Saturday, 20 November 2010
Gates, Like Many Others, Has It Exactly Backwards: An Attack On Iran Will Fatally Weaken The Regime

The Washington Post notes in an editorial: 

"In an interview with Gerald F. Seib of the Wall Street Journal this week, Mr. Gates elaborated on his point. Saying that the Iranian leadership had been "surprised by the impact of the sanctions" imposed this year, he argued that a military solution "will only . . . bring together a divided nation, it will make them absolutely committed to obtaining nuclear weapons and they will just go deeper and more covert. So I think the political-economic strategy is the one we have to continue to pursue."

Is this true? Is it true that severe damage inflicted on the nuclear project "will only bring together a divided nation"? On the face of it, this is the kind of thing that many will find plausible. And no doubt, even among Iranian opponents of the Islamic Republic who, nonetheless, remain Iranian nationalists and believe that Iran -- their Iran, the Iran that they assume will sooner or later come into being when the Islamic Republic is overthrown or collapses -- has a perfect right to its nuclear project. 

Those who think otherwise, those who believe that no Muslim country, however "moderate" its regime, can be allowed to acquire or continue to possess weapons of mass destruction, must part company with those who, while perhaps being opponents of the current Iranian regime, do not understand why neither Iran, nor any other Muslim country, can be denied that possibility. Not all Iranians in exile think that way, but some certainly do, and their minimizing of the danger to the non-Muslim world --because they themselves are "moderates" -- may be comprehensible, but should not be shared. For if the Shah could be followed by Khomeini, and the epigones  of Khomeini followed by, hypothetically, the son of the Shah, who is to say who would then follow the son of the Shah? As the example of Turkey shows, reliance on those who would constrain Islam, as Ataturk systematically did, is unwise. In Iran, as in Turkey, the constraints -- those of Ataturk, or those of the more vainglorious and less clever Shah -- prove temporary, while Islam, alas, is forever, and like Rasputin, keeps coming back.

What Robert Gates should be made to ponder is what would happen if the Islamic Republic of iran were to be successful, that is in the face of such opposition, to manage to acquire nuclear weapons? Would this make the regime, the Islamic Republic, less or more secure? Would it make it less or more likely to fall? The answer is that such an event -- Iran becoming a nuclear power -- woudl swell with pride the hearts of the primitive masses in Iran, who  far outnumber the morally advanced people who are disgusted with the regime. And those people will forever be loyal to those who made the attainment of nuclear weapons possible.

But if the nuclear project were to be so damaged that it would be set back for years, with the implied promise of future attacks if the situation warranted, then what? There would be a rallying-around the flag initially, no doubt, but then what? What would happen once it became clear that the Islamic regime had spent many tens of billons of dollars, had forced its people to endure sanctions, had done all this, for an effort that finally led not to mullahs and basiji-leaders ridingi in triumph through Persepolis, but rather to smoking ruins in Natanz and Bushehr. A month or even a few months of defiance, impotent fury, and rallying-around would lead, in the end, to a further weakening -- perhaps a fatal weakening -- of the Iranian regime.

If the Islamic republic of Iran acquires nuclear weapons, it will never be dislodged.If it is prevented from acquiring them, then there is a much greater likelihood that it will crumble in the face of popular humiliation and fury at the wasted effort.

This is something Robert Gates has not thought about. No one around him has suggested it. Everyone is too busy thinking the short-term  -- an attack leads to a rallying-round -- and not to what would, after that short-term, occur.

When Israel attacked the Osirak reactor, Saddam Hussein did not dare to renew his nuclear project. He gave it up, though he pretended, by his energetic denials meant to be discounted, that he was continuing -- not to frighten Israel (which knew better), nor the United States (which did not, and assumed his "denials" were meant to conceal a reality intended to be hidden from the Americans) , but rather, to frighten Iran, the only country that really worried Saddam Hussein in the last five years of his regime's existence.

When Israel rescued the passengers of the Air France plane at Entebbe on July 4, 1776, and humiliated the Last King of Scotland, Idi Amin Dada, his regime did not become more, but less aggressive, and having at long last havinb been shown up, Idi Amin Dada was from then on less able to terrorize everyone in Uganda, and his decline and fall can be measured from that Entebbe attack.

