The Folly of Striking Iran

Iran's Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Right now President Obama’s chances of re-election look good.    The Republicans are in disarray, he has no primary challenger and most importantly the economy appears on an upswing.   Taken together, the stars are aligning for the President better than any time since early in his Administration.   In politics, timing is everything.   However, lurking under the radar screen of most Americans is the possibility of an Israeli or (less likely) American strike on suspected Iranian nuclear facilities.

Already President Obama is being criticized for not giving Israel high tech bunker busting weaponry that could increase the chances (but not guarantee) that an Israeli strike would work.    The CIA has consistently said that they do not think Iran is close to possessing a nuclear weapon and many doubt they actually want to go through with producing one.   There are also serious doubts about Iran’s delivery systems.

The reason both Presidents Bush and Obama have tried to hold Israel back is that such a strike is not at all in the US national interest.   A nuclear Iran (like the nuclear North Korea) would be an irritant, but not a major threat.

If Israel or the US struck Iran, however, the results could be devastating.  Oil prices would certainly skyrocket putting the economy back into recession just in time for the election.    President Obama would likely lose, especially if his base was infuriated by him starting another offensive war.   The Euro crisis would deepen as well, and the world economy would be back where it was in 2008 – or worse.   And that’s a best case scenario!

Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak: What are they thinking?

In a worst case scenario the bombing unleashes a series of attacks on US interests in the region.   The Shi’ites in Iraq radicalize and ally with Iran, the Taliban uses this to incite the youth in Afghanistan, Hezbollah and Hamas launch terror strikes against Israel, and the region drifts towards the worst regional war since 1973.

Hezbollah remains a threat - one that Israel underestimated in 2006

Oil prices could rise to astronomical heights, the straits of Hormuz could be closed, Saudi oil facilities attacked, and unrest against even stable regimes like that of Saudi Arabia could grow.

From the US perspective there is little upside to an attack on Iran.   The only interest the Iranians can directly threaten is the oil supply, but the risk is small.   Especially since prices are unlikely to drop precipitously, the US and Iran share an interest in keeping Persian Gulf oil flowing.   And the Carter doctrine still applies – nobody thinks that Iranian nukes would deter a US response to Iranian aggression threatening the flow of oil.  Iran would be loathe to escalate such a crisis to the nuclear level since that would mean the end of the Islamic Republic.

The Persian Gulf

Iran’s power would grow in a region includes the Arab states, Israel, Russia, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan.   All other things being equal the US would prefer Iran be a weaker rather than a stronger regional power, but there are many options to balance Iranian power and contain any effort to extend it.   There would be concerns of further proliferation, but there would be many ways to prevent that.

Another indirect threat would be that Iran would give nuclear technology to terror organizations.   That sounds scary, but a country that works hard to gain a nuclear weapon does not give up control of them to people they can’t control.    Even now Iran limits what it gives groups like Hezbollah – and the Iranians certainly don’t want Hezbollah hotheads provoking a nuclear strike on Iran!

Remembering how wrong the US was about the Iraq war it would be a mistake to assume an attack on Iran would be low risk.   The war in Iraq was supposed to be easy, cheap, and yield a stable, safe pro-American ally offering us permanent regional bases.   None of that turned out to be the case.

The main dangers in striking Iran:  1)  There might be no benefit at all as Iran may have successfully decoyed its program; 2) This could severely undercut the reform movement in Iran, whose success would do more than anything to support US regional interests; 3)  After years of decreased influence and appeal, al qaeda and other radical groups could benefit from the US launching another war of aggression and the terrorist threat could spike dramatically, undermining our counter-terrorism efforts; 4) An oil price spike could not only bring us back into recession, but if the crisis were to drag on global depression is quite possible; 5) Iran could respond to an attack by escalating the war to create regional instability.

