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April 09, 2006

Iran and Saber-Rattling

Are we getting ready to bomb the crap out of Iran? Maybe (here's another take on the matter, from the New Yorker). It's all saber-rattling at this point, but it's saber-rattling with a goal, which is spooking the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions. Yeah, that's going to happen. It's also to get Americans used to the idea this is on the table. Happy Sunday!

Here's my thing: I believe without the slightest hesitation that Iran is trying to build a bomb (more than one, clearly); I also believe rather strongly that Iran should not be allowed to build a bomb. This is part of a larger philosophy that as a general rule, no other nations should be allowed into the nuclear club that aren't already in it (and that some of them should have their membership revoked), but specifically speaking, Iran as a nuclear power makes me nervous on all sorts of levels. So as a matter of policy, I would not have much of a problem gutting Iran's nuclear production capability via bunker busters if it came to that.

What I worry about, naturally, is at what point in the diplomatic process we get to "if it came to that." I don't suspect that based on previous experience that the Bush administration is all that patient with diplomatic maneuvers -- which to be honest is not necessarily a criticism. Say what one will about the precipitate speed with which the Bush administration rolled into Iraq, Saddam's ability to subvert the diplomatic process both was appalling in itself and gave the Bush folks an ample rationale for firing up the tanks. As a practical matter, I think there is some value in the perception that the US is going to fiddle around diplomatically for only so long before it gets down to cases and fires up the steath bombers.

On the other hand, while I did not oppose going into Iraq, for my own personal reasons, I also thought it would have been far better there simply to carpet bomb any inspection site Saddam refused to let inspectors into, as a way to bring Iraq back to a useful diplomatic process. If one posits a large-scale attack on Iran on one end of the spectrum and doing nothing on the other, is there something effective in the middle ground? I don't know at this point, but I'd like to think there is -- and I wonder, if there is a useful "middle ground" solution, whether we'll consider it before going the solution where Iran's skies are dark with American bombers.

The New Yorker piece suggests two things -- first, that Bush sees himself as the only President who is politically capable of attacking Iran, and two, that the use of tactical nuclear weapons, by us, to destroy Iran's nuclear capability is not off the table. Toward the first of these, I'm certainly willing to believe that Bush does think he's the right man for the job, although as you might expect based on how poorly it's managed the Iraq situation after the unquestionable tactical victory of the first few weeks, I question whether his administration is indeed competent enough to do the job right. I also strongly suspect that unless Bush is completely stupid, he'll wait until after November to make any move, because given how unpopular his Iraq position is at the moment, he doesn't want to give any more electoral ammunition to the Democrats than they already have.

Toward the use of tactical nuclear weapons, I have a very hard time imagining that would happen, and I suspect the repercussions for the US if it did would be immensely damaging. If Bush really wants to bring down every single US-friendly foreign government in the world, he'd allow the use of tactical nuclear weapons. I have serious questions as to the overall competence of this adminstration, but you have to draw a line somewhere. I believe the Bush administration is competent enough not to use nuclear weapons.

My hope is that if we do bomb Iran, we avoid mission creep. I would say our job is to gut their nuclear production capability, end of story. Keeping to that single goal will be difficult and complex enough, but if nothing else it could be possibile with only minimal ground involvement (from my admittedly very limited understanding of the situation), which means a minimum of death involved on our side, and it would be a goal that most of the world community could get behind (no one else wants Iran to have nukes, either). God forbid someone starts talking "regime change." That would be Bush's undoing; there's no way the armed forces could do a land war as they are now, and attempting to institute a draft would be political suicide. Even if the Bushies wanted regime change, I suspect they would have to settle for something less.

Thoughts?

Posted by john at April 9, 2006 11:28 AM

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Comments

Mdean | April 9, 2006 11:42 AM

I'm still trying to understand why the US can have bombs and Iran can't. What other country besides the US has ever used a nuke.

Bobarino | April 9, 2006 11:56 AM

According to the article, "There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change."

I'd say that any hopes of avoiding mission creep are pretty slim, particularly when one considers this administration's inability to learn from history, even its own.

Iran having nukes is a danger, sure, but Pakistan, in addition to having served as a one-stop nuclear shopping center for third-world nations, is an assassin's bullet away from being an Islamic nuclear state. I'd worry about them first.

Ron | April 9, 2006 11:57 AM

I believe the Bush administration is competent enough not to use nuclear weapons, but I have my doubts about Bush himself. He's only the second president who wasn't alive when they dropped the bomb and thus has no internalized reaction to what happened in '45, but Clinton at least had a great enough sense of historical perspective to recognize the magnitude of what happened. I don't get that sense from W.

Kevin Q | April 9, 2006 12:00 PM

Mdean, I think the ultimate goal is to have 0(zero) countries with nuclear weapons. Since that's not going to happen any time soon, an intermediate goal should be to prevent any other countries from gaining nuclear weapons. Bombs are like guns - the more there are, the more likely it is that one's going to be used.

It's not a matter of "we have it, and you can't." It's a matter of trying to keep down the number.

As far as the U.S. being the only country to drop nuclear weapons, well, if anybody's pissed at that, they can feel free to come and take them from us. But to be fair, I believe that the people who ordered the bombs dropped on Japan didn't actually know just how bad that was going to be. But now we've seen how bad, and we haven't dropped any since then.

But plenty of other countries have "used" nuclear bombs, even if they haven't dropped them on enemy nations. India and Pakistan have an alarming history of using their nuclear weapons as bargaining chips whenever they get pissed with each other. They haven't bombed each other yet, but those bombs are getting a good workout just sitting on the table. I'd prefer if countries didn't negotiate with the ultimate weapon, because it just makes it that much more likely that one's going to go off.

