Sunday, September 17, 2006

Closer than we think?

I had planned to blog about this piece by Charles Krauthammer on the likelihood and consequences of military action against Iran. This issue has been simmering for a long time, and because of that and the focus on Iraq I don't think as many (non wonky/political-junky type) people are paying serious attention.

Then, before I get to it, I see the cover of this week's Time. Maybe I was wrong about attention being paid. Or, at least, the word is going out that this issue is likely to escalate in the near future.

For the record, I think Krauthammer is too pessimistic about the economic impact of a strike against Iran. What markets hate more than anything else is uncertainty (for reasons we'll spend lots of time on in future posts). In a perverse sense, then, the kind of military action that most recent pieces seem to suggest (air campaign of limited duration, perhaps coupled with some more defensive naval activity) would actually relieve some of that uncertainty by taking other options off the table (e.g. a near-term nuclear-armed Iran, a US ground action). Assuming, of course, that such a limited military action actually works, meaning that it at least sets back Iran's nuclear efforts for a number of years (a point on which I'm still not fully convinced it would).

Are the costs, whatever they are, worth it? Krauthammer sums it up nicely:
"Then there is the larger danger of permitting nuclear weapons to be acquired by religious fanatics seized with an eschatological belief in the imminent apocalypse and in their own divine duty to hasten the End of Days. The mullahs are infinitely more likely to use these weapons than anyone in the history of the nuclear age. Every city in the civilized world will live under the specter of instant annihilation delivered either by missile or by terrorist. This from a country that has an official Death to America Day and has declared since Ayatollah Khomeini's ascension that Israel must be wiped off the map.

Against millenarian fanaticism glorying in a cult of death, deterrence is a mere wish. Is the West prepared to wager its cities with their millions of inhabitants on that feeble gamble?"
Although I wish the question was whether the "West" was willing to do that, unfortunately I fear the real question is whether America will be.

No comments: