Saving Iran

Dr. Strangedeal - from the cover of The Economist MagazineI recall quipping to a friend a few weeks ago that I thought the way out of Iraq for this Administration was through Iran. What I meant at the time was that since this Administration had haplessly shifted the center of gravity of Iraqi politics to Iran, without Iran having to fire a shot, that the only way to exit out of Iraq with "credibility" was to attack Iran. Iran then becomes a continuation of a larger war "on terror" and it can then not be said that Iraq was lost since it will only become an unfinished chapter in a larger war.

I of course was being cynical. I knew then that there have been people within and outside the Administration who have been advocating for an attack on Iran from the time that "Mission Accomplished" was declared in Iraq. Neo-conservatives had focused their attention on Iran as the next domino in the new American Domino Theory. Some of the most rabid of the neo-cons advocating war were the usual suspects such as Daniel Pipes, Frank Gaffney and Charles Krauthammer. But I had calculated that the appetite for war had waned in Washington due to Mr. Bush’s flagging approval ratings, the disaster in Iraq, the Congressional scandals, and the overextension of the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan. I had obviously underestimated the hunger for war in Washington.

Today the Washington Post reports that the United States is planning for a nuclear strike on Iran. This report comes nipping at the heels of Seymour Hersh’s tour de force in the New Yorker magazine on the same topic. Mr. Hersh has been doggedly pursuing this story for some time, with a report in January that the United States was already engaged in covert action inside Iran.

The drumbeat for war with Iran has been ongoing for some time. The rhetoric and the diplomatic doublespeak is eerily reminiscent of the run up to the Iraq invasion. But what is different this time is that the United States is considering using nuclear weapons as a first strike option against Iran. Apparently the civilian leaders in the Administration have surveyed the options against Iran’s nuclear facilities and concluded that a conventional attack will not cause the requisite amount of damage. So like any group of people bent on destruction, they have decided that if the bomb you are using is not big enough, get a bigger bomb – in our case, a nuclear bomb. This is the kind of thinking I have been able to coax my five-year-old out of over the last year. My daughter has matured to a point where she now tends to utilize thought and consider more the longer-term consequences of her actions instead of first resorting to brute force when confronted with a difficult task.

There is likely to be much discussion of this story in the days, weeks, and months to come. Instead of focusing on the primary story which I suspect will be widely discussed in today’s talk shows and on the web, I would like to use the remainder of this post to highlight two aspects of this story that are particularly frightening.

Seymour Hersh’s writes about Mr. Bush’s determination and motivation in attacking Iran:

A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was “absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb” if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do “what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,” and “that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.” [Emphasis added by me]

It has been widely reported and speculated that Mr. Bush sees his mission in remaking the Middle East very much in biblical terms. If Mr. Hersh’s source is accurate in his assessment then we are confronted with a President with messianic and evangelical zeal that will not be tempered by reason or the facts. In this case, war with Iran is inevitable. This is a frightening development, and the dangers may actually increase as Mr. Bush’s popularity slips further. He may feel that the urgency to accomplish his mission becomes greater as his position in office become more tenuous.

The Washington Post reports on a possible timetable for attack and Israel’s role in setting that timetable:

Israel is preparing, as well. The government recently leaked a contingency plan for attacking on its own if the United States does not, a plan involving airstrikes, commando teams, possibly missiles and even explosives-carrying dogs. Israel, which bombed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear plant in 1981 to prevent it from being used to develop weapons, has built a replica of Natanz, according to Israeli media, but U.S. strategists do not believe Israel has the capacity to accomplish the mission without nuclear weapons.

Israel points to those missiles to press their case in Washington. Israeli officials traveled here recently to convey more urgency about Iran. Although U.S. intelligence agencies estimate Iran is about a decade away from having a nuclear bomb, Israelis believe a critical breakthrough could occur within months. They told U.S. officials that Iran is beginning to test a more elaborate cascade of centrifuges, indicating that it is further along than previously believed.

