October 24, 2008

To Bomb or Not to Bomb

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In this post, potential courses of action in relations between the United States and Iran will be discussed. But first, a disclosure: I would rather the U.S. not bomb Iran. Partially because I feel that military aggression hasn’t really gotten us anywhere in dealing with opposition forces (see: Iraq, Afghanistan). But also because—and this is perhaps a more pressing reason—I am Iranian and I have family in Iran. And I’d rather they not be bombed.

On to the post:

In what has turned out to be a particularly volatile election year, there have been a number of issues two opinionated people could argue about and still get basically nowhere on: abortion, gay rights, death penalty and many more.

Foreign policy is one of those incendiary issues. Since September 11th, life has been very different in the United States. The attacks on New York City and Washington DC gave the country a sense of overexposure. We had been through World War I and II, a decades long nuclear standoff with the Soviet Union and the Vietnam War, all with civilian casualties at a minimum. After decades of relative calm within in the country, more than 3,000 people lost their life in a single day, within the span of a few hours.
9-11 was a slap in the face that left us feeling naked and vulnerable, wiping away any vestigial sense of isolationism that we once had.

As a result, American foreign policy has taken on a more aggressive, preemptive slant. With panic-inducing paranoia, the United States has taken on any country it perceived to be a threat, resisted any attempt at restraint and gone around the United Nations acting forcefully unilateral, a move that has cost America much support in the world.

Think of it like grade school recess: the bully on the playground is a hulking, angry, insecure child who beats on others without any consideration of anyone but himself. Yeah, he’ll crush the threat of the other kids a bit, but he’ll only breed more resentment. And, at the end of the day, he will still be alone and insecure.

With a new president on the horizon, there will be a change in foreign policy. Change is good; both campaigns are running on that theme (anything to distance yourself from George W. Bush, right?) and the world is more than ready for a different America. So, what better test for a change in foreign policy than a threat from an antagonistic country with a political ideology vastly different from yours?

Such a country would be Iran. A member of the infamous Axis of Evil, Iran has been spending the past few years building its capacity for nuclear energy, specifically Uranium enrichment. Many fear that Iran is working towards the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons. A radical Islamic theocracy with nuclear capabilities that it is more than willing to use is a harrowing thought. It is no wonder that people within the United States have called for military action to put Iran’s efforts out of action.

Iran wasn’t always the radical Islamic country that it is today. In fact, the Islamic Republic of Iran is just under thirty years old. Prior to that, it was a monarchy, headed by the Shah. The Shah had the backing of the United States; he admired the Western nations and sought to mold Iran into the Western tradition. But he was also rather corrupt and utilized a police force, the SAVAK, to ruthlessly enforce his rule and silence opposition.

Suffice to say, his behavior was enough to ferment discontent among Iranians. By 1979, the discontent had exploded into full on revolution and the Shah was overthrown. In his stead, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, a man whom the Shah had exiled to France, took over, installing the Islamic Republic. Khomeini was as harsh a man as the Shah, if not harsher.

As for Iranian relations with the United States, the rest is history: following the Iranian Hostage Crisis, Iran and the United States severed all diplomatic ties. Iran became known as a nation guided by Islamic extremism and became very much like the country we now contend with.

Today Iran is very opaque and confusing. There is a president (maybe you’ve heard of him?) but he doesn’t have any substantive power. That power lies in the hands of the Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei. As of late, Iran’s actions have been directed, to some extent, at aggravating the United States. Again, not the most rational of decisions, but Iranian comedian Maz Jobrani explains in this video:

In particular, the aggravation is around Iran’s efforts towards gaining nuclear energy. The efforts go back at least a decade and were fully uncovered in 2003, immediately after which Iran halted efforts to enrich uranium–until 2005, that is, when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected, ushering in a more hard-line view of Iranian politics. Soon enough, uranium enrichment began once more and this time with a defiant tone.

Since then, there has been a lot of talk of aggressive tactics against Iran. Why not just go in there and destroy the nuclear facilities? Like McCain said: “Bomb, bomb, bomb…bomb, bomb Iran.” The Bush Administration, curiously, has been reluctant to go near that option. Israel, too, has hinted at a desire to militarily stop Iran’s activities, but so far nothing has happened.

Assuming that nothing will happen until 2009 at the earliest, the new president, be it McCain or Obama, has the chance to change things with Iran. Ideally, Iran would halt its nuclear work and be openly accepted to the global community. That should be the goal. It is, admittedly, not likely. For Iran, the capacity to create a nuclear weapon gives it a large amount of power in international relations. You can’t dismiss them as a crazy country if they can blow you to hell. It would take a lot of effort to appeal to Iran to stop from them from achieving what could be a trump card.

So, the next president has to make a choice: bomb Iran, or seek a more diplomatic resolution. Bombing is a quick, if blunt, solution, but creates a lot of damage. Diplomacy is more time consuming, but if adroitly done, can yield high results with minimum costs.

Between the two candidates, it is clear that Obama is more likely to take the latter route, while McCain the former. In fact, McCain has gone so far as to exaggerate and deride Obama’s willingness to talk. No one likes to be threatened, and in Iran’s current state of defiance, it’s most likely that threats will just be more incentive to get to the point of nuclear power. If they get to that point, this discussion about Iran and foreign policy will take on an entirely new form. And it’s fair to say that the form will not be pleasing for America.

With that in mind, then, it seems diplomacy is the best route. It’s also the most likely route. The past five years have been trying for Americans. Financially, the War in Iraq has been a tremendous burden. Socially, it has caused a high level of tension between Americans. Many families have lots children and parents. Another war is not an appealing prospect. With that in mind, it is important that the candidates know the risks they are running and make the best decision possible.