The "act of war" was not a comment about sensibilities so much as a need to use language to express the gravity of that course of action. Too many so-called "hawks" I see in the media pass military action off as if it were an easy, simple matter. It also relates to international law, but I didn't mention that because we should never let international law completely remove options from our table. However, we have no real legal right attack Iran because we think they're building a bomb. That issue doesn't bother me, but it comes into play when we have to deal with allies and other countries who do take international law as gospel.
No we couldn't stop Iran's neighbors from getting the bomb - but nonproliferation has failed in the region and worldwide already. Unfortunately, what Iran wants to do - or rather, what they say they want to do - is completely legitimate under the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Iran DOES have the right under that treaty to master the nuclear fuel cycle and enrich fuel for use in reactors. It's the huge gaping flaw in that treaty. To be honest there are many countries in the world who have the technology to make a bomb in a matter of months. Their civilian programs provide all the necessary technology; all they would need is to enrich some uranium and get a viable bomb design. Anyway, I could go on and on about the NPT, but I think everyone agrees that it's been a failure.
As for the Russian offer to provide uranium for Iranian reactors - that is a viable solution, but one the Iranians have rejected. Russia, the US and other countries provide uranium for reactors in other countries, and there is very little danger of Iran recapturing the plutonium, or seeding the reactor with U-238. The spent fuel is analysed by the provider country and IAEA, compared with reactor logs, etc. Any such activity to get plutonium is easily detected. This is exactly why Iran has rejected this course of action. It would actually be much cheaper for them to get their fuel from Russia, as Russian has plenty and Iran wouldn't have to worry about long-term storage and reprocessing of spent fuel. But again, Iran rejected that offer for obvious reasons.
Finally, I must take issue with Brad about airstrikes and civilians getting killed. What you state is simply false. The vast majority of civilian deaths are due to ethnic, religious, or terrorist acts. Airstrikes that cause major civilian casualties are when a piece of ordnance goes awry or the wrong target is attacked. Also remember that this is an insurgent war. Can the family that feeds, shelters, and houses terrorists be called "civilian?" In insurgent warfare, the lines between who is a "civilian" and who is not isn't easily defined (If you read about guerilla/insurgent organization, you'll find that the lowest level, often called the "mass base" are often no more than "civilians" who are sympathizers who provide shelter and supplies, but don't actively conduct attacks. Many of the "civilians" we've killed fall into this category)
Case in point is the latest attack we conducted in Pakistan. While it's very tragic that children were killed in those attacks, the parents of those children are to blame for inviting targets into their midst.
More than ANY other country, we try our best to avoid killing the innocent. I have seen strikes called off and the enemy escape because we were unwilling to kill innocents. Our opponents are completely the opposite. They think nothing of killing 20 children if they can get one American. These are the same people who take over a school - attach explosives to children, and shoot them in the back when they run away. It still boggles my mind that any person has the mental incapacity to gun down a scared child.
I've read some of the after-action reports from Falluja. Insurgents there kept some families from fleeing the city before the battle and used them as human shields. They'd tie them up on the ground floor and when our boys came in to clear the house they'd roll grenades down the stairwells or hold the kids in front of them while shooting at our guys. In many of those cases, we have no choice but to kill the civilians, but you need to bear in mind who is responsible for their deaths.
I really get tired of people on the far left blasting the American military for civilian casualties while never mentioning the scores of civilians our enemies kill daily. It's bad in this country, but even worse in Europe where our troops are often portrayed as reckless at best, and murderers at worst, while the insurgents are just "fighting the unjust occupation." No fighting force in the world takes more measures to prevent civilian casualties than ours - why do you think the insurgents surround themselves with civilians and hide in mosques? Because they know we are hesitant to attack them there and kill those civilians. They know our ethical values and use them against us daily. Yet when a tragedy happens or a mistake is made in a confusing and violent situation, we are the ones to blame their deaths. Ok, rant over.Comment Posted By Andrew On 20.01.2006 @ 17:49
Let me add some insight and rationality to what has been said.