If you are unwilliing to assume the responsibilities of a great power, out of timidity, stupidity, rigidity (google "The Esdrujula Explanation" for more), then it is comforting to rely on complacent platitutes such as "a regime, if attacked by foreigners, will necessarily become stronger" without examining 1) if that is always and everywhere true and 2) what happens to the regime's popularity if it is not attacked, and attains its goals and 3) if a regime so attacked becomes "stronger" then for how long does it "become stronger" -- forever? a year? six months? one month? 

The level of thought that Robert Gates, and others with him, displays on this matter should neither surprise nor disappoint.

The Pentagon is not Pinehurst or St. Andrew's. Its course over the last decade has been   dismal one, and Gates'  failure to grasp of what would happen in Iran, if there is no setback to the nuclear project, is par for that dismal course.

Posted on 11/20/2010 9:23 AM by Hugh Fitzgerald
20 Nov 2010
Send an emailChristopher Scott Carson

 I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Fitzgerald's basic point, though not his example of Iraq, which he believes was basically pacified after the Gulf War.  To his examples, I would like to add my own:

a.   The Argentine junta did not become more, but rather less, aggressive after the Falklands War defeat by the UK, and it was soon overthrown in favor of democracy.

b.  Serbia did not become more aggressive after the 1999 Air War by NATO against it, but rather overthrew Milosevic in favor of a more moderate and less homicidal democracy.

c.  Libya's Col. Qaddafi gave up his nuclear program after the US led coalition invaded Iraq, because, in his words, "I was afraid."  This was a third party benefit--we attack one nation, and some other one surrenders!

Christopher Carson

20 Nov 2010
Hugh Fitzgerald

Mr. Carson -- to whom I have suddenly remembered I owe a reply to his comment to another, longer article -- says that I maintain that Iraq was "pacified." Why does he say that? I simply said that Saddam Hussein did not resurrect his nuclear program after the Israelis bombed Osirak. I did not describe his regime as quiescent nor Iraq as "pacified." He was hoping to keep the Iranians at bay. He never imagined the Americans would be so silly as to attack Iraq, for he thought they understood that he was, objectively, one ruler who might help keep Iran at bay.

Mr. Carson keeps trying to justify the Iraq venture and to find all kinds of collateral advantages that were supposedly derived from it. The Libyan example is often cited. But Libya was getting nowhere with its dabbling in nuclear weapons, and Qaddafy gave up very little, and was then rewarded. And in turn, he reverted to type. Look at him now, on state visits to Rome offering Italian girls the chance to convert, and predicting Islam's dominance in Europe, and summonining sub-Saharan tribal chiefs to come to Tripoli to proclaim him King of Africa (and when handing them their payoffs, also making sure that they will be kind to Islam -- see what Libyan money has done in Lome, Togo, for example).

21 Nov 2010
Send an emailLugo

The Argentine junta did not become more, but rather less, aggressive after the Falklands War defeat by the UK

A regime that is weakened by a failed aggressive venture is not a good analogy for Iran, unless a US attack on Iran is prompted by some Iranian aggressive venture.

Serbia did not become more aggressive after the 1999 Air War by NATO against it

Was Serbia ever aggressive?  Their actions in Kosovo were internal atrocities, not external aggression.

In any event, Gates is correct that a US attack on Iran will unite them and make them more determined to get nuclear weapons so long as the US attack is incompetently planned and half-heartedly executed.  If we come in there with an obvious determination and capability to overthrow the regime, then this need not be true. Yet one does not see the current US President embarking on such a venture.

22 Nov 2010
Send an emailLugo

Why on Earth did you not post my comment that Iraq had an active nuclear program from 1981-1991?

1980 to 1990: Israeli Preemption and Its Consequences
Israel was greatly concerned by Iraq's reactor deal with France. In April 1979, saboteurs bombed a warehouse in the French Mediterranean town of Seyne-sur-Mer, where the Osirak and Isis reactor cores awaited shipment to Iraq. Both cores received hairline fractures in the explosion. The Iraqis believed Israel's Mossad was responsible for the incident.[16] Nonetheless, Iraq accepted the damaged cores rather than waiting the two years the French estimated it would take to rebuild them. In June 1981, before the facility had been brought online, an Israeli air strike destroyed Osirak.[17]

To hedge its bets, Iraq simultaneously explored the gaseous diffusion process, with the intention of either: (1) producing low enriched uranium as feedstock for EMIS; or (2) expanding gaseous diffusion capacity to produce HEU in the event EMIS efforts failed.[21] However, Iraq encountered several problems implementing its enrichment strategy.

