Bipartisan Insanity on Iran

My latest for The National Interest, "Insanity on the Iran Question," posted last evening.

My latest for The National Interest, “Insanity on the Iran Question,” posted last evening. In excerpt:

In the midst of a boilerplate speech to the UN General Assembly on the virtues of democracy and freedom, President Obama tossed in some rhetoric on Iran that’s either empty or dangerous. Neither option is a good one.

[…]

[T]he president’s declaration at the UN is based on a bizarre premise: “Make no mistake: a nuclear-armed Iran is not a challenge that can be contained.”

Why on earth not? In the sixty-seven-year history of atomic and nuclear weapons, they have been deployed precisely twice. Both by the United States. Both in the context of a world where no other country possessed such weapons. Both in the first three days of the nuclear era. In the sixty-seven years and change since the dropping of Fat Man over Nagasaki, no bomb has been detonated other than for testing.

During that time, some truly evil and unstable governments have had nuclear weapons at their disposal and were successfully deterred from using them even when they used conventional weapons against their enemies. Joseph Stalin. Mao Zedong. Kim Il Sung. Kim Jong Il.

[…]

All this talk of using force comes despite the fact that it contradicts a near-universal consensus among the experts: no politically plausible military action will be able to do more than postpone Iran’s successful deployment of nuclear weapons and will simultaneously bolster the regime while weakening pro-Western sentiments among the Iranian people.

At least at the level of presidential rhetoric, insanity on the Iran question is a matter of bipartisan consensus.

Much more at the link.

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2012, Middle East, US Politics, World Politics, ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Chico says:

    I hope Obama’s speech was just election-year pandering. After all, how could a Nobel Peace Prize winner “wage aggressive war?”

    Of course pandering might not be enough, if Netanyahu calls the bluff before Election Day. I think it will kick off October 10-12.

    First breathless reports of explosions heard in Tehran or Qom. Then the retired generals are brought out for cable news. Then the shift to preparations in Tel Aviv – gas masks, etc.

    If the Iranians retaliate, the howling about their effrontery will drive the USA into war.

    Too bad there’s not going to be a real debate about this.

  2. Andy says:

    Why on earth not? In the sixty-seven-year history of atomic and nuclear weapons, they have been deployed precisely twice. Both by the United States. Both in the context of a world where no other country possessed such weapons. Both in the first three days of the nuclear era. In the sixty-seven years and change since the dropping of Fat Man over Nagasaki, no bomb has been detonated other than for testing.

    The hindsight bias here is astonishing. Nuclear deterrence looks wonderful in hindsight, but the fact is that we were lucky. For the US a nuclear-armed Cuba was a “challenge that could not be contained” and we almost went to war over it. What do you supposed would have happened if a guy named John McCone hadn’t ordered more U2 flights over Cuba? I think it is a huge mistake to assume that nuclear deterrence always works, especially as the number of nuclear powers increases.

    So, we should not want any additional nuclear nations, to include Iran. That brings me to the second major error in your essay – you’ve bought into the assumption that Iran actually wants nuclear weapons. Given the evidence available, it’s much more likely they want a breakout capability – something similar to what Japan enjoys.

  3. Vast Variety says:

    I think the biggest fear of a Nuclear armed Iran is that they would supply nukes to the terror orginizations that they sponser. Then there is also the fear that the more countries that have nukes the more likely it is that they will be used. If Iran gets the bomb you can count on at a minimum Saudia Arabia getting it. If any of the middle east nations has the resources to quickly produce a bomb it’s the Saudis.

  4. Tsar Nicholas says:

    So Obama says he won’t tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. And he’s the smartest guy in the world or whatever. And even some the loopiest members of Congress say they can’t tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. And these are people who, you know, get intelligence briefings and such. People who run for and win elections to affect public policy all seem to agree that a nuclear armed Iran is intolerable. People who get paid real money to make real public policy decisions all seem to agree that a nuclear armed Iran is intolerable.

    But according to a liberal arts professor writing in The Atlantic that’s all insane. Not debatable. Not questionable. Not arguable. It’s “insanity.”

    Hmm.

    OK, then. That settles it. Obviously the entire federal government must not only be wrong they’re mentally incompetent too. Back over to you, Baron von Spacecase.

    The media-academe cabal might be the death of us. Literally.

