On Iran, it’s time to weigh what comes after sanctions

Posted: June 13, 2010 in Uncategorized
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I came across this in the paper and found it on the internet.  It’s well written and raises some good questions.  In my view, attacking Iran would be an up mountain climb and one that would prove fatal to our economy.  The economic sector is already worn thin by our various engagements, and U.S. forces are being bogged down by having to control the populous.  After reading this; read the opposing view Containment won’t work.

Ron Paul, a staunch conservative who has been for a Constitutional foreign policy, hinted at the government using propaganda for war with Iran.  He has also opposed sanctions against Iran.  According to Gallup, 6 out of 10 Americans view Iran as a threat, but this could all change when the invasion is a couple of years old.

 Tightening sanctions against Iran always has something of a parlor game feel to it, despite the titanic stakes. The United States tries to squeeze Iran ever harder, but not so hard that reluctant members of the United Nations Security Council walk away. Then Iran thumbs its nose and continues building its nuclear program, repeating its transparent lie that producing energy, not weapons, is the goal.

Everyone has dutifully followed the script since the Security Council approved new sanctions Wednesday, and rightly so.

 Sanctions aren’t toothless or worthless. They make life more difficult for Iran’s rulers and might, against the odds, lead to productive negotiations. More pointedly, they are the only tool available short of war and so must be pursued as far as possible.

 But they plainly are not working, and with Iran’s nuclear capability advancing rapidly, the time is nearing for a serious national dialogue about the unappetizing choices that lie ahead if sanctions fail.

 So far, arguments for the presumed alternative — bombing Iran’s nuclear facilities — are far too glib. They risk yet another repeat of the mistake that echoes through post-World War II history: that by waving our military wand, we can neatly and surgically remove the threat.

 An attack might become necessary. But the result would hardly be surgical. In fact, it could prove disastrous unless the United States is fully aligned behind the strike and willing to pay the price.

 A short and intentionally bleak assessment of the risks looks like this:

 •First, there’s a strong chance the attack wouldn’t work. Even many hawks concede that a strike could fail to destroy hardened, underground nuclear facilities. At best, it would set back the program, not destroy it. Then there’s the matter of downed planes and hostage pilots.

 •More ominously, Iran is quite capable of striking back, and if the U.S. attacked without strong international backing, the Iranians might have plenty of support, particularly in the Muslim world. This would undermine U.S. objectives in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan. Indeed, Iranian-supplied weapons have already figured in devastating attacks on U.S. troops inside Iraq. Graver yet is the prospect that Iran could use its proxies in Hezbollah for terrorist strikes in the region and possibly even inside the U.S. Hezbollah is by all estimates a far more dangerous organization than al-Qaeda, and a major attack here would assure massive retaliation. Full scale war could not be ruled out.

 •Iranians would react to any attack in similar fashion, instantly uniting behind their government and setting back the nascent movement to depose the Tehran regime.

 •Oil prices would spike, especially if Iran decided to lash out by striking a vulnerable Saudi oil terminal and/or mining the Strait of Hormuz, which could cripple the oil tanker traffic that supplies the United States and many of its allies. This would endanger the weak world economy.

 •Even if Iran opted for a less aggressive response, a strike on yet another Muslim nation would feed into the narrative that the U.S. was attacking not terrorists or would-be bombmakers, but all of Islam.

 None of this is guaranteed, but all of it is possible. Pretending otherwise would risk repeating the mistakes of hubris made from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq. The better military model is the Persian Gulf War, when careful and massive preparation produced success.

 For now, the choice does not have to be made, so it would be unwise for the United States to take military action off the table. It has the virtue of creating uncertainty among Iran’s leaders.

 Further, the alternative — a prolonged policy of containment (essentially a new Cold War) — is also unappetizing. A nuclear arms race in the Middle East would likely ensue, and the potential for nuclear conflict would grow as Iran’s weapon and missile programs expanded. Iran would feel safe to pursue its goals of religious purity, destruction of Israel and regional dominance.

 The trade-off is that history has shown that containment can work, however uncomfortably, if maintained until the regime’s brutality and economic inefficiency cause it to collapse.

 Either option is discomforting, and it may well be that Israel will pre-empt the need to pick one by attacking on its own, raising another set of issues.

 But with sanctions failing, the time for a different discussion is drawing near.

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