Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
February 13, 2007
WAR: Stopping the Iranians

Mark I looks at the US military briefing laying out the evidence that Iranian-manufactured weapons have been provided to forces fighting the US in Iraq, principally Moqtada al-Sadr's Mahdi Army. There is fair debate about precisely how best to respond to this particular provocation. Certainly, full-scale war with Iran would be a bad thing for all concerned, and our policy for now should be aimed at raising the costs of this sort of thing to convince the Iranians that attacking U.S. troops is not in their interests. There are many different ways to do this, between overt and covert military actions and economic and to a lesser extent diplomatic screw-tightening; what we should be aiming for is reaching the point where Ahmadenijad and the other Iranian leaders wake up every morning saying to themselves "how do we get those ****** Americans to stop?" At the same time, the longstanding fact of military life is that when you hit the other guy back, you had better be prepared for him to escalate, and know how you respond next. So the next steps are perilous - but continuing to let them attack without consequence is perilous, too. Our guys in the field need to know that we don't take this sitting down.

It's been interesting to see the frantic responses from the Democrats and the left side of the blogosphere. Two of the complaints about the Iraq War, you will recall, are that (1) we have enabled the Iranians to gain undue influence in Iraq and (2) we should have dealt with Iran first. In fact, Iranian meddling in Iraq isn't news to either side of the aisle. But then, those criticisms were leveled by the people who always want to deal with any problem except the one at hand, and they've gone much quieter lately.

First up, John Kerry:

Ultimately, they [Iran] want an Iraq that is stable. They want influence. They want to be players in the region. And we need to [recognize] that and engage in a kind of diplomacy that the Iraq Study Group recommended…

The idea that Iran wants a stable Iraq, at least in the sense that we would think of stability, is so delusional it's not even worth discussing. What needs to be done is to force the Iranians to decide that a stable Iraq is in their interests - but you can't just wave a magic wand and assume that the other side already agrees with you.

Then we have Sen. Jack Reed:

The question is: is this a deliberate policy of the Iranian government at the highest levels. Is it rogue elements within the government?" Mr Reed told Fox News. He added: "And then the other question is to what extent are there countervailing signals that the Iranians actually are trying to — not control, but not to further raise the stakes in Iraq," he said.

At some level, the question of who authorized war against us is beside the point. Power in Iran is diffuse - Iran is a tyranny, but not a dictatorship. The mullahs are the principal power, but they may not be any more monolithic than the Saudi royal family; Ahmadenijad holds elected office only at their sufferance, but he's not without influence. At the end of the day, though, this isn't a criminal trial in which we are trying to affix individual punishment - it's a matter of stopping something that's emanating from the borders of a sovereign state. (And color me skeptical that munitions are manufactured and distributed without the government's involvement). If we apply sufficient pressure on the regime, I have no doubt that the regime has the power to to make it stop, and if it doesn't, well, then Iran has lost control over its own territory and we need to take matters into our own hands.

A number of left-leaning sources have cited comments by General Peter Pace as somehow undermining the contents of the briefing:

"We know that the explosively formed projectiles are manufactured in Iran. What I would not say is that the Iranian government, per se [specifically], knows about this," he said. "It is clear that Iranians are involved, and it's clear that materials from Iran are involved, but I would not say by what I know that the Iranian government clearly knows or is complicit."

In other words, Pace knows what is clear from Iraq - that Iranian-made stuff is being used against our guys. The sensitive intel part of this is tracing it to the regime, although as I said, on some level that's beside the point. One of the central defenses of terror-sponsoring regimes has been deniability - hit first, deny responsibility later. Here, we can trace the source to inside Iran - that should be enough to make the Iranians take responsibility.

Then we have Juan Cole, who disputes the accounts of Iranian support almost entirely on the basis that Shi'ites don't cooperate with Sunnis. Of course, that ignores not only the mounting problem of Shi'ite violence but also the fact that the Iranians have been supporting both sides. Which may make no sense if you are locked into academic categories, but makes eminent sense if you regard this as an exercise in power politics (after all, they are not the only ones meddling in Iraq).

