Wednesday, December 07, 2011


I'm not the only one to wonder if a war against Iran has begun:

Two incidents that occurred on Sunday—Iran’s claim of a shoot-down of a U.S. drone, and an explosion outside the British embassy in Bahrain—may have been unrelated. But they appear to add to growing evidence that an escalating covert war by the West is under way against Iran, and that Tehran is retaliating with greater intensity than ever.

Asked whether the United States, in cooperation with Israel, was now engaged in a covert war against Iran’s nuclear program that may include the Stuxnet virus, the blowing-up of facilities and the assassination or kidnapping of scientists, one recently retired U.S. official privy to up-to-date intelligence would not deny it.

Are we in a more intense struggle with Iran? If so, do we really think it is a war? Or are we just doing enough to look like we are trying to stop Iran from going nuclear (and keep Israel's planes on the ground)? Are we trying to do enough to avoid the accusation that we just let them go nuclear? But not enough to succeed?

So I don't know if we are already at war with Iran. If we have initiated a rolling start to a war to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, at some point we will have to make the covert war an overt one. At some point, either we can't attack more covertly or the Iranians retaliate too openly to ignore.

What then? If we are at war--even covertly--we must have an objective. The objective should be, in the short run, Iran's nuclear program. In the long run it must be the regime in Tehran. So do we prosecute this war until we achieve the objective? Do we lead from the front if that is what it takes?

Or do we pretend to wage war "from behind" only as long as we can keep it covert? The latter isn't war. It's an expensive reelection advertising campaign.

UPDATE: Stratfor says that the low-level war has been going on a long time. True enough. But they also say that it is correct to say it has heated up lately.

My concern remains that we aren't focused on the objective. It is fine to wage a low level covert war against Iran as long as that effort helps us reach our objectives. Those are, in my opinion, the short-term halting of Iran's nuclear program and the long-term removal of the mullah regime.

But will we continue pursuing the objectives when covert means no longer suffice? If so, this isn't war. This is just the administration covering their posteriors in case Iran goes nuclear on their watch. Hey, we tried, they'll say.

But this would just leave us with a nuclear Iran under mullah control that is angry at our low-level ineffective war. The saying, "never do an enemy a small harm" is a saying for a reason. We get the worst of both worlds with this policy.

Shoot, even pure appeasement would be better than hurting an enemy too much for them to work with us but not enough to defeat them, if you think about it. If we truly made a deal with Iran, we might get a nuclear Iran that doesn't want to nuke us. I doubt it because we are dealing with pure nutballs, but appeasement can actually be worthwhile if you buy time with the policy. When my son was playing a game of Civilization many years ago, he was being hammered by an enemy. He wanted my advice as he was being pushed back on his capital. I looked at the map and his forces, and said buy peace whatever it takes. He could not hold, I could see. And then, I told him, build an attack force, move it to this spot on the map to take this city from the enemy. And then roll them up to the isthmus where you can defend on a narrow front. And it worked. Better than I hoped, even, since my son's army was able to keep going through the choke point and destroy the enemy empire. Paying money was appeasement pure and simple. But he never stopped thinking that he had to defeat his enemy. In this case it worked. It is a clear cut example, sadly flawed by being a game.

You could call the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact a form of appeasement--by both sides.

Germany allowed Russia to take half of Poland, the Baltic states, a chunk of Rumania, and Finland. Finland survived that war although it lost chunks of land. Germany bought a free shot a France without worry of a two-front war. Germany took advantage of the time they bought to defeat France, knock Britain back on their heels, and secure other countries to protect their western flank.

Russia bought peace to rebuild their purge-wracked military as well as a buffer zone by letting Germany take the most productive part of Poland and by supplying Germany with vital raw materials. Unfortunately for Russia, the Germans pounded France and then prepared to take on Russia. But Russia did survive that invasion and the war.

I suppose the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is a more obvious form of successful appeasement that allowed the new Soviet Union to survive until they could get back much of the territory they surrendered to Imperial Germany--and more, the second time that Germany was defeated in 1945.

But back to Iran. I don't think an appeasement policy can work with Tehran, even though I recognize that in theory it can be appropriate if you can't win right now and need to buy time to prepare.

But if we are simply going through the forms of "war" by waging a covert fight whose only purpose is to remain covert rather than achieve an objective, this is really a form of American appeasement to Iran as they buy time to go nuclear at the price of letting us think (or just portray) that we are resisting them.

So what is it? War or a pageant?