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Wednesday, June 21, 2006
CAN AN IRANIAN NUCLEAR FORCE BE RELIABLY DETERRED TO PREVENT AGGRESSION AND THE USE OF STEPPED-UP JIHADI TERRORISM? 1st in a Series of Articles
Here, by way of a preliminary jolt --- intended to jar your mind into thinking about the high-coiled nature of this topic --- are some raw revealing words on Islam, the religious duties of violent jihad it imposes on its followers, and the belief in an endless war against infidels and the world of darkness until Islam triumphs globally, no exceptions anywhere . . . all voiced in the 1980s by the Grand Ayatollah Khomeini, the pioneer leader of Iran's Islamic Shi-ite revolution back in 1979, and the first Supreme Leader of its clerical-fascist totalitarian regime.
Like his successor after his death in 1989, the Grand Ayatollah Khameini, Khomeini embodied the same political and spiritual position in Iranian life as Hitler did in Nazi Germany: the Fuehrer Prinzip
. . . the leader who is above all law, and whose own word on any subject was and is the indisputable final word on it. Almost two decades after his death, Khomeini remains the most influential cleric in Shi-ite Islam since the early Middle Ages.
"Islam makes it incumbent on all adult males, provided they are not disabled or incapacitated, to prepare themselves for the conquest of other countries so that the writ of Islam is obeyed in every country in the world.. .. But those who study Islamic Holy \War will understand why Islam wants to conquer the whole world. . . . Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those who say this are witless.
"Islam says: Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all! Does this mean that Muslims should sit back until they are devoured by [the unbelievers]? Islam says: Kill them [the non-Muslims], put them to the sword and scatter [their armies]. Does this mean sitting back until [non-Muslims] overcome us? Islam says: Kill in the service of Allah those who may want to kill you! Does this mean that we should surrender [to the enemy]?
"Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword! People cannot be made obedient except with the sword! The sword is the key to Paradise, which can be opened only for the Holy Warriors! There are hundreds of other [Qur'anic] psalms and Hadiths [sayings of the Prophet] urging Muslims to value war and to fight.
"Does all this mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war? I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim."
In case you think Khomeini's snarling calls to mass-murdering jihadi warfare reflected a transitory view, all fired up, say, by revolutionary ardor, you might want to ponder the words of his successor who still is in power: the Ayatollah Khameini, speaking at Ayatollah Khomeini's Mausoleum, June 4, 2002:
Let me say to you: these stances [of American administrators on suicide bombings] will not be of any use. This quest for martyrdom is not based on emotions; it is based on belief in Islam and faith in [the] Judgment Day and faith in life after death. Anywhere Islam exists in its true sense, arrogance faces this threat.
THE BLUNT, DOWN-TO-EARTH ANSWER TO THE TITLE-QUESTION:
In truth, nobody really knows if a nuclear terror state like Iran could be reliably deterred --- whether from ultra-aggressive diplomacy (including blackmail on surrounding countries), or from traditional military adventurism, or from stepped-up efforts by its terrorist surrogate proxies like Hezbollah and its world-wide networks. For that matter, nobody knows whether it might not launch, once armed with enough nuclear weapons, a nuclear preventive strike on Israel . . . even though the use of crude, radioactive suitcase bombs, carried by suicide bombers, seems more probable than a missile strike.
The Chief Reasons for Hugh Uncertainty Here?
Tersely put, there are too many uncertainties and information-gaps that surround the entire topic, and so anything you read on a nuclear-armed Iran, no matter how convincing, is bound to remain speculative at best and needs to be read with a certain degree of skepticism. Three gaps loom significantly here, all of which will be analyzed later on:
1. How far advanced Iranian R&D is to deploying nuclear weapons and missile-delivery systems, even as --- considering that Iran's totalitarian regime is also a terrorist-supporting state --- the production of crude radioactive suitcase bombs, which could be planted by its terrorist groups like Hezbollah, is a likelier, more imminent development.