K

Jim Millen | April 9, 2006 12:05 PM

Mdean: Effectively, the US considers itself competent to have nuclear weapons because it has had them for over 60 years and they've been used twice in anger. That's a pretty good record.

Based on the president of Iran's sentiments, you would have to be mad, or at least wildly optimistic, to think that Iran could accomplish similar restraint.

And the above is only considering the intentional aspects of the situation. There's every possibility that an Iranian nuclear weapon system, built on the cheap and in secret, could suffer an accidental detonation, some other sort of long half-life mishap, or fall into the hands of someone even more unstable than Ahmadinejad.

It's not very politically correct, but essentially Iran shouldn't have atomic weapons for the same reason that a 6-year old shouldn't get a firearms license.

John Scalzi | April 9, 2006 12:14 PM

Ron:

I don't know that I would agree that a lack of historical perspective would be a part of Bush's decision to use nukes or not; I think Bush probably has sufficient historical understanding. I think if he were to have a nuclear option on the table, the question is whether he would decide the threat of a nuclear Iran is work the near-universal condemnation such a use would precipitate.

Even if nukes are on the table -- which, to remind people, I don't think they are -- Bush would have to decide whether they were absolutely necessary. It's been suggested many of the bomb-making facilities would be deep underground, down below ordinary bombs, but I do wonder if that's the case -- do enough bombing on anything, and you'll eventually get where you want to go. If we knock out Iran's ability for an aerial response then it's a matter of just pounding on the sites until they're big holes in the ground.

(note: this is clearly a simplified version of what would really need to happen.)

Bobarino:

Yes, Pakistan worries me. For that matter so does India. I'd be happy to have their nukes get rescinded one way or another.

Mdean | April 9, 2006 12:19 PM

John/Vader:
I guess nobody can have any Jedi.

(I'm just joking) :)

John Scalzi | April 9, 2006 12:21 PM

Man, if we had Jedi, we wouldn't need to attack anybody. They just flash their sabers and we could all go home.

Dean | April 9, 2006 01:04 PM

Well, there are tons of variables in this whole thing. And as the whole Iraq thing has (I hope) shown, the Iranians will make out like friggen' bandits in the Muslim world if the US attacks. You can multiply that by 1000 or so if they US chooses to use tactical nuclear weapons.

One of the variables is Israel, who will almost certainly bomb Iran if the US doesn't do it first. Another variable is Iranian leadership, who may or may not be as batshit insane as they make out to be. Pretty much everybody with any sense knows that a land war is out of the question, and the Iranians may be willing to trade a few (hundred) installations for huge political gain. To do this, they might well be willing to exaggerate their own capabilities. The only reason to consider the use of tactical nukes are that conventional bombs cannot damage a bunker at the depths that some of the Iranian bunkers are supposed to be at, 75 to 100 feet. (And no, bombing the same sites repeatedly with conventional weapons won't work. All subsequent attacks do is move the dirt around.)

Imagine the scenario: a secret Iranian nuclear weapons program is alleged. Evidence is show: satellite images of the entrance to deep underground bunkers, for example, and maybe some bomb diagrams from a captured laptop. On the strength of this, a tactical nuclear weapon is used to destroy the bunker. But then no convincing evidence of a nuclear program is found.

It would be a horrible situation. The Iranians would close the Straits of Hormuz (which they will do in the event of any attack) driving oil prices into the stratosphere. A hefty portion of 1.2 billion Muslims rally to their side. Relations between the US and China and Russia strain to the breaking point. The EU is in an uproar.

Who would win? The Iranians. Hell, they've won hugely in southern Iraq. All they've got to do is wait and it will be theirs. They'll win even bigger if they can goad the US into attacking them.

The Iranians want the US to bomb them, or to back down completely. They don't want to negotiate. The Bush administration wants regime change in Iran. It's a dangerous combination, and so far it looks to be going as Iran wants it to go, which is NOT a good thing.


derf | April 9, 2006 01:31 PM

Don't forget that Iran is not likely to sit still and do nothing after the US bombs them. So what can Iran do to hurt the US? Well, they control a little island called Abu Musa, from which they can attack any and all traffic entering or leaving the Persian Gulf. Specifically, oil-laden supertankers. If you think gas prices are high now, you have no idea.

Now, certainly not all of that oil belongs to the US or is destined to be sold to us, but I think this little detail wouldn't matter much to the Iranians who've just been bombed. I know if I were trying to hurt the US, this is how I would do it. In the pocketbook.

Can the island withstand an air bombardment? I don't know. What would the political repercussions be in the rest of the region? I don't know that, either. But it would certainly turn into a giant mess for everybody. Iraq has been a fairly self-contained mess, because the insurgents' goals have been directed inward. This would spill out over the whole region.

CoolBlue | April 9, 2006 02:09 PM

In my opinion, and I've been watching this develop for a very long time, the very last thing that Bush wants to do is attack Iran.

This is because they have a lot invested in the cultivation of pro-Democracy groups within the country which it hopes will pay off in a coup.

Significant to this is that the Iranian is not bat-shit crazy it is schizophrenic: there are signficant portions of the government that are appalled by the actions of President Ahmadinejad and his provocative actions and words. This guy (the President) is truly messianic and that scares the shit out of a lot of insiders including many in the Iranian military. It scares a lot of people outside of Iran as well.

There is little doubt that there are CIA operations on-going in Iran to support these people. The Secretary of State has explicitly said we are supprting pro-Deomcracy groups there. Bush and crew are hoping against hope that something will happen from within before they have to strike.