  5. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Oh, my goodness, The National Interest, not The Atlantic. Yikes. More coffee, please.

  6. Stan says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Combat veterans are such wimps.

  7. gVOR08 says:

    As Obama said to an open mic, “After my election, I have more flexibility.” Right now it looks like in six weeks Obama will transition from candidate to lame duck. Then he really does have a whole lot more flexibility. He did a pretty smooth transition from 3+ years of pragmatic governance to campaign mode, and I expect he’ll flip the switch back overnight on Nov 6. Well, maybe the 7th. He’ll be entitled to partying a bit late on the 6th.

    Overconfident? Moi?

  8. Andy says:

    Perhaps there is an unspoken deadline or red line at work here and “what we must” is an imminent option rather than something that merely sits on an imaginary table.

    James,

    The US has been pretty consistent over the past few years with regard to red lines. I’m surprised you’ve missed this. The red line is restarting work on weaponization. The red line is moving from dual-use technology to weapons-specific technology.

    But while there’s no question that the Sunni Arab leadership in the neighborhood wishes very much to avoid their Shiite Persian neighbors going nuclear, surely the same was true with regard to the Israelis. Thus, it’s quite unclear why a nuclear Iran would be a tipping point.

    That’s because the Arab governments understand why Israel has nukes. Israel has no strategic depth and was almost “wiped off the map” twice. The Arabs understand that Israel isn’t a strategic threat to them – Israeli is small and its divisions are not going to roll into Arab capitals anytime soon. Israel, for all it’s military capability, does not represent a serious strategic threat to its Arab neighbors, much less a country like Saudi Arabia. What, exactly, is the threat to Arab governments from Israel’s weapons?

    Iran is a different kettle of fish and Arab governments fear that Iranian nukes will allow Iran to conduct a much more aggressive foreign policy, especially with regard to supporting shia groups in Arab-dominated countries as well as regional proxies. Iran is a much greater strategic threat to Arab governments and you are kidding yourself if you believe an Iranian nuclear capability would elicit the same reaction as Israel’s capability by Arab states.

    As for Obama’s concern about the integrity of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), can we please stop pretending that it’s a serious deterrent? India, Pakistan, North Korea and Israel have all successfully tested weapons outside the NPT’s protocols with little in the way of international repercussion. Most advanced states could acquire the weapons relatively quickly if they so choose.

    Well, that’s a particularly obtuse argument. Countries that wanted nukes never joined the NPT, therefore the NPT is worthless and doesn’t provide a deterrent? Why do you think those governments didn’t join in the first place? Secondly, the NPT is not designed to “stop” a country from doing anything – it’s designed to provide a credible assurance that a state is free of nuclear weapons and to provide warning if a country appears to be pursuing them – which is exactly what’s happened WRT Iran and several other nations. It is a deterrent because a country must either withdraw from the NPT or attempt to develop nuclear weapons secretly. Either option carries some serious risks which is how the NPT does provide a deterrent.

  9. Rob in CT says:

    Now THIS is a good critique of the speech.

    Containment is a perfectly acceptable policy approach. It’s worked before, on “crazy” regimes. It is the conservative approach, in fact.

    Obama’s treading a very fine line here – he is trying to promise the Israelis he’s “got their back” without absolutely committing us to war if Iran builds a nuke. And a lot of it is driven by domestic politics. Congress is totally nuts on this issue.

  10. Rob in CT says:

    @Andy:

    I think that’s basically the best case there is to be made that “just containment” isn’t enough. Well done.

    I still disagree, but you’ve argued it well.

  11. DC Loser says:

    Tell me how a nuclear armed North Korea has changed the equation there?

  12. john personna says:

    We can hope that a nuclear Iran would be rational. Nukes make much more sense as an entry to the club and as a disincentive to attack. That said, we haven’t run the psychological analyses of current and likely Iranian rulers. The CIA presumably has those and is playing a game based off that. I have no idea whether Iranian leadership is crazy enough that they must be stopped, or rational enough that they can be led to a good solution. That’s pretty much the classified stuff we can’t know.

  13. Andy says:

    @Rob in CT:

    Thanks Rob! I’m not against containment and I actually think what we’re doing now is containment, ie. trying to make sure Iran doesn’t decide to actually develop weapons. We can argue whether the US is going about it the right way (I think it’s a decidedly mixed record), but containment is what we’re trying to do.

