I think the world of John Bolton, but this business about if-Israel-doesn’t-bomb-Iran-within-a-week-it’s-over has me scratching my head. The thing about it that most agitates and perplexes me is this tacit assumption that the Sarkozy Option exhausts the policy alternatives.
According to this view, either we acquiesce to a nuclear Iran, or we bomb it. I’ve always taken a dim view of bombing Iran, because there are better ways to deal with it. And I don’t think it would be good for us, or for common decency, to appease an Islamic Republic with atomic bombs. But those are not the only options. Indeed, they are both lousy policies.
I thought it was better to support democratic revolution. I figured that if we could bring down the Soviet empire by helping the dissidents, it should be a lot easier to topple the mullahcracy in Tehran. This policy has not attracted enthusiastic support from the political and intellectual elites, to put it mildly. For many years the consensus was that, well, I was nuts. There could be no revolution in Iran. There were no revolutionary leaders, there was no revolutionary mass, and the regime was in firm control. Kinda like what the elite analysts said about the Soviet Union until two minutes before midnight.
Those illusions were destroyed in June, 2009, and the months of mass demonstrations against the regime. The consensus then became: revolution in Iran is inevitable. The Green Movement has mass support, and good leadership, and the regime is shaky. Even top Revolutionary Guards commanders are defecting.
Wrong again, because revolution is not a spontaneous event, it requires more than popular passion. Most modern revolutions, including our own, have had outside support. The events following the phony elections of 2009 screamed for an active Western policy of support for the dissidents. But the policy makers did not do that. If we did, there would probably be a freely elected, and quite reasonable, government in Tehran today. Since we didn’t, the process is bubbling and the outcome is uncertain. But the policy option is still “on the table.”
I wrote many years ago that the Iranians had made a grave strategic blunder in launching a crash program to build atomic bombs. Why? Because if they didn’t have that program, nobody would give two hoots about the evil they have unleashed on the world, from killing Americans to savaging their own people. I argued that if Iran ever got the bomb, it would hasten the demise of the regime because it would make support for democratic revolution in Iran more urgent.
I’ll get back to the one-week-deadline business in a minute, but riddle me this: the supreme leader and his pack of beturbaned trolls are killing Americans and our friends and allies every day, right? So why does nobody talk about it? Is that not the central issue? Iraq is a slaughter scene, and Afghanistan is plenty bloody, and Iran is at the dark heart of the terrorist groups who are doing the killing. It sure seems as if Hezbollah — Iran with a Lebanese accent — is gearing up for another round with Israel. And there’s Somalia, and the rest of East Africa, and the sleepers in our country (the guys who plotted to blow up Kennedy Airport in New York were clearly in cahoots with the Iranian regime)…and nobody gives a tinker’s damn. Every now and then our military leaders talk about the mayhem flowing out of Tehran, but it only lasts a day or two. Not one of our leading columnists (including John) or elected representatives tries to focus the national mind on the fact that the Iranian regime is killing Americans. It takes a nuke to get their attention.
As for the horrors visited on the Iranian people, every now and then some of our top guys click their tongues at a particularly egregious form of state murder (like stoning), but then the president muses about how wonderful it would be to make a deal with the mullahs.
We only get excited about nukes. The regime’s leaders would have done better to kill us the old fashioned way. We’d then ignore them altogether.
So now comes John and others who say that we (or the Israelis, shamefully designated to do our dirty work for us) just have to bomb, and soon. Within a few days, in fact. I don’t get it. There are lots of ways to shut down a reactor; bombing is only one of many. Are we really to believe that any action against Bushehr will inevitably produce widespread fallout? What if — to take one possibility among many — somebody put a cannister of poison gas, or sprinkled radioactive stuff inside the structure and hung a sign on the door saying “Unsafe for human beings for 200 years”?
If I were asked for recommendations, bombing would be well down the list. Other forms of action would be higher up. If you want a Hollywood scenario, go with the electromagnetic pulse bomb, exploded at high altitude, that is said to fry all the circuits on the ground. My pal Chet Nagle has a fun novel that discusses it.
Furthermore, the arrival of the Russian reactor rods does not instantly give Iran a deliverable atomic bomb. What if the revolution upended the current regime in a month or two? You say it can’t happen that fast? How do you know? We are always surprised when a revolution succeeds, and if we helped the Iranians, they might be faster than you imagine.
But if nobody even talks about it, and only talks about nukes and bombs, we’ll never know. We’ll only see one of the dreadful self-fulfilling prophecies that have blinded our vision for lo these thirty years.