"There are only two ways of telling the complete truth—anonymously and posthumously."Thomas Sowell

Monday, January 16, 2006


This Niall Ferguson essay - essentially arguing that a failure to pre-empt Iran's nuclear ambitions will set the stage for a nuclear war in the near future - is both well-done and frighteningly plausible.

But it's worth remembering that there has never been real war between nuclear powers. The closest we've come to is the occasional shelling and raiding between Pakistan and India. (Hmmm....maybe China and the USSR, but I'm not sure China had nukes then or at least not more than a few). In any case, here's what seems to me a much more likely scenario:

The US draws down its forces in Iraq, beginning in 2006 and substantially completed by 2008. (Either we will be successful and will be able to draw down or the continuing instability will be exploited by the Kos wing of the Democratic Party to gain electoral success and force the withdrawal). If Iran's nukes are not pre-empted (and is there anyone who doesn't think the Iranians are trying to develop nuclear weapons?), then the Iranians will have achieved a strategic standoff with Israel. But I think they're still unlikely to initiate a nuclear exchange with Israel, simply because the Israelis have enough nukes to obliterate Iran (and, most importantly, its leadership). Rather, Iran will use the nukes as a way of making itself invulnerable to American and Israeli pressure and will then seek to establish itself as the *the* power in the Middle East. This means, first of all, exporting its Islamism to Iraq and Afghanistan, undermining their relatively pro-American regimes. Second, it means undermining the secular regimes in Syria, Lebanon, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia and attempting to establish a pan-Islamic confederation that both controls a significant portion of the world's oil supplies and, with Iranian and Pakistani nukes, remains relatively invulnerable to international pressure. (The Europeans can't impose sanctions because they are too dependent on the oil and the US will be unable to move against the Iranians because the Europeans - and perhaps the Israelis - will not want to risk the obliteration of one of their cities).

What the nuclear arming of Iran threatens is not a hot war ala WWII, but another Cold War where a radical ideology backed up by the gun takes over a strategically crucial part of the world. Israel might end up as a new West Berlin, hemmed in by its enemies. Not a happy scenario.


tbmbuzz said...

Iran is a situation where Bush has to put up or shut up. Considering that to date Bush has always put up, I see a high probability of military action against Iran before his term ends. An air and Tomahawk missile campaign, a la Desert Fox and Serbia, could be quite effective, not in ending Iran's nuclear ambitions completely, but in setting them back for years. The key to Iran's nuclear ambitions anyway is a delivery system, which Iran does not possess yet. Strikes against not only Iran's nuclear facilities (knowing ahead of time that all of their decentralized and underground facilities could not be destroyed) and against selected military and strategic targets such as their submarine bases and fixed ground-to-ground missile sites could go a long way to convincing Iran that further pursuit of nuclear weapons just ain't worth it.

JC said...

Given the growing pressure on Iran from not just the U.S. but pretty much the entire U.N., it seems unlikely that the U.S. will have to do anything of the sort. Hopefully, China and Russia can wake up and smell the coffee. Even if they remain ambivalent, I think the Europeans are ticked off enough to do something. And even if no one else did anything, I don't think Israel would let Iran get nuclear weapons. It would be a foolish thing to do politcally, but I don't doubt that the Israeli government would strike Iran if the U.N. (yet again) fails to do anything.

Buzz, I think you're right that Bush would do something if he had to, but I hope he doesn't. Already world politics have created a kind of "free rider" problem, where other countries sit back, let the U.S. take care of things, and then whine about the consequences of U.S. actions. A country like Russia has a big incentive to not get involved with Iran, which is a problem since they sit on the Security Council. Fortunately, the news seems to indicate that even the most stubborn countries are fed up with Iran.

tbmbuzz said...

One wild card one never sees mentioned in the news media is Israel's anti-missile capability, which between the Arrow and Patriot systems is damn good, fully capable of handling the short to intermediate range missiles Iran would lob at them.

I'm not as sanguine as you, JC, about the international community's ability to do anything about Iran. The corrupt UN, which is on Iran's payroll? Don't make me laugh! European diplomacy? What has European diplomacy ever accomplished? A short term peace at the Vienna Conference of 1815, perhaps, but nothing else. Heck, they couldn't even effectively deal with the Balkan problem a decade ago in their own backyard. Russia and China remain major obstructionists against anything the West would support, seemingly even against their own national interests if a thumb can be ground into the West's eyes. Israel frankly does not have the offensive capability to take out Iran's nukes; it's a problem a hundred times tougher than taking out Saddam's Osirak reactor a quarter century ago.

The only plausible action against Iran is some kind of forceful action by Bush in the next three years. Otherwise nothing will happen and an evil Iranian regime will have its way until it inevitably collapses because freedom-loving decent Iranians force it to.

JC said...

In most cases I would agree with you about the sluggishness of (especially) the U.N. I do think that this may be an exception, given how the Iranian government has not only crossed a line but bulldozed the whole beach.

I keep expecting an AP headline any day: "Iranian President Announces Official Nuke-Building Program; Calls World Leaders 'Infidels' and 'Suckers'"
Or maybe the CIA will reveal a secret tape of their top ambassador questioning Putin's masculinity.