"What the Israelis are saying is this year — unless they are pressured into abandoning the program — would be the year they will master the engineering problem," a U.S. official said. "That would be a turning point, but it wouldn’t mean they would have a bomb." [Emphasis added by me]

The Israelis have been pushing the notion of a point of no return, or "turning point", for quite some time, arguing that even though the actual bomb may be sometime away the date on the calendar that we should be concerned about is much sooner when the Iranian program reaches a technical threshold that once achieved cannot be reversed. Israel has chosen a timetable for attack by the United States by the end of this year by indicating if this attack does not happen, they will launch the attack unilaterally. Israel has also been at the forefront of the nuclear strike option.

The timetable set by Israel for the United States dovetails nicely with the November Congressional elections. An attack on Iran would politically rescue Mr. Bush and the Congressional Republicans from the disaster in Iraq. The actual attack does not have to occur before the elections, in fact it is better politically that the attack take place after the elections. The drumbeat to war and the tension and fear it will generate for the public is much more useful as a political tool than the war itself. By this time in early November, with any luck for the Republicans, the daily death toll in Iraq, the Congressional scandals, the NSA spying and the fallout from the NIE leaking should all take a backseat to the coming war with Iran. With these constraints, the likely strike date on Iran will be in late November or early December of this year, just in time for the Christmas season.

In many ways, war has already begun with Iran. The conversation has changed. It should give all of us pause that on this day in the 21st Century we are considering the possibility that the greatest experiment in Democracy in the history of the world is about to launch a nuclear first strike against another sovereign state. May our children forgive us.


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22 Responses to Saving Iran

  1. Mash: I’m glad to say that this does not strike me as a likely scenario. (Actually, had Bush not invaded Iraq, it might have been, and, except for the use of nukes, might not have been an awful idea.)
    I think if Bush tried to use the military against Iran, there would be such an outcry from all ends of the spectrum — the Schussels and the Krauthammers might agree, but they don’t have to get elected — that he might get impeached. (If he became the second person in history, both Americans, to actually use a nuke, I don’t want to think about what might happen.)
    People don’t like the current war, and I don’t think he could possibly convince them he was justified, not after the lies of the last time. He might be planning it, but he can’t do it alone.

  2. Mash says:


    I hope you are right and I also felt that this was an unlikely scenerio.

    Although they are certainly beating the drums to give it the old college try now. It really will be a duel between fear and reason. My hope is that the American people will not succumb to fear but rather opt for reason.

    Although, I no longer underestimate the cornered animal instinct of this Administration. And that is what gives me pause.

  3. d4 says:

    Bear in mind that in 1930, the Republican Administration of Herbert Hoover approved options for attacking British and Canadian interests in Halifax, Montreal and the Western North Atlantic. (See Harper’s/ April 2006). In other words, the United States has a long pre-occupation with violent approaches to getting its way in the world. We vacilate between infantile isolationism and junior-high-school pugnaciousness, leaving ourselves very little in the way of nuanced diplomacy.

    And just like every other spoiled juvenile, we are blind to our own worst behavior. Instead, we project our insecurities onto our proliferating enemies. “*He* started it!” we scream. Then we sucker-punch him as he tries to turn away from our taunts.

    And when I say “we” I mean it. This is not a problem of leadership: this goes to the root of our culture. (The shenangans in Ohio and elsewhere notwithstanding)the people of the United States voted this administration back into office in 2004, knowing full well its intentions to vigrously prosecute its “war on terror” with bombs instead of brains.

    I don’t know why Hoover ultimately decided to hold back on attacking Canada, but my guess is that the Pentagon had no stomach for it. Just as likely, it would have looked ridiculous! “Attack Montreal? Are you kidding?” And so I can only conclude that it’s the job of level-headed American citizens to make the prospect of attacking Iran seem equally ludicrous.

  4. Polimom says:

    I’m actually somewhat comforted by the fact that most people – left and right – seem to think it unlikely that Bush could be bluffing.

