Again at Obsidian Wings, Charles Bird has useful commentary about our likely options with respect to Iran. His feelings about the situation largely dovetail with mine:
Could Iran bomb or threaten to bomb Israel?
The mullahs would rather have Israel wiped off the map, but if such a thing were attempted or threatened to be attempted by the Iranians, the United States–as Israel’s ally–would assure or threaten to assure Tehran’s destruction.
Could Iran give a nuke or two to terrorists?
Possibly, but not likely. Iran gives Hezbollah around $100 million a year, and a nuclear weapon could be in Hezbollah’s Ramadan stocking at some future date. Hezbollah shares the same visions as Ahmadinehad in terms of wiping Israel out of existence (or exporting it to Europe). But does that mean it would happen? I don’t think so. If Tel Aviv were vaporized under a mushroom cloud, once it’s verified that the nuke (or nukes) came from Iran, Tehran and its military installations would be turned into really big radioactive parking lots by the United States. If we didn’t, then we wouldn’t be much of an ally and our word wouldn’t mean all that much.
Could they give a nuke or two to al Qaeda?
Yes, but as with the previous scenario, Iran would end up being part of the newly enlarged Persian Gulf and/or Caspian Sea if al Qaeda explodes an atomic weapon. But because we are war with al Qaeda, it is an unacceptable risk that al Qaeda gain possession of any nuclear bombs. If they have them, the risk is too great that they would use them.
What is the likelihood that Iran would give or sell a nuke or two to al Qaeda?
Hard to know. The 9/11 Commission concluded that there are links between Iran and al Qaeda:
* There is an Iranian link with the Khobar Towers bombing.
* Al Qaeda members have gone to Iran for training in explosives.
* Iranians aided the transit of al Qaeda members.
And so forth. There are fundamental religious differences between Sunni al Qaeda members and Shiite Iranians, but they are not above working together when their interests intersect. But the mullahs would be taking an enormous risk in giving al Qaeda that much firepower. There are several ways in which blowback could occur against the Guardian Council, all of which could significantly curtail their political power, not to mention their lives.
Bird doesn’t address the question of exactly when Iran is capable of producing a functional nuclear bomb. We’ve already passed the point where a simple Osirak-type strike will end their program, so if we have years there’s not much tactical difference between acting now and later. That matters if, for example, one or another party decided to use war hysteria as a partisan weapon in the upcoming midterms. I obviously don’t know the answer. Josh Marshall knows a little more:
Contrary to the impression you’d get from reading a number of your more antic columnists, the US intelligence community believes that the Iranians are roughly a decade away from being able to produce a nuclear weapon. Charles Krauthammer says it’s just a matter of months. You decide who to believe.
Yes, this is the same intelligence community that, according to rightwingers, simultaneously dragged its feet about the Iraqi threat and led a credulous president down the garden path. Also keep in mind that these intelligence estimates predate the existence of Iran as an electoral political football. When the war drums start and/or elections approach it seems likely that Porter Goss will start fielding requests from friends in the Executive branch for some juicy “mobile labs” and lurid exile tales. As the waters get muddier we can expect to see a lot more of this.
Let’s just trust Langley – I’m sure the ten years figure is a “slam dunk,” as they say in those parts. Therefore, we should act as if there’s “not much tactical difference between acting now and later.”
I recommend seeking a UN condemnation, (using “most strongly condemn” language, as is normally done with people conducting genocide) along with economic sanctions. We can also urge the IAEA to continue inspections, even though Iran has shut them out. Of course Russia and maybe France will block these measures in the Security Council, but oh well, at least we can say we tried everything that we could have done, and the votes just weren’t there. The one thing that won’t work, I’m sure, is another unilateral cowboy-esque military venture like the ones in Iraq and Afghanistan that haven’t made us safer. We don’t want to do anything to let Chimpler continue the eternal war he declared five years ago.
Yes, definitely, we should delay and see what happens. Who could it hurt?
Plus, HALIBURTON! might get more contract work. Can’t let that happen, rather we let the religious nutbag in charge of Iran keep threatening to wipe Israel off the map. It’s not like Israel is on any UN map, anyway.
Better to not defend ourselves until Bush is out of office. It’s easier on the spleen.
Better see what the Kossites think we should do in this situation. Oh, wait, they say there is nothing to worry about. Whew! Let’s return to the Bush Bash.
