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Iran makes a break for it

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Via Kevin Drum, Iran has broken the remaining seals on its nuclear equipment.  Looks like they’re going for broke.

A few points:

1.  This is entirely rational on the part of the Iranians.  They think that the US won’t respond during an election, and especially while tied down in Iraq, and they know that the Europeans won’t do anything of note.   They also know that the “invade Iran” meme is starting to spread among some Washington circles; nuclear immunization now makes that impossible.

2.  As noted by Balta, an Osirak style attack probably isn’t going to work.  Osirak, you may recall, was the Iraqi nuclear plant attacked and destroyed by Israeli aircraft in 1981.  The Iranians have been careful to spread the various elements of their nuclear program around, and presumably have also taken steps to harden any vulnerable targets.

3.  Options?  Well, we can invade, which would spark further unrest in Iraq (especially the south), finish off Tony Blair and any other allies we have in Europe by the end of the day, and leave us, best case, with a country twice the size of Iraq to occupy and administer.   We can try the Osirak option, which probably won’t work, which will irritate the international community (any strikes would be flagrantly illegal, as there is zero chance that the UN would approve them; Iran would probably be legally justified in launching any counter-attacks it wished), and will also spark further unrest in Iraq.  We can adopt a policy of “regime change” which apparently means glowering at the Iranians until their government collapses; some people seem to believe this is how the Cold War ended.  Finally, we can deal with the Iranians and their new nukes.

I would like to think that some combination of regime change and engagement would be the best strategy, but I can’t bring myself to believe that the Islamic Republic is on the verge of collapse.  Tossing cash in the direction of some Iranian exiles may make us feel better, but I very much doubt that it will have any substantial impact on Iranian domestic politics.  Invasion is laughable at this point; Bush couldn’t do it even if he wanted to.  The Osirak option seems to me high-risk/low reward; the chance that we would destroy any targets is offset by the further decay of our alliances, the instability it would cause in Iraq, and the probable increased popularity of the Islamic Republic in Iran.  At this point, engagement seems the only serious option.

Nuclear Iran:  Brought to you by the Bush administration.

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