We’re hearing a lot of sabers rattling for war with Iran. The promoters have never been able to think past shock and awe to figure out what comes next. That’s blinders masquerading as courage.
What would it take to bomb Iran so that they can’t build the bomb?
* Military analysts have made it clear that bombing current sites will only set Iran back briefly. And bombing them will make them even more determined to have the bomb lest they be helpless against us or the Israelis.
* So what would it take?
* We would have to keep fighting either constantly or periodically, or we’d have to destroy the country, or make the massive effort to defeat, occupy and control it.
* What would that cost?
* The lessons from Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t encouraging. And those countries were much smaller, less populous, less sophisticatied scientifically and with much less infrastructure than Iran has.
* It gets worse. As we have been learning, we are not just fighting armies – we are fighting dispersed cells of hardened fighters who can blend into the population. Those of us still capable of learning from experience have figured out that security is almost impossible in asymmetrical wars against guerrillas or terrorists. The more damage we inflict, the more we will suffer.
* There used to be a stock character in western movies on television, a gunslinger, the top gun who had obliterated everyone who had tried to take him on. But the older, wiser gunslinger realized that all the young would-be top guns were itching to take a crack at him. And he’d mutter “Live by the sword; die by the sword” realizing that he was in a no-win position – he couldn’t put up his guns; and eventually someone would take him down.
* Paul Kennedy in a very famous study a few years ago pointed out that military prowess is very costly, eventually bringing down the countries that try to be top gun, countries that try to support a larger arms establishment than their economies could support.
* Cullen Murphy made the same point in Are We Rome a couple of years ago.
* Maybe we should learn from the wizened top guns of those old western movies and the historical lessons that Paul Kennedy and Cullen Murphy tried to teach us, and try to figure out a strategy to use our resources more wisely.
The alternative everyone talks about is negotiations. Negotiations are not a war of words – the tough talk is just baby food for the masses. Real negotiations, the kind that can make a difference, requires regional leadership, working out how all of the countries can feel safe, yes how Iran can feel safe, and its Sunni neighbors, and Israel, giving all the security they need. That’s hard but not impossible once you realize that everyone needs something. Actually, Iran’s influence in the region depends on Israel’s existence, which makes Iran a supplier of arms, not Israel’s obliteration, which would make Iran irrelevant at best.
Obama cannot tell us what he’s doing until everyone is ready to reveal it – that’s the only way negotiations work – and anything he and Secretary Clinton do tell us is just a diversion. But diplomacy is a strategy we can live with.
— This commentary was broadcast on WAMC Northeast Report, March 13, 2012.