2. What the actual balance of power is in Iran's political institutions, now that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad --- who seems to represent a resurgent populist and jingoist nationalism and fanatical Shiite death-loving ideology --- is riding high. Before his election last year (2005), there was no doubt whatever that the electoral side of the political system --- highly rigged by the all-powerful mullahs and Supreme Ayatollah who control the political-theocratic institutions like the Guardian Council and Expediency Council, not to mention the legal system, the security systems, and the secret police --- was fully subordinate in all decision-making on public and private matters to the die-hard mullah theocrats.
So is Ahmadinejad one more sock-puppet in their hands, or is he able, as a self-revealing zealot who not only talks about the imminent return of the Hidden Imam, the Mahdi-Savior who will also bring Armageddon and Doomsday to all infidels and apostate Muslims, to force the pace of policy-making in his own direction?
3. The logic of deterrence, no exceptions whatever, postulates that the would-be aggressive target-state's leaders behave rationally, knowing how to weigh the costs and benefits of aggressive action in the face of a promised threat of nuclear or non-nuclear retaliation by the deterring state.
If, however, Ahmadinejad reflects a particularly high-pulsating theocratic ideology --- theocratic, death-loving, and full of conviction that an Apocalyptic Showdown is just over the horizon --- what might this mean for the US, its Arab and European allies, or Israel once Iran achieves a fairly large deployment of nuclear weapons? For that matter, how much of a gulf is there --- if any --- between Ahmadinejad and the key 20 or so highly entrenched mullahs and the Supreme Ayatollah when it comes to such crackling theocratic credos?
But Note: It Doesn't Follow That All Commentaries Are Equally Worthless Speculations
On the contrary, some specialists --- a bakers' dozen at most world-wide --- are bound to reflect greater insight into what a nuclear-armed Iraq might do in foreign, military, and terrorist-sponsoring policies . . . and quite simply because these analysts know a great deal more about those policies and, simultaneously, about nuclear weaponry, deterrence, and, its opposite: compellence or coercive diplomacy. The main thing is to keep this proviso in mind: those specialists who know Iranian politics in as much depth as a totalitarian society permits --- and who, simultaneously, are technically well-versed in nuclear weaponry, the calculus of deterrence, coercive diplomacy (compellence) and arms control --- don't add up to many world-wide: roughly, to repeat, a dozen or so. Overwhelmingly, they are either active or former CIA-specialists --- some now in US academia or research-institutes --- or are specialists at Israeli institutes. And even they, it needs to be emphasized, are still stuck with the problem of the key information-gaps that we'll be setting out later in today's buggy article.
Something else needs to be noted here too: by no stretch of the imagination is prof bug one of those double-barreled specialists.
True, he knows a fair amount about deterrence and compellence as well as arms control --- having been fortunate as a grad student to study with Henry Kissinger and Thomas Schelling, the latter, a Nobel Prize Economist and the most important intellectual influence in our understanding of deterrence, deterrence stability, and arms control.
When it comes to Iran, though, it's a different matter.
Though Prof bug may not be a wholesale ignoramus, he enjoys no in-depth knowledge about its political system, policies, and history. If anything, on these matters, some of the visitors to this site are likely to know more about them than he does. At best, to be more precise, the buggy prof's read a fair number of articles on the subject and helped direct a couple of Ph.D. dissertations by Iranians on their countries' politics and religion. Then too, by way of preparing for this buggy series, he read a few more recent articles and an up-to-date book on the clash between the ancient Persian Empire and the quarreling Greek city-states in the 5th century B.C.E. . . . won decisively by the far tinier, far more divided Greeks thanks to superior morale, naval tactics, and innovations in the use of infantry. (The book is Thomas Holland's Persian Fire
, . . . useful, but crammed with way too much superfluous narrative information as opposed to incisive, hard-headed analysis. If anything, read the first couple of chapters and the last one or two, and that's all you need. There are no doubt far better, far more perceptive books on the topic than this . . . perhaps the one by Victor Davis Hanson.)
How Today's Article --- the 1st in a Series of Four Articles on Iran and Nuclear Weapons --- Will Unfold.
