Thursday, April 12, 2007

Is Iran More Than a Match for the West?

Winds of Change looks at two assessments of whether the West can pressure Iran. Foreign Affairs says 'no'. Iran is too powerful. One can only hope for detente. "In order to develop a smarter Iran policy, U.S. leaders must first accept certain distasteful facts - such as Iran's ascendance as a regional power and the endurance of its regime - and then ask how those can be accommodated." A less academically prestigious magazine, Azure, says, 'yes': that compared to taking on the old USSR, Iran is a pushover by comparison.

By most measures, Iran is an easier mark than the Soviet Union. It does not yet have nuclear weapons or icbms; its Islamist ideology has less of a universal appeal; its tools of thought control are vastly inferior to the gulag and the KGB; and its revolution is not old enough to have obliterated the memory of better days for much of its population. In theory at least, it should be much easier for the West to mount a similar campaign of relentless pressure on the regime - from fomenting dissent online, to destabilizing the regime through insurgent groups inside Iran, to destroying the Iranian nuclear project, to ever-deeper economic sanctions, to fighting and winning the proxy wars that Iran has continued to wage - in order to effect the kind of change of momentum needed to enable the Iranian people to bring their own regime down the way the peoples under communism did in the 1980s and 1990s.

Noah Pollack, of Azure is very often in the Middle East with Michael Totten and his opinion is not to be discounted. The question is whether it is Iran, and not some wider pan-Islamic ideology that has to be contained. Iran is an easier enemy to handle than the gangster regime of Bolsheviks in Russia. But Islam may be a tougher proposition, having already survived more than a millenium against all comers.

But if one examines Islam itself, then history provides more than a few examples of its vulnerability as an imperium. The Mongols nearly destroyed it at its height. Europe ran roughshod over it in the 19th century.

So is Iran vulnerable to the West? You decide. But as to whether the West is vulnerable to Iran, is that an easier question to answer? Or does it depend on who's in charge?


Blogger Karridine said...

Wretchard, I found THIS rather telling (from 'Azure'):
"A once-friendly state has embarked on an unflinching campaign, at considerable cost to its own economy, to attain the status of a global power:..."

Therein lies the nugget, the core of Western hope and the center of Iran's coming losses, namely, that the cost of Iran's quest for power CANNOT be met by Iran under the conditions imposed by its ruthless "Mullah-ocracy".

The USSR had complete control over the education, the entertainment, the goals, the supplies and the economy of its hapless Comrades.

Iran has something LIKE this, but is now suffering a 20% adult drug-dependency problem; widespread prostitution by Iranian women trying to get enough CASH/FOOD to ensure their childrens' survival; unemployment; and an oil-exporting industry just barely on the producing side of total breakdown.

When a nation's leaders choose "Us Leaders" over Baha'u'llah, the Iranian disease-state is the outward manifestation of applying yesterday's solutions to today's problems.

4/12/2007 06:57:00 AM  
Blogger Oengus Moonbones said...

Is it possible that our government already knows that Iran has some knukes—courtesy of the Norks, perhaps, in exchange for a little cash? (Or maybe they got lucky with some black marketeers in Belarus?) And therefore for that reason our government knows it can't touch them?

Perhaps the knukes are already prepositioned in certain American cities but our government doesn't know exactly where?

Maybe it went something like this over the phone:

Bush: "Knock it off killing our troop in Iraq with whatits and IDEs."

Achmadinejad: "So what are ya gonna do about it?"

Bush: "I can get mean really fast."

Achmadinejad: "Hee, hee. And how many American cities are you prepared to lose. Check your fax machine because I'll send you a picture of one of our devices. Crude perhaps it is, but believe me it will work. Unless you are feeling lucky."

4/12/2007 07:02:00 AM  
Blogger Chris said...

Such prepositioned nukes would actually have to be maintained by the IGRC. More than likely, those nukes would be kept in Iran, under close supervision by said Revolutionary Guards Corps. I seriously doubt that they would smuggle them in here. They simply don't have enough.

4/12/2007 07:45:00 AM  
Blogger David M said...

Trackbacked by The Thunder Run - Web Reconnaissance for 04/12/2007
A short recon of what’s out there that might draw your attention.

4/12/2007 10:24:00 AM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

Britain couldn't challenge Germany in the 1930s. They chose to 'accomodate.'

If our military isn't strong enough for anything but appeasement to be an option, then we should make a bigger military! Thats what Britain should have done in the 1930s, and they ended up having to do it anyway.

We need it to deter Iran, and if they decide to go to war with us we will need a bigger army to win.

