"I tell you naught for your comfort,
Yea, naught for your desire,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.
Night shall be thrice night over you,
And heaven an iron cope.
Do you have joy without a cause,
Yea, faith without a hope?"
-- G.K. Chesterton, The Ballad of the White Horse
In the wake of Tom Holsinger's article "The Case For Invading Iran," I was going to enter a comment, but it became long enough to deserve a full post. To begin with, it's time to lay my own cards on the table.
I personally believe that we're very likely to see at least 10 million dead in the Middle East within the next two decades, with an upper limit near 100 million. I do not believe pre-emptive action will be taken against Iran. I do, however, believe the extremist mullahs in Iran mean exactly what they say. They are steeped in an ideology that believes suicide/murder to be the holiest and most moral act possible. They have been diligent in laying strategic plans for an offensive Islamic War against Israel, America and the West. Plans backed by 25 years of action, and stated no less clearly than Mein Kampf. I believe that Ahmedinajad's talk of 12th Imam end-times and halos around his head at the UN aren't the ravings of an isolated nut, simply an unusually public (and unusually noticed) expression of beliefs that are close to mainstream within their ruling class. That class of "true believer" imams and revolutionary guard types have been quietly consolidating their control over all sectors of Iranian society over the last few months, and I do not believe anyone in the world today has both the will and the capability to stop them. A key pillar of The Bush Doctrine is about to fail.
At some point within the next decade, therefore, I believe that they will not only have nuclear weapons, but that they will act to make good on their stated beliefs and plans. With eventual "3 Conjectures" level results as noted above. I hope you're all invested in solar, folks, and have some panels up on your houses.
It gets worse.
Truth And Consequences
The proliferation spike among other middle eastern regimes, which Winds of Change.NET has discussed before, will add a complementary and additive risk factor. Especially given the ah... "unstable" nature of the region's regimes and the broad-based Islamist movements and sympathy for terrorism within it. This combination of Iran's direct war plans and the secondary poliferation spinouts means that with a nuclear Iran, the probability of Islamist terrorists acquiring nuclear weapons within the next 2 decades begins to approach 1.0. Welcome to Fibonacci's nukes.
Choices have consequences. Belmont Club:
"The Three Conjectures further argued that this kind of power, once set loose, would consume Islam itself. Either the terrorist weapons would provoke a catastrophic response against the Muslim world or they would be used in the internecine struggles of the Islam, making the huge bomb detonated outside the Najaf mosque seem like a firecracker by comparison. The appearance of an Islamic WMD capability would hang like a comet of doom over the whole Muslim world.
It would not be the first time that the inner contradictions of a civilization, taken to their limit, have killed it. Something in the expansionist and militant hubris of 19th century Europe led the continent to the mindless mud and trenches of the Great War. The Lost Generation died by Europe's own hand. Now it is Islam coming face to face with a challenge of how to handle the true divine fire. And the real dilemma is that the power behind the light of the stars is incompatible with the framework bequeathed by Mohammed. It may be the turn of the Faithful to die by Islam's own hand unless it can listen to the word that speaks from the very heart of the flame."
Indeed. So let us turn for a moment to the (somewhat pro-American, and widely anti-mullah) Iranian populace, whose struggle for freedom has long had my support and that of this blog. Unfortunately, at this late hour we must be clear-eyed and honest - and if so, we must admit that whatever hopes we may have had on that score have proven chimerical.
Let's get real. Whatever they may think of the mullahs, the Iranian people, and such civil society as they have built in the shadows, have no stomach to seriously oppose them. The mullahs have proven that they are quite willing to kill, with their Basij hitler youth corps and al-Qaeda mercenaries, as many Iranians as necessary. Nonviolent measures like the commendable struggle of decent people like Akbar Ganji or even Ayatollah Montazeri are, in this situation, useless.
Despite the scattered attacks etc. noted by This & That in the comments to Tom's article, and the bravery and sacrifice of some Iranian democrats, there is no pre-revolutionary situation in Iran. Its people as a whole have proven that they will be a non-factor in all of this until the die is cast, at which point it will be too late. What I see from them, and much of the exile community as well, is helplessness, a lack of leadership inside or out, a shirking of responsibility for the current situation, and the middle eastern disease of alternately blaming and beseeching others rather than working to acknowledge the situation and committing to solve it. For many reasons of circumstances, culture, and history (see the excellent comment from "Anonymous"), their widespread resentment of the mullahs is a quiescent one. Nor does there appear to be any serious appreciation for the potential consequences of the mullahs' insane atomic adventure.
When your political leadership is made of end-times advocates who preach suicide-murder as a paramount value, plan war, and want nukes, that ain't gonna cut it.
