Is Bush's Next Target ... Iran?
Mr. Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the books, The Empire Has No Clothes: U.S. Foreign Policy Exposed and Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy. He is a contributing editor at HNN's Liberty & Power Blog.
Will the newly energized President Bush interpret his narrow election win as public approval for his spaghetti Western-style shoot-'em-up foreign policy? Many neo-conservatives outside the Bush administration have made noise about going after Iran. Could the swaggering sheriff be convinced by these pundits to take on the black-hatted mullahs of Iran? Let’s hope not; attacking Iran would be a bigger folly than invading Iraq.
The Iranians only got serious about getting a nuclear bomb after a U.S. military presence was established on the ground in the nearby Persian Gulf region prior to the first Gulf War. Even Iran’s long, brutal eight-year war with neighboring Iraq during the 1980s was not an impetus toward becoming a nuclear power.
In fact, it was the U.S. invasion of Iraq that caused the Iranians to accelerate their efforts to build the bomb. The Iranian leadership watched the invasion and harsh treatment of the non-nuclear Iraq by the U.S. and compared that to the more respectful U.S. negotiations with North Korea, which likely already has nuclear weapons. If you were Iran, what would you do? Certainly, given the possibility of a U.S. invasion, many other so-called “rogue nations” with inclinations to develop such weapons may do exactly what the Iranians have done.
Although the Bush administration probably has difficulty empathizing with an autocratic, fundamentalist Islamic regime, it should consider that Iran might feel threatened by the cordon the U.S. has created around Iran’s borders. The United States has a significant military presence in Afghanistan and Iraq, new military bases in Central Asian nations, and a formal alliance with Turkey. In the wider region, the U.S. also has informal security relationships with Israel, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf kingdoms. Asked what he learned from the Persian Gulf War in 1991, the Indian Chief of Staff replied, “don’t fight the United States without nuclear weapons.” Similarly, the Iranians have obviously learned that the only way to ensure that the United States doesn’t invade Iran is to develop the ultimate deterrent.
But neo-conservatives inside and outside of the administration might ask: why not launch an Iraq-style preventative attack before the Iranians can get these weapons? The answer is that according to U.S. military planners, nuclear facilities are now hard to find and target from the air. During Operation Desert Fox in 1998 -- an air campaign designed to cripple Iraq’s capability to produce nuclear weapons -- it became apparent that the United States had no idea where such Iraqi weapons facilities were located (later the Bush administration found out the hard way that they didn’t have any). The Iranians have learned from Israel’s successful surprise attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor in 1981. They have hidden, hardened, buried or placed their nuclear facilities in heavily populated areas. For this reason, according to the New York Times, U.S. military planners admit that the Iranian nuclear program is best dealt with by diplomacy rather than by military force.
The only way to find and eliminate Iranian nuclear weapons using military action would be to launch a full-scale invasion of Iran. If the Bush administration even began to contemplate this course of action, however, the U.S. military would probably be near open revolt. Invading Iran would likely make the bloody quagmire in Iraq look like a picnic. Iran has nearly four times the territory and three times the population of Iraq. Also, Iran’s terrain is much more mountainous than Iraq’s and even more ideal for guerrilla warfare. Any U.S. invasion would quickly change the youthful Iranian population from opponents of the governing mullahs to supporters of their efforts to fight off an invading foreign superpower. Rather than facing armed resistance from one faction of the population—as in Iraq—the U.S. military would likely face zealous opposition from the entire population. Finally, the already overstretched U.S. military has too few forces to pacify Iraq, let alone invade Iran simultaneously. The U.S. military and even the Republican Congress would probably be squeamish about invading yet another country while battling a guerrilla insurgency in one of the invasion’s likely launching pads.
With no viable military options, even the aggressive Bush administration will probably be forced to give peace a chance. If the United States can negotiate with the erratic Kim Jong Il in North Korea, it can certainly do so with the authoritarian mullahs in Iran. The secret in both sets of negotiations might be to recognize that these “rogue states” might be genuinely frightened of a U.S. invasion and willing to accept a non-aggression pact with the United States in exchange for a verified elimination of their nuclear weapons. If that doesn’t work, the United States may just have to live with unfriendly nations having nuclear weapons. The U.S. allowed the Soviet Union to obtain nuclear weapons in the 1940s and radical Maoist China to get them in the 1960s. No matter how quirky or radical a nation’s leaders, if a government has a home address that can be incinerated by the most capable nuclear arsenal on the planet, that government can be deterred from attacking the United States.
