The experts disagreed on some details but were nearly unanimous on one crucial point: what might seem America’s ace in the hole — the ability to destroy Iran’s nuclear installations in a pre-emptive air strike — was a fantasy. When exposed to “What then?” analysis, this plan (or a variant in which the United States looked the other way while Israel did the job) held more dangers than rewards for the United States. How could this be, given America’s crushing strength and wealth relative to Iran’s? There were three main problems:And we all know the prominent role that "realism" has played in the George W. Bush administration.
- The United States was too late. Iran’s leaders had learned from what happened to Saddam Hussein in 1981, when Israeli F-16s destroyed a facility at Osirak where most of his nuclear projects were concentrated. Iran spread its research to at least a dozen sites — exactly how many, and where, the U.S. government could not be sure.
- The United States was too vulnerable. Iran, until now relatively restrained in using its influence among the Iraqi Shiites, “could make Iraq hell,” in the words of one of our experts, Kenneth Pollack, of the Brookings Institution. It could use its influence on the world’s oil markets to shock Western economies — most of all, that of the world’s largest oil importer, the United States.
- The plan was likely to backfire, in a grand-strategy sense. At best, it would slow Iranian nuclear projects by a few years. But the cost of buying that time would likely be a redoubling of Iran’s determination to get a bomb — and an increase in its bitterness toward the United States.
That was the situation nearly two years ago. Everything that has changed since then increases the pressure on the United States to choose the “military option” of a pre-emptive strike — and makes that option more ruinously self-defeating. ***
Every tool at Iran’s disposal is now more powerful, and every complication for the United States worse, than when our war-gamers determined that a pre-emptive strike could not succeed. Iran has used the passing time to disperse, diversify, conceal, and protect its nuclear centers. Instead of a dozen or so potential sites that would have to be destroyed, it now has at least twice that many. The Shiite dominance of Iraq’s new government and military has consolidated, and the ties between the Shiites of Iran and those of Iraq have grown more intense. Early this year, the Iraqi Shiite warlord Muqtada al-Sadr suggested that he would turn his Mahdi Army against Americans if they attacked Iran. ***
By giving public warnings, the United States and Israel “create ‘excess demand’ for military action,” as our war-game leader Sam Gardiner recently put it, and constrain their own negotiating choices. The inconvenient truth of American foreign policy is that the last five years have left us with a series of choices — and all of them are bad. ***
[T]he United States can’t accept Iran’s emergence as a nuclear power, but it cannot prevent this through military means — unless it is willing to commit itself to all-out war. The central flaw of American foreign policy these last few years has been the triumph of hope, wishful thinking, and self-delusion over realism and practicality. Realism about Iran starts with throwing out any plans to bomb.
Tuesday, April 11, 2006
The Atlantic: Not IF We're Screwed, But HOW BADLY We're Screwed
Back in December 2004 issue of The Atlantic, James Fallows wrote about a “war game” designed to explore the United States' options for addressing Iran's nuclear ambitions. In the current issue, Fallows revisits the the U.S. options, and things have not improved:
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