If a genie came out of a bottle and granted me three wishes, the first one would be that I could live in the alternate universe where McCain won in '08 and went on to get a second term. There are many reasons for this, but among the most important is that in all likelihood, the matter of the Iranian nuclear weapons program would have been long since dealt with in a decisive manner.
I recall a cover story that graced the Atlantic Monthly concerning a prospective McCain presidency during the ’08 campaign, painting him as a ‘warmonger’, much as Churchill was derided as an alarmist warmonger in 1930s Britain.
Churchill was proven right in his day by subsequent events, and so too will McCain in the very near future.
There is no alternative to war. There never was any alternative.
Make no mistake: Iran has not spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the course of decades aimed at obtaining nuclear arms, so that she will voluntarily agree to relent from this path when she is so close to the “finish line”.
There is this idea in popular circulation among the chattering classes - reinforced to some extent by Netanyahu's recent speech before Congress - that 'sanctions brought Iran to the negotiating table'. It is believed by many that it follows from this that tougher sanctions will persuade them to sign a genuine and acceptable deal. This is not an entirely correct reading of the situation.
The Iranians came to the table in part because of popular unrest caused by the lousy economic situation that resulted from the sanctions, that is true. But more than that, they came to the table because they believed that behind the sanctions lay a credible threat of military force if they didn't, and they needed to come to the table in order to buy time until their nuclear weapon was a "fait accompli" such that ultimately, a credible military threat could be negated by their own threat of active nuclear retaliation.
William Galston, one of the more politically liberal commentators at the Wall Street Journal, wrote shortly after Netanyahu’s address to Congress that he was being disingenuous in suggesting that Iran could be pressured into agreeing to a better deal. Mr. Galston argued that the ultimate conclusion one had to reach from Netanyahu's logic, despite the Israeli PM’s emphasis on a ‘better deal’ to be brought about by increased sanctions pressure, was that regime change at the very least, and more likely a war, was the only real answer. He was right.
Yet practically no one, it seems, outside of the right wing blogosphere, is ready to come out and tell the truth. One might imagine that Netanyahu felt that he had to be disingenuous that way, that in front of Congress and the American people, he could simply not be the one to bear such news. While Netanyahu may be the closest thing to Churchill we have on the world stage right now...Churchill, he is not.
Churchills are in very short supply these days.
At around this same time, I watched Bill O’Reilly – America’s most watched cable news commentator - dance around this issue with some Iran expert from the American Enterprise Institute, who admitted (and O'Reilly did not disagree) that Iran could not be trusted and that even if a "better" deal could be arranged, Iran would likely cheat on that. In any event, they also agreed that the chances of Iran actually accepting a deal that would truly prevent them from obtaining nuclear arms were pretty much nonexistent. But neither of them could come out and say that what all of this boiled down to was that in order to stop Iran from getting the bomb, we're going to have to use force. It was obvious, but they just could not get the words out. All Bill could say in conclusion at the end of the segment was, "What a mess..."
In a roundabout if thinly veiled way, Obama has even admitted as much. He reacted to Netanyahu’s speech by saying essentially that if he were to pressure Iran for a more restrictive deal, Iran would walk away from the talks, and "redouble their efforts."
What does that mean? It means that in effect, so far as Obama is concerned, there is no military option. There never was. After all, why did anyone even bother talking about a military option, if under Obama, we're going to settle for pretty much anything the Mad Mullahs want just so Obama can say that he "used diplomacy, not force" to prevent Iran from getting a bomb...at least until a short while after he would be safely out of office? Obama has all but said openly, with this reaction, that either Iran gets the bomb later (under the deal he signs with them), or sooner, without said deal. But they get the bomb regardless.
At what point are we willing to say to Iran, "OK, we're tired of this crap from you. If we don't have a real, effective, verifiable agreement that really does stop your nuclear weapons program that you say you don't have (which makes one wonder why you object so much in the first place, if that were true), by such and such a date, then at a time of our choosing at some point thereafter, we're going to make sure you can't get a bomb in any event, even if that means we have to clobber you! Make no mistake, Iran, we will do this if that is what it takes!" And then as needed, we follow through on our threat. Can we even still talk to them that way, as if it would make a difference?
Some incurable optimists might say that if we pounded our fist on the table this way, maybe they'd come around after all. But now that we've already gone through this drill multiple times, merely making such threats is no longer going to cut it. We've been around this block several times before. Deadlines come and deadlines go. In conjunction with this parade of deadlines, our leaders have already said on numerous occasions that a "military option is on the table". We have now reached a stage where there is no reason for Iran to take such threats seriously. It will not work, because it has been amply demonstrated that it has not worked. Either we meant it or we didn't. The Iranians have obviously - and understandably - concluded that we didn't mean it. We are now at a place where either we follow through, or Israel acts on her own if she can, or Iran gets the bomb. Period.
We can pay a lot now...or a lot more later. There really is no alternative to war, any way you slice it. We can fight a nasty little war now to stop them from getting nukes. Or we can put that off, allow them to get nukes...and fight a cataclysmic war by comparison when they decide to fight us on their terms, when they've got a usable nuclear arsenal. And a regime that sent 100,000 of their young boys - we're talking boys, not adult soldiers - to die as human mine detectors during their war with Iraq, a society whose demographics, social ills, and economy are such that inside of 35 years, they will be the poster child for "failed state", and thus has little to lose, is quite likely to use such weapons. This outcome is particularly likely when one combines their past record and their declining society with the apocalyptic religious ideology that figures so prominently among their rulers. Either way, this means war.
The only way this observer can see war being averted is if we put so much economic pressure on them that before they could deploy nukes, the regime is overthrown from within, to be replaced by a new ruling elite that is not living in the Middle Ages, and that seriously intends to live in peace with their neighbors and the world. Maybe, maybe this could be brought about. Maybe we could have made this happen in the summer of '09, but it is a huge risk to take, to bank on that, especially now, six years after that last lost opportunity, given that they are that much closer to the bomb. And Obama won't even do that.
Can we wait for another president who will? Maybe, if Israel can carry out more cloak and dagger operations like Fordo of January '13, and Parchin of this past October, that can put off the moment of decision until then. But Iran must be getting pretty damned close, and Israel's ability to pull off such decisive short-of-war operations must be getting more and more limited, for Netanyahu to have taken the trouble (and the related abuse from Obama) to come here to give the speech that he did.
Real world, the only thing Israeli delaying actions is going to put off until the next president is a U.S. military option being exercised, instead of a unilateral Israeli action. Given the timing and urgency of Netanyahu's speech, I strongly suspect it is too late in the day to hope for even that.
Some years ago, a retired German army intelligence officer was quoted as saying that the only thing worse than an Israeli strike on Iran, was Iran getting the bomb. We're down to these last two options, it seems.
Like O'Reilly said...what a mess.
Elections have consequences.
March 22, 2015