Sunday, January 15, 2006


Belmont Club notes that right now we don't lack the means to hammer Iran but the will to do so.

If we put pressure on Iran but do not cross the line into combat, the nutball rulers of Iran might break and hit us out of worry or otherwise do something that convinces the Western public that we must take action:

This makes the feint the deadliest weapon in the US arsenal. Sending air wings to exercise in Southwest Asia, for example, is something the Iranians will deeply resent. But should they respond -- even if they could? It was said of Admiral John Jellicoe that he was the only person capable of losing the First World War in an afternoon, because as commander of the British Grand Fleet, he could throw away the foundational power of Britain in a single naval disaster. It may equally be said that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad alone can strip Iran of its invulnerability to military action in a single rash moment. In that sense he is not, as some pundits think, the worst possible leader Iran could have at the moment. On the contrary, this unstable, bellicose man is from another point of view the answer to all his enemy's prayers.

Unless Ahmadinejad hits the Women's Studies Department at Berkeley I seriously doubt there is much that Iran could do to convince a lot of the Left that Iran is a threat.

But Iran could break and provide the excuse to go after the mullahs. In the Iran-Iraq War, the Iranians while still in the initial throes of the revolution, managed to restrain themselves in the Gulf despite the de facto alliance of the West with the Iraqis:

Passivity in the naval war was frustrating for Iran. No Iraqi shipping traffic was vulnerable to Iranian counter measures since Iraqi trade went through neighboring states such as Kuwait or Jordan. Iran could only attack neutrals and despite enduring Iraqi air raids Iran struck only 14 times against ships traversing the Gulf. The frustration was building, however, and Tehran threatened "grave consequences" if the nominally neutral Arab Gulf states continued to ship supplies to Iraq. Still, Tehran ordered nothing rash enough to provoke American intervention to safeguard the West's oil supplies.

But in time, just watching Western ships essentially shielding the Iraqi war effort in the Gulf sent Iran over the edge:

Iran lashed out at others in October 1987. The frustration of failing to crush Iraq, of witnessing America lead the West into the Gulf in force, of enduring air attacks against her oil lifeline, and of seeing the militarily weak but wealth Arab Gulf states funnel money to prop up Iraq's military pushed Iran to the brink of irrationality. When Iraq was the country that had invaded Iran in the first place back in 1980 this seemed too unjust and proof that the world was against their revolution. On top of this, Iran received no sympathy when, in July, Saudi security forces bloodily suppressed Iranian "pilgrims" after they tried to mobilize a pro-Iranian demonstration in the heart of Saudi Arabia. On October 3, 1987, Iran crossed the line into irrationality. Unable to defeat her one enemy Iraq, Iran massed between 30 and 50 speedboats for an attack on Saudi Arabia's off-shore oil terminal at Khafji--the one used by the Kuwaitis and Saudis to sell oil in Iraq's name. Saudi Arabia responded by deploying warships and fighter aircraft. Iran pulled back but five days later in another confrontation the Saudis sank three speedboats.

Iran, apparently not satisfied with defeat at the hands of Iraq and then Saudi Arabia, even struck an American flagged tanker, Sea Isle City, with a Silkworm missile while it lay in Kuwaiti waters. The United States retaliated with Operation Nimble Archer on October 19, 1987, during which three Iranian oil platform bases were attacked. Many Iranians knew that a course of confrontation with America was foolish but the short term satisfaction of striking out at those who helped Iraq--even the United States--was beginning to win out over reason.

By April 1988, during Operation Praying Mantis, the Iranian navy went on its death ride and the US Navy smashed the cream of the mullahs' fleet.

If we need a pretext to strike, the only question is whether we have the time to apply the psychological pressure on Iran. Or will Iran sit and take any pressure we put on them with the prize of nuclear arms encouraging them to swallow their pride and soothe their nerves.

Ultimately, I'm not comfortable with a strategy that relies on the Iranians doing something stupid to justify action. They may save us from our timidity. But that's a helluva bet to make when Charleston is our bet on the table.