The Bush administration has put together all the
elements it needs to justify the impending military action against Iran. Unlike in the case of Iraq, it will happen without warning,
and most of the justifications will be issued after the fact. We will wake up
one day to learn that facilities in Iran have been bombed in a joint U.S.-Israeli
attack. It may even take another couple of days for the revelation that some
of the U.S. bombs were nuclear.
Both Americans and the rest of the world have left the door wide open for this
to happen. The international community has failed to declare the Iraq war illegal (e.g., Resolution 1483)
under international law, implicitly condoning the next similar U.S. adventure.
Furthermore, since the IAEA resolution of Sept. 24, 2005, it
is "legal" for the U.S. to use nuclear weapons in a military conflict with
And the discussion now riveting the country's attention, about whether the administration
misused faulty intelligence to justify attacking Iraq, plays right into the
plan to attack Iran. Many critics of the war are implicitly conceding that if
the intelligence had been right, the attack on Iraq would have been justified.
However, the charges that were false for Iraq are true for Iran, or are at least
widely accepted to be true.
Since after the fact there isn't much one can do about it, except, in Cheney's
words "clean up the diplomatic mess," it is important to bring up the
topic for discussion now, even if the administration would prefer that you focus
instead on the Iraq mess, incredible as that may seem.
How the Iraq Deception Aids an Attack on Iran
The country is up in arms over the "16 words" in the 2003 State of the Union address about Iraq
"attempting" to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. Some criticisms imply that
if indeed there had been such an attempt, the attack against Iraq would have
been justified. Iran makes its own yellowcake and is processing it into uranium
hexafluoride at this very moment. According to the latest reports, the material being processed
is enough for 10 nuclear bombs.
The other reasons given to attack Iraq apply at least as much or even more
so to Iran and will be brought up by the U.S. government after the attack, so
we may as well consider them now:
- Iraq was falsely accused of possessing WMD; it turned out it didn't
have a single ounce. Iran almost certainly still has remnants of chemical weapons (as
do many other countries, including the United States). The U.S. accuses Iran of having both chemical and biological weapons.
- Iraq was accused of having used chemical weapons in war in the past. Iran has
- Iraq was accused of having ties to al-Qaeda and 9/11. The bipartisan 9/11
commission determined that Iraq had no significant ties to al-Qaeda, and no
connection to 9/11. Instead, it determined that "senior al-Qaeda operatives and trainers traveled to Iran to receive
training in explosives" in 1993, alleged the "persistence of contacts between Iranian security officials and
senior al-Qaeda figures" after 1996, and claimed that "there is strong evidence that Iran facilitated the transit of
al-Qaeda members into and out of Afghanistan before 9/11, and that some of
these were future 9/11 hijackers."
- Iraq was accused of supporting terrorists intent on harming America. No
proof of such allegations has emerged. Iran is accused of sponsoring Hezbollah, labeled a terrorist organization. Iran was indicted by the U.S. attorney general for the 1996 Khobar
Towers bombing that killed 19 Americans, which according to the 9/11 commission,
may have involved al-Qaeda. Furthermore, an American court ruled that Iran was directly involved in
the 1982 Beirut bombing that killed 241 U.S. marines.
- Both Iraq and Iran have long been declared enemies of Israel. The U.S. and
Israel have been warning against the Iranian
danger to Israel for many years, claiming it is trying to develop nuclear
weapons since at least as far back as 1995. Iran has missiles
that can reach Israel; Iraq did not after the Gulf War. Iraq was
only accused of giving money to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers;
Iran is accused of supplying arms and rockets to Palestinian and Lebanese terrorists.
- The U.S. and Britain are accusing Iran of supplying arms and bombs to insurgents
- Iraq under Saddam Hussein was a secular regime, more to the liking of America
than the Iranian Muslim fundamentalist regime.
Iran has denied most of the allegations listed above. However, the accusations
are widely reported in the Western press as facts, and most Americans have accepted
them as such.
Consider the following: if the Bush administration knew that it was misusing
and manipulating faulty intelligence to justify the Iraq invasion, as most Americans now believe, it also knew that the truth about
nonexistent Iraqi WMD would come
out after the fact. Whether the American people interpreted it as incompetence
or deliberate deception, the administration's decision to go to war would eventually
be subject to widespread criticism on either ground. Why did the administration
choose to build up a case for invading Iraq out of thin air, knowing full well it was destined to fall apart
in the aftermath?