Seriously, the timing of the Holocaust nonsense along with the breaking of seals and other things may just be enough to prod the community into action. We'll see.

connie deady said...

Gee it would be nice to see people argue issues without taking pointless jibes at the opposition. "Kos wing of the Democratic party"?

Iran is a problem, too bad we shot our good will in invading Iraq.

Tlaloc said...

Your scenario seems fairly plausible. I notice that the Arab League is hoping for a negotiatin in which both Israel and Iran give up nuclear weapons so that the middle east can become a nuke free zone.

Tlaloc said...

"Hopefully, China and Russia can wake up and smell the coffee."

Doubtful. You are seeing a new power line forming. China, Venezuela, Iran and probably Russia are in it. They know their future prosperity depends on defending themselves against the west in general and the US in specific.

James Elliott said...

That's a good point, T. The confounding factor here is oil. Iran supplies places like China and Russia. China and Russia would rather deal with another nuclear power than lose their oil.

Buzz, Israel's anti-missile capability is nonsense. The Patriot can't hit crap. The only reason SCUDS were brought down in 1990-91 was because the SCUD is such a crappy missile it explodes when it passes through the wake of another engine. The Patriot has 0 hits on target in real warfare. What Israel does have is the capability to conduct serious airstrikes. And lets not forget its nukes.

US military activity against Iran is impractical. The military is bogged down in Iraq and will not be able to conduct further action on a large scale until Iraq's military is ready to take over - a prospect that is years away. The Iranian military is home to millions of soldiers and are better equipped, better trained, and far more cohesive than Iraq's was in 2003. The US Air Force and Navy cannot provide the "boots on the ground" that the Army, Marines, and even CIA lack in Iran, and without those, no action can be guaranteed to accomplish the needed result.

tbmbuzz said...

Buzz, Israel's anti-missile capability is nonsense. The Patriot can't hit crap. The only reason SCUDS were brought down in 1990-91 was because the SCUD is such a crappy missile it explodes when it passes through the wake of another engine. The Patriot has 0 hits on target in real warfare.

James, you have no idea what you're talking about, not a clue. This would be an excellent topic, however, for a thread of its own.

Tlaloc said...

re Patriot:


"A new picture of the Patriot missile's performance in Gulf War II is emerging -- and it's not the happy scene we were all shown on television last spring.

As recently as last week, the Army claimed that it had a perfect intercept record during Operation Iraqi Freedom. But that's "at best, a wild twisting of the facts," Victoria Samson, with the Center for Defense Information (CDI), says.

She's examined a new report from the Army's 32d Army Air and Missile Defense Command which looks at how the Patriots performed. And that study contradicts the military's ballistic boosterism.

"According to the Army's own report, 23 Iraqi missile launches are documented. Subtract the nine reported intercepts, and take away the one Iraqi missile that blew itself up shortly after launch and the four which were out of Patriot range, and that leaves nine missiles which should have been intercepted and were not. A 100% interception rate glosses over what actually happened in the battlefield," she writes."

The Patriot is just another military boondogle. It's never worked worth a damn.


"Killing two British pilots and shooting down a U.S. Navy fighter was just the beginning. The Patriot missile defense system had a slew of problems during the Iraq invasion -- problems which are only now slowly coming to light.

"Spurious 'ghost' missile tracks showed up on Patriot Missile battery radars hundreds of times before and during the invasion, causing chaos and confusion as soldiers struggled to determine the real from the false," notes KTVT-TV reporter Robert Riggs, who's been leading the press' investigation of the anti-missile system. "Soldiers operating the multi-billion systems had only malfunctioning cell phones with which to communicate with other batteries in often-futile efforts to learn whether targets were real.""

tbmbuzz said...

Post all the garbage you want from news reporters and other advocates with their own agendas who do not have access to information which is highly classified. I have been a software and systems engineer on missile defense systems for the past 18 years, including 14 years on Patriot, and the information the civilian world has is hogwash (your choice to believe me or not; I have secret clearance, do you?). No complex system is perfect (see space shuttle), engineering problems are found and solved over time, and upgrades are constantly being implemented. The Patriot system is the premier (by far) ground-to-air anti-aircraft defense system in the world (and has never been used as such). Its anti-tactical missile capability is missile range-tested, proven, and battle tested. It was 9 for 9 against the Scuds it ENGAGED during the Iraq War. The nine Scuds the reporter-ignoramus is talking about that were not intercepted were never engaged because they were not threats. Get it?

James Elliott said...

Buzz, I was educated by a physics professor who runs QA for anti-missile systems for the military (including ABM)out of Lawrence-Livermoore. His words, and I quote, "The physics have too many variables. They do not work under anything less than strictly controlled circumstances." And as far as ABM goes, not even then. You can be a systems engineer all you want. I'll take the protege of Nobel prize winners over you any day, especially given that your method of argument is to present ad homs and straw men without any facts.

tbmbuzz said...

Of course, James. You know better. Your presentation of facts has convinced me. So has Tlaloc's.

James Elliott said...

Of course, James. You know better. Your presentation of facts has convinced me. So has Tlaloc's.

Glad we got that out of the way. Now go take your gross overgeneralizations and rudeness somewhere else so the grown ups can talk.