Reprinted with permission. © Copyright 2004, The Independent Institute, email@example.com.
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James L. Dunbar - 1/3/2005
WE WERE ALL WRONG...the epitomy of descriptions for iraq and foreign policy gone insane. When all is said and done and the covert action in iran uncovered, and dont believe for one minute that it is not going on, we will all sit back and say how could americans be so stupid to give this pretender another 4 years? the disaster in iraq is enough to prevent any sane politician or amnerican from approving any reckless policy into iran.
Jonathan Pine - 1/2/2005
It seems pretty obvious that the Pentagon remains reluctant to fight more than one war at a time. One of the reasons why it has tackled Iran and North Korea with diplomacy rather than missiles is that it has neither the soldiers nor the resources to launch an attack until it can disentangle itself from Iraq.
Robert F. Koehler - 12/29/2004
>>Gee Koehler, have you been in a coma for the last thirty years? Your grip on reality is at best tenuous...<<
That's it? Does the above pass as a reasoned retort in rebutting my remarks? I am open to another try.
Russ Harris - 12/29/2004
Gee Koehler, have you been in a coma for the last thirty years?
Your grip on reality is at best tenuous...
Robert F. Koehler - 12/28/2004
We are in a shooting war in Iraq and Afghanistan and unless I have missed it we haven't attempted or instigated a shooting war with Iran, Syria or Korea, notwithstanding the speculation, threats and high-risk talk that floods forth from some quarters.
I believe we should consolidate what we have got by managing a break through in Iraq without resorting to goose stepping into other regional capitols and risk starting a world wide global shooting war. On the other hand retrenchment or retreat is no more a viable option either. The job of pacification and reconstruction in Iraq is and will continue to be a very frustrating and difficult mission to accomplish. Especially in light of the fact that the record of such enterprises have mostly ended in failure.
Like it or not for good or ill or right or wrong, its Americans who in a state of national hubris and vengeance barged into Iraq and broke all the crockery. And as Powell remarked we break it...we own it.
Steven L. Frank - 12/28/2004
Iraq, Iran, Syria, North Korea......its all the same war and it will last for at least 25 to 40 years.
Robert F. Koehler - 12/28/2004
Slap stick aside I would suggest serious and intense re-consideration of Lincoln's advice concerning "one war at a time."
The road to Tehran was immediately after the sacking and conquest of Baghdad at the very latest. But the failures by the current administration to plan properly for the Iraqi invasion by grabbing too much, with too little and on the cheap has condemned the good ole USA to a host of difficult problems of which some were foretold and others unforeseen. I also was amused by Bushian and neo-con strategic thinking of the encirclement of Iran and wondered who would really wind up encircled as I viewed the borders of Iraq. If there are any broad grins of satisfaction in the capitols of the two countries they sure as hell aren't shining brightly in Washington D.C.
Iran to all intents and purposes is a nuclear power, which rules out the wildest flights of fantasia & mentalism's neo-con savants and pundits are eternally addicted to. Though still in commanding positions within the current administration they no longer have that free ride and overall national unity that 9/11 had provided. Had they succeeded instead of failed this conversation would not be happening. But they didn't and their policy proscriptions are under intense scrutiny, argument and opposition within the administration, state department, intelligence community, armed forces, foreign policy establishment and that extraordinarily irrelevant body known as the Congress of the US of A.
Iran will require shrewd diplomacy and exercise of 'real politic.' To stupidly start or blunder into another war against an Islamic state of some 80 million, when we have demonstrably proven to the world (if not ourselves) that we can't handle the 40 million or so we got would take top billing as the strategic blunder of all time.
One war at a time.
William E Shannon - 12/27/2004
...after all, Israel is threatened by these nations and we can't have that now, can we? We're here to make the world safe for Israel...isn't it disgusting?
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