Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why Iran Bears Little Resemblance To Iraq (And Boy Does the White House Know It)

Given the Bush administration’s oft-stated justifications for invading Iraq, it should stand to reason that the U.S. should invade Iran.

Let’s make that case by reviewing those justifications and overlay them on the situation in Iran. When one does so, the result is not a pretty picture, but explains why the kind of saber rattling the U.S. did regarding Iraq in the months before the 2003 invasion has been substantially absent when it comes to Iran:

Iran Has WMDs and Is a Threat to the Region

Iran is a much greater threat than Saddam’s Iraq was after his crushing defeat in the first Iraq war. He had no weapons of mass destruction, while Iran is well on its way to having a viable nuclear weapons program.

If you think that program is merely for peaceful purposes, there’s a bridge in Brooklyn that you might like to buy. The European Union, with U.S. support, has repeatedly tried to broker a deal whereby technical support would be offered to a civilian nuclear program in return for scrapping a military program (such as the one shown above at Bushehr), but Teheran isn’t biting because being able to pack nuclear heat is a part of its glorious Islamic future.

An Iran with nuclear weapons would have a profoundly destabilizing effect on the region and beyond. It’s an open secret that Israel has nukes. Would Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia, to name three likely candidates, then be prodded to jump start their own nuclear weapons programs? Quite possibly.

There also is Iran’s saber rattling. Yes, Saddam was prone to bellicose outbursts, but the ranting of Irani President Ahmadinejad, especially as it pertains to Israel and the U.S., has been frighteningly reminiscent of the Khomeini era, except that Iran is considerably stronger now.

It was hard to take Saddam seriously after he was crushed in the first war. Only a fool would fail to take Ahmadinejad seriously.

Sanctions Aren’t Working Against Iran

Yes, there were abuses, but sanctions worked a whole lot better against Iraq than anybody had any reason to expect. The nation was on its knees when the U.S. invaded.

Sanctions have not been tried against Iran, and there is reason to believe they might have an impact on a nation with a thirst for Western goods, chronically high unemployment and festering middle class discontent. That is until you consider that Russian, China and India are unlikely to embrace sanctions because they need to suck long and hard at the Irani oil and natural gas teat.

Iran Is in Bed With Terrorists

The Bush administration argued until it was blue in the face that Saddam also was behind the Al Qaeda-orchestrated 9/11 attacks and that he had a working relationship with Osama bin Laden’s henchmen. There’s no evidence of any consequence for either claim.

It is widely known that Iran has had close ties with Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups, was an underwriter of the Taliban era training camps in Afghanistan and is a conduit, paymaster and supplier for the terrorists flooding across its border into Iraq since President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” after Baghdad fell.

Democracy in Iran Would Spread Elsewhere

The democratic experiment in Iraq follows the downfall of a brutal dictator. It is very much a work in progress and may succeed, although not in a form all that recognizable to the U.S. or all that compatible with its interests. That said, some form of democracy is better than none at all.

A similar experiment in Iran would face far greater obstacles. There was a downfall there as well – the overthrow of the pro-U.S. Shah in 1979. Since then, Iran has been run as a theocratic Islamic republic which shows no signs of losing its grip on power despite the aforementioned domestic problems. Yes, Iranis like Western stuff, but that doesn’t mean they would embrace Western democracy, especially if it was shoved down their throats at point of gun as it has in Iraq

Diplomacy Hasn’t Worked With Iran,
So Military Intervention is Necessary

Ah. We finally have arrived at the rub. Where the Bush administration’s justifications for invading Iraq are exposed for all their hubristic naivete when overlayed on the realities of Iran.

Recall that diplomacy didn’t work with the Saddam regime because the Bush administration was predisposed to invade with or without a consensus among its allies and had no real interest in diplomacy. Diplomacy hasn’t worked with the Ahmadinejad regime either.

So, given that the same conditions exist in Iran as did in Iraq . . . Given, furthermore, the grave threat that a nuclear Iran represents, its toxic ties to Islamic radicals and the opportunity to sew the seeds of democracy there , why not turn those pinpoint accurate U.S. weapons on Iran’s nuclear facilities and let ‘er rip, bucko, with a follow-up ground invasion force that has been battled tested in the streets of Iraq and would march on Teheran pronto and topple the government?

The answer is not nearly as long as that sentence.

It is precisely because Iran is not Iraq, and the consequences of military action against Iran would make the drama now playing out – and out and out ad nauseum -- in Iraq seem like small beer in comparison.

Iraq’s response to the U.S.-led invasion was for its Army to turn tail with nary a fight and its supreme leader to dig a hole and hide in it. Only later were the insurgents given a free pass because of circumstances largely of the U.S.'s doing.

Iran’s response to a U.S.-led invasion would be far more problematic. Closing the vital Strait of Hormuz to oil shipments. Inciting its terrorist pals to further destabilize Iraq and launch retaliatory strikes against the U.S. And, if Israel was to hit targets in tandem with the U.S., which certainly would be a possibility, unleash a wave of violence there, as well.

Might we conclude that the reasons that the Bush administration has given for going after the Iraq chihuahua seem even more foolish when they’re applied to the Iran pit bull?

Might we further conclude that this foolishness is obvious even to the White House, which has followed a very multilateral, very un-Iraq-like, very capital "D" Democratic and very un-Bush-like policy of relying on diplomacy?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well, maybe.

I agree pretty much with Shaun's analysis, but there are some other things to be said.

First, the Iran problem has more in common with Iraq than at first appears. Both countries have been or are rogue elephants, and the problem with Shaun's view of Iraq is that by no means all the facts are in, either about its possession (or otherwise) of WMD, nor about Saddam's links with outside terror groups. (Is it possible to believe that Saddam had no contacts with terror groups? Perhaps, but not by me.)

Second, conventional organs of diplomacy don't work now, nor have ever worked, very efficiently with rogue states. Recall Mr Chamberlain and Mr Hitler and you have a rough idea. The American incursion into Iraq bypassed such niceties (not, however, to forget certain UN resolutions authorising force there) and EU attempts, along with the IAEA, to bring Iran to heel have been a waste of time so far. Their track record does not raise hopes by much.

Third, George Bush's delegation of the diplomatic effort to the Europeans was surely forced on him by domestic political necessity, and the impossibility of taking on yet another military initiative. The Europeans, regrettably, almost always disappoint us.

Fourth, there are hints that Iran's aggressiveness could be subject to domestic constraints. Powerful the grip of the mullahs may be, but very occasionally stories and photographs of protest by a younger generation find their way into the Western media. More to come on this, I think.

Fifth, Israel would surely be reluctant to provide the military, possibly nuclear, solution, but of all the countries involved they surely have the most to lose. Ahmadinejad no doubt has that in his calculations, and he doesn't think about the world the same way we do here in the West.

Sixth, a reduction in Iran's oil exports, whether imposed by Iran as a threat or by the destruction of actual war, will certainly make it more expensive to fill the tank, but the effect on Iran and its livelihood would be disastrous. It is hard to imagine that Iran could choose such a route, but they might.

Seventh, the logic of the threat to the West is the same for Iran as it was for Iraq, but the timing and therefore the methods of dealing with it are different. Like the idea or not, Iranians will have to be compelled to choose a different way to deal with the rest of the world, because their present stance opens up ideas which are simply unthinkable. Peacefully would be better, but...