Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Iranian Problem (Updated II)

The crisis that is Iran is rapidly approaching a decisive point. The mad mullahs may or may not survive the revolution occurring around them (See "Ashura - A New Phase To The Revolution") At the same time, the mad mullahs will soon cross the nuclear threshold. [Update: Israel's Def. Minister estimates that this threshold will be crossed in early 2010 and that they will have produced their first nuclear weapon by 2011.] The latter presents a real and existential threat not simply to Israel but to the entire free world. Our options are limited and time is running out:

One, and by far the best, is to fan the flames of revolution until this cancer on the world is overthrown. No single event would be more beneficial for Iran, the entire Middle East, and the free world. It would rework the calculus of the Middle East overnight, emasculating Hamas and Hezbollah. It would, in time, make peace between Israel and the Palestinians actually possible. This should be done using the bully pulpit to excoriate the regime at every opportunity, funding those programs that promote democracy in Iran, using sanctions to further pressure the regime, plus undertaiking whatever prudent covert programs may be done.

If Obama is not going to go all in for option one, then we are left with only three options, none of which are, to put it mildly, good. The second option would be to deal with the regime's push towards a nuclear arsenal by force, attacking the known nuclear sites. The NYT hosts a guest editorial that argues for that one today.

Three would be to deal with the regime's nuclear arsenal and the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) by force. The only thing keeping the mad mullahs in force is the IRGC, and as pointed out here, the IRGC can be expected to fight to the brutal end to keep the regime in power. We have ample justification to bloody the nose of the IRGC while sending a message to the Iran's regular military and the citizenry that the future of Iran is in their hands.

Lastly, there is that tried, tried, and tried again technique of interminable talks - a path that is leading us ever closer to acquiescence. And guess what. John Kerry, the greatest master statesman since William Borah, is looking to fly into mad mullah central for a tet a tet with these illegitimate murders. Acquiescence to a nuclear arsenal in the hands of the mad mullahs is no different, no less dangerous, nor any less immoral than was acquiescence to Hitler in 1936 and 37 when he could have been stopped and WWII averted.

Note that I do not include sanctions as a separate category. Sanctions - even very significant ones, which seem hardly in the cards given Russia's and China's instansigence - simply will not deter the mad mullahs. Sanctions may pressure the regime, but the number one goal of the mad mullahs is not the quality of life of Iranians, its the survival and exportation of the Khomeinist revolution. And there can be no doubt that they see a nuclear arsenal as an indespensible tool in that march. If Obama chooses more talks and whatever sanctions we can cobble together, then he will have squandered a golden opportunity to end the Khomeinist scourge and will have acquiesed in their creation of a nuclear arsenal.

I. Revolution

Iran is powder keg with the fuse lit. [The recent protests on Ashura were large, wide spread, and different from all protests before it in that it was far more militant. The protesters were not backing down, but instead were attacking the police and basij, seemingly getting the better of them in many instances. The war against the regime has moved to a new phase.] Moreover, Iran is a state with an economy near collapse and an illegitimate government. It is a country where the regular military units have weighed in with a warning for the regime and its praetorian guard that they, the military, will not continue to stand idly by as the people of Iran are brutalized. The people we see demonstrating today don't want a new President, they don't want a more benign theocracy, what they want is to sweep this whole bloodthirsty theocracy into the dustbin of history. And there should not be a single person in the Western World who does not share their goal. This is the most amoral and bloody regime to inhabit the earth since the Khmer Rouge. But unlike the Khmer Rouge, this regime threatens everyone.

The opportunity to fan this revolution should be, for the Obama regime, Foreign Policy Goal Number One, Numero Uno, 넘버원, Nummer Eins, מספר אחד, Nummer Ett, etc. Yet Obama appears to be doing nothing or next to nothing to assist those fighting and dying for freedom in Iran. Obama defunded all the programs to promote democracy in Iran and has not reinstated their funding. Obama actively prevented other countries from imposing sanctions on Iran, and as recently as two months ago, cut off funding to an organization documenting human rights abuses in Iran. He has given legitimacy to the regime by reaching out to them, even after they brutally repressed demonstrations. And, of paramount importance, he has been all but silent when he should have been using the bully pulpit to excoriate the bloody mad mullahs for their murderous acts at every opportunity. When the world needs a Churchill, we instead have a Chameberlain.