Because if they have to strike, then they risk invoking nationalistic sentiments that will work against us. Iran is not like Iraq in that people are much freer there (in relative terms) than people in Iraq were. This presents both an opportunity and a risk. One opportunity is that many young people are pro-American and there's whole helluva lot of young people in Iran. This could very well turn if we are forced to attack.

If we do attack, it will not be with nukes, in my opinion (Hersch has not been a reliable source of any information). Special Operations teams will be involved in-country. They are likely already there both constructing a target list and helping anti-government forces.

And if we are forced to attack, securing Abu Musa will occur even before any bombs drop.

John Scalzi | April 9, 2006 02:17 PM

CoolBlue:

"And if we are forced to attack, securing Abu Musa will occur even before any bombs drop."

Yup.

I'd be perfectly content with Bush's folks preferring not to attack, of course. One does wonder if there's a feeling of time pressure on the decision, however, which could force hands. I simply don't know.

My personal frustration here that I know what I know about the situation is not enough to make an actual informed opinion about what can and should be done. All these articles surfacing at once suggests to me I need to go into information acquisition mode.

Terry Karney | April 9, 2006 02:20 PM

I think Bush has nukes on the table.

I think that, if he gets to attack Iran, he will use nukes, because 1: there's no way in the world he can expect the Army to be able to make a right turn.

2: His staff are pointing out that if he really pisses Iran off, they will come into Iraq.

3: He can't be certain to wipe out every thing with conventional bombs (He can get 16 individual bombs on target with B-2s, there are enough target that to get them all with a single nuke apiece takes two B-2s).

4: He figures that a strong enough show of, "resolve" will keep the Iranians from moving against the troops in Iraq.

5: "It's easier to get forgiveness than permission" and so he figures the "threat" of a nuclear Iran (in 5-10 yeats) is great enough that he has to eliminate all possibilties (even if that means ripping the NPT into shreds and tatters) and the world will not only forgive him, but thank him (yes, I do think the man is delusional).

6: If he uses nukes there won't be any non-evidence to show there was no weapons program (if that's the case).

Yes, the last is cynical as al get out, but looking at the ways in which the Iraq fiasco was done, I can't really rule that level of venality out.

TK

Tom Barlow | April 9, 2006 02:35 PM

We bomb their sights as pinpointed by the same crew that determined the location of Sadaam's WOMD? The same people looking for Osama?
Can't see this strategy happening because we can't be sure we hit the appropriate target. It would also probably galvinize opposition among countries sitting on the sidelines at the moment such as Egypt and Syria.

Dean | April 9, 2006 03:03 PM

I think Bush has nukes on the table, too. I think this because more than one source has said that he has, and because more than one source has said that those who are making plans for an attack say that taking out some targets (the most important ones) will be very difficult without nuclear weapons.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways this situation will be resolved:

1. Nobody does anything but bluster. Iran builds nuclear weapons in five or ten years. Iran wins.
2. Israel or the US attack Iran. A whole host of consequences follow, including a huge spike in the price of oil, a likely solidification of the Muslim world behind Iran, and possibly Iranian action into Iraq. Which would probably be legal under the circumstances, actually. Iranian nukes delayed for a short time, 1-3 years. Iran wins.
3. Tense negotiations between the parties. Could anything be resolved? I don't know. But inspections seemed to have worked pretty well in Iraq, so it seems highly likely that they'd work in Iran. Eventually. Iran doesn't win in this scenario. More importantly, the US doesn't lose.

Look, Iran wants nukes because Israel has nukes, and because they see the nuclear option as the only one that will guarantee that nobody (read: the US) invades/bombs them. If anybody was going to use nukes pre-emptively, it'd probably be the Iranians, but I don't think that even they would risk such a thing. They're borderline nutcases, not stupid. An Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would mean only one thing: massive nuclear retaliation. Iran would lose that confontation in a big way.

I think that the Iranians want the bomb. I think they have a program to build one. I think they're further away than either the Bush administration or the Iranians themselves would have us believe, AND I think it distinctly possible that the Iranians are gaming the West in a big way, offering up tantalizing glimpses of deep bunkers and improved missiles. Why would they do that? Why are they trumpeting their nuclear program to the world? You have to ask yourself what they have to gain.

Madeline F | April 9, 2006 03:40 PM

I sincerely doubt the Iranians have deep underground bunkers in which they're building bombs. Even if they do, though, "moving dirt around on top of them" would be in a fair way to wiping them out. Are we to believe that they crack water to get oxygen? Moving dirt will certainly block their air vents. Have they got enough food, water, power, nuts, bolts, trash storage, sewage treatment, etc to survive and continue to build bombs without any roads going to them or trucks that survive the trip?

Conventional air superiority is all we need, if we "need" to intervene militarily at all. Anything more would be criminal. Anyone using nukes should be impeached, tried, and executed.

CoolBlue | April 9, 2006 03:48 PM

Look, Iran wants nukes because Israel has nukes, and because they see the nuclear option as the only one that will guarantee that nobody (read: the US) invades/bombs them. If anybody was going to use nukes pre-emptively, it'd probably be the Iranians, but I don't think that even they would risk such a thing. They're borderline nutcases, not stupid.

I disagree with this assessment. First, Israel has had nukes for going on 30 years now and they have never threatened anyone with them, including Iran.

Second, if the US had wanted to invade them it would have. From my point of view it was a toss up between Iran and Iraq from the beginning. Bush and crew felt they would have more international backing for Iraq because of the breech of the cease-fire agreement that had lingered for 12 years in the UN. This proved to be a costly miscalculation on the PR front.

