March-April 2012, Pages 10-11
Common Sense About Iran
Is a Nuclear Iran Really to Be Feared?
By William Pfaff
The obsession of the American foreign policy community, as well as most American (and a good many international) politicians, by the myth of Iran's "existential" threat to Israel brings the world steadily closer to another war in the Middle East.
The debate over Iran takes for granted that the country soon will have nuclear weapons and would use them. The debate back in 2002-03 over Saddam Hussain's alleged possession of nuclear weapons did the same. After the United States had gone to war against Iraq, no such weapons were found to exist.
The actual winner of the war that followed the American invasion of Iraq was Israel, which saw Iraq, its principal regional rival, destroyed at no cost to itself. The military victor of the war, but politico-strategic loser, was the United States, which destroyed Iraq, a country in no position to harm the United States, at a trillion-dollar cost, enormous human suffering and waste, and the effective transfer of Iraq to Iran's zone of military and strategic influence.
The present debate over Iran's nuclear program, like the pre-2003 debate concerning Iraq's nonexistent WMD program, has never extended to the most important question in the matter: What difference would it make if Iran did have nuclear weapons? What could it do with them, considering the nuclear deterrent force possessed by Israel, generally thought to be the fifth or sixth largest nuclear power in the world?
Between the start of the nuclear era to the end of the Cold War, tens if not hundreds of thousands of earnest scholars, strategists, pacifist activists, journalistic commentators, politicians and prospective victims of nuclear war brooded over how nuclear weapons might be used in war. So far as I know, the only conclusive answer we found (I was, on occasion, one of those people) was that they were only useful as a threat to deter someone else from aggression. They cannot stop the aggression, but they will exact a serious penalty for it.
The best known of these thinkers was undoubtedly my late colleague Herman Kahn. He made a professional career of lecturing to military staffs, scholars, politicians and concerned laymen about how in the last analysis nuclear weapons had no real military or politico-strategic utility against another nuclear-armed power, other than when one actor possessed an absolute monopoly of these weapons, as was the case of the United States in 1945.
The U.S. used its monopoly to destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki and put an end to the Second World War (over-used its monopoly—one would have been enough; indeed the Army Air Force might have dropped a nuclear bomb on an unoccupied island or deserted atoll, and told the Japanese to watch, or to go afterward and take a look at the hole).
Kahn's characteristic conclusion was that the only future constructive use for nuclear weapons lay in creating a Doomsday Machine, the Ultimate Deterrent. It would be a thermonuclear device that would destroy the entire earth if a nuclear weapon were ever exploded anywhere in the world or in surrounding space.
The Iranians, a highly intelligent and well-educated people, know all of this perfectly well. If they intend to produce nuclear weapons, it is to possess a deterrent to foreign aggression. The Israelis, another highly intelligent and well-educated people, also know nuclear history. Their present policy is not based on fear of a nuclear attack by Iran (or by an Iranian proxy). It is calculated to prevent the United States from imposing on Israel a solution to its relationship with the Palestinians. They do not wish a permanent legal frontier dividing them from some new and recognized Palestinian state—a frontier sponsored and also guaranteed by the United States, as well as by international law.
Such a border, and such an internationally guaranteed Palestinian state, would stop further Israeli expansion into Palestinian territory, and possibly reverse the expansion that already has taken place. Continuing expansion is the present Israeli government's policy, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu stated in the presence of the international press at Davos, at the start of the first Netanyahu government in 1996.
The propaganda concerning Iranian nuclear weapons is deliberately promoted by Israel and its allies in order to inspire an attack on Iran by the United States, or more likely, to rationalize such an attack by Israel itself. An attack, by either government, would undoubtedly provoke Iranian retaliation against American troops, ships and installations in regions neighboring Iran. It would also distract the United States from the Palestinian issue.
This explains recent efforts by the American military to dissuade Israel from such an attack. At the same time, others in the American government, and all but one of the present Republican candidates for the presidential nomination, irresponsibly promote such an attack, against the interests of their own nation.
William Pfaff is the author of The Irony of Manifest Destiny. Copyright © 2012 Tribune Media Services, Inc. All rights reserved.
Israel's Goal in Bombing Iran
By Paul Findley
Will Iran bomb Israel into rubble, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, if the Tehran regime is someday armed with nuclear weapons? No one of my acquaintances believes that will ever happen, nor do thoughtful Israelis. But many people believe Israel will soon use conventional bombs to disable Iranian nuclear research facilities. All of us should ponder why.
