Thursday, March 23, 2006

Matt McIntosh on Iran

Matt McIntosh at Catallarchy has been making an interesting series of posts about Iran and the United States. In part 1, he points out that U.S. policy with respect to Iran has been completely irrational and counterproductive:

Consider: the United States military takes down two governments to the East and West of Iran, both of whom the Iranians had longstanding feuds with, leaving Iran the only regional power left standing. Rather than working with Iran from the get-go on both of these operations, which would have been the natural Machiavellian thing to do, the Bush administration chooses instead to antagonize them and continues to do so even now. The Iranians shrug and play right along, allowing al Qaeda members to stay in their “custody” and meddling in Iraq, since there’s nothing in it for them to do otherwise – and every reason for them to keep the US bogged down and busy, since Bush has already telegraphed a big fat “YOU’RE NEXT” message to them.

If you’re the Iranian Supreme Leader, what do you do in this situation? Pretty much what they’re doing now: jerk everyone around and eat the clock, all the while reaching for the Bomb as an anti-invasion insurance policy as fast as you can get it. All you have to do is get one functioning nuclear missile and you’re set, and the odds of anyone being both able and willing to stop you are slim. The Iranians are not stupid; they know full well that there’s currently no political will in the US for yet another war, and that starting one would be political death for the already beleaguered Republicans.
In Part 2, he sets out and argues for some basic assumptions about dealings with Iran:

1) Iran is not going to give up the quest for nukes voluntarily.

2) Democratic revolution is not going to happen.

3) Ahmadinejad does not matter unless people let him.

4) The Iranian regime is deterrable.

He further argues that, based on these assumptions, covert or overt U.S. support of dissident groups within Iran is likely to be counter-productive, causing those groups to be treated with more suspicion within Iran.

Now, in Part 3, he points out some things the people of Iran want and that we should find desirable for them to have--economic freedom at the top of the list. He suggests that we effectively offer a bribe--removal of sanctions and reopening of diplomatic relations in return for their cooperation in ending violence in Iraq; unfreezing billions of assets if they turn over al Qaeda leaders they supposedly have under arrest. Combined with this, he suggests that we let them continue with their nuclear program so long as they are transparent about it and understand that any nuclear explosion in a populated area will be blamed on untrustworthy nuclear nations (North Korea, Iran, Pakistan) and will result in nuclear retaliation.

I'm not particularly happy with that last suggestion--but McIntosh's suggestions seem more credible overall than current U.S. policy. On the nuclear issue, the current U.S. plan seems to be to try to get Iran to agree to stop its nuclear program completely and allow them to purchase non-military nuclear technology that is less likely to be usable for military applications, perhaps years in the future. Specifically, the U.S. is devoting resources (through the Global Nuclear Energy Partnership) to develop fast-burning reactors which can be used in developing countries, loaning them fuel and then taking spent fuel back for recycling and burning down, so that those countries have no need for enrichment or extraction technologies. If Iran could be persuaded to enter into such an arrangement, that would be far preferable to them having possession of military nuclear capability.

1 comment:

Matt McIntosh said...

Thanks for the comments, Jim. I agree that your last scenario would certainly be preferable to them getting functional nuclear weapons, I'm just not at all sanguine about the possibility of that happening. It'd be a mistake not to try to bargain for it first, but I doubt they'd go for it.

Believe me, I'm no happier than you are at the thought of actually using nuclear weapons, but there's no doubt in my mind that I'd push the button if the appropriate warnings were given and a nuclear attack still occurred. I take that stand to save lives: you make the threats credibly so you don't have to actually carry them out.