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22 March 2009


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It seems to me quite clear that the Iranis want nuclear weaponry precisely to protect themselves against this massive imbalance of power that you're describing, Colonel.

I would have expected you to view the question of eventual conflict as something more subtle than who kills the most, the fastest.

Unless the U.S. actually engages in mass murder, then i cannot see any war with Iran holding anything but eventual isolation, ruin, and destitution for the United States.

The United States has clearly backed Iran into a corner; if they give in to U.S. pressures now, then why should they expect their future to be any different than that of Egypt, Arabia, Pakistan or Lebanon? Yes, they have their oil and wealth and culture, but U.S. diplomatic techniques throughout the region these last sixty years do not seem to hold out any hope for actual independence, peace, and prosperity.

It seems to me that, from the Iranian perspective, they're damned if they do and damned if they don't. Given such a choice, is it any surprise that they're waiting for better evidence of good faith?

I believe that the political capital an attack against Iran would cost the U.S. would bankrupt it diplomatically amongst all countries outside of Europe and Arabia (and the other place, of course). I am sure that an attack against Iran would cost the U.S. many dollars and human casualties. "Many" relative to the number of dead Iranians? No.

But that would make the U.S. position all the more starkly fearsome for the rest of the world, wouldn't it? Shutting down the Gulf for however long they can, and squeezing oil prices through the roof, would hit the United States in the hardest way at its most financially vulnerable in the last hundred years.

I don't see the U.S. use of force against Iran as holding anything but tragedy, poverty, and isolation for both. So yes, the U.S. could get away with it, and still have its massive military dominance. But will that be of any use if the rest of the world simply refuses to play along, any more?


Col.- You state it would be In Iran's best interest to cooperate with the US on resolving it's nuclear program. My question is why? Ir seems to me, given the power politics you describe, it is in Iran's best interest to aquire defensive nuclear weapons.

The down side for Iran is an American military attack. Such an attack would cause massive amounts of damage but given it's size, terrain and population Iran will probably not be conquered in the conventional occupation sense. But what is the true risk of an American attack?

We did nothing of significance when Russia, China, Britain, France, Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea developed such weapons. Sorry, but I cannot believe we would go to war with Iran over their nuclear program - not after Iraq and Afganistan. It seems to me containment and MAD will be our response.


My homemade fantasy solution. I think this is actually achievable too.

1. in exchange for US not acknowledging past interventions, a non intervention treaty with Iran. (not sure if this work, supposedly Bush broke a secret treaty of non intervention that Reagan signed.) This should serve as "non hostility/non interventionist" treaty.

2. open an official diplomatic channel. This is important because policy in DC is based completely out of think-tank fantasy and dubious dissident input. So policy on Iran can easily be hijacked by putting few people in bureaucratic bottle neck position.

The steps above should open a real exchange of information and more direct talk, instead of shouting match, media gimmick, and generally being clownish on both side. (jeebus, we are talking about potential arm conflict here. can we get real for once?) Fill the crew with competent people instead of hacks.

3. Iran-Israel problem is their own to sort. They want to bash each other, it's their party. US signs "defense" treaty with Israel to limit and define US military obligation when it comes to Israel aggression. (this probably is impossible. They want blank check.) But the big point is to separate US general middle east interest from Israel domestic politics.

The above should at least provide good foundation to formulate long term policy and define relationship. Formal channel, professionalism and people on the ground. This instead of lobbyists, dubious dissidents, corrupt politicians, TV yakksters and Israel lobby.

top on agenda Afghanistan/Pakistan stability is in everybody's interest and should be easy to start working in group.

Understanding in Iraq would be next. Middle east regional stability and world economy next. And finally, Israel/Palestine problem.

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

The consequences of Iran-Iraq War are, in my opinion, similar to those of WWI. Any engagement with Iran has to take that into account - Justice or Injustice of the case being irrelevant but the security dimension being very relevant.

In regards to a possible US air war against Iran several things can be stated with certainty:

1. US has the capacity to destroy all modern infrastructure in Iran.

2. To realize this, US has to gather all her assets from several places all over the world and organize them for such a war.