This is the same CIA that remained so skeptical of Iraqi WMD intel that Rumsfeld had to create the Office of Special Plans to give Chalabi’s alarmist nonsense a voice in Washington. The same CIA that rightwingers angrily accused of downplaying the WMD threat from Iraq.
It seems remarkably convenient that one agency can be both evil for getting in the way of a righteous war and evil for misleading a righteous president into a mistaken war.
How is Iraq a mistake, when it puts our military right in the middle of our biggest enemies? Iran is surrounded. We can launch fighters from Iraq directly. We own the skies.
Stormy, argue it out with Al. He’s making the case that the CIA led Bush down the garden path.
I don’t trust the CIA, but I do think that the leader of Iran is not just trash. I’m going to take him at his word. Something our government could have done when Bin Laden was threatening America during the nineties.
Hey Tim, I’m willing to take your route. Let’s have ten years of UN resolutions. I’m willing to ante up with Tel Aviv, raise with London, New York and DC. What the hell, I’ll double down and put LA and San Francisco and Paris on the table.
Who could it possibly hurt? Not long term Republican electoral chances, that’s for sure.
Drum, drum, drum, drum.
The war drums go off again. Suddenly just in time for the election, Fox News is all Iran all the time. And I love Stormy’s reasoning – the new real reason we went to Iraq was so that we would have Iran surrounded.
But please, drum away and call me a coward. Because things are much more dangerous now than they were during the Cuban missle crisis.
Drum, drum, drum, drum
I guess that’s the question then, if we had invaded someone in 2003 instead of Iraq, should it have been Iran or North Korea? Or, would that ‘diplomacy’ thing have worked better than petty name-calling?
I really wonder about some posters. Regardless of one’s affinity for da jews… how many here are willing to let Israel go up in a mushroom cloud, or are willing to let her enemies entertain the idea until it’s time to act?
The Jewish people are not expendable. Unless you are a Jew hater.
I’m sorry, the leader of Al Qaeda is currently living in Pakistan, a country that actually has nukes. So our number one priority is Iran because the guy who is sort of in charge of some things in that country likes to talk smack? Someone needs to teach these neocons how to prioritize their to-do list.
Did you have a point other than making a sensationalistic claim and race baiting?
Another thing to consider regarding Iran (that you won’t see our leadership or the MSM discuss because it clouds the issue and would slow down the drumbeat for war):
There are plenty of other places Al Qaeda can get nukes
Pakistan (a muslim country) and India both have nukes. For years, the A.Q. Khan network worked out of Pakistan, and that would have beent the best place for Osama to get his hands on a nuke – the black market. But he either didn’t – or he alread has one.
Also, there is still tons of less-than-secure nuclear material in Russia (for a scary article on the problems with security, read this which mentions that Greenpeace was able to strole onto a nuclear storage facility completely unhindered back in 2003).
And here’s a story about how Yushchenko’s predecessor in Ukraine reportedly sold some 20 air-launched Kh-55 and Kh-55M cruise missiles, which have the capability to carry nuclear weapons, to Iran and China between 1999 and 2001.
In general, there is plenty of Cold War era-related nuclear technology in the former republics. Plus, Yuschenko is continuing to cooperate with Russia on the placement of ICBMs in his country. Should we attack them, too?
Certainly, the A.Q. Khan network has been broken up, but who is to say that something might not take its place? As for Russia and former Soviet republics, political instability there could make the task of securing nukes even more difficult.
And, remember: Russia, Pakistan and India already have weapons! The Iranians are anywhere between months and a decade away from having any weapons (depending on who you believe, the Neocons or US intelligence agencies).
Oh…and did I not mention North Korea? Their program continues unhindered as well.
You see, my point is this: the current rhetoric about Iran has little to do with nuclear weapons, and everything to do with politics. Fortunately for the Administration and the Neocons, most folks just don’t have the necessary information that would cause them to say “Hey! Wait a minute!”
The Other Steve
Begins, Clone War does.
So basically, what Bird is saying is that neither a soverign nation nor a terrorist organization allied with a soverign state is likely to use a nuclear weapon on America or the allies of America because of a vague, untested theory of mutually assured destruction. Where did he get that idea? Bad 70’s Sci-Fi? If our enemies have nukes, they will use them against us. It says so in the bible.
The Other Steve
Case study performed in cooperation with the Soviet Union.