    “Containment” in the context of two or more nuclear-armed states is something different in my view. IMO it’s very dangerous and we shouldn’t project the perceived success of deterrence during the Cold War and make it some kind of “iron law” destined to bring a stable balance of power with a minimal chance for conflict.

  14. c.red says:

    I think the question of “containment” of a nuclear Iran is a much more immediate question to our ally (as much as I wish they weren’t) Isreal. As has been pointed out a single medium sized weapon can basically wipe out the country and we know Iran already has medium range delivery systems available. Isreal could retaliate, but retaliation is kind of pointless if you are wiped off the map. It is easy to write off fears of Iran from the US, where we are relatively safe, but from other perspectives it is not so easy. In that light, I don’t think the speech was entirely off base.

    Perhaps if Isreal and Iran could enter some sort of actual treaty something could be worked out, but both countries have too much domestic politics invested in having the other nation be the national bogeyman to do that.

    I do think your piece is messing up some history, there hasn’t been three nuclear armed Kims, just barely two, and my understanding is that is questionable whether North Korea has a working nuclear weapon and we know for a fact they don’t have a decent long range delivery system. I agree with the plan for the worst sentiment, but they are not in the worst threat category yet.Your assessment of the effectiveness of the Russian and Chinese polices may be a tad overstated as well, basically we ceded large spheres of influence to them and they were willing to talk/work with us during their craziest leader phases, Iran hasn’t shown that level of cooperation yet.

    Though I agree with your basic points – ultimately there is not much we can do about it and they aren’t crazy.

  15. Rob in CT says:

    @DC Loser:

    My guess is the big difference between a nuclear North Korea and a nuclear Iran is the difference between our friends/allies/client states.

    South Korea has been very clear about pursuing their “sunshine policy” (which I think is a bit naive, actually, but that’s their call). They absolutely did *not* want a war fought to prevent a nuclear N. Korea. There are a number of good reasons for this.

    The current Israeli government, on the other hand, pretty clearly wants a committment from us that we’ll fight to prevent Iran from getting a nuke.

    Add in the way Congress sees Israel (as opposed to S. Korea, which is a friend and ally, but I doubt would be getting 90-1 sympathy votes in the senate), and there ya go.

  16. Rafer Janders says:

    Look at this, for a moment, from Iran’s point of view. To your east, you have nuclear-armed Pakistan, then nuclear-armed India. To your northeast, Afghanistan which is occupied by your foe America, and nuclear-armed China. To your (not immediate) north, nuclear-armed Russia. To your northwest, Turkey which is part of NATO and a US ally. To your west, Arab Iraq, which until recently was occupied by the US, and then further away nuclear-armed Israel. To your south, the Persian Gulf, patrolled by the nuclear-armed US Navy, and then the Arab Persian Gulf states, all of whom are clients and allies of the US. You are completely ringed by enemies both current and historic.

    If I was an Iranian, and given this strategic situation, I would damn sure want nuclear weapons, and fast, if only to defend myself. Right now they’re about the only significant power in the region without nuclear weapons. Insanity for them would be NOT trying to become a nuclear power.

  17. Rob in CT says:

    Look at this, for a moment, from Iran’s point of view

    Verbotten! 😉

    Though to really get in their heads, you have to imagine you’re an Iranian leader.

    What do you fear? Well, on thing certainly is “regime change.” What can protect you against “regime change?” Nuclear weapons.

    [You could also work on bettering the lives of your people in order to protect your position, but then it’s nothing but work, work, work all the time]

  18. DRE says:

    All this talk of using force comes despite the fact that it contradicts a near-universal consensus among the experts: no politically plausible military action will be able to do more than postpone Iran’s successful deployment of nuclear weapons and will simultaneously bolster the regime while weakening pro-Western sentiments among the Iranian people.

    I think that this is missing a key issue that is involved here. There is a significant portion of public opinion, as well as “expert” opinion, in the US that wants to bomb Iran, not to prevent the development of nuclear weapons, but in payment for past wrongs. The thinking is that we need to bomb them while we have the chance, because once they get nuclear weapons we won’t be able to. At least part of the insanity is the political power of this unspoken idea, and the need to contain it.

  19. TastyBits says:

    Reasons for President Obama’s rhetoric:
    (1) Polls show a weakness on Iranian nukes.
    (2) He wants to be like Mitt Romney.
    (3) He wants Netanyahu to shut up for 10 minutes.

    US attacks Iran militarily: ain’t gonna happen – nohow, noway.
    Israel attacks Iran militarily: ain’t gonna happen – nohow, noway.

    Netanyahu is preparing Israel for a nuclear armed Iran. If Israel could do something militarily, they would do something militarily.

    Them that can do; them that can’t talk.

  20. Rob in CT says:

    @TastyBits:

    I certainly hope you’re right. I worry that you’re not.

  21. Spartacus says:

    James wrote: “President Obama tossed in some rhetoric on Iran that’s either empty or dangerous.”

    I could not agree more, and I hope you will continue to publicly make this argument. Fortunately, there are a few others who share this view. I read this awhile ago, but I recall it expressing a similar argument.

    http://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/66032/james-m-lindsay-and-ray-takeyh/after-iran-gets-the-bomb

  22. Spartacus says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Tsar wrote: “And even some the loopiest members of Congress say they can’t tolerate a nuclear armed Iran. And these are people who, you know, get intelligence briefings and such. People who run for and win elections to affect public policy all seem to agree that a nuclear armed Iran is intolerable. People who get paid real money to make real public policy decisions all seem to agree that a nuclear armed Iran is intolerable.”

    This sounds like the Bush Administration vs. Scott Ritter all over again.

  23. Spartacus says:

    @Andy:

    Andy wrote: “Israel, for all it’s military capability, does not represent a serious strategic threat to its Arab neighbors, . . . Iran is a different kettle of fish and Arab governments fear that Iranian nukes will allow Iran to conduct a much more aggressive foreign policy, . . . ”

    Israel conducts a domestic policy (settlements, apartheid) and a foreign policy (Gaza blockade) that destabilizes the region and causes blowback among the people of the surrounding Arab nations. Israel has also invaded some of its neighbors (Lebanon) and taken land from others (Syria). Israel posesses nuclear weapons and has threatened to preemptively strike Iran. None of the foregoing can be said of Iran.

    The argument that Israel is not pose a strategic threat to its neighbors, but Iran is simply is not consistent with the facts or history of the region.

  24. michael reynolds says:

    I think there’s an obvious flaw in the argument that goes, “This will only delay…” If we were to attack in 2012 and delay until 2016, and then attack again in 2016 and delay until 2020… There’s nothing very compelling in the “just delay” argument. We “just delay” everything, including our own deaths. No solution is permanent, all we’re ever doing is kicking the can down the road.

    I also don’t buy the moral argument particularly that goes, “We have no right to attack when we have not been attacked.” No doubt it’s morally questionable, but there are circumstances where it’s still the better approach. A guy has placed a bomb in a shopping mall. It’s set off by cell phone. We have the guy in our sights. Do we shoot him before he makes the cell phone call? I think: yeah, shoot him. Morally questionable? Maybe. Shoot him anyway.

    What I find compelling are the deterrence argument and the practical consequences argument. We did manage to deter Stalin, Mao and Kim. Is there reason to believe that the ayatollahs are crazier than those three? If there is I haven’t seen it. I think the idea that Shia Iran would essentially annihilate itself, leaving Islam to the Sunni is crazy. Their existential struggle is not with Jews, it’s with Sunnis.

    The practical consequences argument, ie: it’s damned hard to pull off, horribly expensive, a long-term problem, and economically potentially devastating is most compelling.

    It’s got a very high level of difficulty and a very low level of necessity.

  25. James Joyner says:

    @michael reynolds: Concur on all points. I’m not morally opposed to taking out their nukes, either, I just don’t think we can do it and while delay has its advantages the strike would have many negative repercussions that may well outweigh the advantages.

  26. john personna says:

    @michael, @James:

    I mentioned above that we don’t know CIA (etc.) “modeling” of a nuclear-armed Iran, and that is hidden information which must nonetheless be central to the government’s strategy. People outside the intelligence loop conjecture a nuclear-armed Iran and then suggest a strategy matching their conjecture.

    We do know this though:

    U.S., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey: That is a great question. I’ll tell you that I’ve been confronting that question since I came into Central Command in 2008. And we are of the opinion that the Iranian regime is a rational actor. And it’s for that reason, I think, that we think the current path we’re on is the most prudent path at this point.