I believe there are two complementary reasons. (1) The faulty arguments to
attack Iraq provide an even stronger justification to attack Iran, as explained
above. Since the country has already accepted that line of argument, the administration
can argue after the attack on Iran that it did not need to go to Congress
or the American people to ask for their support again. (2) The real, ultimate
goal was always to attack Iran, but the Iraq invasion was a necessary
What the Rest of the World Is Doing
The United States used diplomacy, in particular
UN resolution 1441
of November 2002, which was supported unanimously by the Security Council, as
a cover to justify its military action against Iraq, and it is using the same
strategy again. Europe is enabling the U.S. strategy by pushing the International
Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran to the Security Council. When the
process reaches a dead end at the Security Council, or even if it never gets
there, the U.S. will argue that the international community, especially Europe,
"share[s] our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet
it." Depending on whether diplomatic action stalls at the Security Council
or before that at the IAEA, the U.S. will argue that each entity "has not lived up to its responsibilities, so we will rise to ours."
Russia and China oppose placing sanctions on Iran, but they are not taking a
strong stand against U.S. aggression.
Why a Nuclear Attack Against Iran Is Imminent
The U.S. and Israel
have made it clear that they will not allow Iran to implement a civilian nuclear
program that includes the fuel cycle, because it will bring Iran closer
to a point where it could develop nuclear weapons if it so decided. Iran claims
the right to develop civilian nuclear technology, including the fuel cycle,
which is explicitly allowed under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). These are completely
irreconcilable positions, and in the absence of compromise they can only be
resolved by military action in which the stronger side prevails. The U.S. is
not negotiating with Iran either
directly or indirectly and is in essence demanding that Iran prove today
beyond any doubt that it will not have nuclear weapons in the indefinite future,
which is as impossible as it was for Saddam Hussein to prove that he did not
have weapons he didn't have.
Iran is much stronger militarily than Iraq was, and is potentially
a much larger threat to Israel. Iran will continue to grow stronger in the
future, and following the Bush logic, it is preferable to preempt than to wait.
The Bush statement in the 2002 State of the Union address,
"States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil,
arming to threaten the peace of the world. By seeking weapons of mass destruction,
these regimes pose a grave and growing danger. They could provide these arms
to terrorists, giving them the means to match their hatred. They could attack
our allies or attempt to blackmail the United States. In any of these cases,
the price of indifference would be catastrophic."
was directed to Iran as much as to Iraq. So was the following:
"I will not wait on events, while dangers gather. I will not stand by, as
peril draws closer and closer. The United States of America will not permit
the world's most dangerous regimes to threaten us with the world's most destructive
Furthermore, the balance of power in the region has been upset by the U.S.
invasion of Iraq in an irreversible way. The containment that Saddam Hussein
provided to Iran's power in the region no longer exists, and if the U.S. reduces
its presence in Iraq without attacking Iran, Iran is likely to establish itself
further as a strong regional superpower, expanding its influence over Iraq as
well as the broader Middle East.
So why hasn't Iran been attacked yet?
Only because several elements had to first fall into place, as they now have.
The attack on Iran will occur at any time in the coming days or weeks and will
include the use of nuclear weapons by the U.S. Let us summarize the pieces of
the puzzle assembled by this and previous administrations that lead to the upcoming
nuking of Iran:
- The lumping of nuclear weapons together with other unconventional weapons
under the general concept of WMD, starting
in earnest in the early '90s;
- The "negative security
assurance" [.pdf] declaration of the United States, which promises not
to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states, but explicitly excludes from this assurance states that are in
noncompliance with the NPT;
- The United States' gradual
its approach to the use of nuclear weapons, to the point where now they
are part of the conventional arsenal. In 2002, when the "Nuclear Posture Review" policy document was leaked
and criticized, the Defense Department argued that it was just a "wide-ranging
analysis of the requirements of deterrence" and that it "does not provide
operational guidance on nuclear targeting or planning." Such "operational
guidance" was recently provided and leaked to the press (possibly to gauge public reaction,
which unfortunately has been almost nonexistent) in the "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations" [.pdf] document,
which describes many specific scenarios in which the U.S.
will use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries, scenarios that apply specifically to the Iran situation.
- The scuttling of the NPT Review Conference of 2005, caused mainly
by the refusal of the U.S. to include on the agenda issues related to nuclear
disarmament and negative security assurances, which are of primary interest
to non-nuclear states;
- The declaration by the IAEA on Sept. 24, 2005 [.pdf], that Iran
is in noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and thus subject to nuclear attack by the U.S.;
- The placement of 150,000 U.S. troops within the range of Iranian missiles and
Why are nuclear weapons an indispensable part of the enterprise? Because conventional
military action against Iran would
be very costly and would likely lead to disaster. Iran has dozens of Shahab 3 missiles that can reach Israel and many more
short-range missiles that can target U.S. forces in Iraq, potentially with chemical
warheads. It also has a 7 million-strong Basiji volunteer militia and local
support from the Shi'ite population in southern Iraq, all of which would easily
overwhelm the 150,000 U.S. troops and the weak Iraqi army.