3. There have been political constraints on the United States, even under Mr. Bush, that mitigated against such a course of action.

Since US cannot occupy Iran and Mr. Khamenei, back in 2006, had stated that "You cannot protect oil assets", I can only see a stalemate.

But then again, I am not an specialist in air war.

R. Whitman:

US does not have the power to determine the outcome of the internal evolution of the Iranian polity. I should like to encourage you to think, instead, along the following lines:

Does US want Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia to be more like the Islamic Republic of Iran or more like Afghanistan? Or Pakistan?

But I do agree with your "mating dance" analogy.


Mr. Ahmadinejad has been the man most interested in normalizing US-Iran relations. He also has been the man most interested in getting Iran out of a revolutionary phase into a post-revolutionary society.

His misfortune, in my opinion, has been the Presidency of Mr. Bush with take no prisoners rhetoric and later actions.

Mr. Obama must be willing to stop the US cold war against Iran. If he is not interested or incapable of doing so - for whatever reason - then war between US and Iran will have a high degree of probability.

Ironically, as a consequence of such a war, US will be forced to abandon Israel to he own devices since US would no longer be able to bear the cost of protecting that state. Which, in turn, might hasten the settlement of the war in Palestine in more favorable terms to the Palestinians.


"Why can't USA acknowledge Israel as a Nuclear Power? Posted by: Cloned Poster | 22 March 2009 at 03:00 PM "

cause then a) US has to insist Israel sign NPT. Or else be put in trade embargo list b)It changes the power balance in the middle east significantly (even Israel nuke is public secret)

The minute israel refuses to sign NPT. That treaty will be pretty much a complete joke. (It's already a big joke with India case)

Not sure why nobody insist Israel sign NPT tho'. At UN level that is a legit case for world security.

Patrick Lang


There are no offensive or defensive weapons. There are only intentions as to use of particular weapons. i.e., land mines might be seen to be defensive weapons but not if they are ued as an economy of force device as in using them to enable one to reduce forces in an area so as mass one's armored force for an attack elsewhere. The German 88 mm. air defense gun would be another example. It was equally useful as part of an offensive ground force. In the case of nuclear weapons there are certainly no "defensive" weapons in the sense that you mean. An opponent will not accept your definition of them as such ans so they are not.

Iran's danger is that MAD may not be possible to achieve in the absence of Israeli willingness to accept American assurance that Iran is not a hostile nation inclined to a first strike strategy against Israel. The Israelis will increasingly possess a nuclear first strike capability against Iran based on their missile force. This force is not subject to an American veto on their action. Israeli obsession with Iran and its putative nuclear weapons program is growing steadily. The "1% solution" appears to have Israeli roots.

The influence of the "lobby" is actually irrelevant to the issue of whether or not the US will stand with Israel in any existential cirisis. It will do so.

It is in the best interest of all concerned that all this business about national grievance be put away before a catastrophe occurs. pl


Colonel, I now know that you do not usually read other blogs. I think you'll find this one worthwhile though.

On a more personal note, I think you may have read only one set of narratives. As 'b' mentioned here, there have been two: one obviously trying to show that Iran has humiliated the US (for which the President would be deemed responsible, which would serve the interests of the neocons presumably), and the other more subdued. I hope you do not allow the former to get the better of, from what I've seen up to now, your usual good judgment.


"It is in the best interest of all concerned that all this business about national grievance be put away before a catastrophe occurs."

Obviously true, but I can't see how it's going to happen, nor can I see how simply wishing that Iran were something that it is not is a sensible policy. Their grievances are genuine and nothing in US policy (past or present, at least so far) provides a reason for them to roll over and play nice.

Maybe (hopefully) there's more going on behind the scenes, but for all its fine words and sentiments, Obama's speech to me felt patronising; surely it would have been better to make quiet lower level approaches, to try to work on a few small practical issues, to allow people from both sides to get to know each other on a day-to-day basis, to gradually build up trust rather than launching into an arguably counter-productive flight of rhetoric.

In any case, it seems clear from your last comment that the real problem is Israel and its fears. This is the intractable fact that US policy continues to stumble on. Where once they were a much admired and (arguably) valuable friend, they're now more like a dangerously unstable wild card that has to be placated.

