Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Blundering Into Trouble

As is well known by now, Iranian President Mahmoud "Mad Jad" Ahmadinejad has declared that Iran has, for the first time, successfully enriched uranium. Enrichment is one of the more difficult steps in the cycle for preparing fissile material for either a bomb, or to use as fuel for a nuclear reactor.

The UN Security Council has demanded that Iran stop. Today, the Deputy Chief of the Iranian Nuclear Program, Mr. Mohammad Saeedi, showed that he evaluates UN pronouncements at their true worth: he declared that Iran is not stopping, but about to start nuclear enrichment on an industrial scale.
US Secretary of State Rice has pronounced in favor of "strong steps" against Iran. The Russian Foreign Ministry has denounced the Iranian enrichment plans as "wrong" but at the same time indicated Russia's opposition to any military steps against Iran.

All of this follows on military maneuvers the Iranians have bent over backwards to boast about, and show to the public. The New York Post military analyst and commentator, retired US Army Colonel Ralph Peters, asked Sunday whether the Iranians actually want a war.
This is not a rhetorical question, but my judgment, for the moment, is that the answer is no: the Iranians do not want a war; they have simply calculated that they can have their yellowcake and eat it too -- that they can build a nuke, and that nobody can stop them.
The Americans appear to be tied down in Iraq. Militarily, that war is won, and has gone relatively well, but politically it is unpopular, and Bush is sinking domestically. Israel, the joker in the deck, appears paralyzed, trying to grope with Hamas and the demise of Ariel Sharon. The Europeans have their own domestic problems, and besides, the European political class despises Bush, so their foreign ministries are going to do nothing to lessen his difficulties. America's Italian friend, Signor Berlusconi, is being driven from office. President Bush's one heavyweight international ally: Tony Blair of Britain, is in serious trouble.
There is trouble closer to home for America, too. Besides sinking poll numbers, President Bush has to think about the approaching Mexican elections, which may put a very anti-US government in power there -- this is a 40 ton gorilla that nobody is talking about yet. (Recent US concern about immigration issues should be viewed in this light). Also, hurricane season is almost here, it's probably going to be a biggie, and the Americans are about broke.
And the Mullahs have allies. . .the Chinese are bankrolling Iran, and the Russians serving as the Mullahs' general store and armory. On the periphery, Hugo Chavez, who controls an important source of American gasoline, is signaling his willingness to cooperate with anybody in harassing the US -- American trouble with Iran is a win-win for him, trouble in the Persian Gulf means higher oil prices and more money. In North Korea, Dear Leader Kim is watching, and has shown he can be counted on to stir the pot when the US has enough on its plate elsewhere. Syria and the Sadr faction in Iraq are in there kicking, too. Washington would be foolish not to consider the extent to which all the players are collaborating. . .
The omens are auspicious. Why shouldn't Iran build nuclear weapons ? Once the Mullah regime has nukes, overnight it can ramp-up support for Hezbollah, Al Qaeda, Assad's regime in Syria, guerrillas in Iraq, you name it. Nobody will be able to do a thing about it either. Shia populations all around the Persian Gulf will become instantly more restive, and all the local governments much more interested in what Tehran has to say, and that much less interested in Washington's blandishments. Prestige considerations from the point of view of enhancing Shia Islam's position in the Muslim world are important, also. Finally, an Iranian nuke will end even talk in America and elsewhere about regime change in Iran. Money for dissidents and other anti-regime elements will dry up: you simply do not threaten dictators who own nukes, no matter how odious they are.
Washington looks boxed in. . . at least from Tehran's perspective.
Except. . .
Saddam read the tea-leaves the same way in 2002. He is now awaiting execution. Saddam thought he could bluff George Bush, that President Bush would be stopped by world opinion; by political calculations, and the unwillingness of the chattering classes to upset applecarts. For better or worse, he learned differently.
The political graveyard, from Ann Richards to Al Gore, to John Kerry, et al, is full of bright, intelligent, interesting politicans -- real movers and shakers -- who all thought George W. Bush was a lightweight not to be taken seriously. If the 43rd President has proved anything, it is that he can do his political sums as well as anybody who ever played the game.
President Bush must know, by now, that the odds are very, very good that his likely successor will have very different opinions from his own. All presidents, to a degree, seek to bind their successors. Given the political landscape, President Bush has a certain incentive to use his power to create political facts: facts which his successors cannot change. President Bush has shown that he has strong convictions, and there is ample evidence that he is serious when he says Iran cannot be allowed to possess a nuclear weapon. I do not believe that President Bush will leave Iran for his successor to deal with.
Look at that political landscape again. As things stand, the Republicans are looking at a real d├ębacle in the November congressional elections. Perhaps this will change, it's a long way to November, but maybe not. If the Democrats capture even one house of Congress this November, the rest of the President's term will consist of nothing more than fighting off moves for his impeachment. The Daily Kos set, which is contributing millions to Democratic coffers, will demand it. If he wants to do something, President Bush has ample incentive to shake-up the table, and sooner, rather than later.
The Iranians do not want a war. They think they've won already. But more than one war has started because the players didn't recognize the edge of the abyss when they stepped across it. The Iranians, at least to me, are staggering right up to it wearing blindfolds.


