In a heart-warming display of holiday spirit, the New York Times runs a Christmas Eve op-ed, “There’s Only One Way to Stop Iran” by one Alan J. Kuperman, making the case for pre-emptive military strikes. The writer is named as “the director of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the University of Texas at Austin”—but this entity apparently isn’t important enough to rate its own web page. It appears to be a project of the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law. Pretty ironic, given that pre-emptive strikes on Iran without UN authorization would be clearly illegal. Maybe they should call it the Robert S. Strauss Center Against International Security and Law.
Kuperman starts off by offering that “President Obama should not lament but sigh in relief that Iran has rejected his nuclear deal,” which is dismissed as appeasement that would enable Iran’s nuclear ambitions. He concludes:
In sum, the proposal would not have averted proliferation in the short run, because that risk always was low, but instead would have fostered it in the long run—a classic example of domestic politics undermining national security.
In other words, Kuperman admits that Iran is still years away from the ability to produce nuclear weapons. You’d think this admission would take the edge off the urgency for illegal military strikes, giving time for further diplomatic efforts or regime change (with or without US assistance to the ever-more restive Iranian opposition). But no:
As for knocking out its nuclear plants, admittedly, aerial bombing might not work. Some Iranian facilities are buried too deeply to destroy from the air. There may also be sites that American intelligence is unaware of. And military action could backfire in various ways, including by undermining Iran’s political opposition, accelerating the bomb program or provoking retaliation against American forces and allies in the region.
Note that the only caveats he raises to the military option are tactical ones. Kuperman is unconcerned with the illegality of unilateral strikes, or with the grave ecological implications of bombing nuclear plants.
But history suggests that military strikes could work. Israel’s 1981 attack on the nearly finished Osirak reactor prevented Iraq’s rapid acquisition of a plutonium-based nuclear weapon and compelled it to pursue a more gradual, uranium-based bomb program.
Speaking of Israel, can you imagine the howls of protest if anyone would dare to suggest air-strikes against the Dimona nuclear research center? Israel is an outlaw state by any definition, which has in recent years gone to war against its neighbors and is facing UN scrutiny for war crimes—yet its already extant nuclear arsenal is not perceived as a global menace. Did you ever ask yourself—Why is that?
As for the risk of military strikes undermining Iran’s opposition, history suggests that the effect would be temporary. For example, NATO’s 1999 air campaign against Yugoslavia briefly bolstered support for President Slobodan Milosevic, but a democratic opposition ousted him the next year.
If you are going to invoke Iran’s opposition as a positive force, you might want to see what their leadership have to say about US military aggression—and they are uniformly and unequivocally against it. As we imagine most of the anti-Milosevic protesters were in Serbia. People generally don’t like being bombed by foreign powers any more than they like living under dictators.
Yes, Iran could retaliate by aiding America’s opponents in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it does that anyway.
Oh? Iraq’s insurgents and Afghanistan’s Taliban are Sunni extremists, and it is very unlikely that they are being backed by the Shi’ite fundamentalist state in Iran that they would love to destroy. Ironically, Iran is much closer to the US-backed government in Iraq, which is also Shi’ite fundamentalist! Talk about “backfiring”!
Incentives and sanctions will not work, but air strikes could degrade and deter Iran’s bomb program at relatively little cost or risk, and therefore are worth a try.
“Worth a try”? As if we were talking about how to unclog a backed-up sink? And “little risk” to whom? Certainly not the Iranians who would be irradiated as nuclear facilities are bombed! Nor would we be so sanguine about the risks to world and regional peace…
Negotiation to prevent nuclear proliferation is always preferable to military action. But in the face of failed diplomacy, eschewing force is tantamount to appeasement.
There we go again. It’s Munich 1938. Except that Iran hasn’t annexed any metaphorical Sudetenland, and is still (by the writer’s admission!) years away from developing an atomic weapon. So the implicit analogy is totally bogus. Oblivious, Kuperman concludes:
We have reached the point where air strikes are the only plausible option with any prospect of preventing Iran’s acquisition of nuclear weapons. Postponing military action merely provides Iran a window to expand, disperse and harden its nuclear facilities against attack. The sooner the United States takes action, the better.
These guys never learn, do they? Ironically, Jim Lobe’s LobeLog notes that Kuperman is currently a fellow at the Wilson Center where his project is to complete a book on “the moral hazard of humanitarian intervention”—and he was a vocal opponent of the pre-emptive war on Iraq! But Kuperman is entitled to his inconsistencies. What is alarming is that the New York Times is legitimizing illegal military aggression—even after the debacle of Iraq.
By the way, four and a half years ago, a similar Times op-ed—this one by Gary Milhollin, director of the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control—warned that Iran could have nuclear weapons within three years. Once again—they never learn, do they?