    If you believe that, then you might be taking the diplomatic steps which you think will reinforce rational behavior. (Whatever that is, overt and covert.)

  27. grumpy realist says:

    Then what do we make of the present head of Iran? I can’t figure out whether he is simply a political troll with his recent comments or whether he actually believes it.

    Given how the respective heads of Israel and Iran have been acting, I’m coming to the conclusion that *both* of them are shadow-boxing for domestic political effect, trusting that the US will play the heavy and keep them from attacking each other.

    Which, if our own internal politics weren’t so effed up, I’d be awfully tempted to tell Obama to stand up and say: “look, neither of you is acting adult. You want to have a war with each other? Fine. But the US will stay completely out of this and not assist either side. Oh, and the nuke thing? If either side even dares pull out a nuke, the US will bomb that side to smithereens so much that you won’t find a single worm left living on your territory. Figure out how to deal with each other and quit trying to drag the rest of the world into your nasty little messes.”

  28. James Joyner says:

    @grumpy realist: I don’t think Ahmadinejad is in charge of much; the mullahs make the important decisions.

  29. Dave Schuler says:

    Honestly, I’m a bit puzzled by this. Doesn’t arguing in favor of containing Iran presuppose that containing Iran is within our power or, even more importantly, can be accomplished by measures that we’re likely to put into place?

    By what metrics are we containing Iran now? Is Iran more contained now than it was five years ago?

  30. mannning says:

    One hopes that both our intel and that of the Israelis is very near the mark, if not right on. From the disparity between our red line and that of Israel it is suggested that one of us is not so very near the mark, but which one? There is no way to tell from the outside of the intel bubbles, and we have an enormous interest in keeping the lid on war. So do the Israelis, but theirs is a fear of annihilation if their intel fails to warn them far enough in advance that Iran is indeed pressing forward with development of nuclear weaponry. So the question remains: will the Israelis attack Iran, and repeat it often enough to stop the developments. Most interested parties seem to take the view that we, the US, can afford to delay the Israeli decision and hope for a diplomatic breakthrough stemming from our sanctions. There is even justification being put forth for Iran to go for nuclear weapons and for “containment” thereafter.

    One wonders what the decision-makers in Israel think of these trends. It is, after all, their necks in the noose, and not ours; it is their population that could face wipeout, not ours. And it is their expensive and extensive preparations for this conflict that puts them in a position to strike and succeed. So they can decide to attack at the last moment. They must hope that the US would support their fight for existence, but they can readily believe that without a direct retaliation attack by Iran on US facilities and people, America may well stand by and watch.

    Can Iran be counted upon to broaden their retaliations to include the US? They say so repeatedly, but those are words, not actions. This will evolve if the Israelis attack, and not before. So Israel is left with the stark decision to attack all by themselves, and the time is drawing closer by the day. They know well what they are doing, and to be the second user of nuclear weapons in the world (EMP only, however, which minimizes casualties) is going to hurt them mightily, but they put this up against the clear threat from Iran of nuclear annihilation of their people and their homeland– sooner or later. This argues for a go to their forces soon. Whether we become involved is up to, first, the Israeli decision to attack, and second, to the Iranians if their retaliations include US facilities and people. We must be prepared for that eventuality.

  31. Spartacus says:

    @michael reynolds:

    “The practical consequences argument, ie: it’s damned hard to pull off, horribly expensive, a long-term problem, and economically potentially devastating is most compelling.”

    and James wrote: “I just don’t think we can do it and while delay has its advantages the strike would have many negative repercussions that may well outweigh the advantages.”

    Granted, a world with fewer nukes is a much better world, but I think you’re both dismissing the potential stabilizing effect that a nuclear-armed Iran would have on the region. A war between Iran and Israel is much less likely if Iran has the bomb than if it doesn’t. This was part of the argument that was made in the Foreign Policy article I linked to.

  32. The Q says:

    OK people, can we be real here?

    Back in 1942, FDR gave a fireside chat. He implored everyone to get a map of the world and to spread it out on the table or floor so we could follow the problems our armed forces were facing in the coming months (remember ’42 was the lowest point of the war – you guys remember WW2, it was in all the papers). He then methodically went through the difficulties our forces faced, e.g that we needed forward bases, longer range bombers, secure supply lines etc. By using a map (think 1942 version of powerpoint), he let us understand why the war would be a hard slog and what we would need to win the war.

