Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Potential for a US Strike on Iran?

I have received numerous emails regarding Bob Baer’s article in Time magazine that was published on August 18th asking my take on whether a strike will happen in the next six months and if recent Bush administration moves are signaling a move towards military confrontation.

The opening to the article is key:
"Officials I talk to in Washington vote for a hit on the IRGC [Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps], maybe within the next six months. And they think that as long as we have bombers and missiles in the air, we will hit Iran's nuclear facilities. An awe and shock campaign, lite, if you will. But frankly they're guessing; after Iraq the White House trusts no one, especially the bureaucracy."

First of all, it might be a good time to point out that numerous experts, even with reputable backgrounds, have been predicting a US attack on Iran in the next six months for the last couple of years. It hasn’t happened yet, which of course is a good thing and I don’t want it to happen.

I do believe that, yes, there elements in the Administration, particularly Vice President Cheney and his advisors, who are pushing for war. There are also others in the Administration, such as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, who have been pushing for the “change in regime behavior”/"diplomacy" route.

The IRGC are both a political and military force in Iran and its members are embedded in the country’s political and economic structure. It is not clear who controls the force, though they are under the nominal control of the Supreme Leader. They act as self-appointed guardians of the revolution and they are likely to undermine any proponents of reform and moderation inside Iran. They also are likely to undermine proponents of engagement with the US or the West.

Neither the military nor the Bush administration has provided any substantiated evidence regarding its claims of IRGC’s involvement in Iraq. More than anything else, the possible move to label the IRGC as a terrorist organization has more to do with political showmanship and satisfying target audiences, such as Members of Congress who have been pushing for strengthened unilateral sanctions. But, the potential move will only undermine US security interests rather than enhance them, including hampering talks with Iran over Iraq security. Also, the potential designation of the IRGC on the terrorist list will really bring more of a backlash for Iranian citizens.

A hit on Iran’s nuclear sites would also not be in the strategic interest of the US. While a US military attack on Iran’s nuclear sites may temporarily push back the country’s program, but it would also strengthen the hand of hardliners in Iran who are pushing for nuclear weapons and rally the Iranian people around the flag.

Indeed, it is clear that the Bush administration’s present course of increased saber rattling is disconcerting and will only undermine efforts towards rapprochement with Iran. We need to do everything we can to demonstrate there are viable alternatives and that diplomacy has not been exhausted. We should also exercise caution in overhyping any potential US strike but without underestimating forces that wish to initiate it.

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