Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Iran and lessons from Iraq in 2002

I think some Westerners have learned the wrong lesson from Iraq before the US invasion. In one sentence, WMD was just a pretext in the case of Iraq. The US military did not seriously believe Iraq may have had nuclear weapons. It did not believe Iraq may have had chemical weapons. The United States invaded Iraq because it believed that a pliable puppet state in Iraq would advance US interests and the US believed that it could successfully install a puppet state there.

If Iraq could have convinced the United States that any attempt to install a puppet would be unsuccessful, the attack would have been averted. If Iraq could have convinced the United States that an attack would be tremendously expensive, far in excess of anything it could consider itself to have gained, then an attack would have been averted.

If Iraq convinced the United States that it really did not have weapons of mass destruction, that would not have averted the attack. This is a very important point. Weapons of mass destruction were a pretext. Iraq was hostile to both Israel and the structure of pro-US colonial monarchies in its region. The United States was in conflict with Iraq because of the hostility to Israel and the colonies - the weapons of mass destruction was a false concern from the beginning, pursued only to justify the US acting on its pre-existing hostility.

I at times read statements such as "why does Iran not just answer the IAEA's questions" and I wonder if the asker is serious. The two answers are first that there is an unlimited number of questions the US can invent, if we establish that everytime the US invents a question, Iran either has to suspend its nuclear program or will endure additional sanctions until that question is answered. Slightly less important but still a consideration is the fact that if the US was to attack Iran's nuclear program, answers to some questions would make such a US attack more harmful against Iranian interests.

The questions are a pretext. Iran cannot avoid sanctions or US opposition to its nuclear program by answering questions any more than Iraq avoided an invasion by its truthful 12,000 page declaration in December 2002 that it had no chemical biological or nuclear weapons program.
Before Iraq submitted the document, the White House press secretary, Ari Fleischer, noted several times that omissions in the declaration would constitute a violation of United Nations Resolution 1441. But now, Mr. Bush and his national security team — which has often been divided on how much support to give United Nations inspectors and whether to build an international coalition to strike Iraq — face what officials describe as three major choices.

The first, which has not been seriously considered in the White House, is to demand that Iraq answer specific questions about specific weapons programs. "We gave them that chance," one senior official said today. "They knew what issues were outstanding in 1998. They blew it."
If Iraq had produced 12,000 pages explaining how the US would face an insurgency that would be beyond its ability to contain, end up losing thousands of lives and be left with an Iraq that is still fundamentally hostile to the US regional colonial structure - the United States would probably have taken such a document seriously enough to at least ask questions about supposed omissions.

Iran can deter US sanctions and attack by making sure the US expects there to be a cost in US interests for such activities. Playing along with the pretext, just as was the case with Iraq, has no impact on US policy, at least no positive effect from Iran's point of view. US policy is not now nor has it ever been motivated by those pretexts.

1 comment:

Lysander said...

That's very well put, Arnold and not many people write that as straight to the point as you.

In defense of those who play along with the pretext, though, there may be a reason for Iran to be conciliatory. It attracts neutrals to her side. Brazil and Turkey are a case in point.

Iran knew as well as we do that the whole nuclear issue is a US pretext. The whole point in compromise is to complicate the US diplomatic approach, and certainly not to appease it.

Of course, this approach has to be combined with a credible deterrent. Iran definitely has that, while Iraq, unfortunately, did not.