Either way, it's clear that the Army does not have enough soldiers. When we don't have any diplomatic options when dealing with a smallish country like Iran, we have to wonder why that is. Where's all that money going?

4/12/2007 10:30:00 AM  
Blogger Lord Acton said...


Another provocative post. As you know, I think a lot about the decline of the West. This is something that is written about frequently here and at the EB.

But it is important to see the whole picture. Islamism may seem resurgent, the bloody borders and all that, but is it really?

The Islamic world is also in decline, far further along the down slope than the West, in fact. The violence that we find so threatening is really a death spasm.

Look at the how the Islamic nations are consuming themselves with violence as a result of their underdevelopment, corruption and warped worldview. The list of Islamic nations in civil war grows apace (e.g. Morocco and Algeria). Wherever the Islamists have gained control they have soon enough become despised.

We here focus on the moral relatavism, cynicism and nihilism of our elites, but look at what the Islamofascists are offering: death and repression.

George Bush get tagged an idiot for saying it, but ultimately freedom WILL have a lot more takers than Sharia. Reagan was similiarly branded a moron when he spoke to parliment and predicted that Communism would soon wind up on the ash heap of history. Sometimes the "fool" possesses an insight into the truth that sophisticates are oblivious to.

4/12/2007 10:46:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4/12/2007 10:53:00 AM  
Blogger Mətušélaḥ said...

I disagree that what is needed is a "stronger" US military. North Korea hasn't any nukes, nor has Iran. The problem with NOKOR is China. No such sponsor exists for Iran. To my eyes, the Iranian Mullahs are extremely vulnerable both economically and military. Though the Iranian Mullahs have been able to bamboozle some observers into false perceptions through extreme aggression, if anyone was to really test these false perceptions, they will very quickly find that there's nothing more to it than extremely desperate propaganda.

4/12/2007 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Dan said...

Halving the Army in the 1990s was extremely short-sighted. However, if we should need more troops, there some to be had in Germany and Japan. Perhaps China and Russia would be more willing to help with the prospect of a re-armed Japan and Germany on its borders "due to American strain."

But honestly, how could Iran be more powerful than us?

Geographically speaking, isn't the primary invasion point reasonably concentrated in the north? I think that's where Saddam invaded, and looking at Google Earth it looks like there's this gigantic deep crescent of mountains in the West.

In fact, wouldn't the best possible way to form the Iraqi army into a national army be to engage them in a war against their Persian neighbor? Would they really be worse than Iranian troops?

I'm sorry, I know it would result in temporary chaos, but I just can't see how a regional war with Iran is a losing proposition.

Even if the worst possible scenario of a nuclear attack on a US city were in the cards - isn't that precisely what is in the cards anyway? Isn't that the strategic problem we're addressing now? Russia is a basket case and content to use its oil leverage; India is interested only in Kashmir and Pakistan to the extent it is interested in projecting power; China is fearful of a nuclear and even a generally re-arming Japan. Should Iran nuke up, the diplomatic justification for an Egyptian, Saudi, and Turkish bomb would probably be overwhelming.

Do we want these goddamn barbarians to have more nukes than books they publish every year?

Obviously, we must hit Iran. It might even get us the Arab street cred we need.

This problem must be solved, and Iran - which could have just laid low and deprived the West (USA) of every diplomatic advantage in the current appeasing environment - cannot be dealt with until its government is destroyed and discredited.

It would solve Syria, it would solve Lebanon, it would deprive Russia and China from a major spoiler, it would deprive Venezuela of its big weapon.

Sooner or later we're going to have suck it up. Might as well be sooner.

4/12/2007 11:03:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

As to the larger question.

Iran is beatable. However, Iran is just a hydra head. We lopped off the Afghani head, we lopped off an Iraqi head and heads reconstruct themselves in Somalia (to be lopped off but the beast is not dead) and Waziristan and countless tiny heads.

The USSR was a tall tree with shallow roots. Radical Islam is a widely spread & well rooted grass. From all accounts not many in the old USSR had a deep faith in Marxism, but it is different with Islam.

4/12/2007 11:04:00 AM  
Blogger RWE said...

Just as Vietnam and the Bay of Pigs were not really about the dauntless indomitable will of Third World Communists, so is Iran's invulnerability not about the the regime's capabilities.

The Soviets were big enough and just competant enough to get us interested in defending ourselves -and did so at a time in which an American kid pouring his bowl full of Cheerios in the morning was delighted to find an itsy bitsy model of a B-47 included.

So, in 1960 we had something like 600 B-47's on alert. And those were just the MEDIUM bombers.

