Sunday, April 09, 2006

Planning for War with Iran; or, Much Ado About Nothing

It seems the Sunday Times is indulging in a bit of chicken little-style inflammatory writing, as Sarah Baxter postulates that Bush and the American military are preparing for a military intervention in Iran.

From Ms. Baxter's article:

White House insiders say that Bush and Dick Cheney, his hawkish vice-president, have made up their minds to resolve the Iranian crisis before they leave office in three years’ time.

They say that military intervention in the form of a massive strike against Iranian nuclear facilities is being planned and that Bush is prepared to order the raid unless Iran scraps its nuclear programme.

Of course the military is planning for a strike against Iran. That's what the Pentagon is supposed to do for every potential problem and potential enemy. Countries have prepared for wars by drawing up complex plans for a long, long time. The Pentagon also has plans for invading North Korea and defending Taiwan from a Chinese invasion, but that doesn't mean we believe that China actually will attempt to invade Taiwan or that we're gearing up for dealing with Kim in 2008.

That said, of course military intervention is a possibility. We would be stupid to keep that option off the table.

American neo-cons had hoped the invasion of Iraq would set in train a domino effect across the region, with the people of Iran and other oil-rich states rising up to demand western-style freedoms and democracy.

Unfortunately the reverse has been true, in Iran at least. Since taking power, Ahmadinejad has openly embraced a tide of nationalism and anti-Israeli and American sentiment.

Reforms take time, Ms. Baxter, especially in countries where free elections are a rather novel idea. There has been progress in Lebanon and Egypt, for starters.

As for Iran, remember that no candidate for the Iranian presidency may stand for election without the consent of the Guardian Council. The Guardian Council has twelve members, six of which are clerics chosen directly by the supreme leader, Ali Khamenei. Reformers rarely pass muster with the Guardian Council, as the clerics and other members of the council are notoriously hard-line Islamists. The Iranian people voted for Ahmadinejad not because the vast majority stand with him, but because there was little difference between him and the other candidates that squeaked through to run in the election. While I'm sure the nation would rally around him in some circumstances, let's not overstate his popular appeal.

It is a tempting prospect for Bush, who is determined to leave his mark on history as a “"consequential president”," as Karl Rove, his adviser and guru, once put it. However, there is considerable nervousness among administration officials about the Iranians' potential reaction.

"“We'’re in a state of flux about military action,"” said a White House insider. "“We can bomb the sites, but what then? ” Will America hold its nerve if events take a sharp turn for the worse?"

IF attacked, there is no doubt that Iran could unleash a wave of terrorism in the West and Israel and destabilise its all-too-fragile Iraqi neighbour. An attack would almost certainly also encourage Iranians to rally behind Ahmadinejad.

Right there's the problem. If Iran wants to acquire nuclear weapons, there's not much we can really do to stop them. Bombing a few nuclear sites will only delay the inevitable and turn the Iranian population against us.

As much as Ms. Baxter appears to believe the United States is seriously considering a strike against Iranian nuclear facilities, she quotes a few supposed insiders who admit a strike would do little to stop the Iranian government from acquiring nuclear technology and would only serve to cause retaliatory strikes elsewhere in the world.

Unless Ahmadinejad makes serious, overt threats that include the use of nuclear weapons, I just can't see the United States actually attacking Iran. There's just no plausible reason to do so, especially given the effects a strike would have in Iran and the surrounding region. It's not worth it, and the administration most likely knows it.

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