Are we getting ready to bomb the crap out of Iran? Maybe (here’s another take on the matter, from the New Yorker). It’s all saber-rattling at this point, but it’s saber-rattling with a goal, which is spooking the Iranians into giving up their nuclear ambitions. Yeah, that’s going to happen. It’s also to get Americans used to the idea this is on the table. Happy Sunday!
Here’s my thing: I believe without the slightest hesitation that Iran is trying to build a bomb (more than one, clearly); I also believe rather strongly that Iran should not be allowed to build a bomb. This is part of a larger philosophy that as a general rule, no other nations should be allowed into the nuclear club that aren’t already in it (and that some of them should have their membership revoked), but specifically speaking, Iran as a nuclear power makes me nervous on all sorts of levels. So as a matter of policy, I would not have much of a problem gutting Iran’s nuclear production capability via bunker busters if it came to that.
What I worry about, naturally, is at what point in the diplomatic process we get to “if it came to that.” I don’t suspect that based on previous experience that the Bush administration is all that patient with diplomatic maneuvers — which to be honest is not necessarily a criticism. Say what one will about the precipitate speed with which the Bush administration rolled into Iraq, Saddam’s ability to subvert the diplomatic process both was appalling in itself and gave the Bush folks an ample rationale for firing up the tanks. As a practical matter, I think there is some value in the perception that the US is going to fiddle around diplomatically for only so long before it gets down to cases and fires up the steath bombers.
On the other hand, while I did not oppose going into Iraq, for my own personal reasons, I also thought it would have been far better there simply to carpet bomb any inspection site Saddam refused to let inspectors into, as a way to bring Iraq back to a useful diplomatic process. If one posits a large-scale attack on Iran on one end of the spectrum and doing nothing on the other, is there something effective in the middle ground? I don’t know at this point, but I’d like to think there is — and I wonder, if there is a useful “middle ground” solution, whether we’ll consider it before going the solution where Iran’s skies are dark with American bombers.
The New Yorker piece suggests two things — first, that Bush sees himself as the only President who is politically capable of attacking Iran, and two, that the use of tactical nuclear weapons, by us, to destroy Iran’s nuclear capability is not off the table. Toward the first of these, I’m certainly willing to believe that Bush does think he’s the right man for the job, although as you might expect based on how poorly it’s managed the Iraq situation after the unquestionable tactical victory of the first few weeks, I question whether his administration is indeed competent enough to do the job right. I also strongly suspect that unless Bush is completely stupid, he’ll wait until after November to make any move, because given how unpopular his Iraq position is at the moment, he doesn’t want to give any more electoral ammunition to the Democrats than they already have.
Toward the use of tactical nuclear weapons, I have a very hard time imagining that would happen, and I suspect the repercussions for the US if it did would be immensely damaging. If Bush really wants to bring down every single US-friendly foreign government in the world, he’d allow the use of tactical nuclear weapons. I have serious questions as to the overall competence of this adminstration, but you have to draw a line somewhere. I believe the Bush administration is competent enough not to use nuclear weapons.
My hope is that if we do bomb Iran, we avoid mission creep. I would say our job is to gut their nuclear production capability, end of story. Keeping to that single goal will be difficult and complex enough, but if nothing else it could be possibile with only minimal ground involvement (from my admittedly very limited understanding of the situation), which means a minimum of death involved on our side, and it would be a goal that most of the world community could get behind (no one else wants Iran to have nukes, either). God forbid someone starts talking “regime change.” That would be Bush’s undoing; there’s no way the armed forces could do a land war as they are now, and attempting to institute a draft would be political suicide. Even if the Bushies wanted regime change, I suspect they would have to settle for something less.