Next up is Glenn Greenwald, who has a long post complaining about the lack of credibility of anonymous sources. Funny, Greenwald has very regularly relied on anonymously-sourced reports about US surveillance and detention policies and other issues that provide fodder for criticism of the Bush Administration. In fact, what is different here from the typical anonymously sourced report is that this is an official briefing with the imprimatur of the Administration, as opposed to an unknown axe-grinder. And note that the champions of Valerie Plame are suddenly unable to grasp that sensitive intelligence sources, including the identities of military intelligence personnel, are not well-served by the disclosure of their identities to the media.

The Iranian problem is indeed complex, presenting many different strands that need to be resolved. But sticking our heads in the sand while the regime that took 52 US hostages in 1979 and killed 240 Marines in the Beiruit bombing in 1983 does it again is not an answer.

Posted by Baseball Crank at 9:01 AM | War 2007-14 | Comments (7) | TrackBack (0)

As always, look at history to see what works. Generally, military strikes won't really do it. So what did work against a similar adversary in the past?

Iran is economically similar in many ways to the Soviet Union. Vast resources of needed raw goods-in Iran's case, oil. However, you can't eat it, and you can't pump it into a car. So to keep the populace happy, you subsidize it at a price that makes no sense whatsoever. Look at the US. We complain about gas prices, where much of it, like cigarettes, is taxed. In the end, if you really, I mean really, needed to cut the price of gas, you simply cut the tax.

In Iran's case, like the Soviets, you create a condition, and we are doing that now, where you simply cannot subsidize the price of gas at the levels they are doing. I think Iranians are now paying for gas what we paid in the early 1960s. Realize while they pump oil, they have to pay to have the refined product shipped back to them. Considering they are developing an unhappy populace, with no real means of letting it out (we call it protest, freedom of speech and assembly), and an election that produces change only in a very local way, it's a formula for regime change on their own terms. We just sort of help it along.

Our strength is not military (well, it is, but it's not always the answer). Our real might comes from knowledge and use of economic systems. I don't care if it's the Soviets, Mao, North Korea, Iran. Follow the money.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at February 13, 2007 10:46 AM

Iran has a generally young populace that, in contrast to other Middle Eastern neighbors, finds the culture of the West appealing. This is a part of the world that, like Daryl says, can be won over by economic means. Bombing the crap out of them in the Bush ham-handed tactics is not going to make this a winnable situation though.

Posted by: jim at February 13, 2007 11:56 AM

The only problem with an economic boycott or blockade of oil and natural gas out of Iran is that the world is currently on a energy glut. If you thought Iraq oil for food was a scandal this would pale in comparison. There really is no simple answer to stop Iran's proxy war with us. Due to the current administration lack of long term planning for a viable foreign policy, we are stuck with a very short list of viable options against a much lesser foe.

Posted by: javaman at February 13, 2007 3:18 PM

As Mike mentions, reaching out to - or at least considering the millions of moderates within Iran - would pay great dividends. Think of how the Soviet Union eventually crumbled.

To this point, the Washington Post picked up this UPI story about an exchange with our President:

"At a farewell reception at Blair House for the retiring chief of protocol, Don Ensenat, who was President Bush's Yale roommate, the president shook hands with Washington Life Magazine's Soroush Shehabi. 'I'm the grandson of one of the late Shah's ministers,' said Soroush, 'and I simply want to say one U.S. bomb on Iran and the regime we all despise will remain in power for another 20 or 30 years and 70 million Iranians will become radicalized.'

"'I know,' President Bush answered.

"'But does Vice President Cheney know?' asked Soroush.

"President Bush chuckled and walked away."

Posted by: JPatrick at February 13, 2007 9:09 PM

Though not directly related to this discussion, I found Fareed Zakaria's column in Newsweek (2/12/2006) fascinating. He notes how the Iraqi Civil War has set Al Qaeda back because it forced them to take sides with the Sunnis, thereby alienating large swaths of the Muslim world.

The Terrorist Movement now finds itself on the same side of the struggle as the Saudi Royal family, which it was originally formed to topple. And on the opposite side of the Shiite majority.

Finally we catch a break from the world of intended consequences.

Posted by: JPatrick at February 13, 2007 9:18 PM

i meant 'unintended consequences' oops.

Posted by: Patrick at February 13, 2007 9:38 PM

Javaman, I did not say boycott. Boycott is a rather overt act, and will lead nowhere. I said use economics as a political and warfare tool. Using our knowledge at what we do best means we do what Ronald Reagan understood: Don't react, make the enemy fight on our terms.

Posted by: Daryl Rosenblatt at February 13, 2007 10:30 PM
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