Jorge, I’m willing to ante up wherever the hell it is you live, too. It’s good that you can ridicule everybody who actually tries to take seriously people who threaten the U.S. – it shows that the blanket of protection provided by people actually serving does a good job to keep our smuggest citizens warm and cozy.
As for Pakistan, we’re friendly with them because we’re taking half measures. Bush couldn’t get away with doing what the Middle East and South Asia may eventually require, so the next best thing is to go after the targets that are domestically politically viable, and use diplomatic/economic carrot/stick on the rest. Yeah, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Saudi, and a chunk of North Africa should be on the table. But they aren’t, so the next best strategy is to try to coax them into doing the right thing. On the plus side, it risks fewer lives, at least in the short term. On the minus side, if they don’t take the carrot, who knows what kind of mischief they will get up to. See, e.g. Iranian nuclear program.
The Other Steve
I gotta admit. It’s hard for me to believe the decade figure.
It seems to me that if the United States were able to do it in 1944 in a matter of 2-3 years, when it had never been done before… It’s much easier to build something knowing it’s possible and having a rough idea of how, than to start from scratch.
I don’t believe the decade figure.
That is, unless the real limiting factor here is evailability of Uranium and/or some other logistical issue.
“I really wonder about some posters. Regardless of one’s affinity for da jews… how many here are willing to let Israel go up in a mushroom cloud, or are willing to let her enemies entertain the idea until it’s time to act?
The Jewish people are not expendable. Unless you are a Jew hater.”
D*mn – they’re even using the same race-baiting crap as for Iraq, as well as the ‘American duty to die for Israel’.
Houstonboy, how many Americans do you want to die for Israel? Why do you think that Israel can’t defend itself, if and when they actually need to?
The Other Steve
I was right along agreeing with the half measures approach and pussy footing around.
Until we stupidly invaded Iraq.
The Other Steve
It is our job as Americans to do for others what they cannot do themselves.
From each according to their means, to each according to their needs. This is the New American Motto!
“Lo, and the United States enemies shalt have nuclear bombs and wilt destroy Cleveland, San Francisco and Austin.
America, thou are G-d’s favored nation, and thy destruction is at hand, thus saith the Lord.”
Israel has, according to some reports, over 200 nuclear warheads and the means to deliver them wherever the hell they want. If Iran miraculously produces a warhead in the next year and tries to use it, Iran will be incinerated. And the mullahs know it.
Iran is in hot water partially because they signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and are in technical violation of parts of that treaty.
Israel has never signed that treaty, nor has it ever allowed international inspection of its nuclear program.
But by all means, carry on with the retreaded War Now!!!(tm) campaign. I bet this time they’ll really greet us with flowers when we invade.
Other Steve, you are actually pointing out what is another MAJOR problem with taking military action against Iran: our lack of intel. We basically know less about what Iran is up to than we knew about Iraq, and we got Iraq all wrong.
Where are all the facilities? How deep are some underground? Are there hidden facilities located in populated, civilian areas? How far along are the Iranians, actually? Would an air strike cause a nuclear explosion/fallout?
This lack of intel makes it possible that any air strikes would be less effective than hoped. And, much like the attack on Iraq’s Osirak reactor by the Israelis in ’81, the only likely effect of an air strike would be to delay the program, not destroy it completely.
So what would work? An invasion? Sorry, folks, we just don’t have the troops to do that. Iran has 2.5 times the population of Iraq, is about 4 times as big, and is mountainous, rather than a flat desert.
So, here’s the question: if the U.S. never took diplomacy seriously (and all indication are that it has not, since it never engaged Iran directly), and any air strike would not end Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and we can’t invade, and any fears about Al Qaeda getting nukes is overblow because they can get them from other places, why attack Iran?
Wag the dog?
Bob In Pacifica
I am curious that this debate always fails to mention that Israel has nuclear weapons, by recent estimate around 200 of them. Any attack on Israel, if one of its neighbors even gets to act first, would start the big one. Iran would be all Martyrdomstan for the next 10,000 years, and there wouldn’t be a capitol or major city of any Arab country in the region not flat and glowing. Not everyone in Islam wants to die.
Meanwhile, as hard as it is for some people here to put themselves in the place of others, imagine being an Iranian. To the east Pakistan, India and China have the bomb. To the north Russia’s got ’em. To the west Israel has them. In their region two other countries are occupied by a hostile nuclear power (the U.S.) whose leaders are making sounds that they want to invade your country (Iran). In short, it would be irrational for Iranians NOT to seek nuclear weapons to protect themselves. Nuclear weapons are the trump card.
