The (for any rational human being) bizarre possibility
U.S. nuclear strike against Iran first reached public consciousness in early
April 2006, when investigative reporter Seymour Hersh
wrote in the New Yorker magazine that it was
one of six plans being considered by the administration. Now Hersh reports
the plan is off the table. Hersh is wrong on both counts. The "nuclear option"
against Iran was, and still is, the
only game in town.
Hersh's powerful microscope reveals a treasure trove of raw data invisible
to the naked eye ,
. But as in science, it is essential to analyze the experimental observations
to understand their true meaning; otherwise, one may be fooled into a
dangerous illusion by taking them at face value. Notwithstanding Hersh's
latest revelations, a
nuclear strike on Iran is still an option on the table. The president
has not publicly taken it off, after
confirming on April 18 that
it is among the options being considered. And Hersh's latest article, by
suggesting that an attack on Iran without that option is utterly unfeasible,
in fact provides evidence that the intention is still to exercise this option,
which has been in the planning for a long time.
Hersh reports strong resistance from the military to the plans to attack
Iran, welcome news. Because of
Congress' complete capitulation, the military carries the additional burden
of having to bring up the political and economic reasons that make the idea
a disastrous folly. Unfortunately, there is no indication that the administration
will not simply brush off the military's concerns, given that the diplomatic
path continues to be purposefully
designed to fail.
strategy is clear. The administration succeeded in
getting "the world" united in declaring that Iran has to suspend uranium
enrichment. It is the only thing that Bush could get
Russia and China to agree on, but it's enough. If
Iran doesn't suspend, it is defying "the world." If it suspends, the
IAEA seals will be put in place, the Bush administration
will make sure
negotiations fail, and when Iran
breaks the "tripwire"
seals, it will be defying the world. Either way, the world "share[s]
our assessment of the danger, but not our resolve to meet it."
Son of Iraq, paraphrasing Hersh.
Nukes Are Not Off
Hersh reports in his
latest article (July 3) that "Bush and Cheney were dead serious about the
nuclear planning," confirming what we said in our column
of Nov. 12, 2005: "The U.S. plan to nuke Iran will continue moving forward,
focused and unrelenting." He reports that "
Pace stood up to them," and as a consequence, in late April "The
White House took [the nuclear option] off." "[I]t's no longer in the option
plan." In our March
10 column, "Gen. Pace to Troops: Don't Nuke Iran," we anticipated that
Pace would oppose the use of nuclear weapons against Iran. But this does
not mean that the nuclear option is off the table: rather, it means that
Pace is likely to be on his way out the door.
April 17 article, Hersh reported that "one of the military's initial option
plans, as presented to the White House by the Pentagon this winter, calls for
the use of a bunker buster tactical nuclear weapon, such as the B61-11, against
underground nuclear sites."
In his latest article, Hersh gets it right: "[T]he brass feel they were
tricked into it – the nuclear planning – by being asked to provide
all options in the planning papers." Indeed, as we wrote in our Nov. 1,
2005 column, "The strategic decision by the United States to nuke Iran was
probably made long ago," by the civilian leadership,
fed it to military planners and now, according to Hersh, "feels extraordinarily
betrayed by the brass." They may have taken the option out of discussion, but
According to the
Nuclear Posture Review of 2001, nuclear weapons are envisioned in response
military developments," so they cannot have been ruled out unconditionally
in a potential military confrontation with Iran. And be assured that what "surprising"
means is in the eyes of the beholder, and Cheney and Rumsfeld's ability to be
"surprised" should not be underestimated if it fits their goals. "Rumsfeld and
Cheney are the pushers of this – they don't want to repeat the mistake
of doing too little," reports Hersh from one of his trusted sources, "so
the air war in Iran will be one of overwhelming force." Even as it reports
that the nuclear option is off the table, Hersh's article is confirming that
it is on, since "overwhelming force" is
a euphemism frequently used in lieu of "nuclear weapons."
The excuse for using nuclear weapons will
necessity," arising from "surprising military developments." For
example, we may hear of an "imminent
threat" from Iranian WMD,
chemical or biological,
buried underground in Natanz or some other facility. The success of the whole
enterprise is predicated on the use of nuclear weapons. Hersh's article
is subtitled "The military's problem with the president's Iran policy," and
it makes very clear the multitude of military problems that a conventional attack
on Iran entails. Clearly, the hope is that an attack including nuclear weapons
will scare Iran into immediate capitulation: "rapid
and favorable war termination on US terms."
The military chain
of command runs from the president to the secretary of defense to the unified
combatant commanders, bypassing the Joint Chiefs, who have no executive authority,
according to the Goldwater-Nichols
Act. The Joint Chiefs
play an advisory role. The decision to employ nuclear weapons is solely
the president's (NSC-30,
1948), who will seek advice from the nuclear hawks
that surround him (by design): Rumsfeld, Cheney,
Hadley, Cambone, Joseph, Schneider, Crouch II, Brooks, Bolton. He will also
desired "advice" from commanders on the ground, Gen. Abizaid and Gen. Cartwright.
