July 06, 2004

Iran chooses sides

And it's the other one.

  1. They refuse to comply with IAEA requests to open up their nuclear program and should be "more forthcoming" about their cooperation with the nuclear watchdog.
  2. They support the insurgency in Iraq, funneling millions in aid a month to Moqtada al-Sadr and other militants.
  3. They forced 8 British sailors into Iranian waters, took them prisoner, and paraded them on TV with blindfolds. [via Drudge]
  4. Two security guards from the Iranian mission to UN were caught videotaping potential targets in New York, and were expelled for "activities inconsistent with their diplomatic status". Although the Iranians claim they were just on vacation and taking photos, later reports from US officials said that they were surreptitiously recording bridges and buildings with cameras concealed under their coats.
  5. Al-Sabah newspaper in Baghdad reports that Iranian border guards have repeatedly fired on Iraqi outposts. [via Iraq the Model]
  6. Fox News is reporting that Iranian intelligence officers were captured in Baghdad with explosives. [via Instapundit]

This has the potential to escalate quickly.

Posted by richard at July 6, 2004 10:10 PM

What would you suggest that we do? Putting aside thoughts on the war in Iraq for a moment, one thing that most people seem to agree with is that our military is stretched very thin. Our capacity to respond with force is limited, if we need to resort to that course of action. Our need for our allies to provide significant troop levels should be obvious, given the potential rise in hostility in this situation, but have we made that impossible?

One other question, do you think the war in Iraq has opened up a hornet’s nest or were these issues inevitable? My own view is that we have clearly exacerbated the situation, but that many of these issues with Iran were already brewing. Maybe if we had approached Iraq in a more cautious manner, we would have increased our ability to respond to another threat. I worry less about the right or wrong of Iraq, but a lot more about whether or not that decision was wise in the context of the threats facing the United States. All too often, these two arguments get thrown together, but separating them is essential. Foreign policy frequently requires choosing between multiple “bad” scenarios. Admitting this and setting the correct course of action is essential. I just wish we had debated that in the run up to the war, rather than whatever it was Jeanine Garofalo and Rush Limbaugh were debating.

Posted by: T McGee at July 6, 2004 11:18 PM

Yes, it's certainly a difficult situation. But military action is jumping the gun a bit, as there are (and should be) many steps before military action is called for.

And if it does turn into a situation where military action is required, you have to weigh the benefit of having troops and bases in Iraq (and Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan) versus the cost of our military being stretched thin. If the situation in Iraq stabilizes, our military hand with regards to Iran just gets stronger.

For now I say put some big-ass broadcast towers all along the Iraq-Iran and Afghan-Iran borders and really ramp up Voice of America and Radio Free Iran. More actively support pro-democracy groups in Iran. Perhaps arm (or threaten to arm) and train them. Two can play at their game. Play hardball in the UN (even though France and Russia will resist).

On the other hand, I'm not terribly optimistic that military action is avoidable. Yes, Iraq stirred up a hornet's nest, but stirring one up on your own terms might be preferable. The nuclear question is clearly the key, as being in position to deal with that threat when it emerges (or to stop it before it does) will be incredibly important. If Iran gets the bomb, either Israel will preemptively attack it, or Iran will follow through on their pledge to wipe Israel off the map, or it will completely destabilize the region with a nuclear arms race which includes Israeli second-strike capabilities on hair-trigger alert.

Anyway, not fun. And yes, more debate on this would have been better. But a question. Is there a limit to which grand strategy can be debated before becoming self-defeating? I don't know the answer, but it's a tough one.

Posted by: richard at July 7, 2004 03:41 PM