The entirety of American policy in Iraq is stripped down to a single thought: Iran. After years of organizational chaos, the US has simplified its plan in Iraq to preventing Iran from becoming a regional hegemon. Once lofty thoughts of forging a democracy in the Middle East as a beacon of hope, thoughts of fighting militant Islam safely away from home shores, even stabilizing world oil production, have taken a back seat to limiting Iran's ambitions. An American withdrawal from Iraq would allow Iran to leverage its allies in Iraq's dominant Shiite south to eventually gain control of the country. This influence would extend to the significant Shiite communities on the oil-rich Persian Gulf's western shore. Without a US military presence, the military incompetence of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar would be an invitation to Iran to conquer that shore. That would put one-quarter of the world's oil output, 20 million barrels/day, under Tehran's control. Iran would have the power to shut off the world's economy.
In the short term, American domestic political realities require an Iraq plan. If concern for Iran precludes leaving, than we are left with two choices: run Iraq as a permanent protectorate or share influence with other nations to isolate and control Iran. Having a permanent protectorate does not fit with America's current election climate, an observation obvious to foreign observers. To a world deeply threatened by, and hostile to a lone superpower too powerful to contain directly, this is an extraordinary opportunity. For the first time in over a decade, the US is going to have to negotiate with the world community.
Does Iran matter to us in ways beyond Middle East oil? Well, either a lot, think World War III, or just somewhat, think Mussolini. You will have to make up your own mind. We will start with a quick survey of the issues and then start the debate. A good map helps:
The Country Edit
Iran is about the size of Alaska, about 630,000 square miles, just under four times the size of Iraq, if you are thinking of invasion. Unlike Iraq, Iran has two major mountain ranges, the Zagros Range (peaks over 13,000') in the south and west and the Alborz Range (peaks over 18,000') in the north. Between them lies a large desert plateau. Food for thought as you plan the logistics of moving your troops and armor around.
Tehran, with a population of about 8 million and 50% of national industry, dominates the country. It is just under twice the size of Baghdad, a city which has proved quite difficult for our troops to bring under control after four years of "friendly" occupation. Iran is ethnically quite diverse and only 51% of its population is Persian. A look at the ethnic map of Iran shows why the central government is quite sensitive to ethnic ties across contiguous political boundaries. There is distrust of the Kurds and sympathy for the Iraqi Shiites. While there is certainly opportunity for us to exploit some of these ethnic divisions, there is the greater danger of generating a unifying nationalism. Add in the religious element of Christians versus Islam (91% Shi'a, 8% Sunni), and the entire population could rise against us as one.
Iran's population demographics pose a huge problem to its leaders. Over two-thirds of its population of 70 million is under age thirty, with 80% literacy, and deep attraction to the West. Their high expectations are pitted against a semi-developed economy (22% are employed in agriculture, compared to the US at 3%). This economy is basically state run by its theocrats, with a high degree of corruption favoring the politically connected. Around half the government budget comes from oil and gas revenues. While Iran exports oil, it has to import gasoline as a fuel because it lacks the refining capacity. This is a point of economic leverage. Overall economic development is further hampered by economic sanctions by the US (basically, no American can have dealings in Iran). Iran's per capita income has dropped 30% in the last 25 years, with 15-40% living in absolute poverty.
Iran has a complex system of government with several intricately connected bodies, (see chart below). There is an individual with ultimate authority called the “Supreme Leader”, currently Mullah Khamenei, whose duties encompass “supervision” of the overall government. Compliance with Sharia law is enforced by the Guardian Council. There is an elected head of state called the President, currently Ahmadinejad, who has powers of appointment, but no clear "line" authority and who must answer to the Supreme Leader. This can make it very difficult to be sure who, exactly, is speaking for the government and how to weigh his comments.
Iran has a long , deep and rich culture to which the Iranians are deeply connected and of which they are enormously proud. From its peak under Cyrus (650 BC), Iranian history has been one of successive invasions. Alexander, may be called “the Great” in the West, but is called “the Accursed” in Persia. His burning of their beautiful capital, Persepolis, may go down as one of the greatest single acts of drunken vandalism in history. While interwoven with Islam, Iranian culture historically has a tolerant and intellectual tradition, uniquely Persian compared to the harsh Islam of its surrounding Arab neighbors. The puritanical interpretation of Sharia instituted under Khomenei is deeply resented by a majority of Iranians. The current theocrats must use the typical tools of tyranny to enforce their version of Sharia. This divide presents a long term opportunity for the West.
