Battlepanda: Iran


Always trying to figure things out with the minimum of bullshit and the maximum of belligerence.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


(Posted by John.)

Via POGGE, we find Andrew at Bound by Gravity soliciting opinions:
Iran has been ratcheting up the rhetoric recently, claiming to be making steps towards obtaining nuclear weapons - they have recently claimed to have successfully enriched uranium (which has been referred to as nuclear poker) - while threatening Israel with destruction. ("The Zionist regime is a dying tree, and soon its branches will be broken down.")

My question is a simple one: Do you support military action against Iran? (Why or why not?)
Actually, the question isn't a simple one, though it is phrased simply. My answer isn't a simple one either, though I can phrase it simply enough - No, because it won't help.

The first and most basic rule for the use of military force is: Does the threat warrant the use of the military? After all, nations face all kinds of threats, but relatively few of them could sensibly be responded to with the military. Traffic accidents kill more people than terrorists ever have. Nobody would argue this means we should patrol highways with Apache helicopters.

Iran fails this test, so far. Even with their most recent advances, the US intelligence community estimates that Iran is years, and possibly as much as a decade away from having a nuclear bomb. Responding to a hypothetical nuclear program with preemptive war would be massively unwise and unjust, aside from a bad case of deja vu.

But let's suppose, for a moment, that Iran were found to be less than 12 months away from having The Bomb. This is where rule #2 for the use of military force comes in: The military should be able to actually achieve the objectives set by the civilian leaders. If the military can't succeed at it's mission in the first place, then all we're doing is wasting lives.

Iran fails in this case too. There's no evidence that an airstrike would permanently cripple an Iranian nuclear capacity. Quite the opposite - it could redouble their efforts to get nuclear weapons, while strengthening the hands of the same autocratic domestic forces we're so worried about.

(You'll note that Iraq failed both of these tests, too.)

The only military option for Iran is effectively full-scale war, and that's not an option - the US already has one of those, and doesn't need another. All-out war would be the only way to permanently shut down Iranian nuclear ambition, and even then it might not work. (After all, the Iraq War was supposed to liberate that country. See how well that worked out.) This isn't to that these options are mutually exclusive. As more than one author has pointed out, an airstrike on Iran may very well precipitate a full-scale war, whether the US leadership (or the 150,000 soldiers in Iraq) like it or not.

The only path with any chance of success is negotiation, with the promise of US nuclear retaliation for Iran if they attack an American ally with nuclear weapons* - roughly the formula that kept us alive throughout the Cold War. It sucks, but it's the least terrifying or bloody option left to us.

*It should be said that Israel doesn't need our protection, at least from nuclear weapons. An Iranian nuclear attack on Israel would quite simply mean Israeli warheads falling on Iran within hours. Now, where that would lead is an ugly, terrifying place.