Monday, January 22, 2007

Worst -case Scenario

The eve of the State of the Union speech, where, five years ago Dubya debuted his "axis of evil" theory, is a time for reflection. I just spent an hour or so on the phone with a friend considering the unpleasant specter of an invasion of Iran. His assumptions were two, and they aren't particular long-shots, and after that, things get pretty hairy pretty fast.

Assumption one: Iran is building nukes. This seems not only likely, but logical. The current White House has demonstrated that if it thinks you're weak, it may invade, but if it thinks you have nukes, it does not. Assumption two: Given the choice of a nuclear Iran or an invaded Iran, Bush will take option B. Neither of these assumptions is unreasonable, so where does it leave us?

We can't invade Iran conventionally; there's no time left in the current administration to prep drafted troops, which would surely be necessary to manage a country far more capable of repelling us than Iraq. We would therefore opt for "tactical nukes," hoping that the world wouldn't object too strenuously.

If Bush launched a tactical nuclear strike at Iran, here's what I think would follow. The EU would at the very least lead the world in condemning the US; it might actually conduct trade embargoes or take other economic measures. Russia and China would certainly condemn the US, and both would probably lead or join EU efforts to punish the US. The Middle East would go crazy, and I shudder to even think what regional acts might follow.

At home, protesters would take to the street. In Portland in 2003, protesters shut down bridges and even I-5. There would be riots and massive upheaval. States and towns would condemn Washington. In less blue towns, there might be citizen riots between pro-Washington hawks and anti-war peaceniks. And on and on.

I told my friend, and I believe it, that other people in Washington and the White House recognize these things and Bush could never get a nuclear strike off the ground. And yet the murmurs are there. I would love to see Bush strike a diplomatic note tomorrow and reassure us--let's hope he does.


Chuck Butcher said...

You're worried, me too.

I'm not too sure what the Generals would think of a pre-emptive nuke strike. They're not too unappreciative of things that make conventional bangs, though.

Let's hope all this manuevering is about driving more of a wedge between the clerics and their Prez, essentially telling them he's dangerous to keep around. Israel is going nuts, Bush is moving hairy stuff around, Europe is unamused, the UN passed sanctions, the clerics may not be happy. One can hope.

Kevin said...

It seems to me that the murmers are there on purpose. Which is to say that I think this is about trying to out-bluff Iran. It's foolish in many respects because the stick half of the carrot-and-stick approach is only effective if there's a realistic expectation that you'll actually use it. And you've laid out a good set of reasons why it'd be problematic to do more than bluff with Iran right now.

Of course one never knows with Bush. But you are quite right to point out that Iran is militarily more capable of hurting us than Iraq was. Plus Iran doesn't have the inherent social instabilities that Iraq so clearly has. So they'd be a more cohesive opposition force.

iggi said...

its more likely that Israel will react before the US (with our backing, of course)...according to reports, they are already prepping for tactical strikes against Iran's nuke facilities.

we're bogged down in Iraq while they have a standing army ready to go. i would suggest - with the hubris in the White House - that the US feels it can manage a two-front war.

Jeff Alworth said...

Iggi--this would have made more sense before the great Hezbollah smack-down last year. It does make sense in terms of tactics for the US--but Israel must be feeling very vulnerable now.

I wish these times weren't so interesting.

Zak J. said...

Israel might not be vulnerable, but Olmert is personally. Beware the injured dog.

Iran has increased its capabilities considerably since they found themselves on W.'s hit list in '00.

Consider this recent development:
August 30, 2006: Iran test fired what appeared to be a Russian Klub-S (3M54) submarine launched anti-ship missile. Weighing two tons, and fired from a 533mm (21 inch) torpedo tube on a Kilo class sub, it has a 440 pound warhead. The anti-ship version speeds up to 3,000 kilometers an hour during its last minute or so of its flight, and has a range of 220 kilometers. There is also a land attack version, with a 300 kilometers range and an 880 pound warhead.

Source here.

My personal belief is that the Iranians already bought nukes from Kim Jung Il or Pakistan. I mean, wouldn't you?

As far as W. daring to launch a pre-emptive nuclear strike, I think it would be right in line with the character he's displayed to date. Once we go nuclear, there's no going back and no one would worry about popular support--the public would be scared shitless and probably on the verge of anarchy. And that's before the likely retaliation on U.S. soil.

Where are those missing suitcase nukes anyway?