So all the Stormys of the world keep rattling their sabres and keep proving why Iranians should pursue a weapons program. As much as the nutcase head of Iran is scary, think about Dubya, whose “higher Father” told him to go spread “democracy” throughout the world by killing people, and who wants to help his “God” reach the “end times.” The leader of Iran wants to wipe Israel off the face of the earth. The fundies behind Bush just want to end all life on earth.
God help us, heh heh heh.
Let’s just have everyone drop there drawers, measure, and be done with it. I’ll even bring the tape measure.
If you’re interested in reading some more on this topic — I took the time to follow some of the links from the ObWings article that Tim cites in his post and ended up here at “armscontrolwonk.com”. 3 current articles on the level of development of the Iranian weapons program. Comments by the posters there seemed thoughtful as well and showed fairly high signal-to-noise ratio.
Curiouser and Curiouser….Now CNN is reporting that Bush will visit Pakistan and India in March. Interestingly, Pakistan’s PM Shaukat Aziz is set to meet with Bush today here in DC. According to the Times of India, Bush will meet Musharraf on March 3, and will be in India Feb. 28.
Two things to note: that means that, by March, all of the countries that would need to have received a “heads up” before any strike on Iran will have received it – remember, Cheney just got back fromt he Middle East, Porter Goss already visited Turkey, and Rice is there today.
The timing is also interesting, as the Israel defense minister has already declared March to be “the point of no return.” Specifically:
The drumbeat continues?
The nuke situation in Iran would be tough for Reagan, Roosevelt, Truman or Lincoln to solve. The chances of Bush doing the right thing, whatever that might be, are close to zero IMO.
I hate to be so negative after two cups of coffee, but there will either be a nuclear armed Iran or there will be another war. Iran’s hand is going to be tough to beat. We can’t sanction their oil w/o negative, worldwide, economic consequences and we don’t have the military resources to invade and occupy Iran and occupy Iraq and Afganistan and fulfill our other military commitments at the same time. It is going to take some fancy negotiating to stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions without a war and negotiations are not Dubya’s strong point. It is too bad we can’t settle this thing over a game of Madden NFL 06, if that were the case Bush would mop the floor with them.
I think we could probably effect regime change in a few months with casualties in the 400-600 range. Remember, Iran is a notriously pro-western middle eastern country and it is unlikely the population would fight to support the mud mullahs.
In any event, it’s all pretty small potatos compared to the millions of Americans that would be killed by “suitcase nuclear bomb” which Iran is rumored to be developing. Better to fight them over there with conventional weapons than over here with nukes.
The Other Steve
This is another example of Republicans making the world less safe, purposefully, so they can run on a platform of trying to make the world safer. It’s counterproductive.
It’s not that I want Iran to have weapons… I don’t. But no amount of sabre rattling is going to warn them off, it’s just going to provoke them further. And sanctions won’t work against a country that we’re so dependent upon.
It’s worth a shot.
Democrats will of course bitch about everything, yet offer no solutions. Same old, same old. It is never time to act by the Democrats’ reasoning. This is why they are marginalized. They are too wimpy, and can’t protect an inner city, much less America.
The military alliance with India is looking better and better.
Democrats will of course bitch about everything, yet offer no solutions.
I have a solution. Cheney resigns as Vice President and Bush then appoints Colin Powell to be VP. Powell is confirmed by Congress and then Bush resigns. Powell then nominates John McCain to be his VP. Powell then fires Condeleeza Rice and nominates Bill Richardson as Sec. of State. I believe these three men will be able to get the best result possible regarding Iran’s nuclear program.
Yeah, I think you are going to need something better than your cheesy protection racket soon.
I know … how about Sanctity of Marriage?
I don’t hate jews, infact, I don’t even dislike them. Still if there was a button to push to wipe Israel off the map I would push it myself to put an end to all the shit that nation has caused over the past few decades. Israel is an entitlement nation, they have had the things that most peoples had to fight and die for handed to them. They think they are entitled to lands they didn’t fight for, to holy sites sacred to multiple religions and to security no matter how much strife they sew. Oh, and they want us to pick up the tab on all that. America doesnt owe Israel protection, like a momma bird we need to let Israel learn to fly, stop fighting their battles(maybe that would teach them to use some discretion when choosing battles).
