Iran: Rhetoric And Reality
There’s been an increase in combative rhetoric from the Bush Administration regarding Iran over the past week or so. First, last week President Bush said that permitting Iran to obtain nuclear weapons would lead to World War III. Now, Vice-President Cheney has said that the United States will not permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons:
LEESBURG, Virginia (AP) — The United States and other nations will not allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon, Vice President Dick Cheney said Sunday.
“Our country, and the entire international community, cannot stand by as a terror-supporting state fulfills its grandest ambitions,” Cheney said in a speech to the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.
He said Iran’s efforts to pursue technology that would allow them to build a nuclear weapon are obvious and that “the regime continues to practice delay and deceit in an obvious effort to buy time.”
If Iran continues on its current course, Cheney said the U.S. and other nations are “prepared to impose serious consequences.” The vice president made no specific reference to military action.
“We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon,” he said.
In this week’s Newsweek, Fareed Zakaria sheds the light of reality on all the war talk:
The American discussion about Iran has lost all connection to reality. Norman Podhoretz, the neoconservative ideologist whom Bush has consulted on this topic, has written that Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is “like Hitler … a revolutionary whose objective is to overturn the going international system and to replace it in the fullness of time with a new order dominated by Iran and ruled by the religio-political culture of Islamofascism.” For this staggering proposition Podhoretz provides not a scintilla of evidence.
Here is the reality. Iran has an economy the size of Finland’s and an annual defense budget of around $4.8 billion. It has not invaded a country since the late 18th century. The United States has a GDP that is 68 times larger and defense expenditures that are 110 times greater. Israel and every Arab country (except Syria and Iraq) are quietly or actively allied against Iran. And yet we are to believe that Tehran is about to overturn the international system and replace it with an Islamo-fascist order? What planet are we on?
And, as Zakaria points out the heated rhetoric has spread to the frontrunner for the Republican nomination:
In a speech last week, Rudy Giuliani said that while the Soviet Union and China could be deterred during the cold war, Iran can’t be. The Soviet and Chinese regimes had a “residual rationality,” he explained. Hmm. Stalin and Mao—who casually ordered the deaths of millions of their own people, fomented insurgencies and revolutions, and starved whole regions that opposed them—were rational folk. But not Ahmadinejad, who has done what that compares? One of the bizarre twists of the current Iran hysteria is that conservatives have become surprisingly charitable about two of history’s greatest mass murderers.
Heh. An excellent point, actually, although there is a small nitpick — Stalin was dead by the time the nuclear race between the United States and Soviet Union really heated up, and China’s Mao never really had enough nuclear weapons to effectively threaten the United States. But the point is the same; if the nations that killed millions with impunity were rational enough to understand the concept of Mutual Assured Destruction, if three successive President’s have been willing to negotiate with Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung — two of the most megalomanical leaders in history — then why not the Iranians ?
Because, apparently, they’re different:
The one time we seriously negotiated with Tehran was in the closing days of the war in Afghanistan, in order to create a new political order in the country. Bush’s representative to the Bonn conference, James Dobbins, says that “the Iranians were very professional, straightforward, reliable and helpful. They were also critical to our success. They persuaded the Northern Alliance to make the final concessions that we asked for.” Dobbins says the Iranians made overtures to have better relations with the United States through him and others in 2001 and later, but got no reply. Even after the Axis of Evil speech, he recalls, they offered to cooperate in Afghanistan. Dobbins took the proposal to a principals meeting in Washington only to have it met with dead silence. The then Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, he says, “looked down and rustled his papers.” No reply was ever sent back to the Iranians. Why bother? They’re mad.
This is the mindset that is guiding this country on what is likely to be an even bigger foreign policy engagement than Iraq ever was; and they don’t seem to know what they’re doing.
Maybe they do, maybe this is all bluffing. We’ll see. In the meantime, Niall Ferguson has one suggestion for those who want to really know what America’s intentions with regard to Iran are; watch the aircraft carriers:
In domestic politics, it’s always a good idea to follow the money. When it comes to grand strategy, however, you need to follow the navy — to be precise, the aircraft carriers that would be the launching platforms for any major air offensive against Iran’s nuclear facilities. To do this, you don’t need to be very skilled at espionage. The U.S. Navy makes the information freely available at http://www.gonavy.jp/CVLocation.htmlor in the “Around the Navy” column published each week in the Navy Times.
The U.S. has 11 active aircraft carriers. Of these, the Kitty Hawk is in port in Japan. The Nimitz and Reagan are in San Diego. The Washington is in Norfolk, Va. The Lincoln and Stennis are in Washington state. And the Eisenhower, Vinson, Roosevelt and Truman are undergoing various sorts of refitting and maintenance checks in the vicinity of “WestLant” (Navy-speak for the western Atlantic). Only one — the Enterprise — is in the Persian Gulf.
At present, then, talk of World War III seems to be mere saber-rattling, not serious strategy. U.S. aircraft carriers can move fast, it’s true. The Lincoln’s top speed is in excess of 30 knots (30 nautical miles per hour). And it, along with the Truman, Eisenhower and Nimitz, are said to be “surge ready.” But take a look at the map. It’s a very long way from San Diego to the Strait of Hormuz. Even from Norfolk, it takes 17.5 days for an aircraft carrier group to reach Bahrain. If you were Ahmadinejad, how worried would you be?
At present, not very worried at all.