In the case of number 5, the US would see no alternative but to try to create “regime change” in Tehran.   This would cause unrest in the US.   Strong, angry domestic opposition to such a war would be far more intense than the opposition to the war in Iraq – national stability would be jeopardized, especially if an unpopular war were to be accompanied by deep recession or depression.    In short, this could lead to a crisis far more severe than any yet faced by the US or perhaps the industrialized West in the modern era.

Protests against the Iraq war were relatively mild; a war with Iran could unleash far more division

To be sure, it is possible that a strike could succeed and Iran would refrain from responding.  That’s the best case scenario.    The best case scenario is probably more likely than the worst case scenario, though most likely is something in between.

I cannot imagine people at the Pentagon and in the Department of Defense seeing any persuasive rationale for a strike against Iran.   I can imagine they will pull all the stops to assure that Israel refrain from its own strike, perhaps even suggesting that US support for the Jewish state cannot be assured if they start the war.

Advertisements
  1. #1 by Black Flag® on February 27, 2012 - 01:21

    I cannot disagree with any points presented.

  2. #2 by Alan Scott on February 28, 2012 - 00:34

    Black Flag,

    ” I cannot disagree with any points presented. ”

    I can . I point out that Israel attacked Iraq’s nuclear plant in 1981 and that was a success . So Israel taking out a dangerous nation’s nuclear capability is not unprecedented . Iran would be a more difficult problem but the concept is sound .

    “The CIA has consistently said that they do not think Iran is close to possessing a nuclear weapon and many doubt they actually want to go through with producing one. There are also serious doubts about Iran’s delivery systems. ”

    The CIA will say anything Obama tells them to say .

    And tell me again how Japan was ready to surrender in 1943 .

    • #3 by Black Flag® on February 28, 2012 - 03:42

      Alan

      I point out that Israel attacked Iraq’s nuclear plant in 1981 and that was a success

      .

      Success?
      I guess they destroyed what they attacked, true.

      But there was no nuclear program – they destroyed a civilian nuclear plant – an act of aggressive war.

      So Israel taking out a dangerous nation’s nuclear capability is not unprecedented .

      Israel is a dangerous nation with real nuclear weapons.

      You fear a land-locked nation that has no nuclear weapons.

      Your position on this matter is rather bizzare.

      Iran would be a more difficult problem but the concept is sound .

      The consequences of such an attack will effect you profoundly and badly.

      I am amazed how those that will suffer such consequences of action champion such action.

      The CIA will say anything Obama tells them to say .

      Nonsense

      And tell me again how Japan was ready to surrender in 1943 .

      Go get a real history education and learn for yourself.

  3. #4 by Titfortat on February 28, 2012 - 18:30

    Considering most of the extremely wealthy people in the states have ties to both big oil and big armament companies all those scenario’s are a boon for them.

  4. #5 by Alan Scott on February 29, 2012 - 00:03

    Black Flag,

    Scott is overly concerned with the reelection of President Obama, so I can see why he would blind himself to the real danger to Israel . ” If Israel or the US struck Iran, however, the results could be devastating. Oil prices would certainly skyrocket putting the economy back into recession just in time for the election. President Obama would likely lose, especially if his base was infuriated by him starting another offensive war. ”

    I cannot excuse your lack of knowledge about the middle east .

    ” But there was no nuclear program – they destroyed a civilian nuclear plant – an act of aggressive war. ”

    I am happy that the spirit of Nevil Chamberlin is alive and well inside of you .

    ” Israel is a dangerous nation with real nuclear weapons.”

    Funny how that has not stopped it’s enemies from shelling the hell out of it with rockets . Why doesn’t Israel just nuke it’s neighbors ?

    ” You fear a land-locked nation that has no nuclear weapons. ”

    Are you speaking of Iran ?

    ” The consequences of such an attack will effect you profoundly and badly.

    I am amazed how those that will suffer such consequences of action champion such action. ”

    So will the consequences of not attacking. I am amazed how blind you are .

    ” And tell me again how Japan was ready to surrender in 1943 .”

