Recently by Mark R. Crovelli: How Iran Could Whip the United States and Israel Without Firing a Single Shot
My inbox over the past few days has been absolutely inundated with emails from people from all over the world who took time out of their busy lives to denounce me as "crazy," "delusional," and, my personal favorite, "smoking the good stuff." What got so many people fired up and so eager to diagnose my mental health was my article "How Iran Could Whip the U.S. and Israel without Firing a Single Shot." In that article I made the suggestion that the Iranians have the ability to avoid conflict with the U.S. and Israel by doing exactly what is demanded of them. Instead of allowing themselves to be dragged into a bloody war with two of the most powerful nations in the history of the world, I suggested that the Iranians hold a trump card that will allow them to escape that outcome by abandoning their nuclear program in toto. This suggestion, according to many people who wrote to me, is a sign that I have fallen off my rocker.
Before anyone runs out to secure a court order to have me committed (or drug tested), allow me to make some additional observations in defense of my argument.
The first thing that I would note is that my argument is really just a different way of saying that the Iranian government can and will try to avoid a brutal and bloody war with two of the most heavily armed countries in the history of the world. Duh. They will try to avoid this outcome not because they particularly care about the wellbeing of their citizens, (of course they don't, they're politicians after all), but because they are acutely aware that wars with the United States eventually result in "regime change." Two of their neighboring governments were overthrown by the U.S. military in just the last ten years, despite the fact that those governments had nothing to do with 9-11 and did not attack the United States, and they just watched the U.S. help to overthrow the Libyan government. Surely the Iranian government is aware that war with the U.S. and Israel will produce a similar outcome for themselves. If they are foolish enough to allow a war to develop, they would have to assume that would meet a fate similar to Saddam Hussein or Mullah Omar.
While obvious, this point is critical for understanding why the Iranian government could eventually scuttle its nuclear program and secure peace. Many people, for example, wrote to me with doubts that the Iranian government would ever be willing to "lose face" with their own people by dismantling its nuclear program. What these people fail to consider, however, is that the Iranian government has to consider not only the disposition of its citizens, but also what is likely to happen if they allow a war to develop with the U.S. Losing face with one's own citizens is usually a bad thing for a politician, but when the alternative is getting overthrown by a powerful foreign military and being executed like a dog in the street, losing face doesn't look nearly such a bad alternative.
It is not clear, by the way, that the Iranian government would lose face by scuttling its nuclear program. After all, as I noted in my previous article, the Iranian government has surely made the Iranian people aware that even the American intelligence agencies and the IAEA agree that it is not developing nuclear weapons, which means that the Iranian people are no doubt aware that the U.S. and Israel are provoking Iran for reasons unrelated to nuclear weapons or nuclear power. To save face, the Iranian government need only say to the Iranian people "Look, these guys are trying to do to us what they did to Iraq, and we are going to do everything we can to avoid foreign occupation. If that means scuttling our nuclear program, so be it, because foreign occupation by the lawless and brutal Americans is worse than almost anything." The hordes of Iraqi refugees, orphans and widows in Iran would no doubt testify to the truth of this statement, in case the there are any Iranians who are stupid and chauvinistic enough to want to fight the Americans in order to "save face."
Some of my critics argued that even if the Iranian government was to scuttle its nuclear program completely, it would still face bombing or invasion, and they pointed to Iraq and Libya as examples. What these critics fail to notice is that "appeasement," to use their pejorative word, did in fact work for Libya. When Gaddafi scuttled his own nuclear program the U.S. sponsored sanctions on Libya were lifted! Of course the U.S. eventually took advantage of Gaddafi's weakness and intervened after he lost control of "his" people, but that was eight years after the UN lifted sanctions on Libya. If Iran can buy eight years of sanction-free détente by scuttling their nuclear program today, do you really doubt that they would seize the opportunity? Is their civilian and medical nuclear program so vital to their existence that they can afford to jeopardize their entire economy, including the solvency of their central bank, in the naïve hope that the Americans and Israelis will leave them alone? Who's being crazy now?
The case of Iraq does not support these critics' case either. Saddam Hussein did not have nuclear weapons or WMD, just like Iran does not have a nuclear program, but he thought he could stand up to the Americans and intimidate the Iranians by refusing entry to UN weapons inspectors. This decision, which is precisely what my critics think the Iranians will do today by continuing their civilian nuclear program at all costs, gave the Americans and their lapdogs a reason to invade in 2003. Had he relented and renounced WMD and nuclear weapons completely, (as Gaddafi was doing the very same year!), things might have turned out very differently in Iraq.
The Iranians, having intently watched both of these scenarios play out in Muslim countries in their backyard, are surely less forgetful of the circumstances surrounding American invasion than my critics. How else can we explain the Iranians' almost blasé response to Israeli/American terrorism within their borders, overt threats of war, aggressive American drone missions, and American naval posturing in the Persian Gulf? One would expect, if my critics are right that the Iranians would never consider "appeasing" the Americans, that they would have already closed the Straits of Hormuz, as they recently claimed they are capable of doing. Instead, all they have done is to send a "letter of protest" to the U.S. to complain about American-sponsored terrorism on their soil. Can you imagine that? Their only response to terrorism, of all things, is to send a "letter of protest" to the terrorists? Isn't that a sign that the Iranians are reasonable people who truly do want to avoid a murderous war at all costs?
Another important consideration that eludes my critics is the fact that the Iranian government is no doubt aware of the strategy of Osama bin Laden. The Iranians are certainly no fans of bin Laden, (he being a Sunni, while the Iranians are Shiites), but you don't have to be coreligionist to recognize good political strategy when you see it. Bin Laden's strategy was to draw the Israeli's rich uncle, the United States, into a conflict that would eventually bankrupt the Americans just like the Russians were bankrupted in Afghanistan. Having watched the American economy nearly topple over the edge of the abyss in 2008, and watching the Americans' lapdogs in Europe teetering on the brink of economic catastrophe today, the Iranian government is surely aware that time is on their side. They merely need to bide their time before the Americans, Israelis, and the Europeans are hamstrung by their incredible economic problems, not the least of which are their costly wars in Afghanistan, Yemen, Iraq, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, etc. Given this, why would the Iranians risk a murderous war and its attendant "regime change," when they can simply suspend their nuclear program completely today and wait out the Americans? My critics must think that the Iranian government has the time preference of a 13-year-old girl!
Still another thing to bear in mind is the fact that the United States government went to great lengths in the lead-up to the Iraq war to secure an "international coalition." They hoodwinked the gullible Colin Powell into showing up and lying at the United Nations in order to convince foreign governments that their proposed war was a "just war." It wasn't, of course, but the fact that the U.S. government felt obliged to try to secure international approval before invading is important. It means that if the Iranians publicly disavow their nuclear program in toto, the U.S. and Israel are going to have a hell of a time securing an international coalition. While this might seem trivial, remember that Iran is a much bigger and much more militarily powerful country than Iraq was, so if there is an invasion without an "international coalition," the U.S. and Israel are going to have to bear the costs of this gigantic catastrophe alone. This alone could prevent a war from breaking out, because the costs will be huge in both lives and treasure.
In conclusion, it is not as easy to determine what a foreign government will do as my critics assume. Governments are made up of people, just like you and me, and they will no doubt weigh their desire for domestic approval against their fear that they will wind up being hanged on an American-constructed gallows.
Foreign governments are capable of reading Sun Tzu just like anyone else, after all, and here is a quote from him that they might be taking to heart right now: "Pretend inferiority and encourage his arrogance." (HT Michael LaBelle)