Iranian-American Relations Edit
Iranians were first introduced to American foreign policy in 1953, when the CIA overthrew a popular patriot, Mossadegh, after he nationalized the oil fields. We installed a monarchy, which lasted two generations until 1979, when it was overthrown by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Khomeini instituted an Islamic republic, under Sharia law. The speed of the Revolution surprised Americans as it was not preceded by a military defeat or economic failure and replaced a stable government with a well-financed military. The Khomeini government deeply hated America, "the Great Satan". The American embassy was attacked by militant students, the Revolutionary Guard, perhaps including Ahmadinejad, and 52 hostages were held for over a year. The seeming weakness of our government to act was part of Carter's failure to be re-elected. The hostages were released on the day of Reagan's inauguration, a coincidence that has been the stuff of conspiracy buffs ever since.
In 1980, Iraq, under Hussein, attacked Iran, hoping to gain Persian Gulf access. In the ensuing 8 year war, Iran is estimated to have had one million deaths. Iraq was backed by the Arab states, Europe, the Soviets, and starting in 1983, the US. Iraq's use of poisonous gas to counter Iranian human wave attacks was not condemned by the outside world. If Iran today distrusts the world, it has good cause. Iranian-American relations remain tense. In 1988, an American frigate was damaged when Iran mined parts of the Persian Gulf and we responded by attacking their oil platforms. That same year, we shot down one of their civilian airliners, killing 290 civilians. In 1995, Clinton suspended all trade with Iran when it became clear they were supporting terrorists and were trying perhaps, to develop nuclear weapons capacity. In 2002, Bush declared Iran as part of the “Axis of Evil” with an even greater increase in tensions with our invasion of Iraq. In 2007, there is evidence that Iran is training and supplying Iraqi insurrectionists, which has resulted in the deaths of an estimated 170 American soldiers to date. In October, 2007 the Iraqi Revolutionary Guards were been declared a terrorist organization. As they are so deeply connected to the national government, this will effectively cut Iran off from access to most of the world's financial institutions.
Nuclear Weapons CapabilityEdit
So what does it take to make a nuclear bomb?
1. A source of uranium ore
- Iran has the largest deposit in the Middle East
2. Convert the ore to a powder, called yellow cake (uranium oxide)
- Iran has the industrial capability.
3. Convert to uranium hexafluoride (a gas)
- Iran has the industrial capability.
4.Enrichment of U238 isotopes (centrifuges): Iran has over 3000.
- 3% U238 for nuclear energy; at least 90% U238 for a bomb (you just keep centrifuging).
- Need at least 20 kg of U238 for one bomb (could do in months with 3000 centrifuges)
- Plutonium, a waste product of U238, can be used to make bombs.
5. Heavy water production: necessary for control of nuclear reactions. 6. The Know-how to trigger the fission reaction
- Not so easy but another sympathetic Islamic nation, Pakistan may share.
So is Iran trying to make a bomb? If so, how close is it? According to the International Atomic Energy Agency, Iran does not possess nuclear weapons, or even weapons-grade uranium.
On March 6, 2006, Mohamed ElBaradei, Director General of the IAEA, reported that "the Agency has not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other nuclear explosive devices... however, after three years of intensive verification, there remain uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran's nuclear programme".
On 22 October 2007, Mohamed ElBaradei repeated that, even assuming Iran was trying to develop a nuclear bomb, they would require "between another three and eight years to succeed", an assessment shared by "all the intelligence services". Presumably these are the same intelligence services that assured us that Sadam Hussein had WMD's.
Iran and Terrorism Edit
Iran has a historical connection to terrorist attacks in Israel, lending support to groups such as Hamas, Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad. Recently they have been accused of taking control of many terrorist cells in Yasser Arafat's Fatah Movement in Palestine and Israel believes they are the architects of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades. Some believe that Iran controls the majority of terrorism in Israel. Iranian support consists of millions of dollars in money, weapons and training. All of these terrorist actions have been taken against Israel or the world Jewish community only.
American commanders in Iraq state that Iran is training and equiping Shiite militias in Southern Iraq. Up to 30% of American causalities outside of Anbar province (Sunni and Arab) are due to highly lethal Iranian “shaped” IEDs.
