Action, Yes; Panic, No

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Today's AT article by James Lewis, "Don't Panic On Iran," makes a very sensible—sounding argument that the United States (and Israel) should not act rashly to deter Iran's growing nuclear threat.  Lewis counsels waiting for "the right moment" to take "the right actions."  If by this he means taking military action to eliminate or retard Iran's nuclear weapons program, then he fails to explain why waiting longer than needed to amass the necessary firepower improves our chances of success.

Lewis' recommendations appear to be premised on the assumption that the current Iranian regime is not crazy, and is unlikely to pursue its aims through "a single suicidal toss of the dice."  Perhaps.  But perhaps not.  As Lewis points out, the Iranians have been sponsoring terrorism against Israel and the West for 25 years.  And for 25 years they have been getting away with it.  Indeed, actions which if taken by the Soviet Union or China may have led to a wider war, have been engaged in openly and without apology by the Iranians and several other muslim nations.  The only concerted military response by the West came when President Bush ordered the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Until that time, the message the West had been sending the terrorists was one of weakness and appeasement.

Lewis points out that Israel has a significant nuclear capability of its own, including a "second strike" capability of sub—based missiles.  This is cold comfort for a tiny nation that, for all intents and purposes, would be destroyed by 4 or 5 nuclear bombs.  Imagine, for example, the devastation that would be caused by exploding 4 or 5 nuclear bombs in New Jersey.  The notion that Israel could "survive" such a strike is pure fantasy, whether or not it could inflict equal or worse devastation on Iran.

And what if the Israeli subs were knocked out in advance?  Does Lewis seriously believe that Iran would hesitate to nuke Israel in the absence of a meaningful Israeli deterrent?  Surely not.  But that simply raises the question of what the Iranian regime would consider a "meaningful" Israeli deterrent.  Perhaps they would consider the loss of several million Iranian lives to be an aceptable price for eliminating Israel (and millions of Jews) from the Middle East.  This does not seem far—fetched to me.  After all, tyrannical ideologues of all stripes (including Stalin, Hitler, and Mao) have repeatedly sacrificed the lives of millions of their own people in pursuit of their fanatical ambitions.  Why should we believe that Ahmadinejad and the mullahs will behave differently?

And, in any event, how does the threat of widespread nuclear war in the Middle East counsel against attacking the Iranians now, before they develop nuclear weapons?  If anything, avoiding such an outcome should counsel in favor of attacking the Iranian regime —— before they develop the ability to decide when and where a war will occur, and how it will be fought.

Lewis notes that the Iranian nuclear threat will not become "real" for another 2 or 3 years.  At that point, of course, President Bush will no longer be in the White House.  Whoever is, Republican or Democrat, is unlikely to be as committed to fighting terrorism as President Bush has been.  This country's enthusiasm for the war on terror already is waning.  In 2 or 3 years, will the political leadership of this country be prepared to engage in a major war with Iran, which might result in the use of nuclear weapons (as Iran surely will threaten)?  Will the American people?  I doubt it.

On this point, I agree with Lewis that the Iranian regime is not entirely "irrational."  Surely, they are smart enough to realize that they cannot attack Israel (or the United States) successfully while President Bush is in office.  They also must be smart enough to realize that they should not attack the United States before attacking Israel.  So long as Iran does not rouse the American people from their post—9/11 slumber, the United States is unlikely to confront the Iranian regime with decisive military force (despite, as Lewis points out, our having the capability to do so) to prevent an Iranian attack on Israel. 

Moreover, whether Israel has the ability to take the needed preemptive action is an open question.  Indeed, my prediction is that, for misguided political and diplomatic reasons, the United States will pressure Israel not to engage in a first strike —— thereby ensuring that the time and manner of the coming war will be chosen by Iran. 

Lastly, Lewis' hopeful prediction that within 24 months "the West will come to a decision that crazy maniacs armed with nukes are not acceptable, anywhere in the world," strikes me as nothing more than wishful thinking.  Once these "crazy maniacs" have nuclear weapons, it becomes much harder to do anything about it (see North Korea), and much easier to rationalize doing nothing.  Which is exactly what the United States and the Europeans are doing now regarding Iran.  As Michael Ledeen would say, faster please!