Before the U.S. invaded Iraq, a conventional aerial attack against Iranian
installations (like Israel did to Osirak's reactor in 1981) would also have been
futile. Iran's facilities are numerous, many are underground, and partial destruction
would only have led to a radicalization of Iran's regime and a full-scale drive
toward nuclear weapons.
However, to justify the breaking of the 60-year-old taboo against the use of nuclear weapons, it is
necessary for the lives of many Americans to be at stake. Otherwise, the American
public would not condone the use of nuclear weapons against Iran. By placing
U.S. forces within range of Iranian missiles and conventional forces, a situation
has been created in which the American public will support the use of nuclear
weapons to save thousands of American lives. This is why the invasion of Iraq
was a necessary prelude to the nuclear attack on Iran.
Most importantly, the value of nuclear weapons as a deterrent is emphasized
in Defense Department policy, and it will undeniably enhance their
deterrent effect to demonstrate that the U.S. is ready to use nuclear weapons, lest
the world forget after 60 long years of dormancy that nuclear weapons are for
Why a Nuclear Attack on Iran Is a Bad Idea
Now that we have outlined what is very close to
happening, let us discuss briefly why everything possible should be done to
In a worst-case scenario, the attack will cause a violent reaction from Iran.
Millions of "human wave" Iranian militias will storm into Iraq, and just
as Saddam stopped them with chemical weapons, the U.S. will stop them
with nuclear weapons, resulting potentially in hundreds of thousands of casualties.
The Middle East will explode, and popular uprisings in Pakistan, Saudi Arabia,
and other countries with pro-Western governments could be overtaken by radical
regimes. Pakistan already has nuclear weapons, and a nuclear conflict could
even lead to Russia's and Israel's involvement using nuclear weapons.
In a best-case scenario, the U.S. will destroy all nuclear, chemical, and missile
facilities in Iran with conventional and low-yield nuclear weapons in a lightning
surprise attack, and Iran will be paralyzed and decide not to retaliate for
fear of a vastly more devastating nuclear attack. In the short term, the U.S.
will succeed, leaving no Iranian nuclear program, civilian or otherwise. Iran
will no longer threaten Israel, a regime change will ensue, and a pro-Western
government will emerge.
However, even in the best-case scenario, the long-term consequences are dire.
The nuclear threshold will have been crossed by a nuclear superpower against
a non-nuclear country. Many more countries will rush to get their own nuclear
weapons as a deterrent. With no taboo against the use of nuclear weapons, they
will certainly be used again. Nuclear conflicts will occur within the next 10
to 20 years, and will escalate until much of the world is destroyed. Let us
remember that the destructive power of existing nuclear arsenals is approximately
one million times that of the Hiroshima bomb, enough to erase
Earth's population many times over.
Furthermore, despite all the U.S. and Israeli
allegations, there is not a shred of real evidence that Iran is pursuing nuclear
weapons. The fact that it hid its nuclear program for many years is understandable,
given that the
U.S. imposed sanctions on Iran and first accused it of pursuing nuclear weapons many years ago.
Since 2003, all Iranian nuclear activities have been open and accessible to
the IAEA, and Iran has signed an additional protocol that allows unannounced
inspections of all its facilities. Iran would not be able to develop nuclear
weapons under these conditions even if it wanted to. Finally, Iran has offered
to enter into partnerships with foreign companies to provide additional assurances
that its uranium enrichment is devoted solely to civilian purposes. Recall that
uranium enrichment for reactors is at 3-5 percent levels, while weapons require
90 percent levels, which demands a qualitatively different effort.
Can a Nuclear Attack Be Averted?
The reader will notice that this section is very
short. Creative ideas are needed!
Because the United States is counting on the "nuclear option" to ensure the
success of military action against Iran, it is not seriously pursuing diplomatic
alternatives, such as negotiating directly with Iran to reach an agreement on
a civilian nuclear program under strict international supervision.
It is essential to debate whether the U.S. should use nuclear weapons against
Iran before it happens rather than after. In the case of Hiroshima, because
the existence of nuclear bombs was classified information, a public discussion
on whether nuclear bombs should have been used against Japan to end World War
II could not occur. Many physicists who were part of the Manhattan Project in 1945 urged the government
not to use the newly developed weapons, but their calls went unheeded.
Today, a public debate can occur. The scenarios described in the Pentagon document [.pdf] in which the U.S. would use nuclear
weapons include "for rapid and favorable war termination on U.S. terms,"
against "an adversary intending to use WMD against U.S., multinational, or alliance
forces," and "to demonstrate U.S. intent and capability to use nuclear
weapons." These are not acceptable scenarios. It is not in the best
interests of the United States nor the rest of the world for the U.S. to base
its military planning on such policies, because if it does so a situation will
inevitably arise in which no alternative will be left, as in the case considered
here. There has to be a public discussion in the media, online, and in Congress.
Unless there is an extraordinary outcry of opposition against such policies,
they are bound to be implemented in the very near future.