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September 22, 2007

Iran?

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From David Kurtz at Talking Points Memo:

Correct me if I'm wrong here. But by my calculation, more U.S. senators (72) voted today to condemn a newspaper ad attacking Gen. Petraeus than voted yesterday (56) to lengthen the time off troops get from the frontlines in Iraq, thereby reducing individual soldiers exposure to actual attacks. Am I missing something, or is that about right?

A new British poll estimates that one million Iraqis have lost their lives in this war. Here's a little map to give you a better picture of that grim statistic.

Thirty seven hundred American soldiers have died in Iraq, and twenty seven thousand have been wounded and maimed to date.

In addition to the terrible price of lives lost and destroyed, the monetary cost of this war is almost unfathomable.

And now Bush is beating the drums for another war in Iran.

Since we clearly didn't ask the right questions before we invaded Iraq, Paul Pillar has prepared a list of questions we should ask this time around


Now, an accelerating debate about Iran and its nuclear program shows signs of the same dangerous reductionism. Some argue for an airstrike against Iranian nuclear facilities sooner rather than later. Whether the Bush administration will act on such advice in the next two years is uncertain, but it is taking confrontational steps, including augmenting forces in the Persian Gulf and raiding an Iranian consulate, that increase the chance of heightened tension escalating into a military clash.

A long argument over many barely addressed issues would be needed to get from a belief that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons to a conclusion that a military strike, or even policies that increase the risk of U.S.-Iranian hostilities, is advisable. One issue is the uncertainty of the intelligence about Iran's nuclear program, although this is getting some discussion thanks to the recriminations about the intelligence on Iraq.

Other questions that need answering include:

What would be the urgency of taking forceful action, given that the announced estimate is that Iran is still several years from acquiring a nuclear weapon?

How malleable (and how well-defined) are Tehran's intentions, and what changes in Washington's policy might lead Tehran to abandon a weapons program? Even if Tehran's intentions do not change, what other options would impede or slow its nuclear program? If Iran were to acquire nuclear weapons, how would that change its behavior and affect U.S. interests? In particular, why would deterrence, which has kept nuclear peace with other adversaries, not work with Iran?

The likely hardening, concealment and dispersal of Iran's nuclear facilities raise questions about the impact any military strike would have on the program. How much would Iran's nuclear efforts be set back, especially given that bombs are not very good at destroying knowledge and expertise? Would the Iranian response be appreciably different from that of Iraq after Israel bombed its nuclear reactor in 1981 (Iraq redoubled its nuclear efforts while turning to different methods for producing fissile material)?

The most neglected questions concern other consequences of a U.S. strike or any other U.S.-Iranian combat, even if such combat did not lead to a prolonged occupation. How would Tehran respond to an act of war? What terrorism might it launch against the United States? How would it exploit U.S. vulnerabilities next door in Iraq, where it has barely begun to exploit the influence it has assiduously been cultivating? What other military action might it take, with the risk of a wider war in the Persian Gulf?

Other effects concern Iranian politics. How much would the direct assertion of U.S. hostility strengthen Iranian hard-liners, whose policies are partly premised on such hostility? How much would it add to all Iranians' list of historical grievances against the United States and adversely affect relations with future governments?

Broader regional and global ramifications include the impact on the oil market, whether other Middle Eastern nations would be less willing to cooperate with the United States and the prospect of exacerbating the damage the Iraq war already has dealt to U.S. standing worldwide.

Some might argue that the worst case that could ensue from an Iranian nuclear weapon is so bad that it trumps all other considerations. But there is no more reason than there was with Iraq to consider the worst case of only one side of the policy equation. And the worst case that could result from U.S.-Iranian combat is plenty frightening: thousands of Americans dead from retaliatory terrorist attacks, a broader war in the Persian Gulf, $150-per-barrel oil, a global recession and more.

But maybe we wont get a chance to ask any questions. Dan Froomkin reports what happened yesterday when David Gregory tried:

President Bush knows lots more nimble ways to dodge a question than snapping "no comment." So what was so hush-hush about Israel's recent bombing raid that he couldn't come up with anything to say about it -- or even find an elegant way to explain his silence?

Here's Bush's three-snap exchange with NBC's David Gregory at yesterday's 35-minute news conference:

Gregory: "Sir, Israeli opposition leader [Benjamin] Netanyahu has now spoken openly about Israel's bombing raid on a target in Syria earlier in the month. I wonder if you could tell us what the target was, whether you supported this bombing raid, and what do you think it does to change the dynamic in an already hot region in terms of Syria and Iran and the dispute with Israel and whether the U.S. could be drawn into any of this?"

Bush: "I'm not going to comment on the matter. Would you like another question?"

Gregory: "Did you support it?"

Bush: "I'm not going to comment on the matter."

Gregory: "Can you comment about your concerns that come out of it at all, about for the region?"

Bush: "No. Saying I'm not going to comment on the matter means I'm not going to comment on the matter. You're welcome to ask another question, if you'd like to, on a different subject."

Washington Post reporters Glenn Kessler and Robin Wright today suggest why the topic is so radioactive: "Israel's decision to attack Syria on Sept. 6, bombing a suspected nuclear site set up in apparent collaboration with North Korea, came after Israel shared intelligence with President Bush this summer indicating that North Korean nuclear personnel were in Syria, U.S. government sources said.

Time's Scott McLeod has compiled a list of the top ten reasons Bush might bomb Iran - a list too polite to include that Bush is a cornered narcissistic megalomaniac who now fancies himself Winston Churchill.

Photo note: The American flag in aggressive posture

Posted by Dakota at September 22, 2007 09:36 AM