    ” Go get a real history education and learn for yourself. ”

    Quite amusing how often I get that answer . I can’t recall ever saying that to anyone asking me to back up my words .

    • #6 by Scott Erb on February 29, 2012 - 01:41

      First of all, the issue is US policy, not Israeli. Israel can take care of itself, and certainly could wipe Iran off the map if struck — deterrence works. The US gives Israel a lot of aid and military assistance. If it acts against our national interest, we should cut that assistance. The Economist magazine, a right of center publication and no cheer leader of Obama, has almost the exact same analysis of mine (to be sure, I wrote mine before reading their article, which I got yesterday), pointing out even more forcefully the fact that we almost certainly would not be able to remove Iran’s nuclear capacity or know how much we damaged it.

      Also, I think you underestimate the CIA – they are not so easily controlled. To dismiss their analysis because it’s different than yours is pretty weak. I think you need to really get into the details Alan, you’re too quick with superficial historical analogies rather than really looking at the issues in play — it’s complex, I do understand the rationale by those who think a strike is necessary, but you need to really to delve into the facts of this case.

    • #7 by Black Flag® on February 29, 2012 - 03:53

      Alan

      I cannot excuse your lack of knowledge about the middle east .

      *cough*

      Methinks you have never set foot in the Middle East, have you?

      I am happy that the spirit of Nevil Chamberlin is alive and well inside of you .

      So you believe blowing up civilian energy facilities is a good way to make peace???

      Funny how that has not stopped it’s enemies from shelling the hell out of it with rockets .

      A handful of homemade rockets from a brutalized, displaced people who have no tanks, fighter jet, navy, or army makes you afraid for the existence of a State that is the uncontested power in the region?

      Eeek!

      Why doesn’t Israel just nuke it’s neighbors ?

      It would be obliterated by Russia at the minimum.

      If Israel used its nukes as an act of aggression, it would demonstrate to the other nuclear powers that is has gone wholly rogue – and no nuclear power would allow such.

      Are you speaking of Iran ?

      Subtract the “land locked”, and I speak of every single other nation in the Middle East other than Israel.

      So will the consequences of not attacking. I am amazed how blind you are

      I am amazed at your warmongering.

      Iran has not invaded anyone in over 300 years – yet, you demand it must be attacked.

      I can’t recall ever saying that to anyone asking me to back up my words

      …military analyst Hanson Baldwin wrote: “The Japanese, in a military sense, were in a hopeless strategic situation by the time the Potsdam demand for unconditional surrender was made on July 26, 1945.” Admiral William Leahy, top military aide to President Truman, said in his war memoirs, I Was There: “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. My own feeling is that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” And General Dwight Eisenhower agreed

      The Lies of Hiroshima Live On, Props in the War Crimes of the 20th Century
      by John Pilger

      “The National Archives in Washington contain US government documents that chart Japanese peace overtures as early as 1943. None was pursued.

      • #8 by Scott Erb on February 29, 2012 - 04:15

        It’s not even controversial – the Japanese wanted to negotiate a surrender in 1945. They’d lost their empire and were defeated already, they just didn’t want unconditional surrender. Truman may not have understood what the A-bomb really did, and certainly it seemed to simply do more quickly what fire bombing of Tokyo, Cologne, and Dresden had done – target civilians for mass slaughter. But Japan was already beaten.

  5. #9 by Shubhda Chaudhary on February 29, 2012 - 11:51

    After its humiliating attempt to contain the ‘nuclear power’ progress of Iran, Israel embarked to embrace the potent weapon of ‘intervention and war.’ Everything from political pressure, sanctions, sabotage, counter-proliferation measures and attempt for regime changes, have failed in Iran.

    Few are even calling Iranian President Ahmadinejad as Adolf Hitler, all set to wipe out the Jewish identity from the world. Interestingly, this is not 1935 and even Israel is not a naive participant in utterly innocent international diplomacy.

