Wednesday, January 19, 2005

If you liked Iraq, you're going to love Iran.

How else to sum up Sy Hersh's latest New Yorker piece? Here are a few choice excerpts:
The Europeans have been urging the Bush Administration to join in these negotiations. The Administration has refused to do so. The civilian leadership in the Pentagon has argued that no diplomatic progress on the Iranian nuclear threat will take place unless there is a credible threat of military action. �The neocons say negotiations are a bad deal,� a senior official of the International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.) told me. �And the only thing the Iranians understand is pressure. And that they also need to be whacked.� . . .

One Western diplomat told me that the Europeans believed they were in what he called a �lose-lose position� as long as the United States refuses to get involved. �France, Germany, and the U.K. cannot succeed alone, and everybody knows it,� the diplomat said. �If the U.S. stays outside, we don�t have enough leverage, and our effort will collapse.� The alternative would be to go to the Security Council, but any resolution imposing sanctions would likely be vetoed by China or Russia, and then �the United Nations will be blamed and the Americans will say, �The only solution is to bomb.�� . . .

Silvan Shalom, the [Israeli] Foreign Minister, said in an interview last week in Jerusalem . . . �If they can�t comply, Israel cannot live with Iran having a nuclear bomb.� . . .

The goal is to identify and isolate three dozen, and perhaps more, such targets that could be destroyed by precision strikes and short-term commando raids. �The civilians in the Pentagon want to go into Iran and destroy as much of the military infrastructure as possible,� the government consultant with close ties to the Pentagon told me. . . .

The hawks in the Administration believe that it will soon become clear that the Europeans� negotiated approach cannot succeed, and that at that time the Administration will act. �We�re not dealing with a set of National Security Council option papers here,� the former high-level intelligence official told me. �They�ve already passed that wicket. It�s not if we�re going to do anything against Iran. They�re doing it.�
You get the picture.

We've already seen the US Congress begin flirting with a resolution targeting Iran for "regime change," frighteningly reminiscent of a similar resolution against Iraq in 1998. The neocon propaganda machine has already been cranking out the vitriol against Iran as well as sunny predictions of "cake walk" regime change in Tehran. Maybe a nice bombing campaign against Iran will take our minds off of what Bush wants to do to Social Security?

About six weeks ago I posted the following, and I repost it here today in the hopes that we can draw some conclusions from a similar situation back in the early 1960s.


In light of the increasingly palbable concern over the Iranian nuclear program, it might be of considerable benefit to look back on the growing menace of the Chinese nuclear program in the early 1960s and extant US plans to "strangle it in its crib".

The bases for direct action against Chinese Communist nuclear facilities were explored in April 1964 in a paper by Robert Johnson of the Department of State Policy Planning Council, which paper it was apparently decided should form the basis for any subsequent consideration of the subject. . . .

The major conclusion of the paper is to the following effect:

"It is evident . . . that the significance of a [Chicom nuclear] capability is not such as to justify the undertaking of actions which would involve great political costs or high military risks."
This conclusion appears to be based on the observations summarized above regarding technical feasibility, impermanence of effect, and political difficulty, and, very importantly, on arguments to the effect that the near and medium term consequences in Asia of a Chinese nuclear capability will be small, and that direct threat to the US will be very small.
The government document from which these quotes are taken, written by Arms Control and Disarmament Agency official George Rathjens, feels the Johnson paper (which is still classified) is all wet. Yet history has indeed vindicated Robert Johnson, and evaluations of pre-emptive strikes on foreign nuclear facilities forty years ago should be used to help observers think seriously about the present day.


Let me be more blunt today than I was back in November. Despite the radical nature of the regime in Beijing under Mao in the 1950s and 1960s, the US realized the incredible recklessness of an attack on Chinese nuclear facilities, and decided it could learn to live with a nuclear China. If the US is faced with the same dilemma in 2005 regarding Iran -- certainly no more radical and probably less so than was China forty years ago -- we can and should learn to do the same.

UPDATE: From Fred Kaplan's review of the Condi Rice hearing:
In a similar exchange, Biden raised Seymour Hersh's claim, in the latest New Yorker, that Pentagon civilians are pushing for an airstrike against Iran, as a means of toppling its fundamentalist regime. Biden emphasized he wasn't asking Rice to confirm the report. He just wanted to know if she believes it's possible to topple the Iranian regime through military action�and whether regime change in Iran is the administration's goal.

Rice replied that the administration's goal is to have a regime in Iran that's responsive to U.S. concerns. She then noted that the current regime stands "180 degrees" in opposition to those concerns�on nuclear weapons, relations with al-Qaida, and support of Hezbollah. She added, "The Iranian people, who are among some of the most worldly that we know�in a good sense�do suffer under a regime that has been completely unwilling to deal with their aspirations."

Once again, Biden gave Rice a chance to dismiss the hottest rumor of the moment. And, again, she demurred.
From a normal administration I'd say that this is nothing more than good diplomacy -- you can't remove the stick from the negotiating table even if you accept that it is tremendously profoundly unlikely to be used. But with this bunch, we know the stick -- or rather, the bomb -- is the first, last and only desired option.


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