U.S. strike on Iran could make Iraq look like a warm-up bout
Fallout around the world would be grim
-- -- WASHINGTON—On the ground, more
Poison-laced missiles raining down on U.S. troops in Iraq or
Afghanistan, the downing of a U.S. passenger airliner, suicide
bombers in major cities, perhaps unleashing their deadly payload
in a shopping mall food court. It could be 9/11 all over again.
On the political front, more anti-Americanism.
Renewed venom aimed at Washington from European capitals,
greater distrust from China and Russia, outright hatred in the
Arab and Muslim world. Oil prices spiralling out of control, a
global recession at hand.
In Iran, a galvanizing of a splintered nation. An end to hopes
for political reform, a rally-around-the-leader phenomenon
common among the victimized, an ability to rebuild a nuclear
program in two to four years.
These are the potential costs of a U.S. military strike in Iran.
"It would be Iran's Pearl Harbor and it will be the beginning of
a war, not the end of a war. It will set back American strategic
interests for a generation," says Joseph Cirincione, the
director for non-proliferation at the Carnegie Endowment for
"The war will take place at a time and location of Iran's
choosing. It will make Iraq look like a preliminary bout."
But the cost of inaction could be even higher: a defiant nation
with an apparently unstable leadership steeped in hatred for
Americans in the heart of the Middle East with nuclear
With Tehran ignoring both threats and cajoling from the
international community and declaring itself — prematurely —
part of the world's "nuclear club" this week, talk of the
Washington stick moved to the forefront, while the carrot, now
discredited, was pushed off centre stage.
While the week began with the White House trying to tamp down
speculation about military strikes in Iran, reported by The
Washington Post and by journalist Seymour Hersh in The New
Yorker, it was becoming clear the Bush administration was
growing impatient with a diplomatic effort that is not working
It may have also welcomed talk of potential military strikes,
even if it would be extremely reluctant to use them, simply to
remind some recalcitrant United Nations members such as China
and Russia that diplomacy does have an end date.
The bluntest assessment of diplomatic success came from Karl
Rove, U.S. President George W. Bush's political adviser and
deputy chief of staff, who told a Houston audience Iranian
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was "not a rational human being."
"We are engaged in a diplomatic process with our European
partners and the United Nations to keep (Iran) from developing
such a weapon," Rove said. "It's going to be tough because they
are led by ideologues who have a weird sense of history."
Ahmadinejad announced this week that Iran had taken its nuclear
enrichment program to new levels. Before he did so, he dismissed
any influence of the United Nations, according to state media.
"They know they cannot do a damned thing," he said.
The Iranian government has stated it will construct 3,000
centrifuges at a facility in Natanz and would eventually expand
that to 54,000 centrifuges, which spin uranium into fuel rich
enough to produce atom bombs. Estimates of their capability date
range from 2010 to 2020.
Bush has been clear he wants to stop Tehran from acquiring even
the knowledge needed to build nuclear weapons, and last month he
vowed U.S. military might could be used to protect staunch
allies such as Israel.
But, earlier this week, Bush called reports of potential
military strikes on Iran "wild speculation." British Foreign
Minister Jack Straw said the stories were "completely nuts."
U.S. Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld weighed in, saying he
wouldn't address things from "fantasy land," but then added:
"The last thing I'm going to do is to start telling you or
anyone else in the press or the world at what point we refresh a
plan or don't refresh a plan, and why. It just isn't useful."
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sternly called for
action at the UN, but didn't say what it could be, leaving her
spokesman sputtering about "re-underlining" the call for Iran to
suspend its enrichment program and vowing this time the Security
Council will do more than just release a statement.
"This is not a question of Iran's right to civil nuclear power,"
Rice said. "This is a question that the world does not believe
that Iran should have the capability and the technology that
could lead to a nuclear weapon.
"When the Security Council reconvenes, it will be time for
The timing of military strikes is now being openly debated in
Cirincione says he believes there will be secret strikes
announced by Bush after they happen. But first, he says, Bush
should be expected to go to the U.S. Congress for authorization
before mid-term elections in November, while Republicans still
control the House of Representatives and the Senate.
Approval before the elections, the strike after the elections,
because the almost certain spike in U.S. gas prices following
such action will blunt any rally-round-the-flag effect at
election time, he says. John Pike, a military analyst at
globalsecurity.org, predicts strikes in the summer of 2007,
safely away from the presidential election the next year. He
argues, as many do, that Bush already has congressional approval
and needs not go back to lawmakers. "It will be a surprise," he
says. "There's nothing like dropping bombs on evil-doers to give
Republicans some political updraft."
Pike argues that, despite all the breast-beating in Congress
about misuse of a resolution that got the country into war in
Iraq and all the sound and fury about clandestine surveillance
in this country, nothing has been done to strip Bush of any
power when it comes to war. "He will be looking at atomic
ayatollahs. There will be some real downsides (to military
action) and there will be efforts to redouble diplomatic moves,
but in Tehran, the U.S. is equated with Satan.
"What kind of diplomatic solution do they believe they can get
Other analysts have been blunt in their assessment of the cost
to the United States.
"The most dangerous delusion is that a conflict would be either
small or quick," says Richard Haass, the president of the
non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations.
Haass, who until July 2003 was a principal adviser to former
secretary of state Colin Powell, says destroying Iran's nuclear
capacity would require numerous cruise missiles and aircraft.
"Iran would be sure to retaliate, using terrorist groups such as
Hezbollah and Hamas and attacking U.S. and British forces and
interests in Iraq and Afghanistan," he said in a written
analysis this week. "This would require the U.S. to respond
militarily against a larger set of targets inside Iran. What
would begin as a limited strike would not remain limited for
Haass also warned that such a strike would likely push oil
prices above $100 (U.S.) per barrel, setting off an economic
chain reaction that could lead to global recession. He predicts
a certain increase in anti-Americanism in Europe, further rage
against the U.S. in the Arab and Muslim world, and a questioning
of U.S. ties in Russia and China.
Ken Pollack of the more liberal Brookings Institution argues for
sanctions restricting investment in Tehran.
"The world community should force Iranians to have an internal
debate — do they want their nuclear program more than a healthy
economy?" he told a recent forum.
But Pollack adds a sobering point. If the administration truly
believes it cannot live in a world in which Iran has nuclear
weapons, the military option may be the only way to prevent
But it would be seen as an unprovoked attack on a country that
has attacked no one. It would be likened to Osama bin Laden's
attack on the U.S., Pollack said, reminding his audience how the
United States responded to that.
Copyright Toronto Star Newspapers Limited
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