Monday, January 16, 2006

Iran

Joshua Micah Marshall, like so many Joshes, is exactly right:
The prospect of a nuclearized Iran seems far more perilous to me than anything we faced or seemed likely to face with Iraq. But for those of us trying to think through how to deal with this situation, we have to start from the premise that there is no Iran Question, or whatever you want to call it. There's only how to deal with Iran with this [Bush] administration in place.

Do you trust this White House's good faith, priorities or competence in dealing with this situation?

Based on everything I've seen in almost five years the answer is pretty clearly 'no' on each count. To my thinking that has to be the starting point of the discussion.
This is in large part a reflection of the fact that the people who supported action in Iraq, but not the action we took, were largely pilloried as anti-war hippie pacifists ever since the war started, even as their support for action was used to imply support for the particularly stupid action being proposed.

So, as Atrios says,

It isn't that I don't think there are genuine issues that need to be dealt with, it's that the idiots in charge are unlikely to deal with them in sensible ways. And, in fact, their primary focus with the Iran issue is politics because they have no idea what to do about the situation.
I think that it's possible to have a discussion in the abstract about what should happen in Iran, and to distinguish that from what we think the Bush administration ought to do, given the options they'd even bother with.

And frankly, that discussion has to start with how to get out of Iraq, because so long as our military is trapped in that quagmire, Iran knows we can't back up our threats with an invasion. And even if we could, a US invasion of Iran would radicalize any Muslims who hadn't decided they hate us. I'd rather have Iran with a bomb than a global war against Islam. A bomb can be disassembled (see also South Africa).

To tie together two recent posts, preemption in Iran would simply be "adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars."

At Blue Girl, Red State, we get a picture of Iran from the perspective of a former Air Force nurse stationed in Turkey. Read through it, because I think her perspective is appropriately cautious and concerned.

I want to parse this paragraph, because there are two divergent ways to read it:

First of all, over 25% of the population is under 15, and outnumbers the female population by over a half a million. That is a lot of soldiers coming of age in a theocracy with no spouse to consider. That is a sociological timebomb, in and of itself.
I can't find the numbers now, but I think something like half of Iranians are under 25.

Yes, that's a lot of potential soldiers, and Iranians have shown a fierce fighting spirit before. But they aren't soldiers yet.

Those young people are our golden ticket. The thing that comes out of all the reporting I've seen from Iran, the single undisputed fact, is that these young people love America.

In a decade, the electorate in Iran will be pro-America. We can just sit back for 10 years, keep Iran from going nuclear, and we win in the end. Unless, of course, we do something boneheaded and piss those people off. Young Iranians love jeans, rap, rock, hip-hop, and anything else the world sees as American, but that's abstract. If we let them see America as clusterbombs in the yard and destroyed houses, that love will evaporate.

If we start bombing, even if it's highly targeted, we will piss people off. And sometimes that's worth it. But if we lose all those young Iranians, we lose that nation for another generation. That's a huge trade-off. If we bomb, we drive a youth that's ready to revolt against the mullahs into their military.

Maybe it can be done right, but as BGRS says, it will require:

diplomats with critical thinking skills, and neither diplomacy nor critical thinking are skills that are championed by anyone in the current administration.
We don't have diplomatic relations with Iran, so we can't really negotiate that effectively. For a few years, let the EU take the lead. They have better relations with Iran anyway, and can realistically offer Iran more. When someone who understands nuance is in the Oval Office, then we can talk about what to do. For now, let's stick to what not to do.

Update: Matt Yglesias has some simpler advice to advocates of preventive war:

read a book or two about the first world war -- lacking the box office appeal of the sequel, but more pregnant with lessons for the future -- and see where that kind of thinking got everyone.