Friday, September 17, 2004
Concerning the current ongoing debate in foreign policy circles regarding attacking Iran, we are seeing a repeat of the errors committed in Europe in the late 30’s that lead to the German invasion of France in May, 1940. This time it is the foreign policy establishment of the United States (and Israel) that is ossified in its strategic thinking, paralyzed by the need to cling on to past certainties, manifested by the preference for boilerplate solutions to problems instead of actual geopolitical strategic analysis. This situation is leading, as in France in 1940, to US strategists insisting on re-fighting the last war (the Cold War) instead of meeting the new, complicated and profoundly unsettling challenges that actually face them.
Today, ten nations (plus or minus) currently possess nuclear weapons. Ten years from now, this number will be no less than thirty, and in twenty years, 60-70 nations will be nuclear armed.
The Wehrmacht, in May 1940, aided by revolutionary new military tactics, smashed through the French defensive lines at Sedan, in northern France. This is the point at which Europe lost its global hegemony and was henceforth dependent on the US and USSR to save it from itself. The “Sedan” point for nuclear proliferation will be argued about for some time; was it Pakistan developing its nuclear capabilities, was it Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, or as I prefer, was it the moment that North Korea was allowed to start reprocessing its spent nuclear rods. Combine the Khan group, the fear induced by an aggressive United States, and the multitude of “unknowables” associated with the North Koreans, and one thing becomes clear, the nuclear proliferation genie is out of the bottle, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men are not going to be putting this genie back in its bottle again.
Mass nuclear proliferation and non-state geopolitical actors are baffling today’s statesmen in a similar way that the introduction of the Stuka dive bomber and massed armor confounded the prewar French military thinkers, who from painful experience had learned that in modern warfare, quick breakthroughs of your opponent’s line were virtually impossible. The heavy artillery bombardment that necessarily preceded such attacks always alerted the enemy to your intentions and a couple well-placed machine gun embankments could easily hold off battalions of charging infantrymen. If the impossible did happen and a breakthrough occurred, the salient that the attackers thus created was open to murderous machine gun fire along its flanks. The attackers artillery had to move forward into the former frontlines where the ground would have been horribly chewed up by the previous pounding by the artillery. The defending artillery was falling back on to its own lines, which is military infinitely easier to do than to move forward.
German military thinkers solved these problems in two ways. By simply replacing the traditional artillery attacks by waves of Stukas and placing the charging infantry into tanks, the Germans rendered obsolete the French generals preference for static defense and leisurely concepts of time on the battlefield. Only Charles de Gaulle, among French generals, saw the coming danger, but the hierarchical and deeply conservative French military establishment ignored his pleas to forget Verdun and start planning for the true German threat.
Until November 2004, the Europeans (Britain, France and Germany) are providing Iran with the diplomatic version of a Patriot missile defense system. No serious thinker can actually believe that the Iranians are going to give up their nuclear program in this fashion, least of all the Europeans, who are playing along with this charade. Place yourself in the corridors of power in Tehran and try to imagine a coherent argument as to why the Iranians should not acquire nuclear weapons. There is none. Whether they have them already or not is a moot point, they can always buy them from North Korea if they really need them. The only thing left to work out is the endgame of actually declaring themselves a nuclear power.
The Israelis have every right to fear a nuclear-armed Iran, it is indeed not only an existential threat, but because of the threat posed by certain non-state actors, it makes the occupation of Palestine practically impossible to continue.
The US certainly has less to fear than Israel concerning Iran.. MAD still functions with the Iranians and the non-state threat is only slightly increased since Al Qaida is the real problem for the US and they are not relying on Tehran for weapons.
Which brings me back to this November deadline set by the Europeans. Obviously the Israelis would love for the US to attempt some military action to stop the Iranian nuclear program. This entails huge risks for the Bush Administration. Israel is going to need to apply a huge amount of pressure, an existential threat to the Bush Administration, if you will, in order to get the US to move on this. On November 2, the Israelis task of putting pressure to bear on Bush will become infinitely greater (assuming he wins re-election). Anything the Israelis are holding over Bush’s head is much more valuable in October and next to useless in November. For instance, if Mossad had been trailing the Sept. 11th suspects throughout the US during 2001 and had given the US a detailed warning of what was coming, as has been reported in the press, the leaking of this memo would sink Bush’s re-election chances. One wonders if the recent IAPAC spy scandal is not a Bush Administration attempt to insert some deterrence for Israel into the equation.
The Iranians would no doubt (secretly) welcome an Israeli/American military strike. Such a strike would completely destroy the already moribund Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty. The mullahs of Tehran are certainly not stupid enough to have placed their weapon programs in an obvious location, they will have spread them out around the country--buried deep in the ground-- as much as possible, while at the same time leaving one or two obvious targets on which the Israelis could sate their appetites for action. Such an attack would most likely be nuclear. No one, I mean no one could complain, if six months later, the Iranians tested a nuclear device, having themselves just been victims of such an attack, self-defense would be a clear justification. Sanctions would not even be discussed. Not only that, but the Iranians would “owe Israel one”, an IOU they would count on for later collection. Of course, I am not even taking into account here the likelihood of an Iranian counterattack. Almost no one in Washington or Tel Aviv is discussing--the very likely--possibility of Iran already possessing nuclear arms and what the ramification of that is on the military planning for an attack on Iran.
The neoconservative in the US and Israel are still convinced that it was their exaggeration of the Soviet threat in the 70’s and 80’s--subsequent arms build-up--that lead the USSR to collapse, and thus secured victory for the US. Most Soviet commentators would say that it was actually the high standard of living that the Social Democrats in Sweden (among others) had provided for their population—within the capitalist system—compared to the low standard of living in the Soviet bloc, that convinced the Soviets of the futility of Communism. No lessons have been learned by the debacle in Iraq, where fourth generational warfare has again baffled and defeated a western power. The same neoconservative boilerplate solution will be applied to Iran, and the results will be similar; by trying to stop the unstoppable, they will just increase the speed and amplitude of nuclear proliferation. The final battle will be within the Bush Administration itself, balancing political realities with foreign policy fantasies. After the election, it will be much more difficult for Bush to move on this one. Only a nuclear terrorist attack in the US would give him the political cover to try such a risky move.
Gun nuts in the US are proud of the “polite society” created by an armed to the teeth populace. We will be seeing the same phenomenon on the international scene when most major nations are armed with nuclear weapons. The cost of war will again be too high. The antithesis of this polite society will be on the level of non-state actors, where MAD does not function. Finding the synthesis of these two forces is where our future Charles de Gaulle-like geopolitical strategists need to be spending their time, if we want to avoid repeating the mistakes of the French. I don’t even want to imagine what the American equivalent would be of to the situation of a French General standing on the ridge, overlooking the Meuse, and watching Nazi tanks flood into his country through the gaping hole they had just punched through the French lines, sure in the knowledge that there was no longer a damn thing his country could do to stop them.
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