In a recent article in The New Yorker, investigative journalist Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration has conducted missions using military special forces on Iranian territory in an attempt to find Iran's nuclear facilities for possible later targeting with air strikes or commando raids. Such military actions would have dire consequences for the United States and the Middle East.
As unbelievable as it might seem, despite its disastrous martial adventure in neighboring Iraq, the administration appears to be once again leaning toward using the military option to deal with a country that it believes is attempting to get nuclear weapons. U.S. government intelligence agencies believe that Iran is still three to five years from getting such a weapon, but given their recent track record of failure on the Indo-Pakistan nuclear tests, the September 11 attacks, and Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programs, no one can be sure if they are correct. Using this information, however, as the government must, targeting of Iran is over-the-top-given that an Iranian nuclear weapon is not imminent.
Even if an Iranian bomb were in the offing, the only way to make sure that all Iranian nuclear facilities are located and destroyed would be to invade the country. With a guerrilla war raging in one of the staging areas for an invasion-Iraq-the U.S. military would probably pop a vein at even the thought of invading a larger, more populous, more mountainous, and more radical Iran. Thus, "surgical" air strikes or commando raids on Iran's nuclear facilities would have to suffice. But as shown by the failed 1998 Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign to impair Iraq's WMD programs and the recent WMD intelligence debacle in Iraq, the United States likely does not know where all of Iran's nuclear weapons sites are located (if there are any at all).
After Israel's air strikes against Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, aspiring nuclear weapons states, including Iran, learned to bury, harden or hide such facilities or build them in populous areas-all making air strikes less effective in knocking out any country's nuclear weapons programs. In fact, air strikes could ultimately accelerate Iran's nuclear program. Iran saw that a nuclear North Korea received much more respect from the United States than a non-nuclear Iraq. The United States is trying to entice the North Koreans to give up their nuclear weapons through negotiations; it invaded Iraq. The message to Iran was to develop nuclear weapons fast, in secret and in deeply buried and hardened facilities. Furthermore, after the Israeli bombing of Osirak in Iraq, an alarmed Iraq actually accelerated its efforts to get nuclear weapons. Similarly, in the wake of surgical U.S. attacks on some of its nuclear sites, an unnerved Iran would likely accelerate a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
Surgical attacks on Iran could also have other negative consequences in the region and around the globe. The Iranians could retaliate by making the U.S. occupation of Iraq even uglier than it is at present. They could feed money, arms, and fighters into the Iraq war or stir up Shi'ite populations against the U.S. occupation. In addition, attacks by a foreign superpower could cause a "rally around the flag" effect among a restive, young Iranian population that might eventually throw out the ruling theocratic mafia. Finally, attacking a third Islamic country after the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq could spike retaliatory terrorism on U.S. targets around the world by newly energized radical Islamists. Iran might even begin sponsoring such anti-U.S. attacks.
In conclusion, military action against Iran's nuclear facilities would be both ineffective and counterproductive. Instead, the United States should reverse course, pledge to remove economic sanctions, and offer a non-aggression treaty to ease Iran's anxiety, if Iran agrees to a verifiable end to its nuclear program. The Iranian anxiety is not unfounded, given the U.S. occupation of neighboring countries of Afghanistan and Iraq, and it contributes to Iran's desire to have nuclear weapons. Although the Bush administration crows about its militaristic foreign policy causing Libya to give up its WMD programs, the real breakthrough occurred when the carrot of the removal of international economic sanctions was offered. With military options so counterproductive, the United States has no choice but to use negotiations-not force-to end Iran's nuclear program.
Ivan Eland is the Director of the Center on Peace and Liberty at the Independent Institute in Oakland, California and author of the book, Putting "Defense" Back into U.S. Defense Policy: Rethinking U.S. Security in the Post-Cold War World.
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That said, I do not think that it will happen. I think that popular consent will be against escalating the conflict in the Middle East by opening another theater of war (or pushing forward with a front that we've already opened).
Iran is a larger and much more populous nation than Iraq. Any armed conflict there would be long and protracted, with no clear goal or mission (let's face it, no one is going to fall for that WMD thing again), it would turn into a debacle (uh-can we say "post-war" Iraq?). This is the real reason that Colin Powell left the administration. Mr. Powell and his cohorts believe that military action should be undertaken when there are clearly defined goals and mission objectives, when these are achieved, the military action ceases. A good example of this is when the US did not invade Iraq in 1991 after Kuwait was liberated. The mission was accomplished. This is also the issue in Iraq, namely, what are our goals? What is our mission there?
What is more, Iran is a fledgeling democracy all on its own. I think that the young people there will moderate and open up the country. If the US invades, however, it will be very counter productive to this. The more likely option will be sanctions and brinkmanship, similar to what you see in North Korea. Also, there will probably be a hardened border with Iraq to control Iran's influence there (what with the majority Shia population)
From what I know, the next and most likely candidate for any sort of direct intervention is
Syria. Again, I don't think it will be a grand scale op like in Iraq, but special forces on search and destroy assignments and intimidation on the part of the US to the dictator of Syria: play our game or else.
As salaam alaykum
I agree with all the thoughtful comments that have been made so far and I want to add two of my own.
First, the idea that a united Arab force to counter Israel's possible dominance in the region is EXACTLY what George Bush and other Millenial Christians want. They see the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, ie the Al Aqsa Mosque, as necessary in order for the rapture to begin. When only they, of course, will be lifted to heaven. So US foriegn policy in the Middle East is one of doing anything they can to foment an armed conflict between Israel and its neighbors.
Secondly, might does not make right. It is unacceptable that just because a nation has the power to dominate and conquer another nation does not give it the right to do so. No matter how distasteful it may be to those that have the military power, with that power comes responsibility to know when NOT to use it. The US administration now IS such a bully.
I'm deligted to see that there are americans who see the bind between US and Israel as problematic. Israel should stand more on its
own. I feel that israelites don't care about americans. They are only interested to use US as their tool. Back to 9.11. I don't think the thing was orchestrated by CIA etc., but some misty things remain. I've seen some times claims that there were only few workers of jewish origin in the twin towers at the time of the attacks. IF this is true, then I guess, Mossad had information about the attacks but didn't inform americans. Why? Because death of thousands of americans at the hands of muslim militants served their interests. So, again, IFFF this is true, americans should ask themselves what kind of a friend they have in Israel.
So... what sayest you, Dr. Eland? By the way, is there any chance that this type of activity might constitute an act of war - or would such a notion simply be considered quaint in the present age?
I also agree that the Israeli Government is the true cause of the Middle East crisis. The US and Israel both commit or allow many war crimes to go unpunished if not even rewarded. Our only hope is that the Arab world will finally wake up from its stupor and that the EU will be more agressive pursuing justice in the Middle East regardless of what the US states. The EU has the money and political clout to defy the US and it should. A boycott of US and Israeli goods would be very effective if actually carried out. The central banks could continue to drop the dollar and switch to the Euro at an even faster rate.