Rick's article makes a lot of good points. Too often right-wing figureheads spout off about taking out Iran's program with nary a thought to the consequences. Your article is a good start.
First off, attacking Iran is not a "military action," it is an act of war. Too many throw that term around to disguise what we are really contemplating. Attacking Iran is very different that the invasion of Afghanistan (which was still in a state of civil war with an unrecognized Taliban government) or Iraq, in which we were already in a de-facto state of war (since they violated every article of the cease-fire they signed in 1991 and attempted for 12 years to shoot down our aircraft). Iran, like it or not, is a legitimate, recognized government. Attacking them, even in a limited strike, is an act of war, plain and simple. This is not Sudan, or Panama, or Grenada with a weak and easily toppled government that no one cares about. I cannot recall any instance where the USA has openly attack such a government in such a way. My point here is that this is not a simple "military action" but a massively significant act that has far-reaching and, ultimately, unknowable consequences.
Secondly, we do not have the capability to "invade" Iran in the traditional sense. We could conceivably destroy their government and military forces by invading - at significant cost to us - but what then? Occupation of a country like Iran is impossible for our present force structure. We'd do nothing more than create a failed state and play right into the hands of Sunni wahhabists by crushing the bastion of shiism. An invasion itself is a much more difficult problem than either Iraq or Afghanistan. We have no proxy forces to assist us. The geography of Iran makes it a tough nut to crack. Iran's standing Army is large and more capable than the hollow Iraqi army we faced. Some of their senior military leadership were trained by Americans. I can list more reasons, but I think it's safe to say that an invasion is out of the question currently.
Air and precision strikes on their nuclear facilities is definitely a doable option. Despite what most of the idiot commentators on TV say (who wouldn't know a military strategic thought if it hit them in the face), our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan aren't a significant hindrance to this kind of attack. Both those conflicts are ground anti-insurgency forces and make little use of strike aircraft and cruise missiles.
Since it's possible to conduct a limited strike, the quesion becomes one of targeting. How solid is our intelligence on where their facilities are? Can we achieve strategic and tactical surprise to prevent them from moving key equipment out of those facilities? We cannot eliminate the nuclear knowledge they have, so we have to try to destroy the equipment that makes a nuke possible. Even if we succeed, equipment can be remade and/or repurchased. Depending on how well we do (and judging that will be difficult), we will delay their program anywhere from a 2-15 years.
Third is the Iranian populace. The general Iranian population is the most pro-western, pro-US muslim population in the world. You may remember the scores of Iranians who took to the streets for candle-light vigils following 9-11 and contrast that with what you saw in Eqypt, Gaza, or any other Muslim country. Attacking Iran would undoubtedly alienate one of the most positive aspects for us in that country.
Fourth are the long-term consequences. These are impossible to determine, just as it was impossible for us to predict where we'd be in Iraq at this point.
One thing is for certain - the Iranians would close the strait of Hormuz. They have been acquiring the tactics and weaponry to do this for over a decade. We would have to take out this capability in conjunction with strikes on their nuclear facilities. We would succeed in degrading their capability, but each and every ship transiting the straits would still need a military escort. The effect on world oil supplies is obvious and quite scary, but many of the supplies we use for our forces in Iraq come through the strait as well.
We'd have to increase our presence in both Iraq and Afghanistan to guard against Iranian counterattacks on our forces there, as well as our many military installations scattered across the Gulf area. All are in range of Iranian aircraft or missiles.
Beyond that, who knows what other measures the Iranians may take to retaliate?
Finally, let's look at history. Back when the Soviets stole our science and got the bomb a decade early, there was talk about us taking them and their program out. We and the world weren't nearly as sensitive to the use of nuclear weapons as we are now. Nuking the Soviets was a considered possibility. Who can say how today's world would be different if we had chosen to go to war against the Soviets when they were at the height of their power?
This leads me into my solution, which is the path I think our government will eventually take. If political and economic sanctions and military threats fail, we should make it clear that it is US Policy that any use of a nuclear weapon by Iran anywhere in the world constitutes a nuclear attack by Iran on the United States.