Gen. Pace, if he still holds his job, will be outvoted by a large margin. And
it will all be perfectly legal.
President Truman's top military advisers
were all reportedly opposed to the use of nuclear weapons against Japan
in 1945. That did not stop the civilian leadership. It will not stop them this
The Real Reason for Nuking Iran
Hersh himself unwittingly reveals the key
reason why Iran will be nuked: he reports that
the Air Force argued that conventional rather than nuclear bunker busters
should be used against the Natanz underground facility, because they would achieve
the objective "without provoking an outcry over what would be the first use
of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since Nagasaki." That is the problem.
The opposition of the military to the nuclear strike option is confirming
the nuclear hawks'
worst nightmare: nuclear weapons
are becoming unusable, and as a consequence, they are not
"credible" as a "deterrent." Today, Iran is not deterred from continuing
its enrichment program by the threat of a U.S. nuclear strike, because, as the
Hersh article tells us, such an action would be "politically unacceptable."
Fast forward five years into the future, a news report of July 2011: "The
White House is considering a tactical nuclear strike against underground facilities
of [fill in your favorite 'rogue state'] suspected of hiding WMD, in what would
be the first use of a nuclear weapon in a conflict since Natanz. The leadership
of [rogue state] is very worried." And in October 2011: "In what was hailed
as a major victory for U.S. strong-arm diplomacy, [rogue state] agreed to close
down its underground facilities. Democrats and Republicans in Congress praised
the president for having achieved an important U.S. goal without the use of
Indeed, a 2006 low-yield nuclear strike on Natanz or any other Iranian underground
facility that causes relatively little "collateral damage" will achieve the
key objective: to make the U.S. "nuclear deterrent" against relatively minor
The memories of the extensive death and destruction inflicted in the first
and last uses of nuclear weapons in war, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, are still seared
in the public consciousness and are associated with any kind of nuclear weapon.
These memories will not disappear, and the passage of time only reinforces the
general view that nuclear weapons are unusable, making a new use increasingly
more difficult. Once a "
reduced collateral damage" hit on a facility using a low-yield nuclear bunker
buster has been accomplished, it will establish the credibility of the
new U.S. nuclear posture, and future adversaries will be effectively dissuaded
undertaking military programs or operations that could threaten U.S. interests
or those of allies and friends."
Both Democrats and Republicans will be happy that the U.S. nuclear arsenal
will effectively play from then on its
designated role [.pdf] as a "credible deterrent."
The U.S. secretary
of defense is on a mission to transform the
military so that the United States can achieve its military objectives "on the cheap."
There is no cheaper way than the threat, and if necessary the use, of our nuclear
arsenal. We have already spent over
$5 trillion for it, so why waste it?
After Nuking Iran
In the best, even if utterly improbable, scenario,
the U.S. will succeed in deterring Iranian retaliation by the use of nuclear
weapons, Iran will be scared into immediate capitulation, regime change will
ensue, and a pro-Western government will take hold.
Back to the future. The aforementioned news reports of 2011 failed to mention
that another consequence of the Natanz nuclear strike was that Japan, Egypt,
Brazil, Argentina, the Philippines, Poland, Australia, and Saudi Arabia raced
full speed ahead since 2006 with clandestine efforts to develop nuclear weapons,
and all reached their goal by 2011. Many other former signatories of the (now
defunct) Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty followed closely behind.
America felt secure, with a strengthened nuclear deterrent. Until 2017.
Nobody anticipated the global nuclear war that erupted in 2017. It started
with a minor regional conflict, when nuclear state X decided to launch a low-yield
nuclear strike against supposedly non-nuclear state Y to deter a conventional
response from Y. Y responded with a 10-times stronger nuclear hit on state X
(Y had achieved nuclear weapons capability unbeknownst to the world). Weather conditions had changed by then in unanticipated
ways, and radioactive fallout killed tens of thousands of civilians in neighboring
states Z and W, which immediately entered the conflict. The war continued to
spread and escalate, engulfing the whole world, including America.
And nobody could anticipate the news reports of 2022, chiseled in stone, read
by a handful of survivors, speculating on the possible end dates of nuclear winter.
Will We Survive?
America needs to constrain
the authority of the president to order nuclear strikes against non-nuclear
states. Immediately. Change the law, change the Constitution. Congress is
derelict in its responsibility by continuing to ignore this imminent threat.
The United Nations needs to address the first-use of nuclear weapons, and
the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear states. Immediately.
The last use of nuclear weapons needs to remain Nagasaki, so that the world's
nuclear nations will be "deterred" from using nuclear weapons ever again. The
day the last use of nuclear weapons becomes Natanz, humanity will be irremediably
doomed. And the greatest democracy in the world will be responsible.