Elbridge Colby and Austin Long writing in The National Interest.
The basic question is: How do attack advocates propose to stop the Iranian nuclear program if Tehran refuses to roll over after one round of attacks? There are two logical responses to this question. One is regime change, presumably through invasion. But there are significant downsides to invasion, not least that such a war would likely prove protracted and costly. Attack advocates such as Kroenig effectively concede that the American people are unlikely to support this course.
The other is that the United States should be prepared to conduct repeated strikes over a long period of time to ensure the Iranian nuclear program is kept down. Unsurprisingly, Kroenig and others shy away from this answer, as it is a recipe for perpetual war. The cost in lives, resources and America’s international reputation would be formidable, especially if done without diplomatic cover and international support that probably wouldn’t be forthcoming. Yet, even under the most favorable conditions in which Iranian retaliation stayed limited and international support was forthcoming, a long-term, limited-strike campaign might not work at a level of effort and damage in line with U.S. aims. Regular U.S. strikes on North Vietnam over a period of seven years under highly favorable international conditions failed woefully either to convince Hanoi to change its fundamental strategy or substantially degrade the communist war effort. The North Vietnamese resolutely repaired bridges, depots and roads. More recently, limited allied air strikes against Iraq in the 1990s didn’t force Saddam Hussein’s compliance with UN Security Council Resolutions. Moreover, as happened in Vietnam, such strikes likely would become more difficult over time. The Russians, for example, have refrained, thanks to Western diplomacy, from selling Iran advanced long-range surface-to-air missiles that could make strikes more difficult. They probably wouldn’t be so forbearing if strikes were conducted without their prior and explicit approval, which Moscow isn’t likely to give.
On the eve of the U.S. withdrawal, it may be difficult to see the extent to which Iran’s policy in Iraq is in shambles. Since the displacement of Saddam Hussein’s regime, Tehran has pursued two contradictory policies. On the one hand, the clerical state seeks cordial relations with the Iraqi government and has provided aid and commerce as a means of solidifying bilateral relations. Yet Iran has also been arming and nurturing Shiite militias that plot against authorities in Baghdad. Such a paradoxical approach seemed sustainable during the civil war, as Iraq’s hard-pressed Shiites looked to Iran for assistance and thus countenanced its interventions in their country. The end of Iraq’s war, however, has left Iran without a coherent policy. Tehran’s inability or unwillingness to resolve the fundamental contradictions in its approach have done much to alienate the Iraqi government and a populace eager to put the burdens of conflict behind it. Whereas Washington was ill-prepared to deal with the start of Iraq’s civil war, Iran seems unable to deal with its aftermath.
Whether the complete withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq is wise is an issue worthy of debate. But the imperative at hand is to ensure Iraq’s continued stability and prevent Iranian mischief in light of America’s departure. The key to this lies as much in diplomacy as in military deployments.
Today, the essential estrangement of Iraqi Shiites from the larger Arab world, and the neighboring Sunni regimes’ unease with their empowerment, makes them vulnerable to Iranian machination. A more forceful U.S. diplomacy, pressing allies to integrate Iraq into the Arab state system, would offer Baghdad additional economic partners and regional interlocutors as well as a means of reestablishing itself as a pivotal state of the Arab world. As the Middle East struggles with transitions that often pit identities against interests, Iraq can offer some useful lessons. Indeed, such a development would not only aid Iraq’s rehabilitation and assist the region political evolution but would further isolate Iran in its immediate environment.
Others, including most notably Charles Krauthammer, see this very differently. They see the American withdrawal as either proof of American defeat or a prelude to it. As I wrote before, if the Iraqis need or want more American troops, more can be arranged. It may be politically difficult in the US, but so will watching Iraq unravel and Iran blatantly and visibly exert its influence during the process. I’m not so sure that the withdrawal of American troops will lead to Iraq’s downfall. The Iraqi government, security forces, and people will have more work to do, but that is inevitable. Let’s hope it’s not too soon for them to take those responsibilities. Douglas Ollivant makes the persuasive case that the withdrawal is both necessary and worthwhile. It is well worth the read.
THEIR irreverent sense of humour is a source of pride to Iranians, a way to puncture the gloom of successive repressive regimes. It is no surprise that a satirical television programme called “Parazit” that delights in skewering Iran’s politicians is going down a storm.
“Parazit”, meaning “static” in Persian, itself a dig at the government’s tendency to block seditious broadcasts, came on the air shortly before the disputed presidential election of 2009. It is produced by Voice of America (VOA), the state-funded international broadcaster. Despite—or perhaps because of—its tie to the Great Satan, the programme has proved enormously popular in Iran.
Here, here! Well done for chronicling the hypocrisy of the mullahs.