4 years, 6 months ago
Last week, Lee Smith published an article in Tablet that gave three, main reasons why the United States is not going to attack Iran now nor will it attack Iran under a President Romney, notwithstanding all the talk to the contrary.
This article got quite a bit of play in the Statist Media because, it was argued, the article seemingly showed that Mitt Romney is carrying on a charade of getting tough on Iran and that any criticisms of President Obama’s current Iran policy are hollow or hypocritical.
Lee Smith advances three, main arguments for why no Republican president would openly attack Iran: 1) Domestic politics; 2) History of Iran-U.S. relations, and; 3) the disguised reliance upon nuclear deterrence.
The article makes perfect sense at a certain level. On domestic politics, Smith is correct, but for the wrong reasons. While Smith points to the desire to avoid destabilizing economic effects of any attack, the real bar to Republican action is entirely political. The Democrats established a clear precedent with George W. Bush that any military action abroad, even if a broad authorization is obtained from Congress in advance, will be subjected to the worst partisan attacks and scurrilous accusations. Democrats will mobilize every resource to demonize a Republican president who dares to use force against America’s enemies. Use of force is an exclusive, Democrat prerogative.
On the history of dealings with Iran, Smith also scores points:
No American president has ever drawn red lines for Tehran and enforced them by showing that transgressions are swiftly and severely punished.
It’s true that it was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who sat by idly when Ayatollah Khomeini and the founders of the Islamic Republic stormed the U.S. embassy and held Americans hostage for 444 days. But GOP hero Ronald Reagan provided the Iranians with arms—after the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese asset, Hezbollah, killed 241 U.S. Marines in the 1983 bombing of their barracks at the Beirut airport. When the FBI said Tehran was responsible for the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, Bill Clinton failed to respond or even name Iran, lest it derail the “dialogue of civilizations” promised by the newly elected reform-minded president Muhammad Khatami. And the last Republican in the White House was no more proactive in countering Iran’s actual attacks on Americans: The more than 100,000 American servicemen and -women that Bush had dispatched to Iraq were targeted by the IRGC and their local allies, a fact that U.S. officials tended to obscure and did little to change when they did acknowledge it.
As to a hidden reliance on nuclear deterrence, Smith is also likely correct:
If you can kill Americans without any consequences and the Americans will in fact collaborate in covering up your malfeasance, you can certainly build a nuclear weapons facility without too much concern that the Americans are really keeping “all options on the table”; the White House is not and almost surely never will—no matter who’s calling the shots. Short of an American city suffering thousands of casualties in a nuclear attack that the Iranians boast of publicly, it is difficult to know what would compel a U.S. president to take military action against Iran.
Maybe U.S. policymakers just believe, in spite of what they say publicly, that Iran really isn’t that big a deal. Remember that even today, a number of American officials, civilian and military, cut their teeth on Cold War strategy, an era when the United States faced off against a real superpower. Washington and Moscow fought proxy wars against each other on four continents with the fear of an eventual nuclear exchange leading to mutually assured destruction looming in the background. Perhaps, if seen in this context, for American policymakers Iran just doesn’t rise to a genuine threat level.
The problem with Smith’s analysis (and many others who have been endlessly debating the pros and cons of attacking Iran to stop its nuclear weapons development) is that it fundamentally is the wrong conversation.
The focus of the debate should not be about stopping a totalitarian, Islamist regime devoted to martyrdom from getting nuclear weapons. The focus should be on removing the Regime itself. The Iranian people have lived long enough under the hand of an oppressive theocracy to know that the next government must be anything but that. The Green Movement that began with the phony elections of 2009 explicitly called for a true, secular, democratic government. The Regime immediately recognized the counter-revolutionary nature of the Greens and put it down with absolute brutality. The Regime knows that the people of Iran want normalized relations with the U.S. and the West in general. Any change in government is going to be a sharp repudiation of the current leadership and the mullahs.
Fortunately for the U.S. and the West, the Regime is clinging on to power on a cliff’s edge of explosive public unrest and simmering revolution. All that is needed to effect the removal of the Regime is a little… more… time.
This plays directly into the debate over Israel’s decision whether to attack Iran.
The current debate suffers from the same mistake. Critics endlessly point out that even if Israel could muster the nerve and assets to attack Iranian facilities any such attack would “only” delay the Iranian nuclear program, not end it. If any attack could end Iran’s nuclear program that would certainly be preferable. But that is, of course, highly unlikely. Delaying the program, however, is the very point. Delaying the program is more than a sufficient goal because it gives more time to change the leadership of Iran.
Obama has been doing everything in its power to subvert and forestall an attack by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities. This is directly contrary to U.S. interests in bringing down the Iranian Regime. An attack by Israel, even if incomplete, would undeniably set back the Iranian nuclear program by some years according to most estimates. This additional time could be the crucial difference in allowing the U.S. to work, covertly, toward bringing down the Regime.
In the end, the U.S. must realize that it is not the possession of nuclear weapons in and of itself that should be feared. It is the government that possesses such weapons. Simply seeking to keep nuclear technology out of the hands of totalitarian regimes is, ultimately futile. As North Korea demonstrated, with enough determination and sacrifice, even a poverty-stricken country can get nuclear weapons. The goal must always be to eliminate any regime that evidences any intention to go nuclear. It is a red line that cannot be crossed.
How and when we go about doing that is the conversation we should be having.