[Previous] [Main Index] [Next]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Can a Nuclear-Armed Terror-State Like Iran Be Reliably Deterred? 8th Article in a Series

"Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad --- who has sparked international outcry by referring to the killing of six million Jews in World War Two as a "myth" and calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map" ---told delegates at an international conference that the Jewish state would be extinguished. 'Thanks to people's wishes and God's will the trend for the existence of the Zionist regime is downwards and this is what God has promised and what all nations want,' he said.' Just as the Soviet Union was wiped out and today does not exist, so will the Zionist regime soon be wiped out.' " [The prose in this Iranian dispatch --- at any rate, the first sentence --- has been slightly altered by prof bug to correct its illiteracies. Ahmadinejad's quoted words in italics appear here exactly as in the original dispatch.]

This, the 8th article in a series on Iran and its nuclear ambitions --- more specifically, on whether a nuclear-armed Iran could be effectively deterred from aggressive foreign and military policies, not least massively stepped-up support for jihadi terrorists worldwide --- nudges the lengthy series fairly close to its end with a fistful of conclusions, each and every one tentative, alas. Why the proviso? Veteran readers of the buggy series will immediately understand the reasons why. In a few moments, those of you new to the series will find some fairly long clarifing remarks, and hopefully they will prove illuminating for you veterans too.

How Today's Article Will Unfold

Specifically in four distinct parts, not all of which, come to think of it --- once prof bug's hands start banging away at the keyboard with bursting energy --- will fit into the space allotted for today's argument . . . or so we can safely wager.

1. In the first part, prof bug will elaborate on some key points that appeared in the series' first article that were posted on the buggy site back in late June 2006 --- or was it 1906? Frankly, hard some times for prof bug to keep the chronology clearly in mind . . . with the days, weeks, months, and even years drifting by now and losing themselves in a jumble of ghostly mists that linger ever more confusedly in a dark subterranean mental realm.

No matter. Time to press on. The major point that will be unpacked in this initial part is the inevitably speculative nature of any analysis of Iran's nuclear ambitions; and more pivotally --- seeing that Tehran's clerical-fascist regime is determined to develop and deploy nuclear weapons on various range missiles --- whether or not a terror-state led by Shiite clerics who yearn to make Iran a great power and put it at the head of the world Islamist movements can be reliably deterred and contained. Reliably meaning what exactly? Meaning more or less the way the US and its allies deterred and contained the Soviet Union in the cold war, putting pressure on its expansionist tendencies until ---in 1991 --- that nasty evil empire imploded, all its institutionalized irrationalities and contradictions blowing that homicidal Communist system clear apart and hurling its scattered relics into a deservedly vast historical dark hole.

Enter what's new in this first part of the article: Even the best intelligence agencies in the world, you see --- whether they're American, British, Israeli, possibly French, or friendly Arab ones --- face a slew of information-gaps and hence uncertainties when it comes to making sense of Iran's susceptibility to effective deterrence and containment . . . and precisely because the gaps and speculative nature of any intelligence assessment part and parcel of the closed, secretive nature of Iran's policymaking nature and its reckless support for Islamist terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas abroad. The huge secrecy is a problem that democratic countries have repeatedly encountered since the origins of modern totalitarian systems based on radical secular or religious ideologies in the aftermath of WWI: how, tersely put, to fathom the motives, overall grand strategy, weapons for carrying it out, and the concrete policymaking processes in such systems. The result? A long history of grave intelligence failures and outright blunders has ensued, starting with Hitler's Germany and Imperial Japan before WWII and continuing throughout the cold war and ever since.

By contrast with Hitler's reckless high-risk aggression --- animated as it was by a death-loving, genocide-dealing racist ideology --- Communist Russia was never wildly and heedlessly rash and recklessly venturesome in its foreign policies. Yes, it was aggressive at times ---- though only when it was certain it wouldn't meet head-on armed resistance directly from the US and its western allies; and on top of that, not even Stalin was willing to let Communist ideology dominate his policymaking abroad. Soviet leaders from Stalin on frequently abandoned Communist allies and movements outside the Soviet Union's imperial orbit and almost always used governmental proxies, not guerrilla movements, let alone terrorist groups, as the major way to encourage Communist expansion in Asia or Africa. For that matter, it was happy to side with Arab or African governments that were busily destroying local Communist parties . . . provided such allies were sufficiently anti-Western as, say, Nasser's Egypt was after 1955 and then, from the late 1960s on, Assad's Syria and Saddam's Iraq.