In part two,
we'll set out some indispensable basics about the nature of deterrence, compellence, and the use of military force in statecraft when the adversarial states have nuclear weapons.
In part three,
which will complete today's analysis, we'll probe in a fair amount of depth the three or four major information-gaps about the Iranian clerical-fascist totalitarian mullahs, who have been --- along with Sunni Saudi Arabia --- the two states most responsible for spreading jihadi Islamist terrorism and radical fundamentalism around the world since 1980 or so.
Both states have rivaled one another in vying for the leadership role of these terrorist or terrorist-supporting movements and jihadi ideology on a global scale. Both show traditional Shi-ite and Sunni contempt for one another, aggravated by 1400 years of Arab-Persian hostility . . . capped by the murderous slaughter of the 8 year Iraqi-Iranian war of the 1980s. And both --- especially Iran now that Iraq temporarily on the sidelines --- seek regional dominance and a lavish use of oil-money for both that end and the spread of radically militant Islamist doctrines and terror.
Needless to add, the more oil-money that rolls in to these systematically organized totalitarian states --- which rule by means of a pervasive secret police, a rigid theocratic ideology, the control of all key institutions in the country, and a complete disregard not just for any civil rights but total control over all religious, cultural, and private life --- the more cockily their support for jihadi movements and terrorism has surged and will likely do so.
The only qualification here?
As Saudi-financed al Qaeda and related Sunni-terrorist groups began attacking the prodigal, totalitarian royalist leadership the last three years or so, some members of the Saudi government --- who puff themselves up as "reformers" --- have undoubtedly begun to have second thoughts about their earlier outright financial support of bin Laden's group and the former Taliban mass-murderers. They are also no doubt worried about growing militancy among their long-despised Shi-ite minority, not to mention the Shi-ites in the surrounding Gulf States . . . possibly, at some point, even in Iraq. Even so, there's no sign whatsoever that the Saudi kleptocrats have eased up in spreading their vicious, racist, Jew-hating Wahhabi Islam on a global scale, funding mosques, cultural centers, PR-groups like CAIR in the US, and probably certain terrorist networks . . . the latter if only as bribes to keep the terrorists from striking them.
SOME KEY THEORETICAL CLARIFICATION ABOUT DETERRENCE AND COMPELLENCE
Logically, the buggy commentary ought to move straightaway to laying out the three big gaps in information about the Iranian hard-line mullah terrorists in charge of Iranian life, but we can't be fully logical . . . not at this point. To make sense of those gaps and show how they leave all analyses of what a nuclear terror state like Iran might mean, whether in the near- future or much further into the future, some preliminary groundwork needs to be covered first --- in this case, a set of clarifying remarks about the nature of deterrence and compellence in statecraft.
What follows, then, are the barebones basics, which all visitors should read carefully and try to remember. Later on, in the next buggy article, we'll delve more deeply into the logic of deterrence and its relevance to the radical theocratic totalitarians ruling Iraq. .
Nuclear Deterrence Stripped to the Bone
Both deterrence and compellence in statecraft work by means of a state's leadership projecting credible coercive threats
to retaliate with unacceptable damage if the adversarial target state doesn't do what it wants.
Both kinds of threats contrast with the actual use of military force, nuclear or conventional. The two aren't the same. Threats are intended to influence the decision-making calculus of the target state--- Iran in our case --- and induce its leaders to comply with the deterring or compelling state's demands. Threats rely on the promised use of military force --- or, at times, severe economic sanctions backed by blockades, boycotts, and embargos; and military retaliation has to be used if the threats fail to induce the target state to do what the deterring or compelling state wants it to.
In turn, deterrence differs from compellence in the way that the defensive use of military force differs from its offensive use.
Deterrence, to be specific, is intended to prevent aggressive action by the target state that would change the existing geo-political status-quo in its favor. In that sense, to repeat, deterrence is a defensive use of coercive threats, and if the threats fail, the deterrer then needs to have deployed defensive military personnel and weapons to keep the aggressive state from seizing the territory in question. Compellence, by contrast --- like the use of offensive as opposed to defensive force --- is offensive in nature. It aims to use coercive threats to pressure the adversarial state into making concessions that would alter the existing geo-political status quo in its favor, and by its nature, compellence or coercive diplomacy is far more difficult to achieve.