Third, Iran has been the number one exporter of terrorism in the region for years. They have supported Hizbollah and Hamas via Syria.

And now there is yet another dimension: The following is by Daniel Pipes from FrontPage Magazine

Thanks to Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, a new word has entered the political vocabulary: mahdaviat.

Not surprisingly, it’s a technical religious term. Mahdaviat derives from mahdi, Arabic for “rightly-guided one,” a major figure in Islamic eschatology. He is, explains the Encyclopaedia of Islam, “the restorer of religion and justice who will rule before the end of the world.” The concept originated in the earliest years of Islam and, over time, became particularly identified with the Shi‘ite branch. Whereas “it never became an essential part of Sunni religious doctrine,” continues the encyclopedia, “Belief in the coming of the Mahdi of the Family of the Prophet became a central aspect of the faith in radical Shi‘ism,” where it is also known as the return of the Twelfth Imam.

Mahdaviat means “belief in and efforts to prepare for the Mahdi.”

In a fine piece of reporting, Scott Peterson of the Christian Science Monitor shows the centrality of mahdaviat in Ahmadinejad’s outlook and explores its implications for his policies.

When he was still mayor of Tehran in 2004, for example, Ahmadinejad appears to have secretly instructed the city council to build a grand avenue to prepare for the Mahdi. A year later, as president, he allocated US$17 million for a blue-tiled mosque closely associated with mahdaviat in Jamkaran, south of the capital. He has instigated the building of a direct Tehran-Jamkaran railroad line. He had a list of his proposed cabinet members dropped into a well adjacent to the Jamkaran mosque, it is said, to benefit from its purported divine connection.

He often raises the topic, and not just to Muslims. When addressing the United Nations in September, Ahmadinejad flummoxed his audience of world political leaders by concluding his address with a prayer for the Mahdi’s appearance: “O mighty Lord, I pray to you to hasten the emergence of your last repository, the Promised One, that perfect and pure human being, the one that will fill this world with justice and peace.”

This is a very dangerous guy with very powerful friends within the Iranian government.

Jon H | April 9, 2006 04:50 PM

If Iran were wily, they'd spread false intelligence that their WMD programs were moving into facilities build under their oil and gas production facilities.

I'm guessing petroshields would be more effective at warding of a US attack than human shields.

JonathanMoeller | April 9, 2006 05:16 PM

No matter what Bush decides to do, it'll turn into a disaster. The man's just got the magic FUBAR touch.

So start stocking up on bottled watter, canned goods, and ammunition for when gas shoots up to $15-$20 a gallon.

David Klecha | April 9, 2006 05:57 PM

On the ground would be rough, way too rough, if you ask me, unless the Russians, Chinese, and EU were all completely onboard and offering divisions... which I don't think is entirely out of the question. Would make for some strange bedfellows, of course, but so did WWII. Iran scares enough people that, I think, people are getting hung up on the "unilateral" (though it wasn't, really) start to the Iraq invasion, and they think Bush is going to go the same way. In fact, it seems like everyone is on the same page this time, and I don't see Bush jumping the gun if he can make this look like the EU's idea, or anyone else's, and gain some political capital from the whole thing.

Charles Dodgson | April 9, 2006 06:31 PM

CoolBlue is half right --- Dubya does have, at least, some rhetorical investment in cultivation of democratic opposition groups within Iran. The problem is that he's been as inept at doing that as in doing everything else. He seems to genuinely believe that threatening the established Iranian government will bolster the internal opposition. In fact, the effect of those threats, going back to the inclusion of Iran in the "Axis of Evil", was to get Iranians to rally around the flag, and to marginalize the internal opposition.

Actual saber-rattling --- to say nothing of an actual attack --- would continue the same pattern. I'd expect no better result.

has | April 9, 2006 06:40 PM

> God forbid someone starts talking "regime change."

Indeed. Though if the Bush regime hadn't been loudly rattling their sabres at Iran for the last few years it's quite possible one wouldn't have been necessary anyway. "Come closer or we're gonna shoot ya" is exactly the sort of message that would push many ordinary Iranians to reject previous tentative moves towards liberalisation and bring in an aggressive anti-Western reactionary like Ahmadinejad to 'protect' them instead.

> I believe the Bush administration is competent enough not to use nuclear weapons.

I'd like to share your confidence, and FWIW I do think they recognise it'd be political suicide in the current climate - another 9/11 notwithstanding. However, imagine if they'd been the ones in charge in Oct 1962 and then say with certainty we wouldn't all be standing on plate glass today.

> there's no way the armed forces could do a land war as they are now, and attempting to institute a draft would be political suicide.

More importantly, consider how unilateral US aggression against yet another Middle Eastern nation state will be viewed from over there. A pre-emptive invasion against one country might be forgivable, but two must look highly suspicious - what if three becomes the tipping point where US aggression is interpreted as outright war against the national sovereignty and entire way of life of the whole Middle East?

Because god help us all - East and West both - were that entire part of the world were to go collectively batshit insane from reading the writing (real or perceived) on them cards. The other side won't be one that politely lines up and waits to be shot according to the nice 'symmetric' warfare scenarios so beloved of our 20th century military strategists. It'll be psycho Arabs who believe they've nothing to lose dropping 747s and anything else they can lay hands on in our major civilian centers at every opportunity. Nice.

This is not wanting to sound like some hysterical Cassandra, mind; but until a few years ago I wouldn't have believed anyone would ever deliberately fly airliners into New York skyscrapers just to make a point either. Kinda readjusts your perspective on what ordinary human beings become capable of when they completely lost the plot. Last thing anyone needs is two sides both with full-blown martyr complexes and the absolute intention to indulge them.

