Stopping Iran Without Bombing Iran
Why is Mitt Romney pretending his plan for Iran is different than Obama's?
Or something like that. (This is one good reason, by the way, to keep some troops and military infrastructure in Kuwait, as Pentagon officials have proposed, after the last brigades leave Iraq.)
In other words, we could say to Iran explicitly, and display through our presence, “Your nukes don’t give you escalation dominance.”
This doesn’t fully solve the problem, of course. Containment and deterrence worked as well as they did in the Cold War, in part, because the Soviet leaders, wretched as they were in many ways, valued stability and (especially by the time of the atomic age) were in no way messianic. This isn’t true of the current Iranian regime. Another reason containment worked is that, over the years, the two superpowers developed early-warning radar systems and coded locks on their warheads. There’s no guarantee such things will come with an Iranian arsenal. Finally, Moscow and Washington were thousands of miles apart. If the radar screwed up (on several occasions, a flock of geese was mistaken for a missile attack), the commanders had half an hour to decide what to do. Tehran and Tel Aviv are five minutes apart. A tense situation and a false warning could trigger catastrophe.
For a lot of reasons, then, it would be best if Iran could somehow be dissuaded from building nuclear weapons.
Mitt Romney, the leading Republican presidential candidate, has an op-ed article in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal, “I Won’t Let Iran Get Nukes,” in which he contends that President Obama has “shredded” his credibility on this issue and “conveyed an image of American weakness.” A Romney administration, he writes, would have “a very different policy.” He would impose “a new round of far tougher economic sanctions … speak out forcefully on behalf of Iranian dissidents … back up American diplomacy with a very real and very credible military option … restore the regular presence of aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf region simultaneously … [and] increase military assistance to Israel.” These actions would “send an unequivocal signal to Iran that the United States, acting in concert with allies, will never permit Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”
If that’s true, this signal has already been sent. Exactly what “tougher economic sanctions,” beyond the extensive ones that the United States and the European Union have already put in place, does Romney propose? He doesn’t say. As for Iranian dissidents, helping them covertly might be a good idea, but experience shows that speaking out “forcefully” on their behalf only winds up getting every reform advocate thrown in jail.
Finally, what is this “very real and very credible military option” of which Romney speaks, and how does it differ from options that the Joint Chiefs of Staff have already drawn up? Why do we need aircraft carrier groups in the Mediterranean and the Persian Gulf simultaneously, when there are already two carrier groups dedicated to Central Command (well within firing range of Iran), in addition to all the other air, naval, and ground forces in the area? According to GlobalSecurity.org, the airplanes onboard one carrier have enough weapons to hit more than 1,000 targets in one collective flight. Isn’t that enough?
The Iran problem is very difficult, maybe the knottiest that the West faces today. Nobody knows what to do about it; every proposed response (including mine) carries risks and uncertainties. Romney is doing nothing but exploiting a sensitive national-security issue politically by pretending that he has some novel solution.
Some Republican should tell him that George W. Bush looked into this when he was president. Dick Cheney was pushing hard for an air strike (U.S., Israeli, or both) on the Iranian facilities. The Joint Chiefs war-gamed the scenarios. In some of them, the first couple of days looked good, then all hell broke loose, and finally the Iranians restored and repaired the damage in a couple years, with more support from other nations and their own people. Bush looked at these results and decided not to do it.
Even Romney’s op-ed piece doesn’t propose an actual attack. He doesn’t propose anything different from what we’re already doing, except for a couple of things that would make things worse or simply waste scarce resources.
Fred Kaplan is Slate's "War Stories" columnist and author of the book, The Insurgents: David Petraeus and the Plot to Change the American Way of War. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter.