U.S. Planning a Military Strike on Iran’s Nukes, II

UPI International Editor Claude Salhani offers his insights into the foreign policy question of the week, “Is U.S. planning to hit Iran?

Amid all the uncertainties plaguing the Middle East there are at least three sure things. First, Iran will continue to build its nuclear weapons despite cries of protests from the Europeans and the United States. Second, the Bush administration will not allow the Islamic republic to pursue its nuclear dream. President George W. Bush has repeatedly stated that he is leaving “all options on the table, including the military option.” And third, Iran will continue to build its nuclear weapon system, despite it being bombed by the United States.

As I’ve noted previously, the options aren’t good. A nuclear Iran would be a hard pill to swallow and the success of a military strike far from certain.

The story behind the story about the escalating rhetoric among Jerusalem, Tehran, and Washington is what Professor Raymond Tanter calls “a race of three clocks.” Tanter, who served on President Reagan’s National Security Council as a senior staff member, currently is adjunct scholar at The Washington Institute for Near east Policy and co-chair of the Iran Policy Committee, a lobby group trying to convince the Bush administration that change in Iran needs to come from within — through the resistance.

Tanter says “One timepiece is European-led negotiation to persuade Iran to give up its desire to acquire a complete nuclear fuel cycle from which it can build the bomb.” That track has so far not yielded any results. In fact, many analysts believe Tehran in using the European track and the negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency, as a delay tactic to buy the ayatollahs more time.

“The second clock,” says Tanter, “is Iran’s effort to develop the bomb.” This is the only clock that truly counts with Iran firmly in control of the dials, making them move as it wishes, but a clock in which the hands are inexorably moving forward, come what may.

“The third clock is regime change in Tehran,” Tanter says. He explains: “Diplomacy is slowing down, Iran’s bomb making is accelerating, and regime change is stymied so long as Iranian exiles and dissidents are considered terrorists rather than freedom fighters.”

By astutely conducting their policy in spurts of stop and go, trying to make the EU and the IAEA believe they are sincere, the regime in Tehran is purposely dragging its heels, playing for time while it continues to build its bomb and the delivery mechanisms that go with it. While the U.S. government supports international diplomacy, hoping it will prevail over the use of force, President Bush is not ruling our military strikes. Military strikes, says Tanter, can only delay bomb making for a short time, if at all. It offers the short-term solution. The Americans can blow up one or two facilities, but the Iranians will build another. Then another.

There is only one thing that can stop the bomb-making altogether, says Tanter. That is “regime change from within. Not military strikes from outside Iran. In order to achieve that you need to empower and support regime change by supporting Iranian exiles and dissidents operating inside the country.”

Regime change from within? That sounds like an excellent idea. How to affect it? On that, Tanter and Salhani are silent.

Several sources believe that hard line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s recent anti-Israeli antics — claiming that the Holocaust never happened, that “Israel should be wiped off the face map,” and that Israel should be relocated in Europe, near Germany or Austria — only serves to drive home the point that a nuclear weapon in the hands of such a leader would be dangerous, not only to Israel, but to the security of the entire region. But, on the other hand, the American president should not ignore another certainty in the Middle East. That a strike on Iran will produce a great number of uncertainties, particularly regarding Iran’s response and the fact that the 138,000 U.S. military personnel stationed so close to the Islamic republic could become prime targets for Iran and its allies in Iraq.

As I say, the options aren’t good.

Previously:

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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. John Burgess says:

    No, the options aren’t good at all. There is really no way to take out Iranian nuke or nuke-related sites comprehensively. The US is not about to get into a land war in Iran as that’s precisely what the Iranian defenses are designed for, in depth.

    They’ve also learned to build things underground, beyond the capability of even the latest “bunker busters”.

    That leaves the US with the choice of going nuclear itself, which isn’t going to happen absent an Iranian first-use of their own atomic bombs.

    I really don’t see the Israelis, even nuts like Netanyahu, winning the argument for a preventative nuclear strike.

    Until Iran changes from within–and I’ve no better guess about how that could happen than anyone else–the world is simply going to be a less safe place if Iran starts building nuclear weapons, if it hasn’t already.