"We mutually pledge our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honour?" Not a chance in hell. Unfortunately, history is not kind to those who just drift in its tides. They have their fate shaped by the dreams and fantasies of others - and so hell is probably the climate in store. One can only weep for this... and the greatest tragedy is that one can only weep.
Perhaps if we had acted with greater firmness earlier, the situation might be different. There was, and is, wisdom to waging the war in an order dictated by the situation's logic - but not in abandoning the Iranian front entirely. Perhaps if we had backed the Iranian dissidents to the hilt with a relentless campaign of rhetoric and material support, and worked hard to create a pre-revolutionary situation as a strategic state-level priority in the USA and/or Europe, things might be different. But Europe values riches over rights (and will, in time, have neither), while American action would only happen over the State Department's dead body. Regardless of the obstacles, however, the cold hard fact is that we consistently refused to act - and so we'll never really know.
I tell you naught for your comfort, here, and naught for your desire.
It's 2006, and here we stand. "Faith without a hope" is now all that is left to us. Faith that someone will step up with a successful Hail Mary play, executed against all odds. That they will somehow avert the nightmare we in the West have so diligently allowed, with our endless appeasement, inaction, and miscalculations, to build on our watch over the last 25 years. Perhaps.
Save that the sky grows darker yet. And the sea rises higher.
Who Will Bell The Cat?
"I bring not boast or railing,"
Spake Alfred not in ire,
"I bring of Our Lady a lesson set,
This - that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher."
Then Colan of the Sacred Tree
Tossed his black mane on high,
And cried, as rigidly he rose,
"And if the sea and sky be foes,
We will tame the sea and sky."
Who will act? Who will move decisively now, even if it means trying to tame the sea and sky?
Tom, Trent, and others believe Israel has the capability to act against Iran. I don't. Iran's facilities are at the extreme ends of Israel's range, too dispersed to guarantee anything but minor setbacks to its program, and in many cases too buried to be affected by Israeli conventional weapons (see Dave Schuler's excellent article for a map of some required routes). As the Federation of American Scientists notes, even nukes offer no guarantees. Worse, even limited nuclear attacks would create a deadly enemy among Iranians at large, one bent on future reply even if the mullahs were to fall.
One might recall the ancient Persian proverb: "one does not wound a king."
Which leaves ending Iran as Israel's only real option. As I've stated before, a broad Israeli nuclear attack on Iran would essentially end Israel anyway by leaving it in an unsustainable and untenable global position, its alliance with America damaged terribly and its important economic markets in Europe closed to it. That is a recipe for defeat in the medium term, let alone the long term. As such, I strongly believe that a nuclear strike will not be conducted pre-emptively. Instead, it will be saved as part of a "Samson Option" response.
I'll add that if the Israelis ever do decide they're finished and proceed to pull down the temple, Iran won't die alone. To restrict the retaliation to Iran would be to make Rasfanjani's boast - that the heart of Islam would live on while Israel would not - true. It would, with a stroke, legitimize Iran's entire end-times calculus. It would also fly in the face of long-stated Israeli policy that vows to leave the entire Middle East in nuclear ashes. Got solar?
Just so everyone understands the stakes, here. And as I've pointed out before, this whole thing could easily be set off by something as simple as a software glitch.
Tom, Trent, and others also believe the USA has the will to act. I don't. Perhaps a united America with strong and persuasive leadership, resolute in war and without an internal fifth column, could do it. But, to borrow a phrase, you go to war with the country you have. Not the one you wish you had. Dave Schuler does a great job outlining the present "options," none of which are likely to be effective. Force, of whatever kind (N.B. armed subversion is also force) is the only thing that will stop the mullahs now.
Despite recent brave talk of American capacity from the Secretary of the Army, the brute fact is that the US does not have this on anything resembling a sustainable basis. The failure to decalre war and mobilize after 9/11, in order to make the stakes clear and create a strategic reserve for action, has become the defining strategic mistake of the Global War on Terror phase. It is likely too late to reverse that mistake in time. Should the USA act now, therefore, it will have to be with every scrap of the reserve forces it has left for other contingencies, and then some - and everyone in the world will know it. With predictable consequences.
Will the US act anyway, to tame the sea and sky if need be? Perhaps. One can never rule anything out. W., whatever his failings, has always been willing to at least attempt the things he says he'll do. He also displays a consistent tendency to hesitate at critical moments after having begun, but that's another story.
So let's assume America does what Tom recommends, drawing its terrible swift sword to cut the gordian knots of Iran's Great Game.
What's in store then?