Bombing Iran is high risk. It will likely mean widening war, not just a skirmish. It will convince any Iranian doubters their country really needs nuclear weapon protection. Skillful bombing will delay any Iranian bomb construction for several years, but a determined Iranian government will eventually possess a warhead, even if comes from the black market.
Iran is a large, proud, well-educated, resourceful and well-armed nation, not a pipsqueak bunch of thugs. Although Israel has survived by the sword since its founding, thanks mainly to U.S. subservience, trying to immobilize Iran is a mammoth undertaking.
Iran's main complaint against Israel is its brutal ongoing colonization of mostly-Muslim Palestine, a rebuke applauded by all Muslims and most other people worldwide. Iran takes a major role supporting resistance to Israeli aggression. Israel could quiet complaint without firing a shot by withdrawing from illegally held Palestinian land.
Israel's immediate goal is to make the United States its partner in a planned conventional assault on Iran. To that end, Israel's U.S. lobby is trying to convince the American people Iran is a bad actor and a sinister force in the raging Syrian civil war. Israel has such mastery of U.S. media this goal may be easily achieved.
President Obama keeps the war option alive and recently sent Israel a supply of America's latest in deep penetration bombs, a certain and ominous sign of U.S. complicity if assault occurs.
My acquaintance with nuclear bombs began long ago. As a Seabee I walked through the awful devastation at Nagasaki shortly after U.S. nuclear bombing there ended World War II. It was a chilling experience. Years later in Congress, I heard an expert witness predict more than 20 nations had the wherewithal to build a nuclear warhead in a few weeks.
Fortunately, although nuclear armaments have proliferated, none has been fired in anger since Nagasaki. This is mainly because a little-noted military doctrine sends a powerful message: when disputing governments both possess nuclear weapons, neither will commit acts of war against the other. It is called Mutual Assured Destruction [MAD]. It created a standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union, both armed with nukes. It kept the Cold War from getting hot.
Former President Dwight D. Eisenhower alluded to this doctrine in 1964 during a private discussion I had with him in his Gettysburg office. He said, "One way to keep European nations from fighting each other would be to supply an atomic [nuclear] warhead to each head of government." He was not joking. His point: nuclear weapons have only one military value, but it is an important one—to deter attack.
Nukes now provide deterrence from attack only to the nations possessing nuclear warheads or those given special treaty protection by nations possessing these weapons. Until an international institution strong enough to enforce a worldwide ban on nuclear warheads comes into being, all threatened nations will be tempted to build their own nuclear bomb deterrence.
Except for Pakistan, all Muslim countries lack such deterrence. If Iran possessed even one nuclear warhead, Israel would not be beating drums for assault of the Tehran regime.
Iran finds little sympathy among Americans these days. Most of them never heard of MAD, but they remember with anger Iran's illegal imprisonment of U.S. diplomats in the American Embassy in Tehran throughout the last 440 days of the Carter administration.
Few American citizens, however, remember the illegal, bloody 1953 U.S.-British military coup that ousted Iran's democratically elected government headed by Mohammad Mossadegh. Coup forces imprisoned the ousted leader for life, installed the shah as absolute dictator, and restored British-U.S. exploitation of Iranian oil reserves. It was the worst chapter of the otherwise admirable Eisenhower administration.
Iranians also remember U.S. support for Iraq in the war that dictator Saddam Hussain initiated against Tehran in the 1980s. The Iranian death toll exceeded a half-million.
If Iran gets a nuke or two, it will have deterrence against attack from any hostile power, including Israel. Another peaceful standoff would exist. Gideon Rose, editor ofForeign Affairs, says, "…deterrence is less disastrous than preventive war."
Will President Obama lead America into a war whose only goal is to deny Iran deterrence from attack?
All parties, especially Obama and the Republicans campaigning to succeed him, should cease war talk. The Gulf is already rife with high tension, threats and hate. It is so full of competing military vessels they may literally bump us all into an unintended but horrific conflict that could engulf much of the world.
Paul Findley of Jacksonville, IL served 22 years in Congress, 10 of them as senior Republican on the House Middle East Subcommittee. His latest book, Speaking Out: A Congressman's Lifelong Battle Against Bigotry, Famine and War, is available from the AET Book Club.