Isn't the real issue therefore how they can be sufficiently reassured (on an existential level) to allow the development of a more sensible Middle Eastern policy?


Does it make sense for the president to conduct his foreign policy via youtube? What happened to the back channels route?


Dictating to or Dialogue with Iran
by Rami G. Khouri

[...] the persistent flaw in the Obama approach that might prove to be fatal is a lingering streak of arrogance that is reflected in both the tone and the substance of his message. This is most obvious in his insistence – after telling the Iranians that they are a great culture with proud traditions, which is presumably something they already knew, experienced and felt on their own -- on lecturing Iran about the responsibilities that come with the right to assume its place in the “community of nations”, and then linking Iran’s behavior with “terror of arms” and a “capacity to destroy.”

It is difficult to see how Washington feels the positive gestures of reaching out can be reconciled with the American president’s irrepressible need to lecture others about the rules of righteous nationhood. One of the principal complaints that Iran has against the United States – and this is mirrored in widespread Arab and Islamist resistance to the United States and its allies – is the lingering colonial tendency by the leading Western powers to feel that they write the rules for the conduct of other nations.

This complaint is exacerbated by hearing the Americans warn against the “ability to destroy” and the danger of using “terror or arms” -- while Washington sends hundreds of thousands of its troops around the world on destructive yet dubious missions, backs its allies in various Arab countries with a gusher of arms, and enthusiastically stands by Israel in the latter’s actions in Lebanon and Palestine in what many see as a policy of state terror.


The whole column is worth a read.


Babak Makkinejad | 22 March 2009 at 02:46 PM

PS. Can Iran upload the Khamenei speech onto Youtube with "subtitle"? (ie. so average people with no access to iranian TV can actually watch and see what Khamenei is saying without TV yakkster filter?)


(or whatever other public video upload service out there.)

Direct Iran news without filter is very hard to come by. (I tend to lump government news service as press office, not news service. A little like VOA/whitehouse press briefing.)


Complete mess. (and nobody can get access to Khamenei speech without media filter. No official transcript/translation and complete video upload.

PS. Hello Iran? Need to fix your international media access. Need one place where one can get official documents, press release, video upload, important speeches. legal repository, etc. Nobody understand what's going on in there.


Did Israel Intentionally Subvert Obama's Iran Message?
By M.J. Rosenberg - March 21, 2009, 9:42AM

Yesterday when the New York Times inexplicably gave Shimon Peres' threatening and insulting message to Iran equal play with President Obama;s, I thought it might be no coincidence.

Peres, who is an uberhawk on Iran, suddenly sends "greetings" to the Iran people urging them to rise up against their government at the same moment that Obama respectfully addressed the "Islamic Republic of Iran" with the most conciliatory US message in decades. Coincidence? Maybe.



Do you think, Colonel, that the U.S. would condone Israeli use of nuclear weapons?

If so, do you really think that it could survive the international repercussions?

And if nuclear weapons aren't used, then do you really think that Israel and the U.S. could mount a sustained, conventional action against Iran -- and survive the repercussions?

The U.S. economy is collapsing, and Obama's dawdling and dandering over Wall Street corruption is making it much worse, the sort of dilly-dallying that mass riots are made of. I really can't see the people of the U.S. accepting a sustained action against Iran while they themselves are being evicted from their homes, while gas prices go through the roof, and all at the same time Wall Street is sucking up their tax-dollars.

It seems hard for me to imagine any attack scenario -- Israelis or no Israelis -- that would work in the U.S.'s favor. Wouldn't common self-interest suggest that it won't be done?

Babak Makkinejad

Col. Lang:

For reasons of state cohesion & security, Iran should have left the NPT back in 1998 when India and Pakistan tested their nuclear weapons.

This is not an issue of national grievance.

What is the position of the United States in regards to the possibility of a nuclear attack against Iran by Pakistan, India, or Israel?

If Tehran is destroyed in a pre-emptive strike, what will the United States do?


k. translation is out.