In the end, not surprisingly, the post-Stalinist leaders of the Soviet Union came to fear Maoist China more than they did the US or NATO. Come to that, neither was it surprising that from 1972 on, Communist China emerged as an unofficial American ally in containing Soviet influence in Asia. It even invaded and fought a brief war in 1979 with Vietnam, a Soviet ally at the time.

2. In the next part, the specific information gaps and uncertainties are laid out again . . . along with the likely concrete threats that a nuclear-armed terror state will pose to the US and its allies and friends. We can be fairly brief here, mainly because these issues were also dealt with in earlier articles . . . though, come to think of it, the comments there will expand on the nature of these likely threats.

3. Part three will unpack some new, fairly weighty issues: above all, why the use of any analogy with deterrence and containment of the Soviet Union in the cold war --- yes, even in the Stalinist era down to 1953 --- is very likely misguided and a faulty source of comfort when it comes to Iran.

This is the case, note quickly, even if Mahmoud Ahmadinejad --- the fanatical, half-crazed president whose megalomaniacal mind crackles with apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo of a frenzied Islamist sort --- is kept from dominating Iran's diplomatic, military, and terrorist-supporting policies in the years to come. And that analogy from the cold war era will be doubly misguided if that manic, fantasizing zealot manages to outmaneuver and prevail over his more traditional clerical-fascist opponents within the inner circles of Iran's ruling mullahs and ayatollahs . . . all of them, note quickly again, corrupt, domineering clerics who yearn, like Ahmadinejad, to make Iran a great power and leader of the world's Islamist revival and jihadi movements, but do worry, it seems, about his rash rhetoric, his motor-mouth diplomacy, and his messianic credo that have so far isolated Iran and caused concern or alarm all over the Middle East, Europe, and elsewhere.

4. The final part will set out some specific recommendations, tentative and speculative as they inevitably are, for dealing with the mushrooming Iranian threat. As you'll see in the introduction that will unfold in a moment, some of these buggy recommendations will no doubt surprise some of you.


Why Any Assessment of a Nuclear-Armed Terror-State That Rules Clerical-Fascist Iran Is Invariably Speculative

A Reminder

As the initial buggy article in the series cautioned back in July 2006 --- at any rate, some time after Columbus sailed to the New World --- there're too many uncertainties and information-gaps that infest the entire topic of Iranian policymaking and the distribution of political power in the era of the new, theocratically fanatical Mahmoud Ahmadinejad presidency for anyone to be sure whether a terror-state like Iran, armed with nuclear weapons, could be effectively deterred and contained the way the Soviet Union was in the cold war.

That's the chief question that hangs over the entire topic. What's more, it's a question that any American administration, Democratic and Republican, will have to ponder carefully for years to come . . . and maybe longer, perhaps a decade or so. Right now, nobody can be certain . . .

1) when Iran can or will deploy a few nuclear-armed missiles;

2) or what will ensue in its diplomatic, military, and terrorist-supporting policies afterwards;

3) or, for that matter, just how powerful and influential Ahmadinejad and his followers are in shaping these policies at present, let alone predict what that influence will likely be in the years to come.

Nor Is That All

The hard truth is, the information-gaps and the numerous uncertainties that they generate about Iranian policymaking --- its nuclear ambitions, the balance of power among different political factions, and more to the point, the influence that Ahmadinejad's fanatical apocalyptic mumbo-jumbo will have on shaping military, diplomatic, and terrorist policies --- are unlikely to give way to harder, empirically grounded knowledge any time soon. The upshot? Any American administration, including the one in power, has to adopt something of a wait-and-see attitude . . . at any rate, it has to unless either this country or Israel decides to launch an effective pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear R&D programs. Short of that option, only speculation will prevail about Iran's nuclear ambitions and policymaking.

Right off, note two things. First off, a wait-and-see attitude in Washington D.C. toward these matters doesn't entail wait-and-see policies toward Iran --- very much to the contrary, something you'll understand a little better in a moment or two.

And second, to say that the various information-gaps and uncertainties they generate about Iran's policymaking, now or in the future --- at any rate, in diplomatic, military, and terrorist policies --- is not to say that all speculation about nuclear-armed Iran is equally futile or worthless.

