October 5, 2006
The big con about Iran
The United States and Israel, or the United States by itself, or maybe even Israel by itself, can destroy Iran and its 69 million people, probably in a matter of hours or even less, and then nobody in the world will have to worry about those crazy maniacs getting the bomb. Things would be sort of weird afterward, it's hard to say what the consequences might be, but the Iranian threat would be behind us.
Other than that, though, there is no military option in Iran. If we didn't learn this from the Americans' ongoing experience in Iraq, we should have learned it from Israel's recent experience in Lebanon.
Many people think it's possible to wipe out Iran's nuclear facilities, or at least cripple them, from the air. But did Israel manage to wipe out or cripple Hezbollah's weapons from the air? Incidentally, Iran is about 150 times the size of Lebanon. And Hezbollah's underground military bunkers were built by the Iranians; imagine what they've built for themselves at home.
But I don't want to misrepresent the case for an air attack on Iran's nuclear works; those in favor allow that it might well require commandos and maybe small infantry units to ferret out the nukes and make sure they're destroyed.
When I hear this, I think of American soldiers roaming around Iraq looking futilely for weapons of mass destruction, then I remember that Iran is four times bigger than Iraq, with more than twice the population, and a military that dwarfs what Iraq had when the United States invaded in 2003.
I think, also, of how small units of Israeli infantry went into south Lebanon at the start of this summer's war, and how everyone soon realized that those soldiers wouldn't be enough -- which happened at about the same time everyone realized the Air Force wouldn't be enough, either -- and that instead, a massive ground invasion would be necessary.
And all that was just for tiny little Hezbollah and south Lebanon. How many troops and how big a war effort would be needed to take on Iran?
No one knows. How long would the soldiers have to stay in Iran before the nuclear threat were removed, if it could be removed? How would Iran fight back? Would it fire missiles at Israel? Would it use chemical and biological weapons? How far beyond Iran would the war spread? How many soldiers and civilians would die?
Again, nobody knows. And on the basis of what we've seen in Iraq and Lebanon, nobody can even make a decent guess, least of all the calm, confident generals and politicians who are so good at promising "victory."
But I think people know by now that before a country goes to war, it has to be prepared to weather the worst possibilities, not just the most blissful ones. I don't think anybody will believe the same sort of pie-in-the-sky predictions about fighting a war in Iran that they believed about fighting one in Iraq and in Lebanon. And I suspect the non-believers include George W. Bush and Ehud Olmert, no matter what they say publicly.
I figure they know that trying to take out Iran's nuclear facilities by conventional means requires a huge military commitment and huge risks with no guarantee of success. It means being prepared for a much bigger war than the United States has been fighting in Iraq for the last three and a half years, and counting.
America won't do it. No way on earth. With the United States so hopelessly out of its depth in Iraq, the American people will as soon let Bush start a war in Iran as they'd let him bring back the draft, which would be necessary to fight such a war. So forget it. America might be up for a quick little in-and-out operation, something like it did in Granada or Panama, but that's not a military option with the likes of Iran.
And what is Israel going to do? It would be nice to have maps and satellite photos of a big, vulnerable Iranian nuclear reactor sitting out there on the ground in plain sight, so a few jets could fly over, bomb it to hell and fly back in time for dinner, just like they did in Iraq in 1981. But that isn't an option this time, either. Iran's nuclear facilities, wherever they all might be, are spread out, underground, thickly defended -- and the element of surprise is long gone.
So with no quick, painless solution available, is Israel willing to start the kind of war necessary to even have a chance of getting rid of Iran's nuclear potential -- to start the kind of war America clearly won't?
No, Israel isn't willing. For a war of choice, this is too big and dangerous, and that's what it would be -- a war of choice. Israelis may have convinced themselves that Iran will nuke us once they get the chance, but while this is a possibility -- a remote one, I think -- it is by no means an inevitability, and to treat it as such is hysterical, which is what Israelis, inevitably, have become over Iran.
I'm not saying Iran, especially a nuclear Iran, is nothing to worry about. Iran is plenty to worry about, but as for what to do about Iran, how to stop it from getting nuclear weapons, neither the United States nor Israel nor anyone else has a conventional military way to go about it.
There are all sorts of diplomatic pressures that can be applied to Iran and its arms suppliers, but if Iran gets the bomb, which I think is likely, we are going to have to learn to live with it like we lived with Stalin and Mao having the bomb. They weren't any less fanatical than the Iranians, and when it comes to genocide and conquest, the Iranians talk about it, but Stalin and Mao did it. So there's good reason for worry, but not for hysteria.