Put on even 5% of the effort we did to tackle the USSR and Iran will fold like a Potemkin Village made of Saran Wrap and wire coathangers.

Sending 5% of those 600 B-47's alone would do the job. But instead we will send Nancy Pelosi.

And one day we'll probably even find little statutes of her in our cereal.

4/12/2007 11:05:00 AM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...


Reducing the military in times of peace in our nation is as natural and predictable as breathing.

4/12/2007 11:06:00 AM  
Blogger Yashmak said...

Agreed. It is fear to grow it in time of need that is unnatural.

4/12/2007 11:24:00 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

Europe is having nothing to do with "deepening economic sanctions."
American policy and the global war against al Qaeda, associated groups and nations that support them—Iran and Syria—are collapsing

Carl von Clausewitz, the 19th century Prussian soldier-philosopher, posited a “primordial triangle” consisting of three legs: policy, the people and the army.

1. The policy leg was still-born when President George W. Bush declared war on “terror.”
Essentially the West is at war with Islamist Jihadists—namely Al Qaeda and groups like Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad, and nations that support them, specifically Iran and Syria.
Without a clearly defined enemy, the U.S. military has been unable to develop an appropriate strategy.

2. Second, Bush lost the second leg of the primordial triangle, the people, last November. Americans are impatient and that impatience wears even thinner when they do not know who they are fighting or why.
The American people want clear war aims and a policy focused on victory.

3. The armed forces constitute the third leg of the primordial triangle and ours remain the world’s best. The U.S. Army and Marine brigades that stormed to Baghdad in the spring of 2003 performed superbly. They continue to be well-led, well-trained and highly-motivated. Nevertheless, the Army, and perhaps to a lesser extent the Marine Corps, are in danger of collapsing.

Al Qaeda, Iran, Hezbollah, Syria and their supporters are on the same road to victory trod by North Vietnam 40 years ago—a road paved with superior strategy.
Their strategy of erosion simply is more appropriate than our strategy, which is unclear and ill-defined.
Superior strategy wins wars.

4/12/2007 12:20:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

Fellow Peacekeeper said...

Winning????? You cannot be serious.
Jeeeezus wept.

We (civilization) are being flogged like a child. Bin Laden is sitting in his mud hut and laughing. Al Quaida shrinks but Islam awakes. Islamism has spread like metastizing cancer since 2001.

4/12/2007 12:24:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"And one day we'll probably even find little statutes of her in our cereal. "
THAT comment is more offensive than Imus, RWE!

4/12/2007 12:27:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

We need an intense, vicious, covert war on our enemies. Unfortunately our political system will not allow this.

4/12/2007 12:38:00 PM  
Blogger wretchard said...

The probable goal of Iran is to create, as the Communists once described the Soviet Union, a "strategic rear" for world Islamic revolution. An inviolate sanctuary where suicide bombers, agitators and bombs can be mass-manufactured, protected under a nuclear umbrella.

At the rate things are going, Iran will achieve this goal within a few years. North Korea was too poor to make itself into a strategic site for anything but misery; and at any rate, its state religion, Stalinism, had by then been rejected nearly universally, except in the universities and intellectual circles of the enlightened West. However, Islam -- even Shi'a Islam -- is a far more robust beast than poor old European Stalinism. What was impossible for North Korea looks feasible for Iran.

Moreover, objectively speaking Islam is far less repulsive to the masses than Western Communism was. Compared to the gulags, concentration camps, mass starvations, human experiments, purges, pogroms, deportations, and general dreariness etc which characterized the Vanguard of the Future, Islam is relatively benign. Relatively being the operative word. If Communism, which was a total failure in every respect, haunted the world for nearly a century, could not Islam fare better?

And unlike the Soviet Union, the wealth of Islam is paradoxically countercyclical. Due to an accident of nature, much of the world's oil is found in their countries. The more inefficient and troublesome they are, the more their oil is worth. Iran may be producing less, but that is counteracted by the fact that it can charge more for interrupting its own supplies.

All in all the global Islamic challenge is a threat which the West, especially the European West, has underrated. And like the challenge to an earlier totalitarianism, it is responding far too slowly and far too late.

4/12/2007 12:55:00 PM  
Blogger John Lynch said...

One way out is to stop buying oil.

Maybe buying into the Global Warming idea has its adavantages...

How long should we keep sending money to people who hate us?

There is a possible consensus within the West, Left and Right, that importing oil is a bad idea. We should find an alternative to oil. Not just for the 'planet' but for our own security.

It wasn't possible 30 years ago. Now it is.

4/12/2007 01:19:00 PM  
Blogger CW said...