Iraq developed the EMIS project in three coinciding phases. The first phase at Al-Tuwaitha produced Iraq's first operational electromagnetic and magnet-separator. The Iraqis conducted all basic research and design for the EMIS project at this site, and Iraq's first separation of uranium occurred in 1986 at Al-Tuwaitha. In the second phase, Iraq built four additional magnet separators, but each operated below its designed capacity. Despite difficulties in the second phase, the Iraqis continued to build two identical separators at Al-Tarmiya and Ash Sharkat; however, technical problems slowed the project.[22]

The gaseous diffusion project that began in 1982 was initially successful in developing barrier material. Continued efforts, nevertheless, required an industrial infrastructure well beyond Iraq's capabilities. [23] Iraq also faced difficulties in machining precision components, and the entire gaseous diffusion effort was cancelled in 1989.

Concurrent weaponization efforts were more successful than the enrichment programs. Iraq intended to use an implosion design for its first nuclear weapon. Primary work on weaponization was done at the Al-Atheer complex, where Iraqi scientists labored to overcome problems with the conventional high-explosive charges needed to compress the core of the nuclear device. Confident that a working weapon was on the horizon, Iraq selected a southwestern site for an underground nuclear test.[24]

With a rapidly progressing bomb design, Iraq lacked only a sufficient quantity and quality of fissile material to have all of the necessary components of a nuclear device.[25] However, the 1991 Persian Gulf War forced Saddam to alter his plans. Fearing the imminent end of his regime, he ordered a "crash program" to extract enough fissile material from reactor fuel to produce a bomb that could be used against invading Coalition forces or Israel. The Iraqis diverted approximately 39.5 kg of HEU from their safeguarded HEU fuel. [26] Coalition bombing unknowingly hampered this effort by destroying many of Iraq's facilities and diverting Iraqi attention away from the nuclear program. [27]

1991 to 1998: Inspections Reveal the Truth
In 1991, the UNSC adopted Resolution 687, ending the Gulf War. UNSCR 687 also directed the IAEA to find and dismantle Iraq's nuclear weapons program, and to ensure Iraqi compliance with the NPT through comprehensive and ongoing monitoring and verification.

Iraq's initial cooperation with the IAEA was minimal, as early declarations did not disclose the full extent of the nuclear program. Iraq's first declaration to the IAEA in April 1991 did not report all of the nuclear program's facilities, including the EMIS uranium enrichment facilities at Al-Tarmiya and Ash Sharkat, nor did the Iraqis divulge any of their nuclear weapons development and production research. Nevertheless, inspections revealed much of the program and forced Iraq to admit its weapons aspirations, including research at Al-Tuwaitha and Al-Atheer. [28]

Between May 1991 and October 1997, the IAEA completed a series of 30 inspection campaigns, oversaw the destruction and disablement of nuclear program facilities and weapons-related items, and removed all weapons-usable nuclear material from Iraq. Other nuclear materials were accounted for and placed under the IAEA's control, including some 500 tons of natural uranium and approximately 1.8 tons of low enriched uranium dioxide. [29] By 1994, the IAEA's campaign to incapacitate Iraq's nuclear program through "destruction, removal, and rendering harmless" its nuclear facilities and materials was complete. Monitoring and verification continued until December 1998. Two prominent members of the Iraqi nuclear program, Hussein Kamel and Khidir Hamza, defected in the mid-1990s and provided the IAEA and the UN Special Commission (UNSCOM) with a more coherent picture of Iraq's program.[30] Kamel and Hamza's revelations included evidence of the "crash program," Iraq's EMIS program, and Iraq's use of declassified data from the U.S. Manhattan Project.[31]  [In other words, what the IAEA did between 1991 and 1997 was destroy the program that you seem to think didn't exist.]