The politicians and reporters won’t report on the atrocities commited by Israel because they dont wan’t to be charged as an anti-semite in the court of public opinion. I’ve seen the videos of Israeli soldiers gunning down palestinian children for throwing rocks at tanks. If that’s how “Gods chosen people” act then heaven help us all.
It’s easier to measure from the ground up.
The real threat is to Israel. Not the US. And as others have pointed out, Isreal has enough nukes to make the region glow in the dark for centuries.
I am all for the US backing Israel as Israel defends itself. They are a fairly isolated nation and need allies. However, I’m sick of people confusing neocon fantasies about spreading democracy for the sake of American “interests” with the destruction of Israel. The neocons know that there is a contingent in this country who will put up with just about anything you want to do as long as you are feed their belief that the second coming is right around the corner and promise to end abortion.
It really amazes me that the same people who were arguing about mushrooms clouds and Iraq 3 years ago actually believe that people are going to fall for the same line again. Do you really think you are going to scare me into supporting another preventive war with that line of reasoning? And chief, I live in Tampa – home of Cent Com and a very real nuclear target.
The intelligence on what Iran’s nuclear capabilities is all over the place. We survived the cold war and despite however you might want to paint the latest threat, the level of danger posed by the Soviets was much, much greater than the threat that Iran poses to the US. And let’s not get into North Korea and Japan.
I don’t subscribe to this idea that the US is justified in going after countries on preventive theories and half-baked intelligence. I wasn’t convinced in 2003 and I’m sure as heck not convinced now.
Go peddle your doomsday scenarios elsewhere. Since Russia got the bomb, the threat of the US being wiped out by a madman has been our every day reality. And the best way to ensure that someone will use the bomb against us is to convince the world that the US is irrational and will attack you whether you have the bomb or not.
If you really want to convince me that you and other Bush supporters are serious about the nuclear threat versus the US, you’ll come out with an initiative to get rid of the tens of thousands of bombs floating around the former Soviet Union. If not, I’ll see the neocon fear mongering for what it is – an excuse to wage another war.
“once it’s verified that the nuke (or nukes) came from Iran…”
Unfortunately the entire analysis rests on this simple phrase; but who will make this determination, the White House? The CIA? And who will be willing to support, or forgo, a nuclear response, with all of its attendant carnage, based upon this determination? Given the level of goalpost shifting and recriminations over the (minor by comparison) removal of Saddam this statement is ludicrous at best, black humor at worst.
Even so, the ultimate question is not whether whether we would even agree upon such a determination or course of action, the question is whether the mullahs would think we are capable of such resolve. Would they even fear a nuclear response to an anonymous act? Based on their observations of our recent past behavior I do not think they would fear us any more than they do at present.
Russia is much more dangerous than Iran will ever be. But nobody gives a shit.
The obvious danger with Iran — and North Korea, and any dictatorship that acquires the Bomb — is not that they’ll give the Bomb away insanely, but that:
(1) They will at some point become terrified of losing control of their own country and just possibly getting massacred by their own people, and this will motivate them to take risks with the Bomb that would be utterly insane for the government of any democracy in order to acquire the cash to stay in power, but which will be quite rational for them — such as invading or trying to extort money from their neighbors. (Actually selling their Bombs on the black market is less likely, but not quite impossible.)
(2) Their regime actually WILL collapse violently at some point, allowing their nuclear arsenal to fall into God knows whose hands.
These dangers are very real — we were incredibly lucky to avoid them during the collapse of the Soviet Union. We won’t be so lucky again.
Dude. I guess you just happened to skip all the bombings of innocent people and the shooting of Israeli kids. Those pesky jews, I can’t believe they don’t just want to be completely slaughtered by the Muslims or Russians or Europeans. Always causing problems, those Jews who have lived in the entire Middle East for thousands of years. I have the cut of your jib now. It doesn’t take long for your type to self-identify.
Was that a tacit acknowledgement that Iraq was a terrible blunder?
Well, it’s pretty obvious by looking at a map that this was something not lost on war planners and gamers.
Holsinger, an expert in war, would probably agree.
Bob In Pacifica
Hey, I’ll reconsider my opinion about Iran supposedly on the verge of nuclear weapons when Bush and all his little minions admit that the motherfucker lied about Iraq having weapons. Because if he didn’t lie, he and his intelligence on Iraq were incompetent.
So clear up the matter for me. When did this Administration stop lying about the Middle East and nuclear weapons?