1. A simple example will clarify the differences here. In the cold war, the US sought to deter a Soviet-led Warsaw Pact attack on West Europe: the burden then fell on the Soviet leadership to decide whether to ignore the deterrence-threat, in this case one that entailed an escalation at some point of nuclear weapons. A compellent threat, to stay with the same scenario, could have been to try coercing the Soviets to withdraw from East Berlin or else . . . the "or else" being some form of promised military retaliation that would inflict clearer costs than the benefits of their staying in Berlin. In that case, if the Soviets did nothing, the burden would then fall on the US to attack Soviet forces there or elsewhere.
Compellence was never attempted by the US directly against the Soviet Union any time during the cold war anywhere, let alone in Europe, except once. It was during the Cuban Missile Crisis. When the US failed to deter the Khrushchev-led Soviet Politburo from implanting missiles on Cuban soil, the Kennedy administration then escalated the diplomatic crisis by threatening to attack directly Soviet missiles and ships and compelling the Soviets to withdraw; and to add a carrot to the coercive diplomacy, it offered to withdraw outmoded liquid-fuel ballistic missiles from Turkey.
2. Here's a more recent and relevant example.
Deterrence failed in August 1990 when Saddam Hussein, ignoring American threats of retaliation, invaded and seized Kuwait. For that matter, the use of defensive force to repel the Iraqi invasion wasn't used; there was none available. The US then rushed several hundred thousand troops to the Gulf Region, first to deter or repel any further Iraqi aggression, followed as American forces built up and allies were rounded up, by coercive threats to attack Iraq and Iraqi forces if Saddam didn't withdraw from annexed Kuwait. The coercive nature of the compellent threat was bolstered by UN support in October, plus the arrival in the Gulf region of some European and Arab military forces.
Saddam didn't take seriously the compellent threat. Alternatively, if he didn't think it was a bluff, he believed that the US-led coalition could be defeated --- who knows? In the event, the date set for Iraqi compliance was passed in mid-January 1991, and the US and its allies went on the offensive. Six weeks later, Saddam's forces were trounced everywhere.
(iii.) As the last example indicates, the credibility of a deterrent threat --- let alone a compellent threat --- isn't automatic, even if backed by the promised retaliatory use of nuclear weapons and clear military commitments in advance, such as deploying military personnel, carrier forces, and air bases near the target state. It all hinges on two related things: how the target-state's leadership 1) perceives and defines the situations covered by the deterrent threat, and 2) whether the calculus used by the target state's political leadership in assessing the costs and benefits of aggressive action is rational in a strict instrumental sense.
In this connection, a quartet of purely axiomatic calculations are assumed to be made in deterrence theory . . . however roughly an actual political leadership of the target-state adheres to them.
1. There are the benefits of ignoring the threat --- say, attacking the geo-political status quo in a variety of ways that the deterring state (say, the US) is trying to protect: by use of terrorism, or acquiring new territory and resources, or destroying the military power (and maybe the population) of the deterrer's country or an ally, or achieving regional or global supremacy . . . what have you.
2. Against these benefits, there are threatened costs of retaliation in political, economic, and military terms to the target state that its leadership must weigh;
3. At the same time, the probability of such retaliation actually occurring, and which side might win in the event of a war --- even a nuclear war --- has to be considered and weighed by the would-be aggressor.
4. And --- even more important as we'll see --- the logic of deterrence postulates that the target state's leadership will actually behaves even in a rough-and-ready manner, according to the logic of such a rational cost-benefit calculus.
(iv.) To repeat in different terms, the motives, behavior, and policy-making processes of the target state require --- if deterrence is to work --- that its political leaders behave in a roughly rational manner. They have to know their interests, make good use of information about their options and those of the deterring state, and roughly try to weigh the benefits of aggressive action against the probability and costs of the deterring state seeking to punish their country in retaliatory ways. All this, observe swiftly, is a complex matter, and we'll have a lot more to say about it later on in this series . . . and come to that, in Part Two today.