    Now, everyone Google a map of Israel. PLEASE GOOGLE THE FRIGGING MAP.!!!!

    Ok, now you will see that the West Bank is 14 miles away from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (holy city of Islam) is 35 miles away.

    If Iran is going to wipe Israel off the map, then it will also incinerate most of the Palestinians and destroy the third most holy site in all of Islam.

    And the reason they will destroy Israel is to gain new found respect in the Arab world? After they do what the Israelis’ have resisted for 50 years? namely killing all the Palestinians and taking over all of Jerusalem?

    Unless those dastardly cunning Iranian physicists have figured out a way for blast forces and fallout to only affect the Jews, I just don’t see this attack ever happening.

    For the Iranians to blow up Israel makes about as much sense as the US blowing up China over Quemoy and Matsu.

    In other words its all just bullshiite posturing. Again, look at the friggin’ map of Israel and tell me that massive Palestinian deaths would not occur right along those of their enemy.

    P.S. manning says less with more words than Norm Crosby.

  33. The Q says:

    OK people, can we be real here?

    Back in 1942, FDR gave a fireside chat. He implored everyone to get a map of the world and to spread it out on the table or floor so we could follow the problems our armed forces were facing in the coming months (remember ’42 was the lowest point of the war – you guys remember WW2, it was in all the papers). He then methodically went through the difficulties our forces faced, e.g that we needed forward bases, longer range bombers, secure supply lines etc. By using a map (think 1942 version of powerpoint), he let us understand why the war would be a hard slog and what we would need to win the war.

    Now, everyone Google a map of Israel. PLEASE GOOGLE THE FRIGGIN’ MAP.!!!!

    Ok, now you will see that the West Bank is 14 miles away from Tel Aviv and Jerusalem (holy city of Islam) is 35 miles away.

    If Iran is going to wipe Israel off the map, then it will also incinerate most of the Palestinians and destroy the third most holy site in all of Islam.

    And the reason they will destroy Israel is to gain new found respect in the Arab world? After they do what the Israelis’ have resisted for 50 years? namely killing all the Palestinians and taking over all of Jerusalem?

    Unless those dastardly cunning Iranian physicists have figured out a way for blast forces and fallout to only affect the Jews, I just don’t see this attack ever happening.

    For the Iranians to blow up Israel makes about as much sense as the US blowing up China over Quemoy and Matsu.

    In other words its all just bullshiitte posturing. Again, look at the friggin’ map of Israel and tell me that massive Palestinian deaths would not occur right along those of their enemy.

    P.S. manning says less with more words than Norm Crosby.

  34. Mike says:

    @Rob in CT: FWIW the Sunshine Policy has been dead officially for a couple years, and it was all but dead once Lee took office (and it was sharply reduced following the first NK nuke test in ’06). That said I think your point is still valid since the ROK government at the time in the early ’00s was very against taking any aggressive actions towards the North.

    @Spartacus:

    Bingo. While there is definitely room for disagreement on the subject, a blanket assertion that more nuclear armed states is always bad cannot just be taken as a given because nukes can provide stabilization. Besides the obvious examples of the U.S./Soviet Union and China/Soviet Union, look at Pakistan and India. They fought three major wars in the period between independence and India getting a nuclear weapon in 1974, but since then there has only been the Kargil “War” (a limited conflict that was contained and eventually defused due in part to the fact that both sides had nukes) with several other flashpoints (the Parliament Attack and the Mumbai Attack both come to mind) that probably would’ve caused a full out war stopping short of armed conflict.

    Granted there are a whole host of reasons for this, and attributing it solely to both sides possessing nukes is probably going too far, but it is also going too far to completely ignore the stabilizing effect nukes can have.

  35. An Interested Party says:

    Combat veterans are such wimps.

    Unlike armchair warriors like Tsar Nicholas, who seem ready to fight every possible battle…well, they themselves won’t be fighting those battles, but they’ll be more than happy to cheer others on…

  36. Carson says:

    Is the president of Iran talking loudly but carrying a small stick? The intelligence community needs to keep close watch on what’s going on there. “Trust but verify”
    “And I’m proud to be an American,
    where at least I know I’m free.
    And I won’t forget the men who died
    and who gave that right to me” (Lee Greenwood)

  37. mannning says:

    I think Q has the record for uninformative redundancy.