    Barack Obama has stated that there is no evidence that Iran has the ‘intentions or capabilities’ to wage a war on US soil. Well, it was only last October when Iranians have been accussed by Americans for planning the assasination of a Saudi Arabian ambassador on this very American soil. http://shubhdachaudhary.com/2012/02/13/why-iran-can-not-be-attacked-by-israel-and-us/

  6. #10 by Alan Scott on March 1, 2012 - 23:10

    Black Flag ,

    ” A handful of homemade rockets from a brutalized, displaced people who have no tanks, fighter jet, navy, or army makes you afraid for the existence of a State that is the uncontested power in the region? ”

    In 2008 Hamas fired over 3200 rockets and mortars into Israel .

    ” Methinks you have never set foot in the Middle East, have you? ”

    Wow you got a fact right.

    ” ” Admiral William Leahy, top military aide to President Truman, said in his war memoirs, I Was There: “It is my opinion that the use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan. The Japanese were already defeated and ready to surrender because of the effective sea blockade and the successful bombing with conventional weapons. My own feeling is that in being the first to use it, we had adopted an ethical standard common to the barbarians of the Dark Ages.” ”

    The Admiral is entitled to his opinion. It flies in the face of the experience of the Japanese defending to the death their hopeless situation on Okinawa . I’ve seen videos of Japanese civilian officials who said that Japan would have defended the home Islands just as fiercely . Mentally they were locked in to fighting to the death .

    Oh and since you cited the Admiral as an expert in military matters, I found this little quote from him . ” That is the biggest fool thing we have ever done. The [atomic] bomb will never go off, and I speak as an expert in explosives. ”

    Got any more opinions, I mean facts, you want me to shred ? Wait, wait, I forgot about this .

    ” I am amazed at your warmongering.

    Iran has not invaded anyone in over 300 years – yet, you demand it must be attacked. ”

    Why don’t you just join the Obama propaganda team of citing irrelevant facts to make a false point ? They use proxy terrorist groups to attack their neighbors . You really do not want these clowns having the bomb .

  7. #11 by Alan Scott on March 2, 2012 - 02:52

    Scott,

    As I already said, Japan psychologically could not surrender. It’s true there was a battle between the militarists and the civilian leadership, but the military had the power . It was the blood bath on Okinawa that convinced Truman to drop the bomb. No matter how hopeless, Japan could not surrender . The fire bombing of cities killed more people than the atomic bombs and the populace was starving and it didn’t matter .

    My original point has always been that those who came out of WW2 said to themselves , ‘ why didn’t we stop the Axis early before they became so strong and so many had to die . ‘ You guys have a pre WW2 view of the world .

    • #12 by Scott Erb on March 2, 2012 - 04:18

      The Japanese could not “psychologically” surrender? That’s a silly stereotype. They wanted to negotiate a surrender. Moreover, they had already lost their empire. They were driven back to their home island. The A-bomb didn’t win the war, it was already won. It just made sure it ended with massive civilian death.

      But this has nothing to do with Iran. Iran isn’t a major power. Even if Iran gets the bomb it’ll have a few at best with no reliable delivery system, while Israel has in the hundreds. Comparing Iran to Japan or Germany is using history to mislead, we have to look at the issues there — our interests and the likely costs and consequences of different actions.

      • #13 by Black Flag® on March 2, 2012 - 05:06

        Alan,

        In 2008, 32 Israeli’s died vs 887 Palestinians.
        In 2009, 9 Israeli’s died vs 1034Palestinians.

        Methinks you have a relative loss issue.

        And, given your lack of cultural understanding, before you pass judgement and condemn a few hundred million innocent people to death, you get to know them first by at least visiting one of the countries.

        As already amply demonstrated, the Japanese were trying to surrender as far back as 1943 – this is fact, Alan – and your repetition of wartime propaganda makes no difference to such fact.

