via Instapundit, this imaginative view of a possible future: The origins of the Great War of 2007 – and how it could have been prevented, is worth thinking about. Some of the specific thoughts presented strike me as unlikely, but the general idea that a nuclear Iran could spark a world conflict, perhaps dwarfing WWII, is not impossible.
In all honesty, our options are not good. I presume that nothing other than a military action, or a credible threat of military action, will alter Iran’s course at this point. I also highly doubt that we have enough diplomatic leverage to get Russia and China to offer support of such a course, so anything we do will have to be ‘unilateral’ and not sanctioned by the U.N. As an asside, I feat that this crises may be the final straw the breaks the U.N.’s back, destroying it as an international institution.
It is probably worth while to take a look at our military options, and think about both the feasibility and the consequences of them.
Since this post is rather long, my analysis of our options is below the break.
The first option, and probably the most likely, is targeted bombing of suspected nuclear facilities. These are hardened targets, and it would be difficult to ensure that the strikes would be effective. The targets are also dispersed geographically, so it would require an extensive operation. Of course these sites are also well defended, our air power is not significantly stressed by operations in Iraq though, so the capability exists. One of the biggest problems with this strategy is it is unlikely that we would easily be able to evaluate how successful the strikes were. Not only is it tough to know if our intelligence has identified all of the sites, it would be tough to analyze the damage to deeply buried bunkers. At best it seems unlikely that targeted strikes would do more than delay the arrival or Iranian nukes, rather than prevent them. It is not unreasonable to conclude that this strategy would only increase Iran’s desire for nukes, and it would of course end any possibility of regional cooperation over Afghanistan and Iraq. It is difficult to predict the effect of this sort of targeted strike on the Iranian people, probably it would not have much effect, neither strengthening nor weakening the Mullahs.
A more ambitious option would be a general air war, similar to the 1999 Kosovo campaign. The purpose of such a strike would be less to directly target the nuclear sites (although I am sure that would occur as well) but to force Iran to change its policies, disavowing nuclear weapons, complying with IAEA standards and abandoning nuclear research. We probably have the ability to wage such a war, and it is possible that such a tactic would succeed. Unlike the former nation of Yugoslavia however, engaging in this sort of conflict would have quite serious consequences. Not only Iranian oil would be removed from the market, but also it seems likely that they would at least try to completely shut down the entire Persian Gulf. While I doubt they could succeed at this for any length of time, a world recession could well occur.
Another option would be trying the Afghan strategy, arming resistance groups and supporting them with air power. Although there are numerous anti-regime elements in Iran, there is no real correlation with the Northern Alliance though. It would take serious support and training to transform any anti-Regime forces into a military force capable of action. The Iranian military is far more sophisticated than the Taliban forces were as well, so this strategy is not likely to succeed. Probably the ‘best’ we could along these lines is creating anti-regime terror groups. This probably would not be effective, and would certainly undercut our legitimacy in the ‘war on terror.’ Probably not something that is worthy of serious consideration.
Lastly of course is a full-scale invasion and occupation. The immediate difficulty with this of course is that our military is already having difficulties because of our troop commitment in Iraq. Over the next year that commitment is likely to ease, but probably not enough to allow for an invasion. Some have argued that this is a reason why the invasion of Iraq was a bad idea, however I think that as difficult as such an exercise would be with us in Iraq, it would be impossible with a hostile Iraq still under Saddam. If we had to, I think that this option is ‘possible’ if only just. There is also a pretty descent chance that we would get strong international support in stabilizing Iran after the fact, as the world would need a stable Iran as soon as possible. While this option may be do-able from a military standpoint though, it is probably not politically feasible. The American people are unlikely to support such an endeavor.
With any of these options (or even just economic pressure tactics), there is a risk that Iran would dramatically increase its efforts to destabilize Iraq, harming our interests there. I am very skeptical of the claims that Iraqi Shiites as a whole would be very supportive of Iran, or that they are puppets of the Iranian regime, but certainly there are some Shiite groups (Sadr in particular) who would dance to Iran’s tune. While I am sure that there would be bloodshed if Iran chose this tactic, I doubt it would succeed to any significant degree. It is even feasible that it would backfire on Iran, uniting Iraqi Shiites and Sunnis.
It is worth remembering also, that only regime change will be a permanent solution to this problem. Anything less might be able to delay Iran from getting nuclear weapons, but the crisis will likely emerge again in the future. There is a pro-Democracy movement in Iran, but they have been unable to make any real progress and, unfortunately, I see no reason to believe that that will change any time soon.
There are not really any good options here, as I stated above. We can all hope that diplomacy will succeed in averting this crisis, at least for a time, when our options may be better. Iran though probably has made the analysis that America will be better, not less, able to act in a military fashion in the future, so they have a strong incentive to try and gain nukes now, rather than hope they have a better chance in five or ten years. I expect that they will not relent in this quest easily.
Despite our military options ranging from bad to worse, I think that they are all better than trying to learn to live with Iran being a nuclear power.