Foreign Affairs starts out correctly when it writes that the distasteful facts are that Iran is a ragional power and that its mullahcracy has endured. However, the key question is NOT how Iran's regime must be accomodated. Instead, the key question is how to advance American interests against the headway of those distasteful facts. If the USA's interests cannot be advanced save by overthrow of Iran's corrupt regime, then put them out, either by direct or indirect means.


4/12/2007 01:52:00 PM  
Blogger PeterBoston said...

I think that Iran has survived as a state under the mullahs more from disinterest by the West than from its own accomplishments. If we removed oil from the Iranian GDP there is barely enough economic activity to buy turbans never mind food.

Unemployment is very high. According to Michael Leeden many workers have not been paid for more than one year. The oft hoped for revolution has not occurred but it's probably fair to say that as time goes by more and more state resources are required to keep the population under control. I'm sure it is not lost on the Iranian people that Hizbullah in Lebanon gets more cash than public works at home.

Iran supports Sunni Islamists all over the world but it's doubtful that many Sunnis (including Syria) would spend their money or their sons to support Shia Iran if it came down to a shooting match with the USA. The Soviets had millions of recruits in its satellite countries. Iran has none.

To call Iran a powerful enemy that can only be dealt with by detente is ridiculous on its face. Too many in the West grossly overestimate the military power of the Islamists. Who can forget the MSM hysteria about the undefeatable Taliban or Saddam's mighty minions? Our two carrier battle groups already in the AO are probably sufficient to defeat Iran's conventional military.

That's not to say that Iran's unconventional forces like Hizbullah cannot create incidents of mayhem around the world but neither Hizbullah nor AQ have the ability to change the government in any semi-industrialized country.

The real danger to the West is passive surrender.

4/12/2007 02:00:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"Moreover, objectively speaking Islam is far less repulsive to the masses than Western Communism was."
Moreover, just about everything is less repulsive to the West, since we have been led to believe we are all equal, except for the exceptional sins of the west.
Vonnegut was also the author of "Harrison Bergeron," a wonderful short story that makes the utterly conservative point that forced equality is the enemy of freedom.

It's amazing to think that an ACLU socialist wrote it.

Here's the first paragraph:

THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

NR Corner

4/12/2007 02:39:00 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

"I'm sure it is not lost on the Iranian people that Hizbullah in Lebanon gets more cash than public works at home."
That was indeed reported by someone there on the ground at the time of the Lebanon recreational rocket shoot.

4/12/2007 02:46:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

Oil cannot (carnot?) be removed from the power/money equation no matter what we choose. If the free world gave up oil 100 percent (not in ANY way possible) 1. the price would plummet, 2. that cheap oil would be in demand by the third world.

Free nations working in cooperation is one path towards removing tyrants. That path no longer has a rug to walk on, the rug has been removed by allies and enemies.

4/12/2007 03:18:00 PM  
Blogger Arthur Dent said...

The Carnot Cycle:

"...Every thermodynamic system exists in a particular state. A thermodynamic cycle occurs when a system is taken through a series of different states, and finally returned to its initial state. In the process of going through this cycle, the system may perform work on its surroundings, thereby acting as a heat engine.

A heat engine acts by transferring energy from a warm region to a cool region of space and, in the process, converting some of that energy to mechanical work. The cycle may also be reversed. The system may be worked upon by an external force, and in the process, it can transfer thermal energy from a cooler system to a warmer one, thereby acting as a refrigerator rather than a heat engine...."

I trust we are transferring something. I hope.

4/12/2007 03:21:00 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

The reality here is that we don't want to "knock" Iran off. We wouldn't mind making the current government weak enough internally to allow for a natural, hopefully calm "revolution" that puts other people in charge, but, at the end of the day even with the potential that they are giving weapons to both shia and sunni, like the USSR, they still have control and influence.

We just want them to be influenced towards "controlling" these actors.

To topple Iran in a violent outside or even internal method would unleash certain actors inside and outside of Iran. The Baluchis and the Iranian Kurds, the extremists and the moderates.

You have to get by now that we want to weaken them economically at least, yet not have them totally destroyed. We don't see it as beneficial. the same reason we walk softly in Egypt or Saudi Arabia.

It is detente diplomacy, you just haven't recognized it yet for all the rhetoric.

4/12/2007 04:09:00 PM  
Blogger Chavo said...

There's been a lot of discussion in weeks past about letting loose the dogs of war on Iran. While it should be fairly obvious that Iran is no match for the US militarily. The fact of the matter is we have a lame duck President, with no political capital to wage war on Iran, not to mention the fact that the political (and bureacratic)establishment in the US want to bleed Bush by a thousand cuts.

