I have nothing but the greatest respect for Michael Ledeen. He has proven himself one of the most plugged in analysts in the commentariat when it comes to all things having to do with Iran. I would take anything he says about Iran much more seriously than anything I’d hear from Juan Cole who, although a noted scholar and someone whose articles on the historical background of the Middle East are nothing short of fascinating, suffers from a horrible case of Bush Derangement Syndrome which has clouded his analyses and at times, made him virtually unreadable.
That said, Ledeen is trying to take us over a cliff by advocating War against the Iranians.
It’s not that I disagree with his basic premise; that Iran has been at war with the west in general and the United States in particular since 1979. This fact should be self-evident given the number of attacks sponsored by the Iranians against Americans and American interests in the last quarter century. And I also have no disagreement with Ledeen regarding this latest evidence of Iranian aggression; the shocking assistance to both Shia and Sunni terrorists that has no doubt led to many American deaths in Iraq.
They are attacking our interests. They are killing our soldiers. They are threatening much worse. Why then should we not make the attempt to change the regime in Iran to one that would be freer, more peaceful, and less aggressive in its aspirations to dominate the region?
Ledeen believes that the amount of force needed to cause the Iranian regime to collapse is minimal and wouldn’t detract from our efforts in Iraq:
I have little sympathy for those who have avoided the obvious necessity of confronting Iran, however I do understand the concerns of military leaders, such as General Abizaid, who are doing everything in their considerable power to avoid a two-front war. But I do not think we need massive military power to bring down the mullahs, and in any event we now have a three-front war: within Iraq, and with both Iran and Syria. So General Abizaidâ€™s objection is beside the point. We are in a big war, and we cannot fight it by playing defense in Iraq. That is a suckerâ€™s game. And I hope the president realizes this at last, and that he finds himself some generals who also realize it, and finally demands a strategy for victory.
In passing, it follows from this that the entire debate over more or less troops in Iraq, surge or no surge, Baghdad or Anbar Province, all of it begs the central question. As long as Iran and their appendage in Damascus have a free shot at us, all these stratagems are doomed.
Alright. I’ll play. Suppose we apply whatever military power (short of “massive” - whatever that means) and the mullahs still rule? What’s next? We’ve just spent three years learning a valuable lesson (all over again) that American military power has its limits, that despite our troops best efforts and spectacular performance on the battlefield, it doesn’t matter a tinker’s damn if other factors not amendable to military force cannot be controlled or are not addressed.
In the case of Iran, it is answering the question who or what would take over once the government was overthrown? Are we once again going to indulge in the fantasy that a tyrannical government is teetering on the edge and all that is needed to send it crashing into the garbage heap of history is a little push? Ledeen thinks so:
As it happens, this is a particularly good moment to go after the mullahs, because they are deeply engaged in a war of all against all within Iran. I wrote in NRO two weeks ago that the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had been carted off to the hospitalâ€“a major event, of which the Intelligence Community was totally unawareâ€“and his prognosis is very poor. That information has now trickled out, and I found it today in the Italian press and on an Iranian web site. The mullahs are maneuvering for position, and Ahmadi-Nezhadâ€™s ever more frantic rhetoric bespeaks the intensity of the power struggle, which includes former president Rafsanjani, Khameneiâ€™s son, and Ahmadi-Nezhadâ€™s favorite nut ayatollah. We should propose another option to the Iranian people: freedom.
Freedom is what most Iranians want, and, unlike their neighbors in Iraq, they have considerable experience with self-government. The Iranian Constitution of 1906 is remarkably modern, and Iranian intellectuals have in fact been debating the best form of government for their country for many years. Iranian workers are in open revolt against the regime, along with such minority groups as the Kurds, the Balouchis, the Azeris, and the Ahwazi Arabs. In other words, most of the Iranian people. It is long past time for us to speak clearly to them and support their cause.
I have no doubt that the Iranians want freedom. Just as I am convinced that the people of Iraq want to be free. But Iranian intellectuals, enamored though they are with a 100 year old document that even the Shah honored in the breach, are not going to pick up guns and kill the mullahs. Nor are the 200,000 Revolutionary Guards going to suddenly become rabid democrats and lay down their arms to give democracy a chance. And Ledeen and the rest of the Iran hawks have yet to present any kind of a military option (short of “massive”) that wouldn’t necessarily involve hundreds of thousands of presumably American troops who would have to physically march to Tehran in order to overthrow the government. For Ledeen fails to answer who in Iran would finish the job that we would be starting?