Smurf | April 9, 2006 08:39 PM

We attack before the mid-term elections.

Look at it this way.... we're gonna fight 'em sometime. May as well do it now, while we have troops there. After we win, we steal the oil. Anyone who jumps in gets nuked, and we then steal their oil. If they don't have oil, we steal all their virgins. The first country to bitch about it gets nuked, too. All business, Holmes.

Of course, it's wrong. Iran has as much right to have nukes as we do, and nuclear weapons kill a lot of women/children when they hit. We have a history of genocide and imperialism that would make the most shameless Persian emperor look like a saint. That's just the way the cookie crumbles, kids.

While a mondo pre-emptive nuclear strike would probably qualify as evil, kids may as well learn that life isn't fair. Everyone's on the food chain somewhere, and there's no better security than to be the meanest person in the room.

Tim | April 9, 2006 09:18 PM

This subject is one that fills me at once with the conflicting angst that we are not acting aggressively enough and the foreboding for the consequences of our actions regardless of which end of the range of options we err on.

Those of you that think that the nuclear option is not on the table are being excessively naive and excessively ignorant. Iran’s nuclear program has not been planned and executed in a vacuum of knowledge regarding both the U.S. and Israeli military capacity and history. The Iranian have seen what the Israelis did to Saddam’s nuclear reactor (with the tacit approval of most of the world). They’ve seen what we did in Iraq, both times, and Afghanistan. The lesson of Tora Bora did not escape them; i.e. dig it deep enough and even the Great Satan can’t bomb you there. The Iranians have disbursed their nuclear research sites very widely, and very deeply. The tactical summary I read on a milblog recently outlined some of the difficulties of a military assault on the Iranian program. I don’t remember the exact number of sites but it was something close to 200. Satellite images of the volume of earth that was dumped from some of the sites indicates that they are very deep. In short, the author estimated that, to do a thorough job on it, using conventional weapons would require an ongoing air assault with the tempo comparative to the first Persian Gulf War bombardment of 10 to 30 days!

The thought of an ongoing air war of that intensity over Iran is absolutely frightening. I have great faith in the U.S. military; but with the knowledge that no military plan survives contact with the enemy, anything that big and that long is fraught with the potential for adverse consequences. I have no doubt that it is exactly that reality that has stayed GWB’s hand so far. I also want to point out to all those out there who take comfort in the knowledge that, “if we don’t act the Israelis will”. The scope of this is beyond Israel’s capability. They could not do it without our explicit approval (and probably not without our active support).

I, therefore, am absolutely delighted to read that the military is formulating plans using nuclear bunker busters. The old saying in military circles is (paraphrasing here), “lieutenants talk about strategy, but generals talk about logistics”. Simply, a formula that allows you to substitute one nuclear bunker buster bomb for dozens or hundreds of chemical bunker busters, all precisely delivered, allows something very large and difficult to be reduced to something much more doable. And do it, I believe, we must.

I say a brief prayer of thanks for the professionalism and ingenuity of the american military personnel that ‘illegally?’ developed the nuclear bunker busters during the Clinton administration. Very far sighted people they’ve proven to be.

I also genuinely enjoy the irony of the solution. Want nukes, Ahab? Here, have some of ours. Quality products. Made in the USA.

Bill Marcy | April 9, 2006 10:14 PM

Of course nukes are on the table and so are all the thousands of other war plans. There are contingencies for any event, and a president would be negligent if he did not keep all of them open and viable.

As to the U.S. having nukes, the U.S. is my tribe, I want my tribe to be the most powerful as it can protect my children the best. I choose for my tribe to always win in every conflict and whatever the leaders of my tribe have to do to other tribes to ensure that victory is A-ok by me. Every single time.

If you disagree, do this, tell me at what point is the lives of the 'others' worth more than the life of your single child? Even with a calculator, I can't come up with a number high enough. You?

Terry Karney | April 9, 2006 11:24 PM

Bill: I happen, mostly (and in the most personal of ways, having enlisted something more than a dozen years ago) to agree that my friends matter more than their friends (whomever "they" happen to be).

But I don't think that pissing off everybody else on the planet (or just some significant portion of the 1/5th of the world which happens to be Muslim) because my chief doesn't like what the Iranians might be able to do some years from now.

The life of others is worth more than the life of me (which, for all that I value my relations and offspring is far more immediate) when those lives equal the hostages on which my life depends.

Nuke Iran and the best we can hope for is that the people who have a more vested interest in the region (since we could actually make up the loss of the oil we import from the Middle East with good conservation efforts) call in the chits they are holding, in the form of our deficit, and watch us go the way of Latin America.

They might (because we have daft notions of our importance in the world, and nukes) be a little less heavy handed than otherwise (by say informing us that if we don't back the hell off this course they will stop buying our paper, and make us balance the budget, or go bust) but they will do something, and my kids, your kids and John's kids will all suffer for it.

TK

Brian Greenberg | April 10, 2006 01:50 AM

I believe the Bush administration is competent enough not to use nuclear weapons.

First of all, John Scalzi started a sentence with "I believe the Bush administration is competent enough...", so right there, that's amazing. :-)

As to Iran, I think there are two things that are important here:

1) We learn from our mistakes of the past, and get a true coalition together before we do anything. If we need to go into Iran (and we should only do it if we truly need to), then we better do it with a host of countries behind us, and unequivocally so. This isn't as difficult as it seems, since the EU has been taking the lead on negotiating Iran's nuclear status for some time now. If such an attack were NATO-sponsored (remember NATO?), then it would go a long way in separating it from what's been happening in Iraq.