And forget about Europe or NATO.

The only way to make war on Iran is if they did something so spectacularly obvious that we'd be forced to engage them and the American public would support it. Barring that, it ain't gonna happen.

As an afterthought, strategically success in Iraq and Afghanistan makes a nice vice around Iran, with which to make mischief. Iran not being stupid most likely realizes this, and does what it does best, namely proxy war in Iraq to keep us tied up, and then let the press/politicians do the rest.

4/12/2007 04:10:00 PM  
Blogger Eggplant said...

Marcus Aurelius said...

"The USSR was a tall tree with shallow roots. Radical Islam is a widely spread & well rooted grass. From all accounts not many in the old USSR had a deep faith in Marxism, but it is different with Islam."

That's a great analogy. The obvious response is to stop "watering the lawn".

Before oil was discovered, Islamic fanaticism was merely a medieval relic. It was something that xenophiles like T.E. Lawrence and Richard Burton found interesting but was irrelevant to the rest of the western world. The threat of Islamic fascism will disappear after "peak oil" has come and gone. The trick is to avoid getting nuked and/or having World War IV before the fascists fade away.

4/12/2007 05:11:00 PM  
Blogger Al Reasin said...

Iran has a different problem than communist societies. While, as with Hungary, Cuba and other problem areas for communism we took in their dissenters, each country remained closed. After the Shah was overthrown the West took in many Iranians, but the Iranian society, while tightly controlled, is not yet closed. As a commentator stated, there are still memories of how it was. Since Iran has very large minorities with their own agendas, the regime has to be careful what it does. They recently had a minor rebellion when a cartoon was printed perceived as insulting a minority group, while the Kurds in Northeastern Iran are involved a quiet, under reported rebellion. Even a large segment the college students are anti-regime due to the imposition of religious restrictions on academic and personnel freedom. With 70% of Iranians are under 30 years of age, they are not the group to antagonize and it has limited internet access; we obviously should not do anything overt that could cause the younger population to switch to rallying to support the government. How to define what would trigger that reaction is the big question, I believe. Hell, we can’t determine what will cause our own citizens to support the government in our confrontation against Islamicfascism.

The refinery in Abadan reportedly produces the vast majority of the Iranian produced gasoline and the remainder is imported fuel comes from the Gulf States, some 60% of their gasoline is imported. Regions in Iran already have gas rationing and the government’s plan to halt its massive gasoline imports and impose fuel rationing across the country may do to the regime what we can’t make up our mind to do (

The US now controls Iran’s access for importing fuel and exporting oil in the Gulf. Likewise, they can do as they did during the 1988 Tanker War and attempt to close the Straits to prevent exporting oil to China, Japan and Western Europe. If they were successful, I’m sure it would be said it our fault as usual. We kept the Gulf open and effectively defeated them during that year long confrontation in 1988.

Now we do know that they have more modern and extensive coastal defense capabilities, as their new weaponry demonstrated to the Israelis off the coast of Lebanon; but we also have improved out weapons over the years. I do believe that the battle, if it comes to that, would be much bloodier on our side and an invasion of Iraq by unconventional forces would be a good possibility. Invading Iran is not an option but choking off their access to imports and ability to export would be possible. Of course the price of oil would go way up and our supposed Western allies would start their crying and whining. There would be attacks on the Gulf States and American causalities. With BDS running amuck now, political attacks on President Bush and an attempt to impeach him, would gain momentum. I’ve come to the conclusion that if we are being accused of actions we didn’t do, we might as well do them and tell the accusers to shut up or they will be next. We had better wake up and do something, but I’m afraid that it may be a race to see if Pakistan beats Iran to have the radical Islamicfascists obtain nuclear weapons. Either way, the West will be placed in a more dangerous position since these guys have amply demonstrated that they do not have the same cultural survival mechanism as the West and are willing to take causalities beyond what we would consider an option in warfare.

4/12/2007 05:34:00 PM  
Blogger RWE said...

Doug, you are a nappy-headed rake.

By the way, I hear that Heather Locklear is available again.

4/12/2007 05:50:00 PM  
Blogger Marcus Aurelius said...

To extend the analogy, I would liken radical Islam to crab-grass, that skulks amongst the good grass.

The idea is to attack & kill the crab-grass without turning the rest of the yard into weeds.

4/12/2007 06:04:00 PM  
Blogger USpace said...

These terrorist monkeys must be stopped, the west must encourage and help the Iranian resistance...

absurd thought -
God of the Universe says
help your enemy's foes

claim you do not want war
insist that you are peaceful

4/15/2007 07:00:00 PM  

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