLD POLITICS (38) WORLD SERIES (14) Admin Login Register Valid XHTML XFN [...]

  25. 25
    Right Wing Nut House » DISHEARTENING WORDS FROM BILL KRISTOL Pinged With:
    12:16 pm 

    [...] VINCE AUT MORIRE VODKAPUNDIT WALLO WORLD WHAT ATTITUDE PROBLEM? WIDE AWAKES WIZBANG WUZZADEM DISHEARTENING WORDS FROM BILL KRISTOL IRAN: EVERYBODY PLEASE RELAX AND TAKE A DEEP BREATH FLIGHT 93 PASSENGERS MAY HAVE MADE IT INTO THECOCKPIT BEFORE CRASH CARNIVAL OF THE CLUELESS #40: THE SPRING FEVER EDITION FITZY “CORRECTS THE RECORD” 5 MINUTES TO MIDNIGHT DIEBOLD STRIKES AGAIN! BIG TROUBLE FOR BUSH A MILLION REASONS TO CELEBRATE CIA VS. THE WHITE HOUSE: MISSING THE “BIG STORY” THE IRANIANS RESPOND: “YOU’RE BLUFFING…WE THINK” WHY I STILL LOVE THE POST AFTER ALL THESE YEARS THE MEDIA AND THE LEFT GO NUCLEAR LOST: THE TRUTH ABOUT SADDAM AND NIGER URANIUM LOOKING FOR HATE IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES INCOMPETENCE PILED ON TOP OF INCOHERENCE FLOGGING DEAD HORSES THE COUNCIL HAS SPOKEN: THE “TWO FOR ONE”EDITION A SMALL RAY OF HOPE IN IRAQ KISSING US WITH CONTEMPT CARNIVAL OF THE CLUELESS #39: THE HALL OF FAME EDITION WHY COOLER HEADS MUST PREVAIL ON IRAN OOPS! MY BAD IT’S TIME: MEDALS OF HONOR FOR THE PASSENGERS OF FLIGHT #93 A REAL SCOOP BY ED MORRISSEY “24″ (53) ABLE DANGER (10) Bird Flu (5) Blogging (77) Books (7) CARNIVAL OF THE CLUELESS (65) CHICAGO BEARS (9) CIA VS. THE WHITE HOUSE (7) Cindy Sheehan (11) Ethics (51) General (272) Government (30) History (51) IMMIGRATION REFORM (5) Iran (17) KATRINA (26) Katrina Timeline (4) Marvin Moonbat (14) Media (77) Middle East (24) Moonbats (44) Open House (1) Politics (158) Science (14) Space (12) Supreme Court (19) War on Terror (104) WATCHER’S COUNCIL (39) WORLD POLITICS (39) WORLD SERIES (14) Admin Login Register Valid XHTML XFN [...]

  26. 26
    Right Wing Nut House » WHAT IRAN WANTS Pinged With:
    8:30 am 

    [...] Before the howls of protest erupt over this “surrender,” I would like to point out that we’re doing precious little at the moment in assisting elements in Iran who seek regime change anyway while the bombing option will cause more problems than it will solve. For a discussion of some of those problems, you might want to take a look at this post I did last April about the pros and cons of bombing. [...]

  27. 27
    Right Wing Nut House » IRAN: WAR CAN WAIT Pinged With:
    7:20 am 

    [...] And make no mistake. That “whirlwind” will be the mother of all blowbacks. We’ve been over and over the downside to attacking Iran so repeating the enormous cost to the United States and perhaps the west would be redundant punditry. [...]

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