  2. Paul Wolf says:

    It’s farfetched. There is always somebody warning that the sky is falling, but an attack on Iran is just not an option, despite all the sensational “leaks”. Ahmadinejad’s wild rhetoric is calculated to show that the West is incapable of doing anything at all to Iran. Iran is seemingly invincible. They may be ten years away from developing a bomb, which is what a CIA report concluded some months ago. I think all the panicked news reporting is playing into Iran’s hands. Iran does not need the US and its economy will boom as it sells its oil and gas to the East.

  3. McGehee says:

    …its economy will boom as it sells its oil and gas to the East.

    Something will boom.

  4. Dave Schuler says:

    It’s a difficult situation and I’ve predicted that Iran will develop its nuclear weapons and we’ll do nothing about it.

    However, something occurred to me recently: I wonder if the developing relationship between the Iraqi Kurds and the Israelis isn’t a relevant factor. There’s a scant possibility that Israel might be able to develop forward bases that would allow Israeli special forces incursions into Iran. What would be difficult (and possibly futile) via bombing might be more effective via ground raids.

  5. Pat says:

    What’s hard?

    Keep bombing the crap out of anything that moves around anything suspicious. Most of all, bomb the crap out of leadership targets.

  6. ken says:

    Keep bombing the crap out of anything that moves around anything suspicious. Most of all, bomb the crap out of leadership targets.

    With enemies like this does anyone wonder why Iran has concluded it needs nuclear weapons?

    Right next door the war on Iraq being waged by people with similiar opinions. What do these people think would happen in Iran?

    Iran is faced with a possible military invadion from the United States. A logical deterrent against this possibility is a nuclear armed Iran.

  7. Rick DeMent says:

    The US has taught the world that a nuke is an essential piece of hardware to insure that we won’t attack.

    An armed world is a polite world.

    Good job Mr. Bush.

  8. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Ken, no one has similar opinions to the Iranian leadership. We can keep B-2s in the skies over Iran for as long as we wish, and there is nothing they could do about it. Any and all targets on the ground could be hit, with particular attention being paid to leadership and nuclear facilities. It is better to do something, and fix what goes wrong than do nothing when you know everything will go wrong. If we do not do something, there will be nuclear war between Israel and Iran. Millions will die.

  9. Jack Ehrlich says:

    Ken, no one has similar opinions to the Iranian leadership. We can keep B-2s in the skies over Iran for as long as we wish, and there is nothing they could do about it. Any and all targets on the ground could be hit, with particular attention being paid to leadership and nuclear facilities. It is better to do something, and fix what goes wrong than do nothing when you know everything will go wrong. If we do not do something, there will be nuclear war between Israel and Iran. Millions will die.

  10. Anderson says:

    I think you want “effect it” not “affect it,” JJ.

    Substantively, I concur, adding as usual that if we’re stuck with a nuclear Iran, we need to be working on getting them to be part of the community and to play nicely with others. A country with a sound economy and good ties to the rest of the world should be less likely to sell baby nukes to the Osamas and McVeighs of the world.

  11. Herb says:

    We have all seen Iran lie cheat and steal for the past 25 years. We have seen Iran plan support and conduct terror on the rest of the entire world. We have all seen Iran do everything possible to promote their perveted, radical, religion thruout the world and conduct terrorists operations to attain that goal.

    I don’t know why we have those right here in the US who maintain the idea that “we can co-exist” with them and treat them like “good little kids” after everyone with any common sense could only see them as the terrorists they are and have demonstrated.

    Iran is long overdue for a military response from those who see Iran for what they are and the danger they present to the civilized world.

  12. Anderson says:

    So what’s your plan, Herb? Tell us!

    “Coexistence” is not a reward that we bestow upon powers that toe the line. It’s the state we’re thrown into by default.

    Given that (1) Iran has been declared part of the “Axis of Evil,” and that (2) the “Bush Doctrine” has us preemptively invading non-threat nations (because they might BECOME a threat) … the Iranians would be crazy NOT to be building nukes.

    Politics is “the art of the possible.”

  13. Herb says:

    Anderson:

    I never knew until reading you comment that you are a Pacifist.

    I am now confident that your kind words for the Iranians will motivate them to be a kinder and gentler nation that will abandon their hatred for the western world.