At least the Congress is doing something. The House recently passed legislation that would require the President, absent a waiver from Congress, "to punish firms that supply Iran with gasoline or help Iran to improve its ability to refine petroleum products at home, by preventing them from doing business in the U.S." This should be just a part of all the unilateral and multilateral sanctions we can muster to put ever more pressure on the regime. The choice of sanctions should be made with the goal not of ending the regime's nuclear program - nothing short of force will do that - but to support the revolution. Unfortunately, time is limited. We have lost a year during which the mad mullahs have redoubled their efforts to obtain a nuclear arsenal. For the safety of the entire world, either through revolution or force, that eventuality cannot be allowed to come to fruition. The preeminent scholar Bernard Lewis explains why. Therefore, if Obama is actually going to act against the regime with sanctions in support of the revolution, they need to be in place, well, yesterday really.

The next big wave of Iranian anti-mad mullah demonstrations are expected on Dec. 27, the day that the Shia commemorate the "martyrdom" of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad who was killed during the Battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. This comes on the heels of the major demonstrations that occurred Monday during the burial of Iran's senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Montazeri, the spiritual leader of opposition to the regime. Attempts to hold services for Montazeri subsequent to his burial have drawn brutal retaliation from the regime.

The LA Times is reporting that anti-regime demonstrations have even spread to the heartland of Iran:

Large-scale protests spread in central Iranian cities Wednesday, offering the starkest evidence yet that the opposition movement that emerged from the disputed June presidential election has expanded beyond its base of mostly young, educated Tehran residents to at least some segments of the country's pious heartland. . . .

The central region is considered by some as the conservative power base of the hard-liners in power.

Iranian authorities are clearly alarmed by the spread of the protests. Mojtaba Zolnour, a mid-ranking cleric serving as supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to the elite and powerful Revolutionary Guard, acknowledged widespread unrest around the country.

"There were many [acts of] sedition after the Islamic Revolution," he said, according to the website of the right-wing newspaper Resala. "But none of them spread the seeds of doubt and hesitation among various social layers as much as the recent one."

A reformist website, Rahesabz, or Green Path, reported that Iran's Ministry of Intelligence and Security issued an order banning governors across the country from granting permits for further memorial services for Montazeri. . . .

The regime stands on the precipice of oblivion. That Obama is doing nothing to make it topple is not merely a travesty, it is a moral failing of historic proportions, at least equal to those of France and Britain in their failure to stand down Hitler between 1936 and 1938. Any and all of the other scenarios I mentioned at the top of the page and that I discuss below will cost America dearly in blood and gold. Only an internal revolution will spare us those costs. [Update: See the Krauthammer article on this issue appended at the bottom of this post]

II. Use of Force Against Known Nuclear Sites by Israel Or the U.S.

Even the NYT is running a guest editorial calling for an attack on Iran's nuclear sites:

We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.

The Op-eds author goes on to make the argument that the U.S., not Israel, should lead this strike. For the reasons he states therein, I concur.

Probably the definitive study on the how such an attack could be carried out and its chances for success - based on facts drawn from the public record - has been done by Anthony Cordseman at the Center for Strategic & International Studies. You can find his report here. To distill his 100 plus page assessment to a few sentences: Iran will soon have nuclear weapons. Israel has the capability to set back Iran's nuclear program by several years if they hit the handful of major nuclear production and research sites in Iran. It will be a difficult mission and the possibility exists that, even if it succeeds, there are secret Iranian enrichment sites that will carry on.

This is, I think, what is most likely to happen, probably about mid-2010. I think that it is, but for acquiescence, the worst of our options. It would end the nuke threat for a period of years, but it would leave in power the mad mullahs and leave untouched their Praetorian guard, the IRGC. It would ignite at least a very hot, low grade war, whether the attack is carried out by the U.S. or by the Israelis. The mad mullahs would use this attack as justification to crush dissent and try to ignite nationalism - and they might succeed. At best, such an attack would merely put off the final reckoning to a day when the costs will undoubtedly be much higher.

III. Use of Force Against Nuclear Sites & The IRGC by the U.S.

In for a penny, in for a pound. Strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities will ignite some sort of war. If we are going to attack Iran, we ought to do all we can to insure that their ability to retaliate - and indeed, the foundational pillars upholding the mad mullah's illegitimate regime - are weakened as much as possible. We can do this without a full scale invasion.