Keep in mind something else.
All these calculations, however rough-and-ready they might be, are all the more demanding in a world in which neither the leaders of the deterring state (say, the US) nor those of a target state like Iran have full information about the motives, resolve, and military options available to each other. They have to use what best information they have at their disposal --- which may be very imperfect or flawed --- on these scores. Is the target state bluffing when it moves its military forces into a position to strike against the deterring state or its allies? Inversely, is the deterring state's leadership bluffing that it might even risk nuclear war with a nuclear-armed opponent and implement its retaliatory threat if the target state (Iran) goes ahead and launches an attack --- whether non-nuclear, nuclear with missiles, or by means of proxy terrorists. Again, are the leaders of the target state --- the would-be aggressor --- going to behave rationally or do you have to consider that they are either ideological fanatics or, almost as bad, recklessly risk-takers? How great are the fears in the leadership circle of the deterring state for the future if it doesn't retaliate against even limited aggression now, and oppositely what is really really motivating the challenger or target state to decide that it's willing to risk war --- even a nuclear one --- in order to gain from the resulting conflict?
In a world of imperfect information, who can be reasonably sure here? For all these reasons, too, it's even hard to signal credibly what your own resolve might be in retaliating against the target-state if it decides to go ahead and attack you or your allies on a cost-benefit calculus.
Information and rational behavior, mind you, don't have to be perfect. They seldom or ever are. But the logic of deterrence requires that the adversarial state or non-state actors in a conflict involving deterrent or compellent threats make the best use of the information available and calculate in ways that approximate the stringent rational demands.
It's enough right here to ask a key question: whether we can expect the Iranian clerical-fascist mullahs --- whose fervent theocratic ideology and jihadi-commitments are evident --- will behave like Hitlerian Germany or Stalinist and post-Stalinist Russia if the mullahs acquire a fairly large number of nuclear weapons. Both were evil totalitarian mass-murderers, monsters through and through; but Hitler was a reckless high-risk gambler, who ignored or overrode his more cautious generals' warnings and advice --- convinced in the infallibility of his intuitive grasp of warfare and Nazi Germany's destiny ---while Stalin, all his jagged, hyped-up paranoia, turned out to be much more cautious in foreign policy and had the luck or foresight to appoint brilliant generals like Marshall Zhukov as the war with Nazi Germany progressed.
The same was even more true of Stalin's successors after his death in 1953 --- those Communist Party heads who showed an increasing ideological moderation in domestic and foreign policy (if not necessarily in a linear, uninterrupted manner), until Gorbachev's belated efforts at reforming a bankrupt quasi-totalitarian system in the mid- and late 1980s went astray, backfired, and unleashed polarizing tendencies that favored radical reformers in the CP and, more important still, nationalist desires for self-rule among the non-Russian half of the Soviet population. Those who say the current Iranian leadership is like, say, Brezhnev's 20-year rule in the USSR --- you need to note carefully --- really have no clear evidence of this at all.
If anything, the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2005 --- who reflects a radical mass-populism, which may (or may not) have a base independent of the ruling clerics in the dominant non-elective institutions in the Iranian political system --- seems to be signaling a resurgent breakthrough of cocky, militant Shi-ite ideology and Iranian nationalism of a dangerous sort . . . a matter we'll start delving into in Part Two today. The pivotal term here is "seems". We just can't be certain, what with the information available . . . not just to the public, but probably to American, Israeli, and European intelligence agencies.
(v.) The contrast between projecting coercive threats and the actual use of military force --- whether defensive or offensive, if the threats failed to evoke compliance from Iran 9with the US or Israel or both the deterring or compelling states) --- is strictly theoretical, a helpful analytical distinction and little else.