  38. c.red says:

    @The Q:
    Q what you say makes perfect sense, Iran is invested in making Isreal the bogeyman and it helps them keep their civilians in line to have an existing enemy that they can trot out rather than the nightmare they would face should they actually carry through with the threat. But I would venture Iran is actually the rational actor in the scenario (and yes I get that sounds absurdist), Isreal is the one to worry about being irrational, for a fairly solid reason; they are perpetually in a corner and would have to live under the shadow of grace of a nation that has stated (paraphrasing) ‘that Isreal does not have a right to exist and we will use any means at our disposal to destroy them.’

    That is a pretty serious condition to live under whether you consider Isreal a bunch of corrupt power mongers and militants, or just normal everyday people trying to get by. Yes we managed it for 40 odd years with the Soviet Union (sort of – there is a case the threat was overblown by miscommunication by both sides, that would not be the case here) but it still created far too many close calls where we were one step away from armeggedon. And that doesn’t even account for wild cards… of which there are far too many in the region.

    I think the best bet may be the US easing some Iranian sanctions in favor of Iran entering a camp david accords style treaty with Isreal, but honestly where would you even begin those talks? As I said earlier, too many people have too much invested in the status quo. It is past hoping a dialogue to teach each side “that they are just people too” and “can’t we all just get along” would solve this whole thing.

  39. Dazedandconfused says:

    I agree with the sentiment, but the POTUS is not dictator of foreign policy, and we switch Presidents periodically. Congress has the power to declare war, and when it’s nearly unanimous in the Senate this nations position is that containment is unacceptable, it just plain is.

    I suggest it might, for any President, be even more unwise to tell the Iranians that it is. I would like the President to argue this with the American public, most certainly, but at the UN he probably should reflect the USA as it is, as opposed to however he may wish it to be, and go light on the sugar coating.

  40. stonetools says:

    When was the last time Iran conducted a major invasion of the neighbour’s territory?
    It was during the time of the Sassanids -FIFTEEN HUNDRED YEARS AGO.

    Dwell on that for a while. there is no historical argument at at all for iran launching unprovoked attacks on their neighbours.

    Also too, Q’s map-based, reality-based argument against the idea of an iranian nuclear attack on israel.

  41. c.red says:

    @stonetools:
    Well even if you disregard their national rhetoric and aggression by proxy supporting Hezbollah, Habbas and Syria, that historical statement is silly, a rundown of the last 1500 years or so of the Persia region:

    7th century – subjugated by Arab Muslims
    Eventually took over from within to form the Umayyad Caliphate (functionally Persian) was responsible for aggressively converting most of Pakistan, Afghanstan and Central Asia and Northwes tAfrica.
    8th-12th Centuries – subjugated by the the Arabs again plus a period of civil war, followed by subjugation by Seljuq Turks and a period of smaller states warring aggresively on their neighbors.
    13th Century saw the Mongols invade, the establiushment of the Ilkhanate in Persia (a very aggressive state)
    The Timurids invaded in the 15th Century until driven out by Turks, which more or less created n opportunity for local government again –
    In the form of the Safavid Empire in the 16th and 17th Centuries, In separate wars of aggresion, conquered Azerbaijani, various tribes/regions of Afghanistan, started wars with the Ottomans, Portuguese and the British.
    Afsharid dynasty in the 18th century invaded India before becoming basically a western client state
    When basically the area became a client state of Western powers bringing us up to the 20th century and the various revolutions…

    All of which means almost diddly in the context of modern international politics other than the region of Persia is one of the most violent areas in the world and has been for centuries, so I think a statement about how historically peaceful they are is patently false.

  42. The Q says:

    Manning, uninformed redundancy? I think I saw that band open for the Stones back in 1967! And now ladies and gentleman, the band you’ve been waiting for….lets give a big welcome to the “Uninformed Redundancy”…..

    Thanks pal for completely ignoring the fact that your boring, pedantic, inchoate ramblings make little sense and are what Ambien takes to fall asleep. I can get through about 5 words, then realize its the same hack writing, endlessly repeating stupid diatribes of little meaning.