Attacking the Mullahs: My Choice
My preferred option for a strike would be to end Iran's oil and gas distribution capabilities, destroy its power infrastructure (critical for nuclear efforts), keep those things down, and hit what targets one can among the weapons programs. Let their economy collapse, let the Europeans and Chinese feel the price of their inaction and encouragement as oil spikes, and promise the Iranians massive reconstruction aid and help if they'll only overthrow the mullahs and renounce their pursuit of nuclear weapons. I'd do this shortly after the 2006 mid-terms, of course - I've read my Machiavelli.
In response to a Hobbesian choice forced on me, I would offer one of my own to the Iranians. Starve in the dark (already closer than one would think for many there, hence prostitution through the roof and other indicators), lose all you have earned (hits the critical Bazaari class), or take the risk and be free and we'll help you. Your call. Meanwhile, lack of power and oil makes it kind of hard to run a weapons program.
There is no one in the world who can stop America if it chooses to do this.
Not Russia, pure opportunists who will not even impair their commercial relations, let alone go to war over this.
Not China, who lacks any meaningful capacity to act here and can't afford to lose face with a very public failure, can't slow the economic growth it needs to keep its population happy (to which US trade is the #1 contributor), and may see investment and influence opportunities in the aftermath.
Not the hollow men of Europe, who have no real chips to bargain with either of cooperation or sanction. Even a trade war is not a wise thing for any politician who wants to remain elected, given Europe's already-high unemployment and low-growth economies.
Not the Saudis and oil producers, who need the currency flow to keep their own populations in line and pay debt and who must, therefore, keep sales into the (non-divisible) global market high. Yes, even El Caudillo Chavez - why do you think he's the USA's #5 oil supplier now?
As for any terrorist attacks elsewhere, they're unfortunate but acceptable wartime casualties against a mad and unprincipled enemy who refuses to fight in the manner of men. The the price of inaction, after all, is the likelihood of much larger future casualties at a level that truly is unacceptable.
Attacking the Mullahs: Evaluating Tom's Choice
Tom chooses invasion, though I suspect his "standing start" option includes most of what I have above. Likewise, I expect that his escalation would halt if the warm-up approach worked. The thing is, if my kind of outline doesn't work, then his kind of plan is necessary. There can be no stopping half-way once this starts.
So it's in for a penny, in for a pound. Action against Iran would have to plan and prepare for Tom's option, even if one believed lesser measures like the ones mentioned above would work.
In terms of Tom & Trent's assessment, therefore...
I think it's a fantasy to expect anything other than a sustained terrorist campaign from the moment US forces cross the border. There are far, far too many of them in place. Legions have trained there and lived for quite some time, with a level of infrastructure and state support that Saddam never came close to matching. Iran can also rely on reliable proxies in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, the Palestinian Anarchy... and, in the judgment of a number of counter-terror experts, the United States.
In terms of the immediate military operation, this will be costly. Likely bearable, but the mountainous areas of Iran could create real trouble and holdups, and one must expect that. Ultimately, however, I concur with Trent and Tom that it would not stave off the defeat of the Iranian regime. Iran has two of every military branch, with one made up entirely of zealots (including even its air force), but they cannot stop the Americans if the US goal is to strike rather than occupy. Meanwhile, the regular Iranian Army would be very likely to pull a Saddam's Army Act by disintegrating and going home.
The trained terrorist factor does have one important corollary, however: if the US does move to invade Iran, an occupation or reconstruction would border on insanity. To believe anything else is, in my opinion, delusional. The US would face a security situation whose size and intensity would far outstrip Iraq. It does not have the forces required for that, and may not be able to get them in time even on a declaration of war/ full war footing.
Therefore, it must not play that game.
Instead, the game is fast, full-on war. The USA's stated goals should be to kill as many members of the Iranian regime and governing apparatus as possible (yes, their deaths are a secondary war goal - one does not leave such people alive to try again), terminate the regime, head straight for the locations relevant to the program, clean them out, stay about a month or two to gather intelligence and make sure, then go home. I'd even recommend announcing this shortly after operations begin, since the explicit purpose of this war and situation on the ground are very different from Iraq.
The state of Iranian society is ultimately their problem, not the USA's. The US made Iraq its problem because it chose to as part of a larger strategy, not because it had to. If one believes that was a mistake, then the USA must not repeat it. If one believes that it wasn't, then the facts on the ground remain and replicating it in Iran is not possible. Finally, one may note Iran could not possibly become a worse terrorist haven and base of support than it already is. As such, no possible end-state outcome is worse from America's perspective.
Absent either the capability or a compelling rationale, America needs to be absent from any long post-war phases in Iran.
This would sharply limit the costs and commitment involved in US action, while making the global lesson to others loud and clear. Indeed, this would be far scarier than the invasion of Iraq - because if the USA is happy to just kick down your door, break you, and leave, there really is no Third World tyrant's response that works.
Reality Bites: Armageddon Calling
Do I believe any of this will happen? No.