Making a Policy Decision Edit
"Love your country./ Distrust your government./ Know your enemies." -A Conservative Manifesto
Persia has historically been faced with a threat of invasion from its western border; most recently the 1980-88 war with its million deaths. The primary goal of its foreign policy for over a millennium has been to destroy Mesopotamia. In 2003, we generously did that for them. Now, with the destruction of its only regional foe, Iran seeks to become a regional hegemon. This requires enough bleeding in Iraq so that America leaves. Iran is not immune to outside pressure. Tehran may have recently overplayed its hand and certainly recognizes that American efforts to put it in an economic noose are at least partially working. What Iran needs to counter this is its own sponsor, and that is bringing back to the Middle East a power long absent: Russia.
Allah willing, we expect to soon join the club of the countries that have a nuclear industry, with all its branches, except the military one, in which we are not interested.
We are concerned that once certain powerful states completely control nuclear energy resources and technology, they will deny access to other states and thus deepen the divide between powerful countries and the rest of the international community... peaceful use of nuclear energy without possession of a nuclear fuel cycle is an empty proposition.
-Ahmadinejad, Iraqi PM, 2005
The establishment of the Zionist regime was a move by the world oppressor against the Islamic world... The Islamic umma [community] will not allow its historic enemy to live in its heartland
-Ahmadinejad, Oct, 2005
Our enemies cannot do a damn thing. We do not need you at all. But you are in need of the Iranian nation
-Ahmadinejad, Feb, 2004
- On August 9, 2005, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa that the production, stockpiling and use of nuclear weapons are forbidden under Islam and that Iran shall never acquire these weapons. The text of the fatwa has not been released although it was referenced in an official statement at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna.
If they [the US] say that we should close down our fuel production facilities to resume talks, we say fine, but those who enter talks with us should also close down their nuclear fuel production activities.
-Ahmadinejad, Feb, 2007
Israel must be wiped off the map
-Ahmadinejad, Oct, 2006
- This quote has triggered significant argument over the accuracy of its translation. Says Stephen Cole (Univ of Mich), "Ahmadinejad did not say he was going to 'wipe Israel off the map because no such idiom exists in Persian". Instead, "He did say he hoped its regime, i.e., a Jewish-Zionist state occupying Jerusalem, would collapse." The same idiom was used in a speech in Dec, 2006 and allows us to see its use in a parallel context, "Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out."
They didn't want the technology. They asked: "Can we have a bomb?" My answer was: By all means you can have it but you must make it yourself. Nobody gave it to us.
-Beg, former Pakistan chief of staff, commenting on Iranian requests for nuclear bomb technology in 1990. (AP interview 2006)
Russian geography is problematic. It has no body of water or other geographic barrier to separate it from Europe, China or the Middle East. Russian history is a chronicle of Russia's steps to establish buffers, and of these buffers being overwhelmed. The end of the Soviet era marked the change from Russia's largest ever buffer to its smallest in centuries. Russia's current policies are geared to their re-establishment. To do this, Russia needs to stop America's erosion of its borders (think Warsaw Pact, Ukraine, the "-stans"). Russia feels it will be able to force the US to take seriously its concerns, using Iran as the trade-off. If the US will not co-operate, Russia will create a crisis. With its ground strength all in Iraq, there is nothing the US can to stop it. Russia has a long possible list including destabilizing Ukraine, blocking Azerbaijan energy exports through Baku, intervene in Georgia and intimidate the EU by militarily threatening its Baltic state members. Russia can stir the Iraqi pot by empowering Iran. There are many, many possibilities, including: Kilo-class submarines, Harpoon anti-ship missiles, fighter jets, anti-aircraft systems. Russia could easily supply Iran with equipment that would intensify Iran's efforts to destabilize Iraq. The Kremlin will make the US fully aware of how it is making the army's job harder, so that the American's will have all the information they need to make appropriate decisions about Russian needs.
The Iranians are cooperating with Russian nuclear agencies and the main objectives are peaceful objectives.
-Putin, Oct 16, 2007.
We are saying that no Caspian nation should offer its territory to third powers for use of force or military aggression against any Caspian state,
-Putin, Oct 16, 2007. Meant as a warning for the US to not stage its military from Azerbaijan.
"Why worsen the situation and bring it to a dead end by threatening sanctions or military action? Running around like a madman with a razor blade, waving it around, is not the best way to resolve the situation.
-Putin at a summit with EU leaders, Oct 25, 2007, referring to the US.
Israel's problem is simple to understand and hard to solve. Its small land mass means that it can be completely destroyed by a nuclear weapon. There is no way to know when Iran might have nuclear capabilities. Iranian missiles have a thousand mile range, and can easily reach Tel Aviv. Israel's anti-missile technology is not yet completely reliable. Iran has always denied Israel's right to exist. Iran is the main sponsor of the terrorist groups that plague the country. Iran has attacked Jews in the Diaspora. Once Iran has nukes, there can be no deterrence. With its apocalyptic view of Islam, death in retaliation does no offer certain deterrence.