    But to the point, can anyone here on this blog of intelligent people please respond as to how Iran can wipe Israel off the map without also destroying the Palestinians in the process. And the Arab world will cheer them on?

    “Chile, please”, to quote Manning’s favorite philosopher, Ochocinco.

    I was watching Jon Stewart last night and he was interviewing King Abdullah of Jordan.

    Jon asked him why the sudden Arab violence. The King quoted the usual BS and then of course added the Palestinian homeland issue and how that always is a sticking point with Arabs and the west and how Israel needs to negotiate

    So, again, since few here got out the map, can anyone tell me why we take Iran seriously regarding these threats to nuke Israel when the Arabs little pet project Palestine would be annihilated as well?

    And i am sure the Lebanese, the Syrians, Egyptians and Jordanians will just love the radioactive dust in their water, soil and air.

  43. mannning says:

    The historical nature of Iran’s relations over 1,500 years means very little to the Israelis, except to argue that today, in the year 2012, there is a significant threat to the existence of Israel from Iran because of their nuclear weapons programs. They must either ignore it at their peril or try to cope with the threat on its own terms. It seems that they will try to cope, despite whatever history may tell them, and whatever Western governments tell them, since betting the wrong way carries a potential death sentence to virtually an entire people. No leadership would take such a gamble with six million lives.

    I believe that the Israelis are contemplating a possible Iranian strike some years from now after they have obtained the specific weapons they need from hardened facilities, so it is only now that the process can be interrupted most readily. The Israelis are witnessing the rapid improvement of Iran’s air defenses and the hardening of their nuclear development facilities as well, which could blunt both aircraft and missile attacks. These developments heighten the pressure on Israel significantly.

    The composition of the Iranian nuclear threat matters, in that the radius of distruction must be controlled, and the path of fallout must be managed insofar as possible. (That is, if the Iranians really bother to account for the fallout over Syria, Jordan and Iraq and the neighbors in Palestine and Lebanon.) What is not known is the progress of Iran towards tactical or smaller, low-yield nuclear weapons that do have a more controlled yield and hence a more limited RD and fallout pattern. A two to four mile radius of significant destruction is feasible for modern tactical nukes, I believe, which would permit careful placement of strikes at the right altitudes and ground coordinates in Israel to minimize collateral damage, unintended damage, and fallout (depending on the prevailing winds at the time).

    Retaliation by Israel using their missile systems could be largely thwarted by Iran if they deploy large quantities of S-300 Russian missiles with guidance systems near the borders of Israel. Such a Mach 6 anti-ballistic missile with a 90km range could intercept the Israeli missiles in the first seconds as they rise, thus destroying most of them. Syria already has an S-300 capability. The same system can be used to thwart incoming ship and submarine launched missiles in the atmosphere, except for the inevitable leakers.

  44. mannning says:

    Q—keep your current job

  45. Dazedandconfused says:

    @mannning:

    There is a fundamental point in all that “what if”: Israel’s insistence on the rest of the ME being kept primitive and technologically backward, and insisting we create that condition.

  46. The Q says:

    Manning, if “the radius of distruction must be controlled’ how is that wiping Israel off the face of the earth? It seems to me based on your own silly paranoid writing that Iran isn’t going to worry about mussing the hair of its neighbors in its zeal to destroy Israel.

    And have you been to Israel? Do you not know that Palestinian and Arabs live in segregated and non segregated neighborhoods right next to Israeli neighborhoods and that no matter how pinpoint accurate (really, we’re talking accuracy with a nuke?) they may be, the collateral damage to Arab and Palestinian innocents militate against such lunacy from the Iranians.

  47. mannning says:

    Q

    You are nitpicking. Don’t you think some 75, 80 or 85% of the population wiped out does the nation of israel in for all practical purposes? Fit those 4 mile radius circles judiciously on a map and see whether the majority of Israelis are not covered, and key targets are missed. Let the circles overlap the ocean if needed.
    Plus you are making crackpot judgements in the bargain, because you don’t like what I write. Too damn bad. If you cannot see the point of view of the Isreali side, and factor that into your thinking, then you are a nimwit, and I refuse to comment to you further.

  48. mannning says:

    Oh, one more thing. Who said the Iranians wold bother with the Muslims in Israel? They would not.