Sunday, February 26, 2012

Bombing Iran

Calvin Coolidge is famously said to have described a Sunday sermon as being about "sin." When asked what the preacher had said about it, he said "He was agin it." Similarly, I feel the same way about the topic of bombing Iran, "I'm agin it." The Economist has both a leader and extensive analysis on the subject, and draws the same conclusion. In summary, the attacks are unlikely to be successful in halting Iran's ambitions and will invite retaliation at great cost. Some may wish to believe that an attack would destabilize the regime; but if so, why have dictatorships throughout the ages manufactured external threats to consolidate their grip on power. I have some expertise in this area, my professional opinion is that neither the U.S. nor Israel have the means to indefinitely derail Iran's nuclear ambitions.

However, a nuclear armed Iran; given the current leadership, would be a disaster for the world. It would certainly embolden Iran to continue to meddle in the affairs of its neighbors. Further, one should consider that the Iranians would actually launch nukes at Israel. So doing nothing is also unacceptable as well. The element of time is essential, and the best published Israeli estimate is that the Iranians are two to three years away from possessing four nuclear warheads that could be mounted on ballistic missiles. (As an aside, those who ridiculed Reagan's ideas that we should invest in anti-ballistic missile technology are owed a big fat slap down. While ABM technology can't stop thousands of Russian nukes, the argument used against the project, a mere four nukes is a much simpler, although still complex problem.)

The threat of Israeli bombing has had the salutary effect of convincing the world to take tougher sanctions. Inflation and unemployment are ratcheting up. The Iranian currency has lost half its value. The latest sanction is to shut out Iran from the world's electronic banking system, which is basically the same thing. But we need to keep thinking asymmetrically, that is rather than directly attacking the offending program, attack where Iran is weak. Going after the gasoline imports that Iran needs, despite all its oil, should be the next move. Despite reducing its dependency on gasoline imports, they are still running at 50,000 barrels per month. The regime's weakness accrues to its mismanagement of the economy; it practices a sort of theocratic socialism. Its support comes from outside of the cities, where the socialistic largess is directed.

Finally, the shock of seeing nuclear weapons actually launched 65 years since the only two that were ever released in war will shock the world. We might consider that Iran itself would be profoundly changed if it did so. We have seen Pakistan possess nuclear weapons for some number of years, and it is far less stable, and no nukes have been used. While I don't want to count on the Iranians not using their nukes, we have to remember that their use brings a huge downside to their government as well.

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