Brett Stephens, a deputy editor of the Wall Street Journal’s editorial page and the author of the paper’s Global View, a weekly column, has published in Commentary a very important article regarding the Islamic Republic of Iran and the feasibility of a policy of containment should they achieve the status of a nuclear power. He doubts the ability of Iran to be contained, and of the West to persevere through that containment even if Iran chose to allow itself to be contained. You should read it.
In response to his column, the below post. It is long.
Mr. Stephens’ article is an excellent – and necessary article. One feels, however, that Mr. Stephens does not take his case to a logical conclusion vis-à-vis the concept of containment. Nor does he, nor has anyone else I have read, sought to begin the necessary conversation on the aftermath of an Iranian nuclear strike somewhere – anywhere – and what an America, or a West, would be willing to do to stop Iran then that we are unwilling, for whatever reason, to do now.
Though stating what will not work, a requirement when confronting bureaucrats unable to see outside their traditional Eurocentric box (deterrence really was vis-à-vis the USSR, a European power, and all “rules of warfare” as codified and enacted by the West have only been observed by that same West; Imperial Japan, for example, certainly did not abide by the Geneva Convention), Mr. Stephens does not go even into the littlest bit of detail regarding what military strikes would A) be acceptable to America, B) be acceptable to others to the extent that we cared (a function of our national interest and selecting the best of several bad choices left us by the international talking bureaucracy), C) not be extraordinarily costly to an America squandering trillions of dollars on failed social welfare programs to the detriment of national capability and will, and D) accomplish the goal of stopping – or delaying for several years, an Iranian nuclear capability.
Some of Mr. Stephens’ points deserve note:
“They [the supporters of containment] entertain grave doubts that a U.S. strike would set Iran’s programs back very far. That goes double for an Israeli attack, since Israel may not have the capacity for undertaking a sustained series of strikes.”
This comment presupposes a series of continuing tactical conventional strikes. It also is consonant with the widespread thinking among the Great Powers today. With the understanding that nuclear weapons are strategic by their very nature, the unwillingness to engage in a debate about the advisability of meeting a strategic threat with a tactical response seems puzzling. Our nuclear weapons have CEP (Circular Error Probabilities) of under a tenth of a mile. Deciding to drop a small weapon, for instance a W88 sub-megaton warhead, precisely on Arak’s facility, or any other facility we deem necessary to strike, will not produce the large civilian casualties of Hiroshima or Nagasaki. Arak also is decidedly a strategic military target. To place off the table a strategic action to stop a strategic capability is as unwise as it is a purposeful rejection of the appropriate response to a strategic threat. There is nothing tactical about nuclear weapons – ours or anyone else’s. Treating them as a tactical threat by only discussing tactical removal is unwise.
“Containment has a way of locking in pro-U.S. alliances against a common enemy for the long haul.”
Poland. The Czech Republic. Britain and the Falklands. To say that the US no longer has trusting allies since the advent of the Obama administration is putting it mildly. We have purposely sought to undermine our traditional allies while courting anti-Western autocracies. To believe that all-of-a-sudden these traditional allies will sign-up for the decades-long costs of a containment strategy run by a state rapidly being enfeebled by a clueless administration with a history of enervating our allies seems foolish at best and unworkable in the extreme at worst. Take a look at Britain and the Falklands. Britain suddenly is going to say, ‘sure, let’s support this costly American idea of containing Iran, especially after we have become so Islamicized ourselves, and since the domestic impact of Britain’s participation in containment will be so costly as to perhaps cause the fall of the British government’?
“To suggest that there is some universal standard of “pragmatism” or “rationality” where Iran and the rest of the world can find common ground is a basic (if depressingly common) intellectual error.”
It is the error of “multiculturalism” writ large. The Left likes to pretend that they accept – and so must we all – other cultures as equivalents of our own. That the Left does not actually believe this is evident in their demand for Western regulations on the environment, child labor, etc.
Rationality as practiced in the West is a Western concept. Attributing it to a non-Western, indeed an anti-Western society is the height of Western Imperialism. It is projection on a civilizational level. That the Left does not recognize this is no reason the adults in the world need ignore it.
“But Iran can also note with satisfaction that it is mainly the West that has been in retreat, allowing Iran to cross one supposed red line after another without consequence.”