To this end, we should combine the air strikes against the nuclear facilities with a massive air/missle campaign against IRGC compounds and command and control sites. These sites and the IRGC equipment stockpiles are seperate and apart from regular military compounds, so an initial, surgical strike is within the realm of reason. Aerial attacks will in no way destroy the IRGC, but they will sting and weaken the organization, pehaps causing chaos in their ranks and splitting off those in the IRGC who are not willing to sacrifice for this most evil of regimes. We have ample justification for attacks on the IRGC as retaliation for their brutal oppression of Iran's people and for their continuing attacks on U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. (We are not at war with Iran, but the mad mullahs have been at war with us since 1979.) This can only succeed if it goes hand in hand with a major phsyops effort to inform the Iranian people why we are attacking the IRGC and that our attacks are aimed solely at the mad mullah's nuclear arsenal and the IRGC. At all costs, civilians and regular military units should be spared from targeting. This hardly insures that the regime will fall, but it could weaken the regime enough to allow the revolution to survive the inevitable attempts by the regime to crush it and to ignite nationalist fervor. It is an aggressive gamble, but a superior one to just use of force against the mad mullah's nuclear sites.

IV. Acquiescence Through Interminable Talks

I really find this hard to believe. We have talked and talked with the mad mullahs, then talked some more. To reiterate, Obama, in an effort to make the mad mullahs feel comfortable talking, even went so far as to cancel all of our programs aimed at promoting democracy in Iran. He publicly apologized to Iran for a sixty year old coup. He put the kibosh on sanctions that even the French wanted to impose in the wake of the brutal repression following the stolen June election. He defunded an organization that was documenting human rights abuses by the mad mullahs. Obama thereafter treated the Iranian regime as legitimate, studiously refusing to denounce the regime for its brutality. He offered Ahmedinejad tea, crumpets and a deal that would have given the appearance that Obama had slowed down the mad mullahs mad mad rush to a nuclear arsenal while, in reality, allowing all to continue. Even that brought the big one finger salute from Ahmedinejad. The moment Ahemdinejad lifted his finger is the moment Obama should have sent every boat we own, from aircraft carriers down to WWII era PT boats brought out of mothballs, to park in the Persian Gulf and conduct live fire training exercises. Time is on Iran's side, not the world's.

But instead of our fleets, Obama sends . . . . John Kerry? Oh spare me. But yes, that seems to be the next step. The WSJ is reporting that our modern day William ("Oh, if only I could have talked to Hitler - all of this might have been avoided!") Borah wants to go and Obama, himself apparently a relative of Borah, seems to be blessing it. This from Jules Crittenden, commenting on the WSJ article on this latest bit of foreign policy insanity:

Kerry’s people aren’t talking. White House people say they like it. The hot dog initiative didn’t work, maybe Lurch can make inroads. Sounds like, if the mullahs want another big propaganda opportunity, it’s on. So, why go?

A trip by Sen. Kerry could provide the Obama administration a last-minute chance to directly convey its views to Iranian leaders before the U.S. moves to increase financial pressure on Tehran in an effort to derail Iran’s nuclear programs.

A last stern admonishment before the next stern admonishment. Just in case they haven’t got the message that the stern admonishments will be unrelenting.

WSJ fails to fully explore a couple of key issues: How this fits into not only the United States’ regional mullah-suckup agenda but the Obama admin’s broader global better-likedness campaign. Also, perhaps more importantly, the risk factor to Kerry’s image, doing grip and grins with mullahs, finger-wagging or no, when they’re busy dispatching goons to beat the daylights out of university students.

Talks with Iran have been tried for the past decade, and by Obama over this past year. They have gone nowhere. Obama cannot possibly justify pursuing anything other than one of the three other options above. Time is rapidly running out. This is the free world's biggest foreign policy challenge and its outcome will reverberate throughout not just the Middle East, but the world. If Obama is not willing to give full support to the revolution, if he is not willing to decisively use force, then he condemns the U.S. and the world to eventually having to deal with this problem once it reaches or exceeds the scale of the threat posed by Hitler in 1939. And when that happens, like WWII, oceans of blood will be spilled and vast hordes of gold squandered.

Update: Krauthammer has weighed in on this issue, stating many of the same points I raise above, just with far more clarity. Indeed, it is so good and so precise, I commit the sin of quoting it in full here. This from Mr. Krauthammer writing at Wapo:

On Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not just reject President Obama's latest feckless floating nuclear deadline. He spat on it, declaring that Iran "will continue resisting" until the United States has gotten rid of its 8,000 nuclear warheads.

