Dealing with Iran is a thorny problem of diplomacy and military will that has been a major card in American political poker for almost half a century. In the toxic, two-channel political environment of 2010, the subtlety necessary for this problem is nothing less than a political handicap. For some motivated pundits and voters, nothing short of complete abandonment of military options is acceptable. For the mandated “other side”, any posture that falls short of “hands up or I’ll shoot” is an admission of wholesale weakness or outright treason.
Iran presents us with problems that require intelligence, strength, and maturity. The situation requires grown-ups and American politics breeds rank immaturity. We the people accept lies from our candidates so long as they are easy lies; fixing the deficit while lowering taxes, providing better security without intruding on long-cherished freedoms, controlling reckless dictators without spending money or incurring casualties. We like our easy buttons in 21st Century America, and we despise politicians that have the temerity to propose the hard road. Dealing with Iran means travelling the hardest of roads; any who propose that there is a solution either simple or easy is both liar and fool.
There are three basic issues in play with adversarial nations once economic issues are removed from the equation. The threat of conventional warfare is the easiest of all to deal with; the U.N. and most of the industrialized nations of the world are quick to respond to cross-border incursions, and there is little complexity outside of the scope of military operations. Human rights violations within a nation are a far more murky problem; few options for dealing with a rogue government exist that do not bring yet more pain on the oppressed populace that the government stands above. The third issue presents a profile similar to the second; the rogue government that attempts to obtain nuclear, biological, or chemical weapons has entered into an area of international law that is nebulous at best.
Iran, of course, presents within both of the complicated issues. There is no doubt that the Mullahs and Revolutionary Guards are in control of that nation, and a mountain of evidence that they have little problem using violence to control the populace. The extremes that they will go to are a function of the sophisticated nature of the nation; Iran is not some backwater country of mud-huts and peasants. The modern day extension of the ancient empire of Persia is a cosmopolitan and reasonably well-educated land, endowed with sufficient economic components to make it a powerhouse. The ambition of some within the ruling class to obtain nuclear weapons is a natural outgrowth of their desire to be, at minimum, a super-regional power.
Nations like the United States have a moral obligation to recognize human rights abuses. All nations have obligations towards the disarmament, at some point in the future, of the nuclear world. It is the position of The Rational Middle that most issues of human rights are best dealt with by example-setting, communication, and commerce. The proliferation of nuclear weapons is a different story. Nobody outside of Iran wants that nation to have nukes. No party or politician within the United States wants Iran to have nukes. A nuclear Iran presents four specific threats:
- With nukes, Iran could engage in direct unconventional action against its neighbors in the Persian Gulf. Long the enemies of Shiite Iran, the Sunni states of the Arabs also possess massive oil reserves. The destruction of those reserves would increase the value of the ones held by Iran.
- The second threat relates to an arms race in the Middle East. The world is, at long last, moving towards nuclear disarmament. Iran’s acquisition of the bomb could spark a new race with nations like Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Iraq (yes friends, democracies have a funny way of deciding for themselves what is right) jumping into the fray.
- Threat number three involves the increased possibility of WMD’s getting into the hands of terrorists. Regardless of security levels, a nuke in the hands of a terrorist will very likely reach its target. Even non-fissile nuclear material presents a frightening threat: rent the movie “Dirty War” to get a clear and deeply disturbing notion of the problem.
- The final threat is the very direct threat to the nation of Israel. As a target, the Jewish state would be an overpowering temptation for the many individuals within Iran who have made it clear that they want the nation wiped off the map. No Islamic terrorist would risk a nuclear attack on or about Jerusalem, but strikes against Haifa or Tel Aviv are easy to contemplate.
It is somewhat easy to make a list of threats; it is a great deal more difficult to create an effective preemptive action. It is common, in everyday American life, to hear adults complaining of their children or young charges that “…they just don’t think about the consequences; they have no plan for the future.” It is equally common to hear an American pontificate on issues of foreign policy without any concept of the end-game. From the end of the Korean War (which wasn’t technically a war, and isn’t technically over), the Western industrial powers, led by the U.S., have been crippled by an inability to think all the way through problems of foreign policy.
The French in Indo-China created the original “fire-base” in a valley at Dien-Bien Phu…that is it, there was no other strategy. They just dropped a regiment of troopers and some field artillery and assumed that the insurgency would admit defeat and go home. The insurgents waited until they had sufficient force, and overran the French. The Americans, in the same region a decade later, supported a corrupt government against the same insurgents. The insurgents waited until we were tired and went home. They suspected us of no weakness, they just knew that all men eventually want peace and tire of war and the road.
We have followed this same pattern over and over again; the names change and some politicians are clever enough to snatch victory through redefinition, but the real results are inevitable. War may be necessary, but the prudent nation considers how it will have to end before entering into the venture. That is what, theoretically, separates us from the suicide bombers. How shall we end any venture in Iran? What is the ultimate fate of sanctions, or air-strike, or counter-insurgency, or special operations? What are the likely sources of collateral damage? The neo-conservatives who conceived of an ongoing process of war and democratization, beginning with Iraq and moving through Syria, Iran, and elsewhere, never paid much heed to how the people living in those nations would react. Failing to assess the humanity of one’s enemies is the mistake of small minds, and the disease of those that send others to war without themselves being ready to fight.
Showing Iran strength, talking tough, dropping a few bombs, and threatening sanctions: these are the sum total of good ideas from both sides of the American political spectrum. We hear often of the liberal connection to Hollywood naivete, but John Wayne, Rambo, and 24 are just as fantastical, unrealistic, and dangerous. The trouble with Iran is that the simple minded idiots running that nation have set a problem that will take a level of intellect above the simple-mindedness of American politics. Lets encourage our politicians to set aside the electioneering on foreign policy, and remember how easy it is to be smarter than Ahmadinejad.
The Rational Middle is listening…