April 11, 2006
Military Fantasies on Iran
Iraq shows just how badly things can go wrong when an administration rashly
embraces simple military solutions to complicated problems, shutting its
ears to military and intelligence professionals who turn out to be
tragically prescient. That lesson has yet to be absorbed by the Bush
administration, which is now reportedly honing plans for airstrikes on
Iranian nuclear facilities.
Congress and the country need to ask the administration just what is going
on, and just what it hopes to accomplish by this latest saber rattling.
If the administration’s real goal is to change minds in Iran and energize
diplomacy, it is not going about it in a very smart way. If, instead, it
intends to proceed with a bombing campaign when and if diplomacy fails,
Congress and the public need to force the kind of serious national debate
that never really took place before the American invasion of Iraq.
Routine contingency planning goes on all the time in the Pentagon, but the
discussions on Iran seem to have progressed beyond this level, with high
administration officials pushing the process and dropping indirect hints of
possible future American military action in language that sometimes recalls
statements made before the invasion of Iraq.
The Washington Post reports that two main options are being seriously
considered – a limited strike against Iranian nuclear-related sites or a
broader campaign against a wider range of military and political targets.
The planners are also looking at ways America could use tactical nuclear
weapons to penetrate Iran’s heavily reinforced underground uranium
enrichment complex at Natanz. The British government is said to take
Washington’s planning exercises seriously enough to have worked out security
arrangements for its own diplomats and citizens in the event of American air
War with Iran would be reckless folly, especially with most of America’s
ground forces tied up in Iraq, where they are particularly vulnerable to
retaliation from Iran and its Iraqi Shiite allies. Nor is there any
guarantee that such a conflict would remain limited to airstrikes. Bombing
alone probably cannot destroy all of Iran’s nuclear facilities, some of
which are underground and fortified, and possibly others in unknown
In fact, Iran already has much of the material and know-how to make nuclear
bombs, and is believed to be about 10 years away from building them. The
best hope for avoiding a nuclear-armed Iran lies in encouraging political
evolution there over the next decade. It is important to make clear to the
Iranian people that they have no need for nuclear weapons and would actually
be better off without them.
Years of frustrating diplomacy have not managed to deflect Iran’s nuclear
ambitions, but American airstrikes are not likely to either. The best they
could hope to achieve is delay, but that result would be far outweighed by
the likely consequences.
An American bombing campaign would surely rally the Iranian people behind
the radical Islamic government and the nuclear program, with those effects
multiplied exponentially if the Pentagon itself resorted to nuclear weapons
in the name of trying to stop Iran from building nuclear bombs.