If any evidence exists that the Administration is not accelerating its retreat, I am unaware of it. Iran is fully aware of this and it informs their decision-making. It is only the West, particularly Americans, who seem ignorant of this fact or in-thrall to the fantasy that this is a good idea. Continued – and accelerated – retreat on a global scale by the leader of Western Civilization is a historical retreat from freedom and liberty. Iran, an Islamist autocracy that is the antithesis of freedom and individual liberty is, at the same time, advancing globally, as is Islam itself.
Something shared by America and the Islamic Republic of Iran is this: Both are ideas as much as geographies. America is the first and only true post-Enlightenment state built upon individual liberty and freedom. Being an American is much more than citizenship; it is acculturation to the idea of America, and the acceptance of the Reformation and the Enlightenment as true advances in the progress of man.
The Islamic Republic of Iran, as well, is an idea. As Mr. Stephens notes, the leaders of the Islamic Republic of Iran are fine with the total destruction of Iran, the country, if Islam advances globally. Islam – and the Islamic Republic of Islam, is an idea that is the antithesis of Western Civilization, freedom, individual liberty, the rule of law and everything else that has caused the West to so far and so quickly outstrip all other nations of history in economic, military and cultural power.
It also should be noted by proponents of containment that one cannot contain a country that is willing to be destroyed to advance its creed. This is not an argument of small moment.
As the idea of America and being an American now is under sustained assault not only by the Left but by the man we elected to govern us – and who now rules us – those in-thrall to the idea of the Islamic Republic of Iran will only accelerate their advance – and attack – on that West that seems either too enfeebled to defend itself or not aware of the historical significance of America – or of its demise, and the loss of the freedoms and liberties, to say nothing of economic, military and cultural power, that will accompany the defeat of the West at the hands of Islam, a truly retrograde force.
Regarding consequences to Iran for overstepping a line that may not even exist – in their eyes or in the eyes of the American administration – it must be noted that the lack of punishment for crime is congenital in the Left. In a different but certainly related sphere, look at the Left’s strategy on crime and punishment. The Left truly believes that telling someone not to do something will result in that something not being done. Pass gun laws – but don’t put people in-jail for using guns (their dad beat them, their mom was mean, they had a hard childhood, etc.).
Simply, the Left does not believe in consequences – only in talk. They pretend – or actually believe – that talk is equivalent – or superior – to action. Look at Obama and the oil spill – excellent case-in-point. He actually believes that if he says enough nonsense the spill will be fixed, the environment cleaned-up, etc. He has yet to actually do anything because he truly believes that talk is all that is necessary. Why would his talk on the world stage be any different? It wouldn’t.
“The answer, say the advocates of containment, is that these countries wouldn’t have much choice: American power would remain their single best hedge against Iranian encroachments.”
Question: Would Georgia believe this statement today?
Liberals misunderstand the most basic issues of military power because they don’t like it to begin with – it actually makes things happen as opposed to just talking and getting your way through autocratic force, i.e. the deprival of liberty. It should be – but is not among the Left – axiomatic that the usefulness of American power is solely dependent on our will to use it. Obama and the Left will not use our power effectively. Nor did Bush. Had we detonated a nuke at Tora Bora, bin Laden would be dead, a message would have been sent to the Islamists that we are dead serious about our freedoms, and thousands of American and allied soldiers would be alive today. Simple, the right amount of force would have resulted in a better outcome.
Absent a will to use power effectively, that power becomes a constraint on our action, not a deterrent to actions against our interest.
“Over time, Iran could easily apply some combination of inducements and pressure to persuade Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain to shut down their U.S. military bases.”
“Over time” Iran could shut-down the Strait of Hormuz – and the world’s supply of the oil that makes the world work. Absent that oil, most economies would begin a very quick return to a pre-industrial status, whether the Left believes it or not. The resulting global economic calamity would make the Depression look like a holiday in the park. The idea that current Western rulers think this is acceptable shows their lack of understanding of the depths of poverty to which the world would be plunged, and their gross lack of responsibility for the citizens and subjects they govern and rule.
“Another reason is that the tools the U.S. would have at its disposal to enforce a containment policy would have to be salvaged from a collapsed edifice. Yes, we would have allies. But they would be weaker, more hesitant to side with us, and more tempted to accommodate the cunning and willful regime next door. Yes, we would have our military might.”