2) We need to try and keep politics out of this decision. This is where the anti-war movement becomes a problem. Everyone has the right to protest, of course, but the vocal protests of the recent past are going to either a) make the administration gun-shy (you'll excuse the term), or b) give many people in the world a knee-jerk reaction to any military action we take. We may not like this, but it's out there. And I fear it's something the Iranians may be counting on.

One other point: the fear isn't so much about Iran getting nuclear weapons and using them against us. The fear is a(nother) fairly unstable country getting nuclear weapons, and providing a rogue terrorist organization with another seller/sponsor to use one. I think it's safe to say, at this point, that the next nuclear weapon that is detonated will be the work of one of these groups, not of an established government (and that includes us). Such a government would put a huge target on their backs for the rest of the world - terrorist organizations, not so much.

Essi | April 10, 2006 04:16 AM

As a non-US citizen who lives fairly far away from both USA and Iran, I fail to see why USA should be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction and other countries not. At the moment it is USA, not Iran, that is attacking other countries on a whim and as far as I am concerned, ruled by a complete nutcase. Who has lots of money to throw at the military. Far more scary.

Tim | April 10, 2006 06:48 AM

Brian Greenberg,

I enjoy reading your posts on the Whatever threads. I don’t always agree with your opinions, but they have the flavor of reason, thought, maturity and above all sanity. Keep posting.

Essi,

As a non-US citizen who lives fairly far away from both USA and Iran, I fail to see why USA should be allowed to have weapons of mass destruction and other countries not. At the moment it is USA, not Iran, that is attacking other countries on a whim and as far as I am concerned, ruled by a complete nutcase. Who has lots of money to throw at the military. Far more scary.

As a citizen of a foreign country you have the privilege of anonymity in world geopolitics. You can have your opinions without the need to back them up with the resources and resolve to see them through to reality. We do that for you. As a citizen of the United States, do I like that? No, but life isn’t fair.

The policy of the United States has been, for many many years, that we view that one WMD is equal to any other; you attack us with chemical, biological, nuclear, or airliners filled with a half million pounds of diesel fuel, and we may respond with our WMD. It has also been the policy of the US that our preferred flavor of WMD has been nuclear weapons. There is a lot of very good, logical reasons for those policy positions, but as a citizen of a foreign country, not charged with policing the status quo, you haven’t HAD to entertain or endure those debates. We do. The plus side of this responsibility is that on web site like Whatever, the debate can be quite lively. Political web sites, which inevitably gravitate to one sphere or the other, tend to be more mono-ideologic (that can’t really be a word). Here at Whatever the opinions tend to be more of a grab bag.

Why should the United States be allowed to have WMD? We invented them. We invented them during a world wide war in which we were currently engaged. We invented them for use against the enemies we were currently fighting in an existential conflict that justified a maximum effort to prevail in that conflict. We did prevail. We can’t uninvent them. Who else has a greater right to own them? We haven’t used them since that conflict. I think that history sufficiently demonstrates our responsibility and maturity in having them.

Why should Iran not have nuclear weapons? Oh boy. That’s a soft ball. The announced purpose for acquiring nuclear weapons, by the Iranian government and it’s current president, is that it wants to USE them to destroy Israel. The world’s worst held secret (intentionally) is the Israeli defense concept called the ‘Sampson Strategy’. By definition, the Sampson Strategy details that IF Israel is EVER in imminent danger of being substantially destroyed by its arab neighbors, it will deploy ALL of its nuclear arsenal in an attempt to do maximum damage to Dar es Islam. It will bring down the house around it! If such a thing should ever happen it doesn’t take much imagination to realize the implications for the rest of the world. A maximum nuclear exchange, by any nuclear power, could trigger preemptive strikes by other nuclear powers (the greatest fear of the cold war). A nuclear holocaust across the middle east would reek havoc on the worlds trading and oil supply. In short, the entire world has a dog in that fight.

At the moment it is USA, not Iran, that is attacking other countries on a whim and as far as I am concerned, ruled by a complete nutcase.

Too far out there for me to waste my time.

Who has lots of money to throw at the military. Far more scary.

That’s correct. According to the last estimate that I’ve read the U.S. has climbed, in the last twenty years, from being 25% of global GDP to its current position of 33% of global GDP. Thank God. If we have to police the world, it’s good that we can afford it.

Midwestern Progressive | April 10, 2006 11:03 AM

I also strongly suspect that unless Bush is completely stupid, he'll wait until after November to make any move, because given how unpopular his Iraq position is at the moment, he doesn't want to give any more electoral ammunition to the Democrats than they already have.

To me, it says a lot about the climate of politics in America that the default position about the Bush administration is that all decisions are made based on politics, rather than on what is good for the nation and our fellow citizens.

I think it was Molly Ivins who pointed out that the current occupant and his administration are good at campaigning but either inept or uninterested in actually governing.

A successful presidency is one that would make these decisions based on what is good for the United States in the long term, not on what is good for the GOP in November 2006.

alex | April 10, 2006 04:13 PM

Tim:

We can't afford to police the world. Have you checked our $9,000,000,000,000 national debt recently?

I'd also feel a lot better about the whole world's policeman thing if the following two conditions were met:

1. We seemed to be more interested in the world's people, instead of the profits of United Fruit, Unocal, etc.

2. We were not judge, jury, and executioner as well as policeman. States that integrate those functions are not places that any sane human wants to live.

