Monday, February 26, 2007

The Many Shades of Gray in the Iran Conflict

The Iraq series I had planned turned out to be a bigger bite than I could chew, so enough of the past for a moment. The Wall Street Journal Editorial Report had an interesting discussion of the Iran crises last week. I think it highlights a key point about the current confrontation with Iran, our only options are not war or direct diplomacy. This is a part of the situation with Iran that seems to be ignored in the current brouhaha.

The first part of the show was an interview with Amir Taheri, an Iranian columnist. They discuss whether diplomacy is even possible with the current Iranian regime. Taheri, like me, does not believe it is. He bases his belief on the revolutionary nature of the Iranian regime that he says makes it implacable and unable to compromise like prior revolutionary states. I’ve written before (here and somewhat here) on why I think it is ludicrous to expect any diplomatic solution with Iran. Even though it is always an important element, I don’t focus as much on the human side of Iranian policy. Instead I base my view on a simple power politic calculation that is undoubtedly understood in Teheran. That calculation is that there is at this time nothing to be gained for the Iranian regime by compromising. In the language of the left, rejecting the white option of diplomacy means only the black option of war. Why the left insists on viewing the world in such black and white terms I don’t know, but there are a range of gray options from aggressive diplomacy to undeclared war between diplomacy and war. Taheri touches on this because anyone who says that we can’t negotiate with Iran is immediately tagged by the left as a warmonger,

Gigot: And so the implications of that for U.S. policy have to be regime change? Is that your argument?

Taheri: Yes, it has to be a policy aimed at helping Iran to really become an ordinary nation-state and stopping the revolution. This doesn't mean, of course, invading Iran. Because as soon as you say that you can't talk to these Iran, people think that I am preaching an invasion and full-scale war. No. This is--the important thing is to realize that you cannot make a deal with this regime, because even if its leaders wanted to make a deal, they can't. They are--their DNA would not allow it. They are programmed not to make a compromise. Therefore, the long-term or midterm policy should be regime change. This could be achieved by supporting the Iranian opposition inside the country, by trying to reduce the price of oil, by helping the new emerging regional alliance against Khamenei's regime. There are lots of things one could do. And this is a very weak regime fundamentally. It has lost its revolutionary legitimacy inside Iran. It is trying to gain a new legitimacy, and it is really in a vulnerable position.

This list of actions is a good start and entirely in line with the process of effecting regime change without a war. I would argue in addition that we should encourage Iran to become an ethno nation-state with the slogan “Persia for the Persians”. This would be simply a replay of the Reagan strategy for subverting the Soviet Union. Iran and the USSR are very similar in many regards. Both had/have global ambitions, both had/have terrible economies and had/have to rely on weakness in the West to allow their victories, both of their populations were/are only 51-53% of the core ethnicity but had/have 20-25% of their minorities of the same ethnic stock as the core, both were/are heavily dependant on oil exports. Against the Soviets our subversion campaigned consisted of economic action by collapsing the price of oil, the USSR’s primary export, engaging in an arms race that ruined the weak Soviet economy, fighting the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan through proxies (though I’d say with hindsight we went a bit too far in that regard), destabilizing the Soviet hold on their empire in Eastern Europe, being as ready as possible to defeat the USSR in a war, and ultimately encouraging the subject peoples of the Soviet Union to demand better treatment that led to the formation of a smaller “Russia for the Russians”. A similar strategy today would involve Taheri’s ideas above along with economic sanctions, fighting the Iranians in Iraq, destabilizing their hold on the Levant, being as ready as possible for an all out war, and perhaps encouraging the subject peoples in Iran to demand better treatment or independence. Of course the Mullahs could decide, unlike the Soviets, to drag the whole country down with them. If they do it is their decision, not ours, and the Iranian people will see it as such. If, contrary to all expectations, they do decide to deal and compromise then we will be able to do so from a position of strength and be able to demand a cessation of terrorism, the nuke program, Iran’s ambitions in the Middle East, more freedom for the Iranian people, and so forth in return for normalized relations.

On the issue of a war with Iran, the left and media is not content to just say its either talks or war, they also say there is only one type of war possible, one like the Iraq War in 2003. Apparently, our only options to fight Iran are to mass half a million soldiers on Iran’s border and occupy the entire country. The Washington Post had an article (I thought by Anne Applebaum, but I can’t seem to find it) detailing all the reasons why we can’t invade and occupy all of Iran. Yes, they are 100% true. Without a major mobilization and massive increase in military spending, we do not have the capability to occupy a mountainous nation of 70 million competent people. That does not mean that is our only possible strategy. We never had the manpower to contemplate occupying all of the Soviet Union, and vice versa, but that didn’t stop war plans and preparations on both sides. The British and French had nowhere near the capacity to occupy the Russian Empire in 1854, they didn't let that stop them from fighting against Russian expansion into the Balkans. Lastly, the Prussians didn’t have the capability to occupy and enforce regime change on either Austria or France in 1866 and 1870 but they still formulated a war plan that achieved their aims without occupying either of those countries. What then would a US war with Iran look like? Something like the Kosovo War mixed with the Crimean War. The Kosovo War relied entirely on bombing Serbia until the leadership had had enough and overthrew Milosevic. The Crimean War involved a blockade of Russia, attacks on a few key ports, and the occupation of the Crimea Peninsula (to damage Russia’s position in the Black Sea area), and support for the Ottoman forces fighting the Russians in modern day Romania. A war with Iran would most likely consist of a powerful air campaign that would destroy Iranian infrastructure at a methodical pace, a full blockade of Iran with the seizure of key ports like Bandar Abbas, an invasion of oil producing and flat Khuzestan province, the destruction of any Iranian forces that attempt to attack outside of Iran, and possibly support for Kurdish, Baluchi, and other rebels fighting the Ayatollahs. The war would then continue until either the leadership overthrows Ahmadinejad and the Mullahs, the current leadership agrees to our demands, or Iran is weakened to such a degree that the campaign could be suspended.

The main point I’m trying to make here is that if diplomacy is rejected it does not automatically mean war, and if war does occur there are other ways of fighting it that do not include the unlikely or impossible. The left and the media will try to make it a case of if not A then B, and B is impossible so therefore it must be A. However, the world does not exist in such diametric tones. The Ayatollahs may see the world that way, but we can far more effectively advance peace, prosperity, and America’s interests by understanding that it is not.

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