Recently Ahmadinejad, Iran’s outspoken leader, said, “Life is shaped by art and the highest form of art is martyrdom.” This is the statement of a man possessed. If taken along with his Holocaust denial claims and threats to wipe Israel off the map, this is a person who at the very least cannot be trusted.
It is therefore critical that he is denied the nuclear weapons he craves. His uranium enrichment program is well on the way to conclusion and in months, perhaps a year, Iran will be in possession of the knowledge necessary to produce a nuclear weapon.
The central question that must be considered is whether he can be stopped and whether the West has the will to do it.
President George W. Bush has made it abundantly clear that he will not tolerate a nuclear bomb in Iran. Yet even a determined president has limitations. Can the Air Force destroy the Iran facilities? Will there be retaliation? How will the Muslim world react to such an action? And will there be collateral damage that unites Iran and makes it an even more formidable threat than is the case at the moment?
As I see it the “cascading effect” needed to produce high grade uranium is probably in one major site even though ancillary activities may be dispersed. Therefore sortees carefully directed using bunker buster bombs could probably do the job against a reinforced underground facility.
While the Iranians have missiles that can reach Tel Aviv, they probably don’t have nuclear weapons yet. Therefore, they might deploy missiles tipped with chemical and biological weapons. While the prospect of such deployment is horrible to imagine, these weapons are unreliable. On the conventional front Iran is simply no match for Israeli forces much less U.S. military operations.
Although it is impossible to determine how the Muslim world will respond to such an attack, it is noteworthy that the much vaunted Arab street did not rise in unity against the liberation of Iraq and one might reasonably expect that will be the case in an attack on Iran.
Collateral damage is always a possibility even in the age of smart bombs. But the targets are limited and the precision bombs are increasingly more refined and accurate. Therefore it is probable that casualties will be limited. In fact, rather than unify Iran, such destruction of the nuclear facility might be the occasion for dissident groups to rise up against the ruling mullahs.
Recently there has been a lot of chatter about funding for public diplomacy that might encourage regime change. On this score, I remain skeptical. There have been many opportunities for rebellion against the repressive regime, but thusfar the secret police have been able to control the outbursts.
While regime change would be a desirable outcome, and a measure worth trying, we are running out of time. The clock is ticking on the prospective acquisition of a nuclear weapon. I would make the same claim about the European initiative to halt the Iranian program. Thusfar, the negotiations have merely served as a cover for the continued development of the program. Of course this diplomatic exercise is a necessary prerequisite for consensus on military action.
Security Council resolutions that lead to an embargo might be effective if the embargo on oil holds and if this isn’t interpreted by Iranian leaders as an act of war. Of course, getting unanimity in the Security Council is a long shot with the Russians poised to veto an embargo and China, sitting on the sidelines, bemused by the prospect of the U.S. groveling for support.
Any way you cut it, military force seems like the most likely stratagem for success. Will Bush do it? As I see it, he cannot afford not to do it. His legacy cannot be a nuclear armed Iran prepared to destabilize all of the Middle East and possibly Europe.
This is yet another test of American will. While the Democrats, in large part, will criticize the decision, there is little doubt the American people will support the president especially if he runs out the string on other options and points out that force is the only realistic alternative.
Herbert London is president of Hudson Institute and professor emeritus of New York University. He is the author of Decade of Denial (Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2001). London maintains a website, www.herblondon.org.