If one day, the Islamic world is also equipped with weapons like those that Israel possesses now, then the imperialists' strategy will reach a standstill because the use of even one nuclear bomb inside Israel will destroy everything. However, it will only harm the Islamic world. It is not irrational to contemplate such an eventuality.
-Rafsanjani (Iranian PM, 2001)
nuclear armed Iran is an intolerable threat to the peace and security of the world," which "cannot be permitted to materialize.
-Olmert (Israeli PM, 5/24/06)
If we don't take Iran's bellicose rhetoric seriously now, we will be forced to take its nuclear aggressions seriously later,
We cannot say that the Iranian threat is an existential threat on the State of Israel. I believe that the State of Israel cannot be eliminated.
-Halevy, the former head of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, 10/18/07, stating that Olmert's comments are political manipulation of fear.
We, the Palestinian people, are in favour of Iran having a nuclear bomb, not just energy for peaceful purposes.
-Palestinian leader (April, 2006)
The American government believes that Iran has intends to divert its civilian nuclear program to produce nuclear weapons, as the technology is "dual-use". The US argues that nuclear power is more expensive for Iran than developing its abundant and cheaper petroleum resources. As a proven state sponsor of terrorists, Iran is capable of giving terrorists a WMD. Iran has always denied Israel's right to exist and has used language that may seem to call for its destruction. Iran has been proven to be dishonest in its dealing with the International Atomic Energy Agency's inspections.
Iran is giving IED's to Iraqi insurgents and they are being used against our troops.
States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil……I will not wait on events, while dangers gather…the USA will not permit the world's most dangerous nations to threaten us with the world's most destructive weapons
- Oct 26, 2007, Dismissing Iran's claims that it is seeking only nuclear energy and not a weapons program, Cheney accused Iranian leaders of pursuing a practice of "delay and deception in an obvious effort to buy time."
Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions, Cheney told the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. The Iranian regime needs to know that if it stays on its present course the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences. Oct, 2007
Iran armed with a nuclear weapon poses a grave threat to the security of the world
No civilian nuclear program can explain the Iranian nuclear program. It is a clandestine military nuclear program.
-French foreign minister (Feb, 2006)
This important step [IAEA referring Iran to the UN Security Council] sends a clear message to the regime in Iran that the world will not permit the Iranian regime to gain nuclear weapons,
-Bush (Feb 2005)
[Iran's] development of a nuclear weapon is unacceptable and a process that would enable Iran to develop a nuclear weapon is unacceptable.
Germany's occupation of the Rhineland is unacceptable
-Leon Blum, president of France, 1936
- ↑ This is a good time to remind oneself of Jonah's Dilemma. In Chapter 3, Political Discourse.
- ↑ In a world economy of $40-45 Trillion, the US has an economy of $13-14 trillion.
- ↑ Alexander 333 BC, Rome for three centuries, Mongols 1200's (population drops from 2.5 million to 250,000), Russia and England 1800's (loss of half of territory).
- ↑ Americans are perpetually surprised by history. Who knew the Japanese were that militaristic? Mark Twain said that God created wars so that Americans could learn geography. In this regard,we are perfectly served by the CIA, a bunch of upper class white males from privileged backgrounds who don't speak foreign languages and have not lived in any foreign country longer than their 3-5 years posting. Since its formation in 1947, the CIA has miscalled the North Korean invasion in 1953, later Chinese involvement, Castro 1961, followed by the Bay of Pigs, honest reporting of the Vietnam War, Iranian Revolution 1979, Russian invasion of Afghanistan 1980, collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, Iraqi invasion of Kuwait 1990 and so on. The one thing they did appear to do right, supplying the Mujheddein in Afghanistan against the Soviets, later backfired when Al Queda bombed the World Trade Center. The CIA always responds that it cannot talk about its many successes, and besides, it needs more money. Truman said that starting the CIA was the worst mistake he made as president. President Truman is known as an honest man.
- ↑ The equivalent Liberal manifesto would presumably read,”Blame your country, love your government and, there are no enemies, only friends we haven't yet made”.
- ↑ Any meaningful conflict with Iran would necessitate carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf. Submarines are difficult to track in this body of water due to poor acoustics. Missiles would threaten any surface ship. Soviet fighters have won dogfights against US planes in training scenarios. Russsian anti-aircraft systems are still amongst the best in the world. You can ask John McCain what that means.