It is a mis-reading of the current geopolitical situation to assume, as My Stephens unfortunately does, that, “Yes, we would have allies.” Really? Would Britain, having been disrespected non-stop by America’s ruler since Mr. Obama’s inauguration, and having been grossly insulted in the issue of the Falklands, and now having the source of billions of dollars of pension income for millions of Britons being attacked by Obama, really stand by our side in the event of future conflict? Why?
Britain stood alone for nearly two years in 1940-41 and did NOT negotiate a separate peace with the NAZIs. They knew that sooner or later America would come-in to the fight and freedom on the Continent would be saved. It is a fair and reasonable estimation at this point that our current ruler would not have come-in to that fight. Given this why would Britain not negotiate a separate peace with Islam, particularly given the level of Muslim immigration and non-assimilation in the UK? Counting on even our closest ally in a long-term strategy against Islam may not be realistic at all.
Let’s move to the aftermath of an unsuccessful containment strategy and consider whether the costs of failure are worse than the cost of a strategic attack on Iran’s facilities and an end to the threat now.
Given the more-than-problematic issues listed above and by Mr. Stephens: the arguable lack of will to use our own power, the allies we may or may not have and the lack of “red lines” useful in stopping a nuclear Iran, one must add this: What would be the response of this same international community, i.e. one not willing to do the hard work to stop Iran from gaining nuclear weapons, in the event Iran used nuclear weapons, and how does that calculation inform the decision of the mullahs?
Given an unwillingness even to discuss a strategic strike on Iran and the non-appetite for executing a tactical strike, how would the West respond to an Iranian nuclear strike?
Would we suddenly decide to stop Iran’s threat? To close the barn door after the first horse has escaped? Would we do anything other than talk? Would we then use tactical strikes against their nuclear capability? Would we use strategic strikes?
If we aren’t willing to stop them before they acquire this power, why would they think we would stop them after they have gained this power – and used it?
Allowing the Islamic Republic of Iran to gain a nuclear capability is not just a decision based on whether or not they will use it. It must also be based on how we would respond if they did use it.
Having passed without consequence all the “red lines” thus far, what is to make the mullahs believe our actions would be any different – dithering and talking – should they actually detonate a nuke over Israel? Saudi Arabia? Berlin? London? America? We aren’t believable now when we have a chance of stopping them. Why would they believe their use of a nuke would result in actions any different?
Because stopping something before it starts ALWAYS is less costly than stopping it later, let alone repairing the damage, why would the mullahs think that if we are unwilling to pay the less-expensive price of stopping them now, that we would be willing to pay the more-expensive price of stopping them later? The idea that we would is based on completely fantastic premises and is foolish in the extreme.
Which leaves the Islamic Republic of Iran in the cat-bird’s seat. They want to be the regional and ultimately global power. Those with the capability to stop them are unwilling to do so. The cost of stopping them later is more expensive than the cost we refuse to pay now. What does this mean?
Simple: They win. We lose.
That is the current status of the issue, whether the West believes it or not, and whether our self-proclaimed Muslim president wants to do anything about it – or not.
This is a civilization struggle. And the West is not fighting.
Is that really what America wants to bequeath to our posterity? It is obviously the desire of Obama.
But the discussion of posterity requires an acknowledgement that the Left has no posterity, something almost completely lacking in the national discourse today. Look at Blue-Red state demographics. Much like Europe and Japan, the American Left does not procreate. The statism they demand will be paid-for by Center and Right children. It’s a free lunch for the Left.
Given that they care so little about the future that they are not even populating it, why would they care if the West is overturned, if totalitarianism becomes the ruling structure of a backward world?
A violent, barbaric, cruel, un-free world in which the Islamic Republic of Iran is a Great Power also is something today’s Leftists won’t be here to care about. They won’t be here to see it or experience it. They won’t be here to pay for it. They won’t lose any liberty or freedom or sleep – nor will their nonexistent kids.
This is a struggle for the future – and the Left demonstrably doesn’t care about that future.
The Islamic Republic of Iran is a strategic threat to freedom, liberty, wealth, education, science, exploration, medicine, everything that has caused us NOT to remain in the 7th Century.
Are we going to let that threat achieve its goals?
Or are we going to understand – and act on that understanding – that we must meet a strategic threat with a strategic response before, literally, it is too late?