Monday, May 3, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

John Bolton writes in today’s WSJ,  Get Ready for a Nuclear Iran:

We therefore face a stark, unattractive reality. There are only two options: Iran gets nuclear weapons, or someone uses pre-emptive military force to break Iran’s nuclear fuel cycle and paralyze its program, at least temporarily.

He goes on to note that the US is not going to engage in such a strike and therefore the ball, so to speak, is in Israel’s court.

I have been of the opinion for some time that a nuclear, or near-nuclear,1 Iran is an inevitability for some time.2   This does not make me happy, but then again the world does not exist to make me (or anyone else) happy.   Bolton is certainly correct that sanctions are not going to work—but that has been obvious to anyone who knows anything about the history of such sanctions.  As such, one has to address the reality such as it is. 

First is the fact that a military strike is not guaranteed to work—indeed, based on what I had read even a massive strikes is not guaranteed to work.  This is not a situation, as so many keep making it out to be, of a simple strike against a single target, like the Israeli strike in Iraq in the 1980s.  The Iranians have fortified their positions and have not put all their nuclear eggs in the same basket.  Further, facilities are in, as I understand it, populated areas—including the holy city of Qom.3  The difficulties and ramifications of an attack are significant and should not ignored.  And even if a strike does work, one should note that even Bolton acknowledges that such an attack would only be a temporary set-back to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.  The temporary nature of such a hypothetical victory has to figure prominently in a cost/benefit analysis.

Second, the argument that the Iranians are undeterable  is unpersuasive as it is based on really on just one argument, i.e., the that Iranians are really, really religious and believe in am afterlife:

Facile analogies to Cold War deterrence rest on the dubious, unproven belief that Iran’s nuclear calculus will approximate the Soviet Union’s. Iran’s theocratic regime and the high value placed on life in the hereafter makes this an exceedingly dangerous assumption.

This is basically the “Iranians are Crazeeee” hypothesis.

Yes, it is true that it has been possible to deploy suicide bombers who engage in their activities because of their beliefs in an eternal reward.  However, I would note that one cannot extrapolate from that that the Iranians (or Muslims) in general are all in a big hurry to die, let alone the elites.

At the risk of making some people angry, I would point out that the vast majority of Americans also believe in an afterlife, and Evangelicals in particular speak in a language that is a lot closer to that of radical Islamists in terms of the afterlife than we are likely comfortable admitting.4.  I can say this with great confidence as one who has attended Evangelical churches since I was quite young.   Any given Sunday or Wednesday can find talk of wishing to hasten the return of the Messiah and/or talk of the fact that this life is temporary or ultimately unimportant.   Oddly enough, however, said persons do not leave the services and commit suicide so as to more quickly enter into paradise (nor, by the way, do the vast, vast, vast majority of Muslims).  Most people who believe in such things see it as a comfort for after death, not as a goal to pursue today.  Persons in power especially tend to wish to forestall entry into eternity.  Ahmadenijad may speak of wanting to help usher in the return of the Mahdi and/or speak of the afterlife, but oddly enough he shows up for work everyday.

Also, the presence of young men and women willing to die for a cause they believe in is less foreign to global experience than some make it out to be.   At a minimum, one cannot extrapolate out from suicide bombers to apply to an entire class of people.   In other words, people like Bolton as taking the behavior of a tiny fringe of the Muslim world and pretending like that should be used to understand the minds of Iran’s elites and general population.

I am not trying to enter into simplistic moral equivalencies here, but rather am trying to point out that human nature is more constant that Bolton and others want to make it out to be and that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a nuclear Iran was be an deterrable as any other nuclear state has been.

I would further note that we don’t have only Cold War examples to work with here, as the North Koreans have had a nuclear capability for some time, and have a leader who is of dubious stability, and yet they have not used the bomb either.

Third, it should be further noted that a military strike could spark a wider conflict.  The US has troops on Iran’s West (Iraq) and East (Afghanistan)—can we really afford/handle a widening conflagration in the region?  Beyond that, the price of oil would skyrocket if a conflict arose in the region.  That would destroy whatever ground we have gained in terms of economic recovery and possible send us into a deeper economic crisis.  Is this really worth risking?

I know, by the way, that I am largely repeating myself on this subject, but it seems to me rather important to argue against another war in the region.  Supporters of a military strike frequently over-hype the risks of a nuclear Iran while ignoring the almost certain consequences of an attack.  I am not sure that that can be pointed out too infrequently.

  1. One that does not actually have a bomb, but has the capacity to assemble one quickly. []
  2. See here and here, for example. []
  3. A fact that increased the cost of a military strike, symbolically speaking. []
  4. “We are strangers, we are aliens, we are not of this world” as the old Petra tune goes—which is based on 1 Peter 2:11. []
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4 Responses to “Bolton and a Nuclear Iran”

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    1. hidflect Says:

      John Bolton is a Zionist nut. He doesn't represent the interests of Americans on the left or the right or any other place. I'm not sure of why he leans to a foreign power as he does but regardless of that, people need to recognize he has a skewed (and screwed) mentality.

    2. Steven L. Taylor Says:

      In all honesty, I think you are underestimating Bolton's appeal in some quarters. The fact that he is given a regular seat at the table at the WSJ and Fox News underscores that some see him as worth listening to. Or, one need only look back to the fight over his UN ambassadorship a few years ago to see that he is taken quite seriously by many.

      Setting aside that, btw, the views he expresses in the column are not fringe within US politics.

    3. Leonard Says:

      “Supporters of a military strike frequently over-hype the risks of a nuclear Iran while ignoring the almost certain consequences of an attack. I am not sure that that can be pointed out too infrequently.”

      I'm always bemused by the complete and utter failure to note a few things along those lines:

      1. Iran has developed (in the last few years) small stealth submarines designed for operation in the shallow water of the Persian Gulf.
      2. Said subs are outfitted with high-speed (360km/h) torpedoes based on the Russian Shkval.
      3. Iran has threatened that if it comes under attack from any quarter, it will sink ships passing the Straits of Hormuz, effectively blocking the shipping lanes.

      Putting an American naval vessel on the bottom of the Straits of Hormuz to use as its blockade would be very high on the Iranian wish list, but failing that, it would likely be open season on anything big enough to block the shipping lane. How fast can a massive carrier group take evasive action in a narrowly-navigable passage? How about one of those behemoth oil tankers? Probably not fast enough to dodge a Shkval, and it would only take one. People who argue for this confrontation never seem to think it through.

    4. The Wall Street Journal Aids Bush Administration Era Neocon John Bolton In Pushing For Pre-Emptive Strikes Against Iran | THE GUN TOTING LIBERAL™ Says:

      [...] by John Bolton’s Op-Ed; Doctor Steven L. Taylor of PoliBlog points out the fact that even pre-emptive bombing isn’t guaranteed to work; Steve Hynd of The Newshoggers is afraid the Right is pressuring President Obama into posturing [...]

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