Brian Greenberg | April 10, 2006 04:46 PM

Folks, we can argue about George W. Bush all we want, but let's not compare the Bush version of "nutcase" with the Iranian version of "nutcase." That's two totally different playing fields...

Reasonable people can, and often do, disagree with the United States' foreign policy. Never more true than with the current administration. But we've never denied another country's right to exist, and we've never defined a military goal to unilaterally wipe another nation (government and people) off the face of the earth.

There are times for "everyone's entitled to their own opinion" and then there are times for "we're right and they're wrong." When it comes to nuclear weapons, our philosophy has always been the latter...

Tim | April 10, 2006 09:02 PM

Alex,

We can't afford to police the world. Have you checked our $9,000,000,000,000 national debt recently?

The amount of the national debt is less significant as an absolute value than as a percentage of Gross National Product. If it’s growing faster than the overall economy, that’s not desirable, but we can tolerate it for a limited time. We are currently in a state of war. Traditionally, the debt has always grown during a war. During WWII the national debt went from essentially 0% of GNP to 100% of GNP in only four years. Nobody complained about it, because it was necessary to win the war. I don’t know what the debt currently is as a percentage of the GNP (all those figures change each year and I’ve lost interest in tracking them). What I’m trying to say is that trotting out an absolute dollar amount of the national debt in a debate is, in reality, quite meaningless. It may be good for shock value, but little else.

alex | April 11, 2006 09:25 AM

If this was World War II, it would have been over by now.

In any case, it's a false comparison. WW2 was fought against the Axis powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan. Bush has declared (rhetorically) war on "Terror", an abstract concept. I leave it to your imagination how one defeats an abstract concept with military force.

I will grant you that the nine trillion figure for the national debt is mostly good for shock value. On the other hand, that comes out to about $30k per American--still not an unreasonable number. But we're all paying interest on the damn thing, and that is money that can't be used to build highways, pay teachers, etc.

By the way, you do know that on March 20th, the Federal Reserve stopped reporting how much money they were printing, right? That's just my little paranoid insinuation of the day...

Tim | April 11, 2006 02:22 PM

Alex,

In any case, it's a false comparison. WW2 was fought against the Axis powers: Germany, Italy, and Japan. Bush has declared (rhetorically) war on "Terror", an abstract concept. I leave it to your imagination how one defeats an abstract concept with military force.

That’s a valid point. A more valuable comparison would be the Cold War (which was not entirely cold). A long term world wide conflict fought against the ideological concept of communism, and the stated desire of the communists to take over the world. The Cold War lasted from the late 1940’s until 1991. We can probably expect a similar duration for this war. Especially since, at the time of 9/11, international islamofascist groups had established a presence in at least 69 countries around the world. I read an assessment, well over a year ago, that including all our allies and theaters, about 2/3 of the Al Qeauda members and 1/2 of its leadership were either in custody or otherwise dealt with. We’re getting a lot of help with this. In almost none of the 69 countries where they were established were they wanted. To get an excellent idea of how most of this war will be fought is to read Imperial Grunt (Don’t have the author off the top of my head).

Jett-Parmer | April 13, 2006 12:42 AM

Interesting, Iran is on the block to be sure, though nukes are likely WAY down the list of useful tools. I think we will see a very concentrated, unpleasant unleashing of technological surprises in any military action. Think some hybrid of Iraq and Afghanistan. Teh problem with Iran is the real likelihood that they would employ their newfound toys either by proxy or in some bizarre self-sacrificing strike within the mideast.

By the way Tim, I appreciate the factual posts!

Jeff Porten | April 13, 2006 02:23 PM

Kevin Q: your assertion that a nuclear weapon-free world can't happen anytime soon is incorrect. There are a number of plans on the table for taking pragmatic steps that ensure mutual security between here and there. I recommend checking the Pugwash.org archives for details on this. While nonproliferation is an important intermediary step, getting to zero is the only number that will ensure the prevention of nuclear holocaust.

Jim Millen: using nuclear weapons "only twice" in anger is misleading. The Fat Boy and Little Man weapons we used on Hiroshima and Nagasaki are so small compared to modern weapons that they are quite literally the triggers for modern bombs. It's the equivalent of saying that anyone who can be trusted with a BB gun can be trusted with a howitzer.

That being said, the reason why the US "gets to have" nukes is because, as Tim said, we invented them first (with British assistance), and because our possession was subsequently codified in international law. The quid pro quo of the NPT is that other nations don't get them, but the nuclear states are required to get rid of theirs. You can see why many people feel that the nuclear states aren't living up to their end of the bargain.

Finally, in case any Freepers are here, it is US law that we respect the agreements of any treaties we sign.

Dean: your assessment of the "cleanliness" of tactical nuclear weapons is incorrect. There are many studies that show that a tactical nuke would, in your words, "only move the dirt around". Of course, it would also turn it into highly radioactive and lethal dirt and propel thousands of tons of it into the atmosphere. It's by no means assured that satellite positioning would be able to ensure the destruction of a bunker, and the surface-level effects of any such attack would be drastic.

I suspect that anyone who says that "country X wants us to bomb them" has a very weak understanding of how much damage our bombs can do, even conventional.

Tim: see above regarding the cleanliness of "tactical" and "bunker buster" bombs. There is a great deal of research that indicates that a) they would work only if they unleashed the "normal" devastation of a regular nuclear attack on the surface, and if we were certain of their underground location (a tough requirement), and b) the use of the word "tactical" was purely a political ploy to gain public and Congressional support of the funding of baby nukes after the end of the Cold War.