Many people say it's "likely" that Iran will give a nuke to terrorists. I think this overstated. Iran would only consider this if they believe there was zero possibility the weapon could be traced to them. If the weapon is captured before detonation, they'd be found out immediately. Their nuclear scientists will know that attribution can be obtained through chemical analysis of fallout and nuclear debris if the weapon is detonated. It's seems unlikely to me that Iran would risk the safety of its nation, and more importantly - its Islamic Revolution - by taking such a risk that would certainly lead to their own destruction. Giving a nuke to a terrorist, which takes it out of their control, also carries the risk it could be captured by a rival group and used against them or an ally. In my determination, Iran would probably not take that risk, despite the rhetoric we hear.
This biggest problem with this course of action, in my view, is the pressure a nuclear Iran would have on neighbors to acquire their own weapons. In one sense, the pressure already exists due to Pakistan/India and North Korea. Iran wouldn't likely announce they had a nuclear weapon in any event, since they spend so much time telling the world they don't want one. In all likelihood, Iran would probably pursue a policy of either keeping the program totally secret, or adopting a policy of ambiquity similiar to Israel.
So in the final analysis, I believe that attacking Iran has more drawbacks than benefits, especially if you factor in the unforseen consequences that always occur when undertaking such a course of action.Comment Posted By Andrew On 20.01.2006 @ 14:35
Yes, there are a lot of reports of Iranians and North Korea improving their designs. North Korea hasn't done much with it's missiles lately because they are edging closer to national collapse. It's doubtful they'll get the technology to make a viable ICBM anytime soon. Iran is definitely interested in MRBM technology, but they still have a long way to go for ICBM's. Both programs are still pretty much in the prototype stage, which means they have a lot of problems, require a lot of maintenance, and aren't very reliable. That will slowly change though, especially for the Iranians.
The problem with missiles, of course, is that they leave a calling card, and we are working toward missile defense to address the Korean threat. We have a joint project with the Israeli's for missile defense technology, and the Israeli's have an operational system now. Considering that, it's much more likely they'd put a nuke on ship, blow it in a port city, or bring it across from Mexico. That way they'd be assured of destruction and mayhem while still have some plausible deniability.Comment Posted By Andrew On 7.12.2005 @ 17:52
A thought-provoking article!
However, I must address a couple of factual errors and erroneous assumptions.
First, the CIA wasn't far off with their assessment of the Soviet atomic weapon program in 1949. The problem was that traitors in our program gave the Soviets enough info to make their own bomb. We had won the "war" with the Soviets of capturing the most Scientists (including those that immigrated before the WWII), so we had a large technical and scientific head start. That was all for naught though, as we gave the Soviets a complete bomb design plus a lot of technical information on uranium enrichment and plutonium production. So the blame for this really belongs to the FBI, not the CIA.
The same could be said for China in many respects. They received a lot of outside assistance which we weren't aware of until after the fact.
Finally, a NIE is not a CIA document, so any conclusions in one cannot be blamed solely on the CIA. An NIE is a document representing the views of all the players in the intel community, of which is the CIA is now a small part. Other parts of the intelligence community came to the wrong conclusion as well. If you want to see wildly off-base capability and intent analysis, read what the state department puts out.
Third, you make a conclusions Iran will use nukes against us that I feel are way off base. The primary motivation for Iranian nuke development is self-preservation. After Bush's "axis of evil" speech, and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq (both of which border Iran), Iran feels cornered and they view the nuclear option as a way to guarantee their security. They are not stupid, "crazy" people as many portray them - they are calculating and very smart. The idea they would cause a global economic meltdown and ensure the destruction of their own government by pre-emptively nuking the US is ludicrous. The fact is, the Iranian nuclear program went into high gear after Bush's Axis speech. I think this will be seen as a major foreign policy blunder.
Fourth, your mention of the Tor-m1 systems doesn't belong in this article and really has no bearing. The Iranians have been buying weapons from the Russians since the early 1980's. As their US equipment starts to fail due to age and lack of spare parts, the Iranians replace it. The Tor-m1 is not a major upgrade to their air defense.
