Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Anxiety in the US or One More Rodeo with Iran

The current state of anxiety in the US and the Middle East regarding a potential military strike on Iran is well warranted. The Israeli government seems committed to, if not longing for, a military strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. However, surgical strikes on Iranian facilities are not as easy as attacking other Middle Eastern targets. Iranian nuclear sites are spread across the entire country and most of the facilities are under ground. So even the most precise bombings could not guarantee that the sites would be damaged beyond repair. Even more so damaging their technological capabilities would only at best delay their pursuit of a bomb; not suppress the program. On the contrary, a military strike could signal the beginning of a nuclear arms race in the region, which would only heighten tensions and incentivize Iran to redouble their efforts.

For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Any military intervention on sovereign soil is assured to prompt an immediate response. Israeli cities will almost certainly be dealt blows from a retaliatory strike from Tehran. While Iran's military capabilities are not as modernized as Israel's, lives will still be lost. Also, a strike also risks increased motivation for radical groups such as Al-Qaeda to step up their efforts in planning attacks on American soil. Israel and the United States are inextricably linked in the Persian government's mind and an attack from one is an attack from both. After all where is the "little Satan" without help from the "great Satan?" If Israel attacks then the US attacks as well – whether we like it or not.

However, American complicity does not necessitate American intervention. President Obama has been correct to use the rhetoric he has been using. As Teddy Roosevelt said, "speak softly but carry a big stick." The President has extended the hand of friendship to Israel in its dealing with Iran's ambitions but he is reticent (thank the heavens) to commit to any military intervention. Instead, he has spent his time urging the international community to step up economic sanctions. While these are temporary measures to a more permanent regime problem, they do offer an alternative to bloodshed.

The cultural and socio-political context of Israeli-Iranian relations offers the biggest indicator of intention from the Israeli perspective. During a recent interview in the White House both President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu exhibited less than cordial conversation about the topic. Sure, they exchanged pleasantries and smiled for the cameras but one could not miss the slyly indignant, and somewhat condescending, tone of Mr. Netanyahu toward Pres. Obama when he stressed that Israel had "the right to defend itself." (It is no secret that there is no love lost between the Israeli PM and the President.) Mr. Obama, wisely in this reporter's opinion, has been quick to speak and slow to act. Military force should always be a last resort and Mr. Obama is doing a good job, for appearances sake at the very least, of leaning on sanctions and international pressure. But Iran may yet do it for him.

Iran, in an attempt to institute energy-crippling measures on the west, has already stopped oil delivery to France and Germany. Additionally, they have threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz, a crucial shipping channel out of the Middle East. Consequently, fear and speculation are already playing a role in the global oil price. Their goal, it would seem, is to threaten the world with oil price inflation. They reason that if they could disrupt the flow of oil in and out of the Middle East then they can cripple the world economy. However, Iran has not thought this one through.

By shutting down oil delivery to certain European countries, Iran is effectively starving their own economy of 60% of its GDP, which comes from oil and gas exports in addition to risking a US-Israeli attack. Iran is simply out of options. While Iran, as a sovereign nation, has the right to pursue whatever course of action it chooses, international socio-economic pressure is going to either squeeze the country so hard they will have no choice but to acquiesce or pursue a radical course of retaliation.

The US policy should be one of passive resistance. Continue pressing Iran with economic sanctions and let them implement their own counters. The west will suffer from an increase in oil prices and heightened tension with Israel but we will also avoid another prolonged conflict which will costs billions of dollars and sacrifice many more lives. Have we not learned out lessons in Iraq? Afghanistan?

War is not the solution. Even if an American-Israeli coalition wiped the Iranian nuclear program off the face of the Earth they would still rebuild. They would still pursue the desires of their hearts. Conflict and violence only exacerbate and prolong these issues. If a real solution is to be reached it will have to come willingly from the people and government of Iran. Outside military intervention will only raise the stakes. Energy yields energy. The American government needs to be very careful where it puts its energy because we will reap what we sow.

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