Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Does the United States have the luxury of being able to do nothing against Iran?

The United States, on behalf of Israel, has taken the position that Iran must not be able to develop a nuclear weapon. The United States, also on behalf of Israel, has deceptively redefined "nuclear weapon" to mean the technology necessary to build a nuclear weapon, whether or not Iran actually does build one.

By the definition the United States uses with Iran; Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and many other countries have nuclear weapons, even though they are non-nuclear weapons states by the terms of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The US' redefinition of "nuclear weapon" has no support in any document and explicitly violates the terms of the NPT which are to be applied "without discrimination".

US leaders, nuclear policy experts and the US society generally justify the US' stance because Iran poses the kind of threat to Israel's viability as an enforced majority Jewish political state that a strong Angola could have posed to South Africa's viability as an enforced majority White political state. US leaders, nuclear and foreign policy experts and society generally have decided that the non-Jewish people of Israel's region should be denied technology and along with being subjected to various forms of warfare or preferably rule by leadership accountable to Israel's allies rather than to their own populations - colonialism - to ensure that the Jewish people of Israel never suffer the indignity of living under a non-Jewish prime minister.

Iran's leaders, policy experts and society generally disagree with their counterparts in the United States about whether the viability of a state for fewer than six million Jewish people should be a determining factor in the access to technology of over 70 million Iranians.

Aside, in the most important development in the recent history of the Middle East, the people of Egypt are poised to break out of the colonial relationship Hosni Mubarak maintained with the United States on Israel's behalf against the interests of the Egyptian people. The United States is certainly working to reduce the scope of Egyptian independence, but it is not at all clear that it will be successful.

But in Iran a question is coming to the fore more quickly than with other countries in the region: what if there is something Israel insists it needs to be viable, but the US just cannot deliver it?

The first problem for the US is that it has a position that is not coherent enough to even express publicly. The US and Israel state in public that Iran must not have a nuclear weapon. And then behind closed doors say "by 'nuclear weapon' we also mean what Japan has". Of course Japan does not have a nuclear weapon, but because the United States and Israel cannot even honestly express their position to their own publics, the discussions that would be necessary to reach an informed societal consensus on the way forward can't happen.

The bigger problem for the US is that every action it could take hoping to prevent Iran from attaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities would have the reverse effect of at least demonstrating to Iran that these capabilities are strategically important while increasing the Iranian sense that it has sacrificed for them while also increasing the value to Iran of presenting the world with a fait accompli and building an actual weapon.

US, Israeli or Western acts of sabotage have literally made martyrs out of Iranian scientists and have increased the political attachment Iran has to its nuclear program. The sanctions that have be placed on Iran since 2006 when it began a pilot program to enrich uranium have made the workshop-level program Iran was willing to accept then unacceptable now since Iran has paid a substantial price for the tons of low enriched uranium now in its stockpile.

Historically, sanctions strengthen central governments rather than weakening them. US efforts could take a toll on Iranian civilians, but Iran's government would be put into the stronger position of directing more limited resources to a population more dependent on it. Sanctions that are damaging also invite Iranian retaliations of various forms that increase the costs on all sides while making legal nuclear weapons capabilities more strategically important for Iran.

An actual attack on Iran's nuclear facilities might or might not cause Iran to leave the NPT, but there is no question that Iran's nuclear program would be brought back at least to the stage it reached before the bombing and that a post-bombing Iran would be more, not less inclined to deploy actual nuclear weapons.

So what if the US really wants Israel to have a monopoly of nuclear weapons in its region, and for every non-Jewish state in the region to be denied legal nuclear weapons capabilities such as those Japan has, but the US is unable to fulfill that desire?

Sanctions would be painful for Iran, and Iran's retaliations could be painful for the US, but in the end, they wouldn't work. Directly attacking Iran's facilities also wouldn't work. What if there is no course the US can take that would prevent Iran, ten years from now, from honestly being able to say, as Japan and Brazil can today, that the only thing preventing the deployment of a nuclear weapon is a political decision?

What if the only options available to the US are to do nothing, or to take actions that will only tip the political decision Iran will still ultimately be able to make further in the direction of deploying an actual nuclear weapon?

Some American observers have this idea that there is nothing the United States cannot do. For over a trillion dollars with a maximal occupation, the United States could not establish a pro-US government in Iraq. With a tremendous effort multiple times the scale of that in Iraq, the United States might be able to capture Tehran. Maybe. But ten years after, there very likely would be an anti-US government there that would revisit the nuclear issue.

It is coming into view that one thing on the list of things the United States cannot do is prevent Iran from at least attaining a legal nuclear weapons capability.

Israel really wants to prevent Iran from attaining that. Israel is not going to get its wish. As a consolation, Israel would like Iran to be under harsh economic penalties. The US and Europe would pay a heavy cost to indulge Israel on that issue.

A commenter here recently said that the United States may not have the luxury of doing nothing about Iran's nuclear program. Doing nothing may well be the United States' least counter-productive option regarding Iran's nuclear program. The type of thinking embodied in that comment may very soon crash into the wall of reality.


Arnold Evans said...

I looked over at informed comment and Juan Cole today has an article about the same issue. This comment will probably end up printed there but I'll leave it here also just in case.

As far as the Iranian exercises, I think those are as much to raise the price of oil as a contemplation of shutting down the passage of oil. But they also demonstrate that there would be costs to the US and its allies for escalating the dispute.  It is pretty important for Iran to be as clear as possible to as wide an audience as possible that it intends to retaliate against US hostility.  That is Iran's best hope to deter that hostility.  But the comment I left follows:

The real problem for Israel and its allies is that Iran’s civilian enrichment program is potentially dual-use. If Iran can enrich uranium to 3.5 percent for nuclear reactor fuel, it could in theory use its centrifuges to enrich to 95 percent for a bomb. Israel and the US don’t want Iran even to have the possibility of making a bomb if Tehran someday chooses to, since that would knock Israel down a peg on the Middle East pecking order.

As always, this is well put. It is really not well enough understood that the dispute over Iran's nuclear issue centers on the question of whether or not Iran will be able to develop legal nuclear weapons capabilities such as those Japan, Brazil, Canada, Germany and maybe dozens of other countries have to varying degrees.

The wall the US is crashing into is, I'm starting to think, less Israel's insistence that the US stop Iran from attaining legal nuclear weapons capabilities, or the power of the pro-Israel lobbies on the US political process but instead the problem seems to be the US idea that the US can "do something". 

Maybe the US just doesn't have any options that would work or even that would not be counter-productive and make Iran more likely to reach for legal nuclear weapons capabilities or even deploy actual weapons.

It has become difficult for Americans to think of the United States as not being able to achieve some objective it holds.  The US has abundantly demonstrated that it is willing to sacrifice any number non-Jewish people in the Middle East to achieve a goal that Israel considers useful. 

But what if the US would have to sacrifice US interests and still would fail to reach its goal?

Lidia said...

Of course, when one says "US" it usually means "ruling classes" or "government". But because of imperialist nature of USA the masses mostly do not mind much the "Racket", they get (or at least got) their cut.

On the other hand, no one could say "Egypt" helped Israel to imprison Gaza population without adding - "Egypt rulers do it AGAINST the will of the masses".

George Carty said...

Could Canada approach the Iranians and say "If you abandon uranium enrichment then we'll give you a dozen CANDU reactors absolutely free.  They don't need enriched fuel."?