Fifth, Russia selling the Iranians nuclear fuel is a good thing. Under international law and treaty, the fuel would be used and monitored in Iran, then returned to Russia for reprocessing. The IAEA and other organizations ensure that the fuel isn't used for plutonium production or reprocessed before it gets returned. Both the US and Russia use this method to provide nuclear fuel to "non-nuclear" countries, and it's perfectly legitimate and legal. So your contention that once Iran had the fuel they could use it make weapons is innacurate.
The danger we're facing now is that Iran does NOT want to buy fuel from Russia, because they know they couldn't reprocess it or spike it with uranium for plutonium production. That's why they want an indigenous fuel supply with the ability to enrich it - it won't be subject to international oversight. In fact, it's a lot more expensive for them to develop and maintain an indigenous supply as nuclear fuel is fairly cheap on the international market.Comment Posted By Andrew On 6.12.2005 @ 10:51
Sigh Harlan. You said, "How do you lose a war to a country with no real government or military."
Let's examine what you're saying exactly:
"How do you lose a war..." Um, we won the war. We defeated Iraq. The war we're in now is a different war and not against any country; and it is still ongoing, so we haven't lost it.
"...to a country with no real government or military." Iraq does have a government and military. They are our allies. The people we are fighting are a few remaining elements of the old regime, but most are imported Arab terrorists.
So, nothing in your statement is in any way factual.Comment Posted By Andrew On 30.11.2005 @ 20:28
Harlan, that shows your complete ignorance of insurgency warfare. The fact that you think we're at war with a country is very telling.Comment Posted By Andrew On 30.11.2005 @ 17:39
The biggest problem the Bush administration has always had is their poor communication. This is not confined to just the President, who obviously isn't a great public speaker, but to the administration as a whole. They are a very secretive and I don't think it has served them well. Had they come out from the beginning and been more open and honest about the course of the war, I seriously doubt public opinion on the war would have eroded as much as it has. Even I, who is well versed with what is going on in Iraq, was confused by some of the junk, generalized information the White House was giving out. I just hope this new willingness to explain and keep the average American informed is not too little too late.Comment Posted By Andrew On 30.11.2005 @ 13:36
There are many reason why the Government is preventing these documents from coming to light. The biggest, in my view, is a combination of classic beaurocratic CYA combined with a desire to prevent even more debate on the origins of the war. The military has a pertinent acronym: OBE (Overtake By Events). Now that the war is on, spending valuable political resources rehashing the cause is counterproductive. It can wait until the war is won or lost. In the same way, you never hear football commentators rehash the effects of 1st quarter turnovers in the 3rd quarter, but they are always examined as factors once the game is won or lost.
As far as the weapons themselves, it's possible they were moved to Syria, but I consider this unlikely. Chemical and Biological weapons are easy and relatively cheap to manufacture provided you have the scientific expertise. Many have short shelf-lives and require special facilities to house. It seems much more logical to me that they were destroyed at some point prior to hostilities with the intent to reestablish the capability at a later date. Certainly there is direct evidence of this with respect to Iraq's nuclear capability. Hopefully you remember the Iraqi nuclear scientist who had elements of a calutron buried in his backyard. He was instructed to hide the parts so they could be used as templates to create more at a later date. This direct personal evidence, coupled with documentary evidence, has pretty decisively shown that Iraq did shut down it's nuclear program with intent to covertly restart it once sanctions and inspectors were gone.
I just don't see any advantage to shipping the weapons to Syria. Syria, with its own robust programs, certainly doesn't need them. There is great political risk for Syria to accept the weapons for little to no benefit for them. And, as I mention above, the capability to reconstitute remains, as long as Saddam could hold on to the experts involved and survive the war.
However, despite all logic, it's possible the weapons were transferred to Syria. Certainly many in the Intelligence community believe that is what happened, though I believe they were not.Comment Posted By Andrew On 17.11.2005 @ 19:26