    If we don’t think so, Iran will probably take it seriously, also. While there’s obvious risk to that, I suspect Iran will choose to back down and “live to fight another day”.

    I’m certainly hoping so, anyway.

  5. Mash says:


    I hate to disagree with you because my hope here is the same as yours. But, unfortunately the logic of deterrence suggests that from Iran’s point of view the only deterrent against an American strike is a nuclear deterrent. This can only accelerate Iran’s quest for nukes.

    I think its pretty much a foregone conclusion that Iran will become a nuclear power. From their perspective, they would be crazy not to want nukes, with Pakistan, India and Israel with nukes and America straddling the country in Iraq and Afghanistan.

    The more significant point, and it certainly is not lost on Iran, is that George Bush intends to attack Iran whether or not they have a nuclear program (and in fact because they dont have a nuclear weapon). It is our policy that we want regime change in Iran, not because it has nukes, but because the Administration believes that Iran poses a security threat to US interests even without the nukes. The nukes just add urgency to the argument because it becomes imposssible to attack Iran once they have nukes (again, a point not lost on Iran and others who want a nuclear deterrent).

    The more grown-up question for the Administration is how does the US deal with a nuclear Iran. Our policy cannot be one of continuous confrontation, it has to be one of alliance building, containment and engagement, and must be guided by the realities of the world we live in and an acceptance of the limits of American power as a force of aggression.

  6. d4 says:

    If Iran takes Bush’s threats seriously, and backs down, that only delays the inevitable confrontation down the road. And by that time, America will have gone on the record as having decided that it was all right to use nukes in a first-strike scenario against a nation that wasn’t preparing an attack on us. This sort of saber-rattling might sound like oh-so-innocent poker-bluffing to some. But really what it is doing is lowering the bar for what it takes to use a nuke. There *must* be taboos against these weapons, as there have been since the end of WWII. Or else we’re all toast.

    The fantasy of wiping out Iran with a nuke may give some people a measure of momentary pleasure. But doing so will open the door to a series of catastrophic confrontations, covert and overt, than can quite conceivably lead to the destruction of everything that’s holding the world together. In other words, if you think the world’s a dangerous place now, just imagine what it’s going to be like when the gloves are off and “the terrorists” follow our example.

    If America is going to continue to enjoy its privileged position with respect to the rest of the world, then it’s incumbent upon us to set a better example than this. Anything less is whistling through the graveyard.

  7. Polimom says:

    d4 – I agree with you completely about the precedent-setting. Unfortunately, even without confirmation from GWB, that horse may be completely out of the barn and down the road. (Jeez, that sounds hopelessly negative, even to me. Sorry…) Mash – If the US is not bluffing, then acceleration by Iran won’t help. I don’t think they’d have time, actually. I’ve read several theoretical timelines and projects, but my guess (if they’re serious and if Iran doesn’t blink) is sometime this summer. Late June, maybe? I agree that a real solution would be "how does one deal with a nuclear Iran"? Unfortunately, Iran + nuclear weapons = a very worried Israel…. and I have NO doubt they’d hit their red button.

  8. d4 says:

    Words can be called back, while bombs cannot be. Now that Washington’s intentions with respect to Iran are clear, it is now possible to deal with the situation in a straight-forward manner rather than dancing around the issue, as the world has been doing these past several years.

    It is reported that in late 2001 when Pakistan and India were threatening one another with nukes, several representatives from the U.S., Japan, and Europe paid visits to their respective capitals. They brought with them vivid documentary evidence of what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Evidently, the leaders of Pakistan and India had managed to so insulate themselves within the bubble of their mutual antagonism that their leaders never really sat down to examine what would happen if the the nukes were dropped. By all accounts the wake-up call worked, and it helped cool the temperature of the situation.

    At a broader policy level, Robert McNamara is worried. Check out this year-old article:

  9. M. Simon says:

    I am comforted by the fact that the leader of Iran can be no more serious about attacking America and converting it to Islam than a certain Austrian corporal was re: his dream of converting Europe to his brand of socialism.

