Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Ineffable Gap Between Dream and Reality

Tony Karon suggests that the U.S. is asking the wrong questions on Iran:
Imagine, for a moment, that U.S. troops invading Iraq had, as they neared Baghdad, been fired on by an artillery unit using shells filled VX nerve gas — an attack that would have lasted minutes before a U.S. aircrew had taken out the battery, and may have brought a horrible death to a handful of American soldiers. Imagine, further, that the conquering troops had later discovered two warehouses full of VX and mustard gas shells. And later, that inspectors in a science lab had discovered a refrigerator full of Botulinum toxin or even anthrax.

The Administration and its allies in the punditocracy would have “proved” their case for war, and the media would have hailed President Bush as the kind of Churchillian visionary that he imagines himself to be. And goodness knows what new adventures the Pentagon ideologues would have immediately begun planning.

Now, ask yourself, had the above scenario unfolded and the “case for war” (on the terms accepted by the media and the Democrats) been proven, would Iraq look any different today? Would it be any less of a bloodbath; any less of a quagmire for U.S. troops; any less of a geopolitical disaster; any less of a drain on U.S. blood and treasure? Would the U.S. mainland or U.S. interests and allies worldwide be any safer today? In short, would the Iraq invasion seem any less of a catastrophic strategic blunder had the U.S. discovered some caches of unconventional weapons in Iraq?

The answer to all of those questions is obviously no.
WMDs are such an old, hoary lie (it takes a true poltroon like Jim Lileks to keep pushing the "Saddam had chemical weapons!" story) that we forget sometimes that they were the loudest and most prominent justification for invasion. But the quantity of nerve gas in Baghdad - be it a molecule, a mole or a metric tonne - has nothing to do with the thousand year old tensions between Shia and Sunni, or the uncertain position of the Kurds. And yet all of that is what's making Iraq such a hell today.

Clearly, "does Saddam have WMDs?" was the wrong question.

Keep that in mind as the discussion turns toward the (inevitable) invasion of Iran. Granted, there are certain questions of moral weight to answer first:

For the record:

  • First, there is no evidence that Iran is actually building a nuclear weapon; merely that it is building a civilian nuclear energy program with all elements of the fuel cycle permissible under the NPT that would, in fact, put nuclear weapons easily within reach should they opt to build them.

  • Second, even if Iran did possess nuclear weapons, the idea that it would use them to initiate a conflict in which Tehran would certainly be destroyed is based on tabloid-style alarmism about the nature of the regime in Tehran — in fact, Iran’s Islamic Republic has long proved to be guided more by unsentimental realpolitik than by revolutionary fervor in the pursuit of its national interests and regional influence.

  • Third, Iran is not “interfering” in Afghanistan and Iraq any more than the U.S. is; it has close ties with the dominant Shiite and Kurdish parties that represent three quarters of Iraqis, for whom its involvement in Iraq is welcome. Thus the recent rebuke to Bush by both Karzai and Maliki on the question of Iran’s role in their countries. Even the Administration’s claims that Iran is targeting U.S. troops in Iraq are largely unproven: In a remarkably shallow treatment of complaints about the New York Times coverage of the issue, its public editor concedes simply that the Times should have told readers of its previous coverage to provide “context” — there is no serious questioning of the contention that because Iran has been known to supply the know-how to build “Explosively Formed Projectiles” (EFPs), any time an EFP is used in an attack on U.S. soldiers in Iraq, the perpetrators are an Iranian proxy. This is worth dwelling on, because it’s typical of the ignorance on various issues — the extent of President Ahmedinajad’s authority in Iran, for example — propagated by the Times. A simple technical exposition of what an EFP is reveals that the technology is easily copied by anyone with know-how and access to very basic munitions. It’s not an actual weapon; it’s a method of building an improvised explosive device to pierce armor. The idea that the use of EFPs in Iraq is automatically a fingerprint of Iran is ridiculous. Someone ought to tell the Times. And by the way, even if Iranian proxies were attacking U.S. forces in Iraq, that wouldn’t signal intent to undermine the Iraqi government; it would simply be an escalation of the secret war between Washington and Tehran. And that’s a war that this President, his deepest psychological scars laid bare by his failure in Iraq — a wound that the psychotic Dick Cheney will press and press — may be ready to escalate by launching an attack on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard. Indeed, it is not Iranian “interference” that Iraq and Afghanistan fear; it is being caught in the crossfire between the U.S. and Iran.

  • 1938? Don’t make me laugh. Nazi Germany was the most powerful military nation on earth, and in 1938 it was poised to invade its neighbors. To make the same claim about Iran is just plain ignorant.
  • (the above is Karon again, by the way)

    So, let's ask the same questions that should have been asked about Iraq: can the U.S. win a land war in Iran? No:
    Iran is scarier than Iraq in every way you can name. First of all, it's physically way bigger, three times the size of Iraq. The population is 65 million, nearly three times as many as Iraq. The Iranians are young, too. Their birthrate is way down now, around 2 kids per woman, but back in the Khomeini years it was one of the highest in the world. So right now, the Iranian population has a demographic profile that's a military planner's dream: not too many little kids to take care of, but a huge pool of fighting-age men -- about 18 million.

    And it won't be just young, fit men fighting us. Thanks to the invention of the suicide car bomb, guerrilla commanders will have someplace to send 70 year old volunteers: down to the garage to pick up a Plymouth packed full of fertilizer bomb. You don't have to be young to put the pedal to the metal.


    The Iranians, unlike the Iraqis, have always been willing to die for their country. In the Iran-Iraq War (1980-89) thousands of Iranians volunteered to charge across Iraqi minefields, knowing they were going to die. It scared the Hell out of the Iraqis. They threw everything at those crazy Persian suicide charges, even poison gas. And the Iranians just kept coming.


    The Iranians already hate us. They have since 1953, when the CIA staged a coup to get rid of a popular Lefty Prime Minister, Mossadeq. Way back in the 70s, when most of the world still kinda liked us, crowds in Tehran chanted "Marg bar Amrika," "Death to America."

    We're also getting told we'll be able to exploit the ethnic divisions inside Iran. The fact is, Iran's ethnic problems are nowhere near as bad as Iraq's. More than half of the population is ethnically Persian. The next-biggest group is the Azerbaijani, about a quarter of the population. They squabble with the Iranian majority from time to time, but they're fellow Shi'ites, they intermarry all the time- there's no real hatred between them. There are a few Arabs in Western Iran, maybe 3% of the population. But if you're thinking we could bring them over to our side, forget it. Saddam already tried that during the Iran-Iraq War and got nowhere. And if they're not going to rebel for a fellow Arab who lives next door, you better believe they won't rise up to help us Christian Crusaders.

    That leaves us with the Kurds, who are about 10% of the Iranian population. There are all kinds of factions in Kurdistan, all of them armed and ready to kill each other, so we might be able to sign up a few of the really crazy gangs to work with us. But they would have zero chance of controlling a country as big, fierce and clever as Iran.
    That's what the U.S. has to look forward to in Iran. Remember, both of the two leading Democratic candidates for President - Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton - voted in favor of a resolution that will be used to justify invading Iran. And no leading Republican candidate is any more rational on the matter.

    U.S. casualties in Iraq have been relatively light so far. In Iran, there will be a slaughterhouse without end.


    Post a Comment

    << Home