In actual practice, any Iranian military aggression or stepped-up terrorism against Israel, Iraq, or a moderate Arab state would likely provoke military retaliation of a controlled escalatory sort. The aim of such retaliatory escalation --- with promises of ever greater costs if Iranian aggressive action isn't halted and reversed --- means that the US or Israel would still be trying to coerce the Iranian political leadership's shared mind-set and calculus and halt the aggressive behavior.
That's true of most warfare, past and present.
In particular, short of totally destroying an enemy's political, military, and security systems, the victorious side in a war emerges when the defeated state's political and military leadership signals its willingness to negotiate a peace or, alternatively, to totally comply with the victorious state's conditions. The use of nuclear weapons against Japanese cities, to take another example, finally convinced the Emperor and the peace-party in the small Japanese government to accept unconditional surrender in August 1945. By contrast, once in a while, a victorious state or coalition will agree not to stop the war against a common enemy until its political, military, legal, and administrative systems are totally destroyed . . . as happened in May 1945 when Soviet, Russian, and British forces took complete control of the defeated Nazi Germany, or for that matter, far more recently, the US-led coalition did in 2003 in Iraq. Even then, though, Hitler's successor and top surviving generals signed the peace-terms imposed by the victorious allies.
Once in a while, by contrast --- as the Romans did with Carthage back in the 2nd century B.C.E. --- the victorious state not only destroys the existing leadership and institutional structures of the vanquished state, but also its people . . . Carthage simply ceasing to exist as an organized society of any sort. In that case, the Roman leadership had no need for anyone in Carthage to negotiate a final peace with.
(vi.) Earlier, recall, we said that the logic of deterrence assumes not just rational decision-making by the would-be aggressive target- state --- and for that matter, the deterring state's political leadership as well --- but strategic interaction that can, for heuristic purposes only, be modeled as game-theory.
Meaning? Rational adversaries supposedly understand that what each of them can achieve depends on the options and cost-benefit calculations of the other state or states. Deterrence, compellence, diplomatic negotiations, economic negotiations, and warfare all mirror interaction between adversaries that, it's assumed, are each striving to achieve the maximum they can . . . given what they think the options, capabilities, and cost-benefit calculations are of all the players. Both adversaries --- the deterring state and the target state --- are seeking by means of rhetoric, the use of commitments and actions, and possibly bluff and brinksmanship to influence one another's "mind-sets" . . . the cost/benefit calculus each side is supposed to adhere to, roughly anyway, in both a mental and actual bargaining game.
And, to repeat, should deterrence break down and a war occur, the war itself would involve a continuation of the bargaining interaction in which one side or another hopes to prevail. The victor is the state that emerges when the defeated state's leadership decides that the costs of continuing the war aren't worth it and is willing to accept the victor's terms of surrender. That wouldn't change even if the adversarial states had nuclear weapons, unless --- as in the Cold War --- both states had large survivable retaliatory (or second-strike weapons) that, at some point, could lead to mutually suicidal nuclear exchanges on urban-centers; and it was the recognition of this in both Washington and Moscow that led after the Cuban Missile Crisis to try stabilizing the nuclear relationship between the two countries by means of arms control and crisis-control measures.
The US, by contrast --- and probably Israel --- will likely have a huge first-strike force that could destroy all of Iran's nuclear forces in an initial strike way into the future . . . provided an administration decided to launch one for some reason or another.
(vii.) Let's stay with just two interacting states: the US as the deterring state and Iran as the would-be aggression . . . with its aggressive actions that the US would be trying to forestall, with threats of retaliatory punishment, not confined just to military aggression of a traditional sort --- an armed invasion of a neighbor --- or even a preventive nuclear strike on US bases in the Mid-East or on its allies, but also ever increasing diplomatic aggression and, more to the point, intensified use of terrorist surrogates.
The key point to note here?
Even with just two states of this sort, talking about deterrence-and-compellence as though the leadership is fully coherent and united is misleading. Such talk may apply to a totalitarian state like Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia or probably clerical-fascist Iran today, but certainly not the US or Israel.
An American president would have to consider --- while using deterrent or compellent threats aimed at Iran's leaders --- the reaction of Congress, the media, and the electorate. At times too, he would have to weigh the reactions of allies: could you count, say, on NATO to support you in the event of a retaliatory attack to punish Iranian aggression? Hence, to put it briefly, deterrence involves not just strategic interaction among two or more adversarial states, which is a bargaining relationship (implicit and explicit) that entails the use of coercive threats and their credibility, but multi-level bargaining games for democratic leaders . . . at a minimum, whether or not a President or Prime Minister is convinced that the public will generally support war if need be.
Only if a President, then, manages to convince a clear majority of the US Congress and the electorate will he be be able to consider going to war --- nuclear if need be --- to implement a failed deterrent threat if the target-state discounts the threat and attacks an important but not pivotal national interest that all but die-hard pacifists and the radical militants would discount: a direct assault on American territory. Aside from such an attack, there will always be fairly large numbers of people in a democratic society like ours who disagree and favor appeasement . . . whether out of pacifist convictions, or isolationist sentiments, or ideological support for Nazis or Communists or Islamist totalitarians, or because of political disagreement about the important of the overseas interests being attacked by the aggressor. And sometimes, especially nowadays, out of sheer snarling hatred for the President himself.
All these reasons hampered Franklyn D. Roosevelt's efforts to rearm in the 1930s and enter WWII before Pearl Harbor, and the same was true at the start of the Cold War during Harry Truman's Presidency. The drawn-out Vietnam War, which coincided with large-scale domestic upheavals in American life, was the watershed event here: it made it ever harder for moderate Democrats in political life to take a hard-line stance against aggression later on: the case in the Carter Presidency, and to an extent in the Clinton era.
Essentially, to put it bluntly, a President who is trying to stop or repel aggression finds himself bargaining not just with a would-be or actual aggressor by means of military threats and the use of force if the threats fail, but also with allied states, members of his own party in Congress and those in the opposition party, the media, and public opinion. These are hard facts of political life in the US. There's probably no way around them. Only a very skillful President will be able to rally a clear consensus for anything beyond an immediate retaliatory use of weapons to aggression that is not directly on American soil, and any prolonged war --- as in Iraq --- will be very hard to prosecute unless there's a clear exit strategy for victory or, the case today, a very determined President not running for re-election.
(viii.) To work, deterrent threats don't need nuclear weapons to restrain a would-be aggressor. If anything, great and mid-powers have traditionally tried to balance and restrain common adversaries by internally raising their arms and by forming alliances.
Thus the warring, highly individualist Greek city-states --- often at war with one another --- balanced in both ways as an invasion by the then super-power in the Near- and Middle East, the Persian Empire, threatened to attack and gobble them up one by one. The Greek alliance didn't succeed at such deterrence, but when the deterrence failed and a quick decisive war began, it sufficed to lead to an overwhelming military and naval victory over the Persians once and for all.
1. What nuclear weaponry does do, though --- provided there are sure-fire delivery systems --- is promise a far greater form of direct punishment if the target state goes ahead and attacks the geo-political status quo. In particular, unlike the total destruction of Nazi Germany's leadership and institutions by May 1945 --- which couldn't occur until virtually all of Germany's military systems were destroyed by conventional warfare in nearly six years of brutal combat --- a nuclear-armed Britain, US, or USSR in September 1939, when Nazi Germany attacked Poland and World War II began in Europe, would have been able to directly destroy that leadership, institutions, or (if need be) entire urban-industrial complex by means of immediate retaliation . . . all depending on the degree of the nuclear weapons' accuracy and degree of controlled but progressively increasing escalation to force capitulation by Berlin before such total destruction.
2. In the cold war between 1945 and 1991, the US found that possessing a huge, diverse, highly protected nuclear force didn't reinforce deterrence anywhere in conflicts with Soviet or Chinese proxies in the developing world: whether in Korea, Vietnam, Cuba (save for the nuclear crisis of 1962), Central America, the Middle East, or Africa.
The chief reason?