My thinking is that the use of any nuke would let the genie out of the bottle. America did get a pass for its use during WWII, by and large, but were we to use them again, suddenly any nation who has them or wants them would find far less political resistance to their actual use. That particular path is likely to end in the extermination of mankind. I have trouble believing there is any tactical advantage to be had that outweighs that possibility.

Bill Marcy: yes, it's safest if your tribe can kill all of the other tribes. Until all of the other tribes realize they can band together and beat you. The process by which tribes make agreements and agree not to kill each other, for the common good of all, is called "civilization". It's an interesting idea. You could look it up.

Brian Greenberg: drop me a line sometime and let me know which anti-war groups have that kind of power and influence. I'd like to join them, instead of the ineffectual ones I'm a member of now. But I'll note that if you believe that no government will ever use nukes, I can see why you think that we anti-nuclear activists are crazy. Our point of view is that the death of a few hundred million people might actually be of concern, rather than presuming in the continued sanity of everyone with a football.

Tim: We might have 33% of global GDP, but we're currently at 50% of the world's military spending. Put another way, we spend as much as the rest of the world combined, allies and enemies alike.

Numbers like that might lead one to wonder, if one were cynical, if our spending is truly attuned to threat levels, and instead is attuned to the billions of dollars that people make by being military suppliers.

But you make my argument for me. Your model is that America spends so much money on the military because we can afford it. But what happens when we can't anymore? Ask Brian Greenberg, he's a Wharton grad, and he can tell you that depressions are cyclical. One might also note that there's some interesting research that shows that the Chinese and Indian economies might rival our own within this century. So is a rational plan of defense to say, "We're going to outspend everyone, forever"? Or is a rational plan of defense to say that we will work towards collective security measures and put an end to our zero-sum thinking?

I'll get back to my earlier comments here and elsewhere: America has the strongest conventional military in the world. Nuclear weapons balance the playing field for the other side. It's absolutely insane for any America Firster to support nukes, since we'd be an even bigger dog if nobody had them.

Brian Greenberg, again: We routinely deny other countries' right to exist. Use Taiwan as an example of a country that does exist, and Kurdistan and Chechnya as countries that would like to.

You're right that we don't have a military goal of committing genocide. That being said, some of the plans I'm seeing here to use tactical nukes in Iran would probably wipe out around 20% of the population, even if done "right".

Tim, again: your supposition is that it's okay for the debt to grow during war. But we're in a war with no defined end (that is, the "war" on terrorism) and which we are told to expect will last decades. Do you care to reconsider your statement?

You also point out that we started WWII with an effective debt of zero. We started this war fairly far in the hole. Since you assign our wealth as being a key factor of our defense, one might expect these figures to make you nervous.

Mark | April 16, 2006 09:26 AM

I hope the bushies settle for something less because they act like a drunk God.
There seems to be allot more intelligence injected into the debate (better, mnore open, CIA) this time 'round so we can puppetize Bush.

Basically because of a more limited open style (recent NASA changes for example) government direction we have more clarity and can hold tighter reins on the main admins power.

Reagan was actaully for very limited goverment. I don't know if I'm for a restrcited (limp penis)government but more for a government restricted to its job type of defense and not ownership and regualtion, like the FCC, for everything because it simply has failed here.

Brian Greenberg | April 17, 2006 12:28 AM

Jeff Porten:
While nonproliferation is an important intermediary step, getting to zero is the only number that will ensure the prevention of nuclear holocaust.

I understand and respect that opinion, but feel the need to point out that it is just an opinion. A non-zero solution prevented a nuclear holocaust for roughly 30 years. Not to suggest that the same strategy would work today (it wouldn't), but if you believe the only correct answer is zero on all sides, then you'll be arguing against anyone with another opinion on this subject forever.

drop me a line sometime and let me know which anti-war groups have that kind of power and influence. I'd like to join them, instead of the ineffectual ones I'm a member of now.

Now, wait a minute - you've been on both sides of this argument. I've argued that the protests haven't really changed policy (e.g., the head of the Philadelphia protest, who called the day we invaded Iraq "a good day for the protest movement" because he felt it galvanized his supporters), and you've told me all about the right to free expression and the importance of fighting the good fight. Now, years later, when I concede that the myriad of protests has changed public opinion (here and abroad), even if it never really changed public policy, you suggest that the protests couldn't possibly have that kind of power.

We routinely deny other countries' right to exist. Use Taiwan as an example of a country that does exist, and Kurdistan and Chechnya as countries that would like to.

You're seriously twisting my words here. Iran denies Israel's right to exist in a "the first chance we get, we're going to wipe them off the map" kind of way. We refuse to recognize certain countries for various reasons, but that's not even close to the same thing. Unless you're suggesting that our denial of a separate Tiawanese state means the eventual destruction of Taiwan by our hand?

Your model is that America spends so much money on the military because we can afford it. But what happens when we can't anymore? Ask Brian Greenberg, he's a Wharton grad, and he can tell you that depressions are cyclical.

Now wait a minute - you're dragging me into someone else's fight! ;-) But since you asked for my opinion - yes, depressions are cyclical (or more accurately, economic downturns are cyclical - they're not always depressions). But you're making a leap to suggest that when the next depression comes along, we won't be able to afford our military anymore. That's simply not true, basically because other countries consistently insist on loaning us money by buying US Bonds.

One might also note that there's some interesting research that shows that the Chinese and Indian economies might rival our own within this century.

Yeah, well, we can file that next to the research from the 1980's that said Japan would rival our economy by now. Not saying it can't happen, but seriously - there are 94 years left in this century. We aren't seriously pretending we can predict that far ahead, are we?

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