If they had not imposed sanctions on us, we would have not reached this level of science and progress. Sanctions constantly made us aware, made us think about ourselves, and be innovative. But they did not mean to serve us like this. They wanted to be antagonist. This is how they treated the Iranian nation for 30 years, and now the new US Government says that they would like to negotiate with Iran, that we should forget the past. They say that they extended their arm towards Iran. What kind of a hand? If it is an iron hand covered with a velvet glove, then it will not make any good sense. They congratulate the Iranian nation on the occasion of the New Year (Iranian New Year started 20 March 2009), but in the same message call the Iranian nation supporters of terrorism, who seek nuclear weapons, and accuse it of such things.

I would like to say that I do not know who makes decisions for the United States, the President, the Congress, elements behind the scenes? But I would like to say that we have logic. Since the beginning, the Iranian nation moved with logic. Regarding our vital issues, we are not sentimental. We do not make decisions based on emotion. We make decisions through calculation. They tell us to negotiate, to start relations. They have the slogan of change.

Where is the change? What has changed? Clarify this to us. What changed? Has your enmity toward the Iranian nation changed? What signs are there to support this? Have you released the possessions of the Iranian nation? Have you removed the cruel sanctions? Have you stopped the insults, accusations, and negative propaganda against this great nation and its officials? Have you stopped your unconditional support for the Zionist regime? What has changed? They talk of change, but there are no changes in actions. We have not seen any changes. Even the literature has not changed. The new US President, from the very moment of his official appointment as President, made a speech, and insulted Iran and the Islamic government. Why? If you tell the truth, and there are changes, where are these changes? Why can we see nothing? I would like to say this to everyone. US officials should also know that the Iranian nation cannot be fooled, or scared.



"The Israelis will increasingly possess a nuclear first strike capability against Iran based on their missile force. This force is not subject to an American veto on their action." Said PL

My earliear comment about "newking" Yisrael's new-clear (as W's teleprompter spellled it for him) and ballistic capabilites in an American first-strike (as well as Iran's for even handedness) was obviously tongue-in-cheek but the logical necessity is crystal clear obvious.

Though an audacious act, our own survival is at stake. There is a divergence of unity, ownership, & command. Our gold and goodwill has enabled their mighty buildup and dangerous position to threaten the peace of the world.

Yet we do not exercise dominion and control over them.
We have to find a way to bring our wayward child to heel.

Patrick Lang


Please try not to condescend to me. I know I am just a simple soldier but you annoy me.

Also, try not to sound like:

- Undergraduates filled with baseless platitudes about the efficacy of world opinion and sanctions in situations that threaten of mass casualties inflicted in a moments of human failure.

- Graduate students or professors who actually believe in the "rational actor model" of human behavior. pl

Patrick Lang

China Hand

You talk as though the United States controls Israel's actions. That is not the case. The US has a considerable influence over whether or not Israel would attack Iran using airplanes. Air space control over Iraq is the principle reason for that but there are other factors, tanker capacity, SAR, etc.

The US has NO control over what Israel does with its missile force. The Jericho 2 and 3 are true IRBMs. The Israelis have had a long time to work on warheads that will fit these. "Condone?" What makes you think that the US would know of an attack in advance?

The Isrelis fear the aftermath of such an attack. They fear isolation from the world. The US would stand by Israel in a truly existential crisis, but the Israelis are correct in fearing that they would be "on their own" in the aftermath of a unilateral pre-emptive attack on Iran. The basic strategic analytic question is whether or not Israeli fear of allowing Iran to eventually weaponize deliverable nuclear weapons will outweigh "rational" fear of isolation and chaos following a strike on the Iranians.

The Israelis now see themselves as being in a period analogous to 1945-1949 when the US could have struck the Soviet Union before the Soviets achieved the ability to make fission weapons. They know that once the Iranians achieve a detonation, Israel's options will be much more limited and they will live in a world dominated by a logic (MAD) that they do not think will protect them. Why? No believable second strike capability. pl