It's far easier to make credible a retaliatory deterrent threat that covers unambiguous crucial interests . . . such as the protection of a country's homeland people and territory. In the cold war, to be more specific, the US and the USSR had no trouble projecting a threat to retaliate against one another should their homelands be struck by nuclear weapons. The jargon for this threat was "central deterrence."
A greater problem arose for the US --- committed to protecting Japan and West Europe from being attacked by the Soviet Union, even with conventional weapons --- in making the threatened use of nuclear weapons in the event of such Soviet aggression. In barebone terms, the problem boiled down to whether the US --- once the Soviets acquired the ability in the 1960s to strike the US homeland with an invulnerable second-strike missile force --- would risk an all-out nuclear exchange with the Soviets if deterrence in, say, Europe failed and the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact attacked with conventional forces. Over time, starting with the Kennedy administration in the early 1960s, various US Presidents sought to overcome the problem of making the threatened use of nuclear weapons credible for such an eventuality by developing ever more accurate missiles --- ballistic and cruise --- that would target non-urban areas: military command posts, bridges, airports, missile sites, ports, and political leadership headquarters. No one, though, was certain such a threat would ever be implemented.
As for third world conflicts of the sort we just mentioned, a credible nuclear threat --- not even in the large-scale wars in Korea and Vietnam --- was virtually impossible to project
(ix.) Fortunately --- a key point --- the US possesses a huge arsenal of highly accurate smart weapons of a conventional sort that can do tremendous damage to Iran's political and military leadership --- headquarters and command centers --- not to mention communications, ports, airports, bridges, industrial firms, energy grids, and so on. The same would be true in attacks by accurate missiles or smart bombs on conventional Iranian weapons systems.
That means that if retaliation to Iranian aggression is needed, a US commander-in-chief has all sorts of very accurate and destructive weapons at his disposal that don't entail the use of nuclear weapons. The burden of then countering such conventional retaliation by the use of nuclear weapons --- against American bases or ships or by means of nuclear, chemical, or biological terrorism carried out against American civilians in the USA itself --- would fall on the Iranian leadership itself. And of course, the use of such accurate smart weaponry could also be linked, in controlled escalatory ways, to the threat of then using nuclear weapons at some point if the Iranians don't stop and reverse their aggressive action or nuclear counter-retaliation.
Whether the US arsenal has conventional silo-busting weapons at its disposal is another matter.
There has been progress, obviously, in increasing the lethal nature of deep bunker-busting bombs or warheads, but hardened nuclear facilities buried dozens of feet underground and protected by concrete is another matter. Sooner or later, such conventionally effective ordinance might materialize, and the sooner the better. Otherwise, if a US administration decides that it needs to attack and destroy the key likely sites in the Iranian network --- and only a dozen or two would be pivotal ones, which would set back any Iranian nuclear progress by a decade or more --- would require small nuclear weapons. Any such attack would be the more effective, setting back the Iranian nuclear R&D by decades, if it were supplemented by a water-tight embargo on the key weapons programs, backed by some sort of blockade.
(x.) Finally, the US and Israel both wield a large arsenal of anti-missile weapons --- high-altitude and low-altitude.
For the US, whose air bases and carrier forces are near to Iranian borders, a commander-in-chief would be able to use these anti-missile systems to destroy Iranian missiles in the relatively slow launch-phase of a missile attack: depending on the level of technology, even solid-fuel ballistic missiles take anywhere from one or two minutes to about four to overcome gravity, rid themselves of the boosters, and reach orbit. It is a stage in which Patriot and other anti-missiles have an overwhelming chance of destroying any launched Iranian missiles.
Cruise missiles --- which Iran seems to possess in a very crude form, and not many that are operational (if any) --- are more difficult to attack this way, and can be launched from the ground, planes, or ships. Even so, they can be shot down as they approach their targets.
Oh Oh. Once more, prof bug underestimated the length of an article. Seeing as how he's already used nearly 13 pages in Word, all single-spaced, it seems better to end today's article and continue the analysis in the 2nd of the series on Iran and nuclear deterrence.