        The fact that Iran has not invaded another nation in over 300 years is a fact – and your irrational mumbling does not change this, either.

        As Scott points out correctly, Iran is not a major power. It has zero capability of projecting its power outside its own borders.

        Here are more facts for you Alan:

        In reality, Iran, in spite of its 71 million population and oil wealth, is militarily quite weak. Islamic Iran has been under punishing US-led military and economic sanctions since its 1979 revolution, joining other sanctions targets North Korea and Cuba.

        As a result, Iran has been unable to modernize most of its 1960’s/1970’s vintage military arsenal, much of which was supplied by the US and Britain to the Shah. Iran’s decrepit civilian aircraft fleet has also been punished by US-led embargos, resulting in numerous crashes due to worn-out equipment and lack of spare parts.

        An estimated 45-50% of Iran’s small, obsolete air force is grounded by lack of spare parts or repairs. Iran’s pilots, who last saw action during the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq War, have critically little flying time. Iran’s air force lacks modern radars, communications or electronic warfare equipment.

        The mainstay of Iran’s air force remains about 60 ancient US-built F-14 naval fighters, F-4 Phantom strike aircraft dating from the Vietnam era, and some old US F-5 trainers. Iran also has a grab bag of some 25 Soviet/Russian Mig-29’s, a similar number of capable SU-24 strike aircraft, and some 20 Chinese outdated F-7 fighters. The US -supplied aircraft all suffer from metal fatigue and are more of a danger to their hapless pilots than an enemy.

        Iran’s bathtub navy has a few small frigates and three modern Russian Kilo-class submarines that are effective in shallow coastal waters. Iran’s sizeable numbers of Chinese anti-ship missiles on shore, at sea and carried by aircraft might score a few lucky hits on the mighty US Navy or oil tankers, as could its ample supply of magnetic mines.

        But any US assault of Iran, would open by surprise attacks from waves of cruise missiles and stealth aircraft against Iranian air bases, ports and communications hubs. Most of Iran’s air force and navy would be destroyed. Iran’s obsolete air defenses would be put out of action by missile and cyber-warfare attacks.

        Iran’s primary method of counter-attacking would consist of commando raids against US bases in the Gulf, Afghanistan, Pakistan and, possibly, on Saudi oil installations. But no such attacks would prove decisive or alter the course of the conflict. Iran would be pounded until its attackers decided to cease fire.

        Iran’s claim last week that it might launch pre-emptive attacks on potential attackers is not credible. Iran simply lacks any effective, long-range offensive capability to attack either Israel or put US bases in the region out of action. Its shorter ranged missiles could inflict some damage on US bases in the Gulf.

        Iran’s medium-ranged Shahab-3 missile, of which Tehran is said to have a score, has offensive capability – but only if armed with a nuclear warhead, which US intelligence says Iran does not possess. Shrinking a nuclear device into Shahab’s small nosecone and ensuring it will survive violent g-forces and heat is a major technological challenge believed beyond Iran’s current capability.

        Without nuclear warheads, the not very accurate Shahab’s are of little more use than Saddam Hussein’s laughably ineffective Scuds in 2003. Firing a few at Israel would immediately be picked up by the US early-alert satellite system, into which Israel is linked, and run the risk of triggering possible nuclear strikes by Israel.

        Iran could put up fierce resistance to a US-led ground invasion, but the Pentagon makes clear it has no such intention after the debacles in Afghanistan and Iraq. US air power will wage this conflict, if it comes.

  8. #14 by Alan Scott on March 2, 2012 - 12:24

    Black Flag ,

    ” Methinks you have a relative loss issue. ”

    That is meaningless. You have an enemy who doesn’t care how many they lose. I was a small child in the early 60s when the newspapers published the death tolls of American soldiers to dead Vietcong and North Vietnamese fighters . I thought wow we are killing so many more soldiers than we are losing. We will win this soon . I was a naive child .

    You are trapped in that same thinking.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: