Editor's Note: One of the
many negatives from the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq was the lesson it set
for countries that cooperate with the United Nations in trying to show
that they don't possess weapons of mass destruction. Iraq didn't have
stockpiles of WMD, had no active nuclear weapons program, and let in
U.N. inspectors to check.
Thus, the Iraqi government
had no meaningful deterrent against the invasion, which has killed tens
of thousands of Iraqis and led to the humiliation of Iraq's leaders or
worse. Saddam Hussein was photographed in his underwear, and one
general, Abed Hamed Mowhoush, was murdered during questioning after
being wrapped up in a sleeping bag. (The U.S. interrogator, Chief
Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, got a reprimand and a $6,000 fine.)
No wonder George W. Bush has
rewritten the history of the war to claim that Hussein refused to let
the U.N. inspectors in – and thus "chose" war. In this guest essay, the
Independent Institute's Ivan Eland looks at the now looming
confrontation with Iran:
The real losers
in this arms-length conspiracy between the two hostile governments will
be the American and Iranian peoples.
For the moment,
the Bush administration is playing a more sophisticated diplomatic game
Iran than it did during the ham-handed run-up to the unpopular invasion
of Iraq, which led to U.S. isolation from most of the rest of the world.
administration has allowed
Britain, and Germany to take the lead in trying to negotiate away
nuclear program. Having failed in that effort, the Europeans are now on
board with an International Atomic Energy Agency referral to the United
Nations Security Council for the possible imposition of sanctions.
is now working to convince China and Russia that stiffer actions against
are warranted. Rather than taking rash, almost unilateral, action as it
did against Iraq, the Bush administration apparently has learned its
lesson and seems to be willing to let multilateral diplomacy play out in
order to build international support for a military response.
has said that
Iran should not
be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon and recently used the term “grave”
to describe the threat from
eerily, the same term he used to describe the threat from Iraq before
the U.S. invasion. A source on Capitol Hill told me that anti-Iranian
hawks are already making speeches and introducing bills to build the
case for a military attack.
But after the
invasion probably will not be the preferred course of military action
against Iran. Although the Bush administration likes to flex its
muscles, it does seem capable of learning—at least in a tactical sense.
Any invasion of
would be a daunting task, especially with almost 150,000 U.S. forces
tied down in the quagmires in neighboring Iraq and Afghanistan. Iran has
two-and-a-half times the population of
almost four times the area of that country, and is mountainous rather
challenge of winning a counterinsurgency war against the mainly secular
impossible now, fighting the fanatical religious zealots in Iran on
unfavorable terrain would likely prove to be horrific.
Bush administration would probably opt for air strikes targeting
nuclear sites. Although aerial bombardment might set back the Iranian
nuclear program, it would probably not eliminate it.
air strikes against the
nuclear reactor in 1981, nuclear aspirants dispersed and hid atomic
facilities, buried them, or placed them in highly populated areas where
bombing would kill many innocent civilians.
intelligence on weapons of mass destruction in
Iraq is any
indication, U.S. intelligence on Iranian nuclear facilities probably
isn’t that good, and air strikes would thus likely be ineffective.
Why then would
the Bush administration go down this route? Because much of government
policy—U.S. or other—is to show the domestic audience that something is
being done about a problem, especially when the threat from an external
“enemy” has been embellished.
With a long
eventual air strikes, the Bush administration could distract attention
from the deteriorating situations in
and Afghanistan for many months without risking yet another quagmire in
mild international economic sanctions will likely be placed on
will fall victim to the first consequence of its invasion of Iraq. Other
countries are suspicious that a hard-line approach against Iran will
encourage the United States to do what it did against Iraq.
sanctions, no matter how strong, will be unlikely to compel the Iranian
government to get rid of its nuclear program, which has wide public
consequence of the invasion of
Iraq, a country
that was not even close to getting a nuclear weapon, was that Iran,
which was much closer to that goal, saw how the U.S. superpower treated
non-nuclear “rogue” states and accelerated its nuclear program to
acquire the ultimate deterrent against the United States and Israel.
been unwilling to accept Western trade and investment goodies to
negotiate away its nuclear program.
But if the
aggressive Bush administration is prone to military action, why is
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the new Iranian president, making inflammatory
comments that could allow the
to portray him as madman who requires a military drubbing?
Ahmadinejad realizes that a
is unlikely and that air strikes by the “Great Satan” would be
ineffectual but would help him win over a young population that is tired
of Islamic radicalism and wants to reestablish ties with the world.
Thus, U.S. air strikes could benefit both the
and Iranian governments at the expense of their peoples.
should accept the fact that Iran will probably obtain nuclear weapons
and use the massive U.S. nuclear arsenal to deter the use of any puny
Iranian nuclear force. Something similar was done when radical Maoist
China obtained nuclear weapons in the mid- to late-1960s.
return of the radicals”—as represented by Ahmadinejad—will likely
generate a counterrevolution among the Iranian people, who want to
reconnect with the world, according to Professor Jack A. Goldstone of
an expert on revolutions.
Goldstone, this counterrevolution happened in
radicals returned during the Cultural Revolution and in the Soviet Union
after Stalin’s purges.
So instead of
the Bush administration’s activist stance against the fulminating
Iranian regime and its nuclear program, perhaps a “do-nothing” policy
would achieve better results with much less cost in blood and treasure.
Ivan Eland is a Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute,
Director of the Institute’s
Center on Peace &
Liberty, and author of the books
The Empire Has No Clothes, and
Putting “Defense” Back into U.S. Defense Policy.