  10. M. Simon says:


    The gloves are off for the terrorists. They have the will. What they lack is the means.

  11. M. Simon says:

    So what would a war look like if Iran initiated it against Israel with a nuclear strike?

    Any one here war game that one? Who/where have the Iranians targeted? The Israelis? Will the Euros (Britain, France) get drawn in? The USA? Russia? China? India? Pakistan?

    What are the odds?

    If Iran gets nukes and the Saudis want them too, is that a good idea? How about the Egyptians? Yemen?


  12. Polimom says:

    M Simon said:

    “I am comforted by the fact that the leader of Iran can be no more serious about attacking America and converting it to Islam…”

    I must have missed that headline.

  13. Mash says:

    M. Simon,

    Iran is planning to invade the US and convert it to Islam? Did I miss the memo? Do they hate you for your freedom? I was wondering how long it would take someone to trot out the Hitler analogy. Well, now we have it.

    What is your definition of terrorist? Is it bin Laden? is it all of Sunni Muslims like in Iraq? is it all of Shia Muslims like in Iran? is it all Muslims? how about all of the Third World? or maybe the Chinese? Why leave those pinko French out? and dont forget those Arab loving Germans? What about the Russians with their support for Iran and building their nuclear plants? I thought if they harbor or aid terrorists, they are just as guilty.

    I would probably not be throwing around the term as loosely as you are doing – it makes the rest of your argument seem weak.

    Oversimpilification of people into “us” and “them” may sound real good but is not a reasonable basis for foreign policy. Iran is a far more complex society than you might understand. You can brand a whole nation terrorists but it only makes the accuser look and sound ignorant.

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  15. During Watergate — and, sadly, this is resembling that period more and more — there was a belief/expectation/fear that if things got too bad for Nixon, he would start some sort of military confrontation to distract people, up to and including WWIII. (I remember there was some sort of ‘general alert’ that got a lot of people worried, but I don’t remember the details.) In fact, he went quietly.

    It is true that the two men are considerably different types. Nixon was a totally dishonest cynic who believed in nothing but would use anything to his own advantage. Bush really believes in much of what he is doing, and is, surprisingly, a fairly honest man. (I believe that he convinced himself that the WMD were there, that there was a link between Saddam and Al Qaeda, and that when he gave these explanations he was telling what he believed was the truth. Yes, there was plenty of evidence that he was wrong, but I believe he has the sort of religious mindset that, when he believes he has THE TRUTH about something, and the ecidence is against him, he just KNOWS the evidence has to be wrong, and that eventually HIS TRUTH will be demonstrated.)

    That deluded honesty makes him more dangerous than Nixon, but I still believe that he would hold back, and if he didn’t, that the chain of command would revolt against him. (People like Cheney and Rumsfeld are greatly flawed, but they aren’t fanatics and have a grasp on reality that GWB may lack.)

    We can only hope.

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  17. CHENEY RULEZ says:

    RULE #1: We live in a complicated, dangerous world, and sometimes exterminating an entire population is the lesser of two evils.

    RULE #2: Better to blow up the world now than to wait until your last year in office and have Monday morning quarterbacks come in and change policy midstream.

    RULE #3: Freedom is an action verb. If people don’t play by our rulez, kill ’em all and repopulate in 100 years with people who do.

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  21. FK says:

    I’ve always suspected a war between Iran and US was inevitable after US decided to invade Iran and Afghanistan. It was certainly planned. Why invade two countries and leave the third alone?

    Problem is that the US doesn’t have the political points to do anything. Iraq is now controlled by Shi political groups who lived in Iran for the past two decades.

    Nuking Iran or any massive bombing would really lead to WWIII. The Chinese and Russians would definetly see that as a threat to them and their own sovereignty.
    And might reply in kind to the US. Now then, you would really have to ask your children to forgive you, if you are still alive that is.

  22. Daily Buzz says:

    Hello, great job! I did not expect this on Wednesday. This is agreat post. Thanks!

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