So ends 2009, the year of "engagement," of the extended hand, of the gratuitous apology -- and of spinning centrifuges, two-stage rockets and a secret enrichment facility that brought Iran materially closer to becoming a nuclear power.

We lost a year. But it was not just any year. It was a year of spectacularly squandered opportunity. In Iran, it was a year of revolution, beginning with a contested election and culminating this week in huge demonstrations mourning the death of the dissident Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri -- and demanding no longer a recount of the stolen election but the overthrow of the clerical dictatorship.

Obama responded by distancing himself from this new birth of freedom. First, scandalous silence. Then, a few grudging words. Then relentless engagement with the murderous regime. With offer after offer, gesture after gesture -- to not Iran, but the "Islamic Republic of Iran," as Obama ever so respectfully called these clerical fascists -- the United States conferred legitimacy on a regime desperate to regain it.

Why is this so important? Because revolutions succeed at that singular moment, that imperceptible historical inflection, when the people, and particularly those in power, realize that the regime has lost the mandate of heaven. With this weakening dictatorship desperate for affirmation, why is the United States repeatedly offering just such affirmation?

Apart from ostracizing and delegitimizing these gangsters, we should be encouraging and reinforcing the demonstrators. This is no trivial matter. When pursued, beaten, arrested and imprisoned, dissidents can easily succumb to feelings of despair and isolation. Natan Sharansky testifies to the electric effect Ronald Reagan's Evil Empire speech had on lifting spirits in the gulag. The news was spread cell to cell in code tapped on the walls. They knew they weren't alone, that America was committed to their cause.

Yet so aloof has Obama been that on Hate America Day (Nov. 4, the anniversary of the seizure of the U.S. Embassy in Tehran), pro-American counter-demonstrators chanted, "Obama, Obama, you are either with us or with them," i.e., their oppressors.

Such cool indifference is more than a betrayal of our values. It's a strategic blunder of the first order.

Forget about human rights. Assume you care only about the nuclear issue. How to defuse it? Negotiations are going nowhere, and whatever U.N. sanctions we might get will be weak, partial, grudging and late. The only real hope is regime change. The revered and widely supported Montazeri had actually issued a fatwa against nuclear weapons.

And even if a successor government were to act otherwise, the nuclear threat would be highly attenuated because it's not the weapon but the regime that creates the danger. (Think India or Britain, for example.) Any proliferation is troubling, but a nonaggressive pro-Western Tehran would completely change the strategic equation and make the threat minimal and manageable.

What should we do? Pressure from without -- cutting off gasoline supplies, for example -- to complement and reinforce pressure from within. The pressure should be aimed not at changing the current regime's nuclear policy -- that will never happen -- but at helping change the regime itself.

Give the kind of covert support to assist dissident communication and circumvent censorship that, for example, we gave Solidarity in Poland during the 1980s. (In those days that meant broadcasting equipment and copying machines.) But of equal importance is robust rhetorical and diplomatic support from the very highest level: full-throated denunciation of the regime's savagery and persecution. In detail -- highlighting cases, the way Western leaders adopted the causes of Sharansky and Andrei Sakharov during the rise of the dissident movement that helped bring down the Soviet empire.

Will this revolution succeed? The odds are long but the reward immense. Its ripple effects would extend from Afghanistan to Iraq (in both conflicts, Iran actively supports insurgents who have long been killing Americans and their allies) to Lebanon and Gaza where Iran's proxies, Hezbollah and Hamas, are arming for war.

One way or the other, Iran will dominate 2010. Either there will be an Israeli attack or Iran will arrive at -- or cross -- the nuclear threshold. Unless revolution intervenes. Which is why to fail to do everything in our power to support this popular revolt is unforgivable.

Yep. That is pretty much what I meant to say.

Update: Welcome to Lawyn's Linx readers.

1 comment:

cdor said...

Just got through reading Krauthammer before clicking over here. I am beginning to think that ol' Charles doesn't much appreciate our President. I thought of your previous post, GW, the one in the Watchers Council. I also read Stratfor intelligence reports. George Freidman is very sober when speaking of Iran and our options there. Option number one is absolutely, in any language, the best. It even appears more and more possible, amazingly enough. I just have so little faith in our crew at the top, that I am afraid they will blunder us into a catastrophe. Of course, then you mentioned John Kerry parachuting into Tehran. That makes me feel a whole lot better. We can all take a deep sigh now. It is perfect timing as he will finally and truly be spending Christmas in enemy territory.