The Day After We Bomb Iran
I’m no expert on nuclear weapons but it seems to me that there are three high-level requirements for any nation or organization to develop nukes:
- The will or motivation to build it
- The technical knowledge and skills to design it
- The hardware, equipment and tools to construct it
(Many nations have the knowledge and the tools but lack the motivation. Japan springs to mind. Clearly, as a nation, Japan has the technical knowledge and the necessary equipment and tools. But why? To what purpose? Germany, Australia, Sweden, Canada are all in a similar situation. They could build the Bomb but for a variety of reasons they don’t want to.)
Every week rumors fly around the blogosphere that the US and/or Israel is preparing to bomb Iran in order to stop their nuclear weapons program. Given the three requirements above, let’s assume this is true and play a game I call Best Case Scenario.
Under the Best Case Scenario the US bombs all 300 or so sites involved in the program. Let’s go so far as to say that there are no civilian casualties, that the Iranians can’t display a bunch of dead women and children for the international media. Let’s forget about the world-wide outrage at the US bombing (which is tantamount to a declaration of war). Let’s assume no planes are shot down and no US pilots are captured. Let’s even forget about any possible Iranian terrorism to exact revenge. In the Best Case Scenario we flawlessly eliminate all the physical facilities we think are part of the program and fly home safely. Victory is ours! Or is it?
What exactly would we have accomplished? The Iranians will have lost the hardware, equipment and tools needed to construct the Bomb. However, unless we also kill all the scientists and technicians and destroy all their documentation the Iranians will still have the knowledge and skills needed to design the Bomb. The Iranian regime will still have the motivation. Indeed they will in all likelihood be even more motivated to build nukes to prevent future attacks. Without removing the mullahs or fundamentally altering the nature of their regime, we will not change their desire for the Bomb.
Does anyone think that Iran, flush with petrodollars, run by mystics obsessed with the apocalyptic return of the Mahdi, and motivated by a political religion of suffering and martyrdom, will not make every effort to re-equip their scientists with the tools and hardware they need? Iranian scientists have years of experience working with centrifuges, cascades and the various components of advanced nuclear weapons development. How long will the world be able to keep Iran from buying what it needs? How long will it take the regime to re-assemble the program?
Granted, destroying Iran’s facilities buys us time, but time for what? For domestic regime change? For a popular revolution that installs a government less aggressive and less hostile to the West? That’s a nice hope but hope is not a strategy.
Striking Iran cannot be a one-off event. After crippling their nuclear program we will have to work to prevent them from rebuilding it.
I thought we learned in the 1990s that we cannot keep a rouge state forever in a “box.” I thought we learned from dealing with Hussein for years that sanctions decay over time, that petrodollars corrupt corporations, governments and organizations around the world toward assisting evil forces building dangerous weapons. I thought we learned that an indefinite, open-ended commitment to stop a rogue state from arming itself is very costly, politically and militarily. And that was Iraq, a country of 25 million that we had defeated in war. This is Iran, a much large country with three times the population that we have not as yet defeated in anything.
After we bomb the Iranian facilities we will have to impose some sort of sanctions to prevent them from reconstituting their nuclear program. How long do you expect those sanctions will last? Will we restrict Iranian oil sales? Even if we can manage a political miracle and keep every other country in line and on board with sanctions, how long will Americans support keeping Iranian oil off the market when gas is $4 a gallon? $7? Are we going to monitor every piece of equipment Iran imports? Why not, it worked so well with Iraq …
Bombing Iran can defer the problem and delay their program but we cannot stop the Bomb as long as Iran is motivated, technically capable and wealthy enough to acquire what they need. Destroying the enrichment plant and other infrastructure is necessary but not sufficient. To actually stop the Iranian Bomb we must also either destroy their political will to build it or their technical expertise to design and construct it. But how? Will killing Ahmadinejad, Khomeini and the Council of Guardians extinguish the regime’s desire for a nuke? Or will this play directly into the Shi’ite mythological dynamic of martyrdom and oppression and make them ever more desperate for it? (Will Ahmadinejad and Khomeini, like Obi-Wan Kenobi, become more powerful in death?) Even if this would politically de-motivate the theocracy, how do we do it? Regime Decapitation is a risky, unproven theory. Or alternately, how do we eliminate their scientific and technical knowledge? Can we even kill most of the lead scientists involved in the program? Can we knock off the top few layers of expertise and leadership? How? Do we even know who these people are? Where they live? What they look like?
And my infidel friends, this is the Best Case Scenario. It’s all downhill from here.
But hey, I’m no military expert. I wouldn’t know an enrichment plant or a P2 centrifuge if I saw one. I could be wrong about everything (it wouldn't be the first time; or the last). I invite those who disagree to tell me how we stop, not delay or defer, but stop Iran from building the Bomb. I agree that bombing the plant at Natanz would feel good but without a plan for the aftermath it will be an emotional, not a strategic, action.
What do we do the Day After We Bomb Iran?