We are not now that strength which in the old days moved earth and heaven. That which we are, we are. And nothing short of repeated, mega-scale tragedy is likely to change that.
Can we avoid war, then? No.
It takes only one to fight, and Iran made its choice long ago. As a Middle Eastern Forum article notes: "Political problems can be resolved through diplomacy, but the ideological underpinnings of a hostile regime cannot." That has not changed, indeed has intensified, and so there will be war. The only question remaining is when, of what nature, and on whose terms.
Whether we like it or not. Indeed, whether we acknowledge it or not. The Forever War is not about us. The only part that is about us is our choice: do we choose victory, or commence our civilization's end at whatever pace fortune exacts? As regards Islamofascism and the current parlous state of our civilization, there exists no middle ground.
The key question of our time is not whether we wish to be at war with the Islamic world. It is whether the Islamic world, or large elements within it, wish to be at war with us. As they have chosen to be at war with so many others. Belmont Club:
"And that message, surprisingly, is that we must love one another or die. J. Robert Oppenheimer thought, as he beheld the fireball of the first atomic test at Alamogordo, that he heard the Hindu god Shiva whisper "I am become death, the destroyer of worlds". He understood at that moment that mankind's moral capacity would have to expand to match its technical prowess or it would perish. If Islam desires the secret of the stars it must embrace the kuffar [JK: unbeliever] as its brother -- or die."
Are there enough of their Muslim compatriots who are prepared to stand up and avert the Grand War, judging the risk of inaction to be greater? Are there enough of us, on this side of the war, to act in time? Or do we all face The Islamic War - either now, or soon, or in an even worse future where a nuclear shield for Islamofascism enables something even more troubling?
I do not know.
As regards Iran, however, I do know this: the sword will be drawn. The only questions left as whose, and when, and where.
As things now stand, I do not believe the answers to these questions will be to our advantage.
"And this is the word of Mary,
The word of the world's desire
'No more of comfort shall ye get,
Save that the sky grows darker yet
And the sea rises higher.' "
Then silence sank. And slowly
Arose the sea-land lord,
Like some vast beast for mystery,
He filled the room and porch and sky,
And from a cobwebbed nail on high
Unhooked his heavy sword."
- Did I mention Dave Schuler's excellent Jan 15/06 summation "Options on Iran II"? Yes? Well, I'm mentioning it again.
- Chester has a sinking feeling, and senses a gathering storm. See esp. his link to Mark Helprin's essay, which argues that strikes followed by "civilization denial" i.e. the effective end of Iran's economy could well suffice.
- The US Army War College, on the other hand, seems to agree with Tom that only full invasion and regime change is likely to work, and... well the title "Getting Ready for a Nuclear-Ready Iran" will tell you all you need to know. In a similar vein, see Belmont Club, with "The Coming of the Bomb."
- See also Belmont Club's "In Contact," which notes the intelligence benefits of having a ground presence next door and looks at the options.
- Looks like we're right on time for the early 21st century Fourth Turning Crisis predicted by William Strauss & Neil Howe's book (1, 2 & 3 were the American Revolution, Civil War, and Depression/WW2). "Winter is coming," indeed...
- Arms Control Wonk says Iran is still 3-10 years away from a bomb, and explains the reasoning & calculations. His second post looks at the ranges and types of Iran's missiles. Good explanation of the enrichment process, and shows his calculations which gives us a solid starting point for discussion. Via Defense Tech, who has more.
- APRIL 2006 UPDATE: Note that Arms Control Wonk's forecast is based on assumptions. A recent Bloomberg report re: Natanz casts some of those assumptions into question; indeed, the timeline may be under a year.
- Dadmanly, back from his tour in Iraq, has a fine post with his thoughts: The Problem of Iran.
- Hard Starboard offers "The End of the Digital Age & The Start of the Dark Age." Which is pretty much where I'm at. He has some good links and sources I don't, and his brief but telling takedown of the left-lib position on this issue is worth it. But then, we saw the same dynamics re: Pakistan this week, too. Copperheads, v2.0, and a big part of the reason I'm a pessimist. W. is no Lincoln, certes - but would one good improv impression be too much to ask?
- Marc 'Armed Liberal' Danziger responds with "Just A Second – It's Not That Dark Yet (And We Have A Really Big Flashlight)". I think his reasoning makes the very things he most fears more likely rather than less, but go read for yourself and discuss.
- All Things Beautiful has a picture you have to see to believe. She then adds some solid coverage of the Euro angle, and says: "European-style appeasement, partly motivated by a desire to pull faces at Washington, has encouraged the most radical faction in Tehran and helped bring Ahmadinejad to power. All the diplomatic gesticulations that are likely to follow will only compound that effect...."