As internally weak as the Iranians may be - and I’m not convinced of that by any means - they have done their job the last 25 years. Anyone who has expressed a desire for anything more than cosmetic reforms in the Islamic paradise has been ruthlessly suppressed. The restive minorities that Ledeen rightly points to as our natural allies are even more brutally oppressed. In short, any real opposition to not only Ahmadinejad but also the Rafsanjanis and Khatamis is small, frightened, disorganized, and incapable of taking advantage of any favorable military situation we may present them with. And it would take years to build up any kind of effective political opposition to the theocrats in Tehran, something one assumes Ledeen and the other Iran hawks would not be willing to wait on.
Ledeen cautions against a two front war but then virtually advocates taking Syria on too. This is madness. We have got to realize that the consequences of starting a war against Iran would not only fail to achieve the goal of overthrowing the mullahs (short of throwing everything we have against Iran’s 800,000 man military) but also lead to unforeseen problems that would only make matters worse in Iraq, in Lebanon, and could lead to a general Middle Eastern war in which hundreds of thousands of people would be killed.
There is another way. It won’t overthrow the mullahs right away nor will it stop their nuclear program - something that an attack as envisioned by Ledeen won’t guarantee anyway. This study done by the Army’s Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) recognizes the danger of Iranian nukes as well as the continued threat of aggression from the Iranian regime. They advocate a much broader approach to the problem:
* 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.
Unsatisfying to be sure. But perhaps we should ask ourselves if it isn’t better than the alternative to an attack on Iran? Iraq in even greater chaos thanks to a general Shia uprising against our forces. No guarantee the mullahs would be ousted. Almost certainly the prospect of a spate of terrorist attacks carried out against our interests in the Middle East and perhaps even here in the United States. And the horrible prospect of a general war in the Middle East.
To my way of thinking, military action only makes sense if the advantages far outweigh the disadvantages War with Iran - as satisfying and enticing an option though it may be - isn’t even a close call. And advocating such a course of action is like shadowboxing with reality; you’re not dealing with the real problems in Iraq by going to war with Iran.
There may be security issues we can help the Iraqis with by sending another 30,000 troops into Baghdad and Anbar. But the insurgency and sectarian violence would continue with or without Iranian and Syrian assistance. Hence, only an Iraqi political settlement that all parties can sign off on has any chance at all of bringing a modicum of peace to that bloody land. And until the political will exists in Iraqi society for such a general settlement, any war we wage against those who assist the militias and the insurgents will be worse than futile and do more harm to our interests in the region than good.
A commenter points to this blurb on The Corner where Ledeen is saying he does not advocate going to war against Iran:
Rich: No, I don’t want to invade Iran, as I have said for many years. And I don’t follow your logic. I think â€” and, as recent news stories in the NY Sun and NY Times have made clear, the policymakers in the Bush administration now knowâ€”that much of the terror war in Iraq is the result of Iranian activities. I have written here for years that the Iranians were promoting both sides of a series of potential civil wars in Iraq, Sunni/Shiite, Kurd/Turkamen, Arab/non-Arab, etc.
The two policies you list (run away or invade Iran) are only two among many. In Tracinski’s article, he quotes Michael Rubin on behalf of what Tracinski calls “Cold War II.” That is, support democratic revolution in Iran. Again, I’ve been arguing in support of that since before we started Operation Iraqi Freedom. I think it’s the best option, I think it will succeed if it is well done, and I think this is an excellent moment for it, since Khamenei is dying (as I was the first to report; it is now all over the Iranian blogs) and there is an intense internal power struggle at work. You probably noticed that the justice minister was killed in an automobile crash the other day, and it is noteworthy that an amazingly high percentage of important Iranians die in car and air “accidents.”
“Tracinski” is Robert Tracinski who advocates attacking Iran now. On the other hand, Ledeen does not advocate a hands off policy regarding Iran either:
I have also argued for a long time that our troops in Iraq should defend themselves against Iran and Syria. I think we should attack terrorist training camps in both those countries, and I think we should also go after the facilities where the terribly lethal new generation of IEDs is produced and assembled.
As I have said, any military action taken against Iran will cause enormous problems for us in Iraq as well as set off some of the consequences I outline above.
Also, See-Dubya over at Hot Air accuses me of wanting a “political settlement” with Iran. This is incorrect. I linked to the SSI monograph largely because it gave some alternatives for going to war - none of which included negotiating with Iran BTW. Reading what Ledeen had to say on The Corner, I would guess that my thinking is much closer to his - support of democratic elements in Iran (or attempting to unite the opposition) while strengthening our friends and working to develop a coalition in the region to oppose Iranian aggression.
Hardly a “Bakerite” solution.