Steven M. Warshawsky    4 17 06

Today's AT article by James Lewis, "Don't Panic On Iran," makes a very sensible—sounding argument that the United States (and Israel) should not act rashly to deter Iran's growing nuclear threat.  Lewis counsels waiting for "the right moment" to take "the right actions."  If by this he means taking military action to eliminate or retard Iran's nuclear weapons program, then he fails to explain why waiting longer than needed to amass the necessary firepower improves our chances of success.

Lewis' recommendations appear to be premised on the assumption that the current Iranian regime is not crazy, and is unlikely to pursue its aims through "a single suicidal toss of the dice."  Perhaps.  But perhaps not.  As Lewis points out, the Iranians have been sponsoring terrorism against Israel and the West for 25 years.  And for 25 years they have been getting away with it.  Indeed, actions which if taken by the Soviet Union or China may have led to a wider war, have been engaged in openly and without apology by the Iranians and several other muslim nations.  The only concerted military response by the West came when President Bush ordered the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.  Until that time, the message the West had been sending the terrorists was one of weakness and appeasement.

Lewis points out that Israel has a significant nuclear capability of its own, including a "second strike" capability of sub—based missiles.  This is cold comfort for a tiny nation that, for all intents and purposes, would be destroyed by 4 or 5 nuclear bombs.  Imagine, for example, the devastation that would be caused by exploding 4 or 5 nuclear bombs in New Jersey.  The notion that Israel could "survive" such a strike is pure fantasy, whether or not it could inflict equal or worse devastation on Iran.

And what if the Israeli subs were knocked out in advance?  Does Lewis seriously believe that Iran would hesitate to nuke Israel in the absence of a meaningful Israeli deterrent?  Surely not.  But that simply raises the question of what the Iranian regime would consider a "meaningful" Israeli deterrent.  Perhaps they would consider the loss of several million Iranian lives to be an aceptable price for eliminating Israel (and millions of Jews) from the Middle East.  This does not seem far—fetched to me.  After all, tyrannical ideologues of all stripes (including Stalin, Hitler, and Mao) have repeatedly sacrificed the lives of millions of their own people in pursuit of their fanatical ambitions.  Why should we believe that Ahmadinejad and the mullahs will behave differently?

And, in any event, how does the threat of widespread nuclear war in the Middle East counsel against attacking the Iranians now, before they develop nuclear weapons?  If anything, avoiding such an outcome should counsel in favor of attacking the Iranian regime —— before they develop the ability to decide when and where a war will occur, and how it will be fought.

Lewis notes that the Iranian nuclear threat will not become "real" for another 2 or 3 years.  At that point, of course, President Bush will no longer be in the White House.  Whoever is, Republican or Democrat, is unlikely to be as committed to fighting terrorism as President Bush has been.  This country's enthusiasm for the war on terror already is waning.  In 2 or 3 years, will the political leadership of this country be prepared to engage in a major war with Iran, which might result in the use of nuclear weapons (as Iran surely will threaten)?  Will the American people?  I doubt it.

On this point, I agree with Lewis that the Iranian regime is not entirely "irrational."  Surely, they are smart enough to realize that they cannot attack Israel (or the United States) successfully while President Bush is in office.  They also must be smart enough to realize that they should not attack the United States before attacking Israel.  So long as Iran does not rouse the American people from their post—9/11 slumber, the United States is unlikely to confront the Iranian regime with decisive military force (despite, as Lewis points out, our having the capability to do so) to prevent an Iranian attack on Israel. 

Moreover, whether Israel has the ability to take the needed preemptive action is an open question.  Indeed, my prediction is that, for misguided political and diplomatic reasons, the United States will pressure Israel not to engage in a first strike —— thereby ensuring that the time and manner of the coming war will be chosen by Iran. 

Lastly, Lewis' hopeful prediction that within 24 months "the West will come to a decision that crazy maniacs armed with nukes are not acceptable, anywhere in the world," strikes me as nothing more than wishful thinking.  Once these "crazy maniacs" have nuclear weapons, it becomes much harder to do anything about it (see North Korea), and much easier to rationalize doing nothing.  Which is exactly what the United States and the Europeans are doing now regarding Iran.  As Michael Ledeen would say, faster please!

Steven M. Warshawsky    4 17 06