Baron Bodissey said...

Good summary. See the Officers' Club for additional pessimism.

Unfortunately, pessimism is warranted.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Dunno if I'd call it "pessimism" Baron. I'd agree we're moving into rough waters, and mistakes have been made, but we still have plenty of good cards.

"Pessimism" may be warranted in the sense that there is no easy solution, and that the mullahs and their evil system are a real problem and hard to get rid of, but I think that will, eventually happen, and once that's done, I have more hopeful expectations of Iran, with or without nukes, than any other place in the Muslim world, simply because they have experience of the downside of living in a theocracy.

As for our domestic concerns, some short-term pessimism is warranted, but the main objection to Leftism, and what the Democrats are presently pushing is that it is stupid. Looking at our erstwhile Euro friends, it's an open question whether European civilization has some kind of inner death-wish (personally, I think it has had one since 1914), but America, except for loonies in San Francisco and assorted other cranks on the Left, assuredly, does not.

Z said...

With GWB staying put in Washington this coming weekend, are we in for a
Easter Sunday surprise attack on the
Iranian nuke-cle-ar facilities.

El Jefe Maximo said...

If your question was other than rhetorical, I would say an Easter Egg for the Mullahs might be good strategery. But I don't think so.

Baron Bodissey said...


I'm optimistic about America, too. I think we're in for a rough patch, what with immigration and the mullahs, but in the long run I'm optimistic.

That is... if we really do something about Social Security. Otherwise, in twenty years or so, when I'm sitting drooling in my Medicare-funded wheelchair, the next generation is going to have a big problem on its hands.

See George Will for more on the topic. He sees the benefits crisis in GM as the shape of things to come for the USA in general.

But at least we're not as far along that road as are the Europeans.

louielouie said...

it appears they have us surrounded........poor bastards.

Candidly Caroline said...

I tend to think the Republicans will do better than everyone is expecting ... and I think the next president again will be Republican.

Mike's America said...

This war was started by Iran when they seized our embassy and took our people hostage for 444 days.

They've been killing Americans through their surrogates ever since.

It's time we wised up to the danger which has now grown exponentially.

The present regime is not rational and I disagree that they do not want war. "President" Amadjihad (my name for him) thinks he can bring back the hidden Imam, the 5 year old who disappeared way back when by causing death, war and pestilence on a planetary scale.

El Jefe Maximo said...

I don't think much of the present regime in Tehran either, nor of its claim to legitimacy, and "president" in quotes for Mad Jad is quite appropriate.

Mike's America said...

The key question here is to define our strategic objectives and develop a plan to achieve them.

Not an easy task. I'm a tad reluctant to endorse bombing the nuke sites if that will set back other objectives such as fostering the regime change that is ultimately desired.

We've had alot of experts claim that bombing would set back the ultimate objective of encouraging regime change by increasing Iranian nationalist that would be expoloited by the mullahs.

But it may be that this idea that Iranians are ready to overthrow the mad mullahs any day is just a pipe dream.

Brinkmanship, which is where we are now with Iran, is a very, VERY difficult, complex and dangerous game.

However, we have one of the best foreign policy and national security teams ever assembled to deal with this issue.

And they will CERTAINLY do a better job of managing the issue than the delusional utopians that populate the opposition party.

El Jefe Maximo said...

I agree with you Mike. I'm really reluctant to bomb the nuke sites or anything else in Iran if there is any other way, because I do think it will set back the possibility of regime change, which is what anybody sane wants in Iran.

I certainly don't want this regime having the nuke. I would characterize our strategic objectives as (1) preventing this regime from acquiring a nuclear weapon; and, (2) using any and all means to promote a replacement of this regime with a more moderate, more civilized government.

Operationally, I would define a more civilized government as one that eschewed support for terrorist organizations such as Hamas, Hezbollah, Al Qaeda and the PLO, sought peaceful relations with its neighbors, and good diplomatic and trade relations with the United States and others. Whether this government is a mullahocracy, a monarchy, or a republic with or without adjectives in its isn't properly our concern.

I wouldn't have much problem with a sane Iran being a nuclear power. I wouldn't be overjoyed, but it wouldn't bother me so much. Iranian desire for a nuclear weapon predates the mullah regime, and I doubt acquisition of such can be prevented over the long run. Persia was a great power back to the time of the Caesars, and I can understand a desire to obtain prestige and status in this way.

However, allowing this particular government to obtain nuclear weapons seems to be to be a completely unacceptable risk. Quite aside from the millenarianism of the present regime, apparent in all the talk about the reappearance of the 12th Imam; the willingness to support terrorist and subversive organizations and to openly call for the complete destruction of other states makes these people very dangerous even without nukes. Millenarians are dangerous to the international system generally, but millenarians with nukes ? I shudder to think.

I hope that we don't have to use force. Iran is a much harder target, in all sorts of ways, than Iraq. Besides, it would undercut the possibilities for regime change. But I am not optimistic.

I agree with you that the present National Security team is a good one. They'd better be, they have a tough problem.