Saturday, January 14, 2006

Iran, "nuclear ambitions", and the "War of Words"

Yes, there are legitimate concerns about Iran, particilarly its determination to become a nuclear power and its support of Middle East terrorism.

Yes, the international community should do everything (legitimately) in its power to encourage Iran to back off of its aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons and its support of terrorists in the region.

But, let's get real.

The U.S. neocons have no legitimate faith in the UN or diplomatic efforts. That is all a ruse. Their original, stated approach to Iran was to agitate for internal unrest with the goal of causing "regime change" from within. That approach wasn't working very well, or at least not very fast.

And with the quagmire in Iraq, an outright military "liberation" is a non-starter.

And with the limited hard intelligence about Iran's WMD programs hardly being more credible than our horrendous intelligence incompetence in Iraq, the idea of some precise, pinpoint, surgical strikes reliably knocking out all of Iran's nuclear capabilities is also a non-starter.

Sure, the Israeli's have made plenty of noise to the effect that if the U.S. doesn't "do it", they will, but their bluster is based in large part on the kind dubious "intelligence" that got us in trouble in Iraq in the first place.

UN sanctions are another non-starter. Sure, you can easily put some sanctions in place, but their effectiveness will be laughable. Total export sanctions are out of the question. since too many major economies depend on Iran's oil exports, including Japan and China. Partial sanctions could be put in place, but since they are only partial they're unlikely to apply much pressure on Iran.

Unlike Iraq, Iran has a fairly diverse and vibrant economy. If anything, a moderate amount of external pressure from UN sanctions will most likely inspire a new level of self-sufficiency, and even cause Iranians to actually see the merit of a completely indiginous nuclear power program.

And if sanctions are tight enough to cause some actual pain, it's just as likely that Iranians will blame the UN, the US, Israel, Europe, et al for their meddling, and support for the Iranian hardliners is only likely to increase, sabotaging US efforts to inspire internal Iranian dissent.

Only if sanctions caused excrutiating pain would the Iranian hardliners begin to feel some heat, but the UN and Iranian export customers are very unlikely to be able to stomache such an extremeeffort.

There is also the possibility that if some sanctions are put in place and Iran finds them too offensive, we could see a retalitory oil embargo by Iran, which will cause everybody else a lot more pain than any benefit they think they are getting.

Any efforts that might result in significant downside to national economies simply is not going to find any significant support, other than with the neocons and the pro-Israel lobby.

So, for now, "the international community" will continue its "War of Words" against Iran and Iran will respond in kind. The effect of this "war" will be to strengthen the resolve of the Iranian hardliners and strengthen their support from the citizens of Iran.

How long will this ineffective "war" continue and what might cause it to come to an end? That's the great unanswered question. Without a lot of hard evidence of an actual nuclear weapons program, which we don't have, there isn't a lot of action that can or should occur. Sure, Israel might make some strikes at some point, but otherwise there will be no action.

One big wildcard is Iraq. It's unclear whether Iraq will really develop as a reliable U.S. satellite (puppet?). The Iraqis might decide that a coalition with Iran has more benefits than an association with the U.S., particularly if the association with the U.S. comes with the "gift" of implying implicit support for unacceptable actions on the part of Israel against the Palestinians.

Even if Iraq does not formally align itself with Iran, it may choose a position of relative neutrality that works to Iran's benefit rather than the U.S. For example, if sanctions or an embargo against Iranian exports does occur for whatever reason, Iraq could simply turn a blind eye (and a nod and a wink) to a significant level of smuggling from Iran to Iraq and then Iraq could do the exporting or internal consumption.

Finally, there is a core question of equity at stake here as well. If their neighbors India, Pakistan, and Israel have nuclear weapons, what approach to equity argues that Iran may not have nuclear weapons? Sure, there is no question that we don't want them to have such weapons, and it is to our advantage for them not to have such weapons, but why is that enough to argue that as a matter of international law (equity) that Iran may not have such weapons?

By the way, I do not buy the argument that Iran (or the old Iraq) will by definition automatically hand nuclear weapons over to terrorists once they get them. Did Pakistan ever hand nuclear weapons over to the terrorists that they support in their skirmishes with India? Has North Korea offered to give nuclear weapons to any terrorist groups? I don't think so. Nuclear weapons are crown jewels. Nobody gives away crown jewels. Yes, you can superficially make the argument that a country might give nuclear weapons away, but that doesn't mean that the argument has any validity.

-- Jack Krupansky


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