Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Spreading Democracy - The Fourth Rebuttal

In my third rebuttal, I asked Marc to clarify the particulars of the Schulman Doctrine and the extent to which it would alter, inform, direct or otherwise affect current and future foreign policy in the realm of democracy promotion. Marc's third rebuttal, along similar lines, asks that I clarify my position on Iran given the framework I have established for the use of military force.

The first thing I should point out is that, though a compelling topic, this discussion vis a vis Iran is something of a departure from the parameters of this debate since both Marc and I are opposed to an invasion of Iran accompanied by an attempt to facilitate democracy's emergence in that country. I assume, with some confidence, that both of us would be delighted to see Iran undergo an internal democratic evolution, and that we could and should employ some soft and hard power tools to encourage this (though short of military invasion), but ultimately we are in agreement over the most controversial aspect of what this policy could entail: preemptive invasion.

In responding to my prior statements on Iran, Marc says:

In addition, Iā€™m on the same page with Eric when he says, with respect to Iran, that "Without the credible threat of force, other diplomacy is weakened."

The issue is what, exactly, constitutes a "credible threat of force." Only one thing is certain: a credible use of force means a credible use of force by the US. The other parties to the dispute with Iran ā€“- the EU-3 (Britain, France, and Germany) ā€“- lack the means and, arguably, the will to take military action against the theocrats in Tehran.
I would have to agree with Marc on his clarification of this discussion. By credible use of force, I do mean essentially our own. Despite the fact that Israel, arguably, has the will and the means to use force against Iran, I think such a strike would be so disastrous for US interests in the region, that I would table that discussion for now. I think Marc agrees with me on that as well, though I could be mistaken.

Next, Marc poses a fairly elaborate hypothetical scenario in order to draw out a further elucidation of my standard for using force.

Suppose that the scenario I outlined in my First Rebuttal unfolds:

-Negotiations between the EU-3 and Iran fail
-The resulting Security Council resolution emboldens, rather than dissuades, the mullahs
-An underground Iranian nuclear test is detected

Further, suppose that a sequence of events similar to those preceding the US-led invasion of Iraq takes place at the Security Council:

-The US (and, possibly, Britain) introduces a resolution calling for air strikes against nuclear targets in Iran
-France (and, possibly, Britain) declares that it will veto any resolution providing international legitimacy to the use of force against Iran

Under these circumstances, I would favor unilateral US air strikes. Further, if the threat of force is to be credible to the Iranian government, the mullahs must believe that the US would again be willing to undertake unilateral, "illegitimate" military action.

Is this where Eric and I would part company on Iran? [emphasis in original]
The short answer to Marc is yes, this is where we would part company - though not necessarily for the reasons he implies. It is not the unilateral nature of such airstrikes per se, but rather the strategic assessment of the costs and benefits of such a move. If you recall, in my second rebuttal I laid out a loose framework designed to optimize cooperation, foster a perception of legitimacy for US actions and create an environment more conducive to the realization of American interests through the repair of the relationship between the leviathan we are proposing and the interests of the rest of the world.

Under that framework, there is a multi-tiered approach that would involve courting the UN's approval (preferably by people who do not view the institution as worthless), absent the UN's approval (perhaps regardless), appealing to NATO and other smaller but still well respected international organizations, followed by an attempt to secure the consent and cooperation of our close allies and then, finally, making our case on the stage of public opinion to the world population at large (against a rhetorical backdrop that appreciates cooperation, allies, international organizations and the opinions of others). Despite these guiding principles, and the presumption of deference thereto, if the threat were urgent enough, then exigency would demand action regardless of the realization of any of those various levels of approval.

A nuclear Iran could fit into the definition of urgent, and as such, I would not necessarily wait on any approval of the UN or NATO before acting. That being said, what would a campaign of air strikes against Iran look like and how would it affect the situation on the ground in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan?

A group of experts conducted a well-reasoned war gaming exercise in which various strategies for acting against Iran were tested and then reported in
the Atlantic by James Fallows (non-subscription holders here and analyzed by praktike here).

One of the conclusions from that exercise is that any plan for air strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities would probably fail to eliminate all the crucial sites and their infrastructure. Iran has hardened the potential targets by positioning them in major urban areas, as well as concealing them in difficult to reach bunkers. Thus, the efficacy of the air strikes themselves would be less than optimal - with an optimistic appraisal being a setback of some years, though not an annihilation of the requisite facilities, equipment and material. But wouldn't something be better than nothing you might ask?

No. Not in this case. Because that something, which is far short of lasting, would come at a heavy heavy price. You see, Iran would not just sit back and take this aggression sitting down. They wouldn't have to. From the Atlantic article:

Gardiner cautioned that any of the measures against Iran would carry strategic risks. The two major dangers were that Iran would use its influence to inflame anti-American violence in Iraq, and that it would use its leverage to jack up oil prices, hurting America's economy and the world's. In this sense option No. 2 - the pre-emptive air raid - would pose as much risk as the full assault, he said. In either case the Iranian regime would conclude that America was bent on its destruction, and it would have no reason to hold back on any tool of retaliation it could find. "The region is like a mobile," he said. "Once an element is set in motion, it is impossible to say where the whole thing will come to rest."
I'd take Gardiner's admonition one country better, throw in Afghanistan. To quote my blog-mate praktike:

The other thing about Iran is that they wouldn't hesitate to hit out in Afghanistan, Iraq, and possibly elsewhere. They have those two countries blanketed with agents, and I've been seeing Afghans start to point the finger at Iran more often recently. In Ken Pollack's book on Iran, he said that the US warned Iran about some of its activities there and they toned it down, but they've got all of our installations cased.
So, let's say we strike Iranian facilities, some of which are embedded in heavily populated areas, and in turn we cause some level of civilian casualties - the results of which, no matter how grisly, would be exaggerated by the ruling regime. This in turn would enrage many of the Shiites in Iraq, especially the Sadr-ites who are already just barely tolerating the presence of US forces. In response, Iran uses its influence to cause trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan relying on agents and assets cultivated over the course of many years.

What do you think the US would do in response? Sit back and let Iran cause trouble in these two sensitive locales? Unlikely. What would result would be a cycle of retaliations that would only escalate in a dangerous game of tit for tat which would also serve to harden the resolve of certain Shiite quarters in Iraq against our presence. The potential for the US military to get sucked into a two front (or three if Afghanistan is destabilized) conflict as a result of these air strikes is all too real. But if that occurs, could our military withstand the strain without resorting to a draft? Even with a draft, would we have the time and assets to train and equip the influx of conscripts? What would such an expanded conflict do to our already out of control deficits and lumbering economic growth? The result could be a backslide in Iraq and Afghanistan, coupled with an Iranian regime that is actively trying to lash out against us and our allies in an unrestrained fashion.

With that in mind, my counsel would be against such a provocative, and ultimately far from effective, action. That being said, as I've maintained all along, I would like to see the Bush administration rattle the saber as frenetically as possible in order to try to intimidate the ruling regime in Iran, creating the incentive for them to negotiate a halt to their quest to acquire nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, I think the regime in Iran is all too aware of the leverage they have over the situation as it currently stands, so I don't expect them to acquiesce on this issue. Thus, as unsavory as this might sound, we might just have to get used to the idea that Iran will have nuclear weapons at some point in the future.

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