William P. Fitzgerald III

Concerning Iran, I disagree with portions of the post. I've, unless I'm missing something, seen no significant gestures as yet. Obama's message was a rhetorical opening gambit and likewise for Khamenei's indirect response. Does anyone know of cases where something like this "address to the people of Iran" has led to immediate results? I can't think of any.
The situation has much to do with (not so) ancient history.
A list would include,but not be limited to: the partition and occupation of Iran during the last world war, the American facilitated coup of 1953, The resulting and depised rule by the Shah, the occupation of the American embassy and ensuing hostage crisis, American aid to Iraq during the Iran- Iraq War, the U.S. Navy's shooting down of Iran Air 655, the last incident was followed by promotions and medals for the responsible officers and a vow by Vice-President Bush that the United States would never apologize for shooting down the air liner, and, finally, the rejection of Iranian overtures in the 2001 and 2002 timeframe.
I would observe that the Iranians would be as trustworthy as the United States and the other major actors in the Middle East. And, I would ask if anyone can identify competing strategic interests that would preclude a U.S. - Iran rapprochement.
It goes without sayin that we could destroy Iran or any other country as could the Russians, British, and French. Why would we want to?


Patrick Lang


You live in the world of what "ought to be" rather than "what is."

That's is a good place to live. Without people like you things would never change for the better.

Don't let "what ought to be" prevent you from coping with "what is" when survival is at stake. pl

William P. Fitzgerald III

Pat Lang,
That struck home, as I've generally tried to avoid being in the "ought to be" school. To expand a little on trustworthiness, I was referring to whether a nation can be relied upon to rationally percieve and act in its own interest. My view is that the United States hasn't done well in that regard, particularly in the Middle East but also concerning Cuba and the China policy before Nixon and Kissinger. Is Iran acting contrary to a realistic appraisal of its situation vis a vis the U.S.? That wasn't a rhetorical question.
My overall question still is, are there vital interests of each nation that would preclude rapprochement?

Babak Makkinejad


Mr. Obama's Nowruz greeting, like Dr. Ahmadinejad's previous letters to the Presidents of the United States, is an attempt to begin a dialogue.

To wit, Mr. Khamenei has responded that they (the Iranian leaders) are reasonable and calculating when it comes to the interests of the Iranian state.

He has requested concrete actions from the President of the United States.

I believe that there are many things US President can do which will not cost much; such as releasing Iranian diplomatic staff in Iraq or termination of the funding for the Junduallah in Baluchistan.

Now we wait to see what Mr. Obama does concretely.

William R. Cumming

Iran's fundamental choice over next century will not be Arab states and it relationship to them, nor Israel and Irans relationship to Israel. No a new rock and a hard place is going to force Iran to decide whether to side with Russia or China because I suspect what I am going to now label The Chinese Condominium" consisting of most of East Asia and perhaps parts of S.Asia will be the dominant economy and foreign policy player for Iran. Hey, the Iranians are smart or their culture would not have made it this far. But they are Persians not Arabs and given Islam's unwillingness to surrender to the present or future hard hard choices are soon to be made by Iran. What is the number, 70% of the population born 1979 or after? That demographic tiger is almost unbelieveable to the west but not to the east. Put yourself in the way of any Iranian policymaker and what choices will allow Iran to succeed for next two decades much less this century. Of course my analysis is based on watching the US now making choices that are so short term that we won't have the capability by 2030 to do much but sell veggies and wheat to the China Condominium. Even the Iranians look like thinking long term compared to Israel and US. I will leave key mileposts to later comments. Foreign direct investment is a key milepost for most of the world right now, including US.


According to an article in the Jerusalem Post (August 2006), Israel's purchase of two more modern Dolphin-class submarines "will, according to foreign reports, provide superior second-strike nuclear capabilities."

If you have the time, Colonel, I'd be interested in why you think it doesn't.


Thank you for the response, Colonel.

Perhaps i should clarify: i didn't intend to imply that the U.S. could prevent an Israeli first strike (well, not unless our military's willing to undertake one of its own); only to question if the U.S. wouldn't undergo a sea-shift of reckoning were the Israelis to use nuclear weapons.

You have said Israel would indeed be "on its own" in such an event. Do the Israelis really believe they can survive in the face of a massive worldwide backlash? It seems they are barely able to hold their polity together as it is -- billions of dollars in aid from the U.S. each year is resulting only in more aggression, more war. That's not the signature of a healthy state.

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