This Second Point Clarified

Enter the Work of Intelligence Agencies

From what we can reasonably infer, to throw some light on this point, there're probably a dozen or two specialists in US, British, and Israeli intelligence agencies who combine a solid knowledge of Iran, of general diplomatic history and theories of negotiating tactics, and of military affairs ---the latter including such pivotal topics as nuclear weapons, deterrence theory, arms control, and the use of coercive sanctions for either deterrence or compellence (the latter often called "coercive diplomacy"). Obviously, their intelligence analyses --- which are kept secret --- will probably show more sophistication and a better grasp of the dominant realities and future trends in Iran affairs than what journalists or a few scholarly specialists are able to come up with. (For some information about one of these work groups in the US government --- the ultra-secret ISOG (Iran Syria Policy and Operations Group) --- click here. ) Nor is that all. From what we can also reasonably infer, there're no doubt ongoing exchanges of information and views among American, British, and Israeli agencies . . . plus, let us not forget, whatever useful information some of our Arab and NATO allies might come up with on their own.

All this is reassuring, yes? On the other hand --- and in such complex matters as those dealing with Iran's nuclear ambitions and future behavior, there is always "another hand" at work --- their work is not likely to be totally reassuring . . . just the opposite. Why the proviso?

Well, For a Couple of Reasons

The first of these is that such expertise is highly secretive, and so it doesn't help the rest of us much, if at all --- us, you understand, meaning the informed public whose minds aren't driven by ideological dogmas and America-Is-Always-the-Culprit PC-pap. That's obvious, right? Enter the second, far more significant reason for our concern: the record of intelligence failures in even the best of intelligence agencies --- with the most talented analysts and agents --- when it comes to dealing with secretive dictatorial regimes, and for seven decades now.

Note the stress on secretive dictatorial regimes, especially those whose leaders regard themselves as Men-of-Destiny and are inspired by bursting megalomania and extremist ideologies. The record of major blunders --- no other word will do --- started with British and French intelligence failures before WWII to grasp the nature of the Nazi regime's intents, its Grand Strategy for victory, its operational military tactics, and its weaponry.
(1.) To clarify again: Start with March 1939, the month Hitler tore up the Munich Accord of the previous fall and occupied all of Czechoslovakia. From that point on, everyone with two eyes and average IQ knew that war with Nazi Germany was inevitable and most likely over Poland, yet both British and French intelligence began bungling badly. Whatever their input might have been in the run-up to the Munich Conference itself, Neville Chamberlain was indifferent to it: he preferred to look deep into the eyes of Hitler in person and read, he pretended, Hitler's ambitions and inclinations to peace or war, and French Prime Ministers were equally self-deceived.

In the early summer of 1939, the first big bungle toppled into view: neither French nor British intelligence predicted that the Nazi regime would reach an agreement with the equally secretive Stalinist regime to invade Poland simultaneously and carve it up into Soviet and Nazi territory. Worse yet, even in the midst of the war with Nazi Germany that began with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, both French and British military intelligence blundered in assessing German tactics for invading France in the spring of 1940 with armored columns north of the Maginot line, and through what French military intelligence had assumed until then was impassable --- the mountainous Ardennes forest in eastern Belgium. That assumption proved totally wrong, and in retrospect it all the more dumbfounding when you consider that it was the same route that German troops had taken to invade France at the start of WWI.

In the upshot, when the Germans attacked the lowland countries and France in May 1940, both British and French forces were taken completely by surprise: France, despite having larger men under arms and more tanks, collapsed in six weeks, with the outcome inevitable as soon as German forces entered French territory and cut off most of the French army that was in Belgium or to the west. British forces, also forward in Belgium, then had to evacuate from Dunkirk, leaving Nazi Germany totally in control of western Europe.

(ii.) US intelligence before Pearl Harbor was almost as bad. Though our analysts had broken the Japanese military code and knew that Japanese carriers were at sea, they doubted the target was Pearl Harbor --- rather, Indonesia. The day of the attack --- December 7th, 1941, with Washington D.C. 6 or 7 hours ahead of Honolulu in time --- US intelligence finally cracked the last message sent by Tokyo to its embassy in Washington that urged them to warn the US a half-hour or so in advance of the attack . . . not out of any kindness, you understand, but in some misconceived hope 30 minutes warning would blunt the startling impact on American minds of a huge destructive strike out of the blue. Unfortunately, by the time US intelligence cracked the code and found a military authority who authorized a warning-message to Honolulu, it was past noon in Washington and only an hour or so before the Japanese attack would begin. Worst yet, the telephone lines to Pearl Harbor were jammed, and --- believe it or not --- our intelligence had to send the message by Western Union telegraph.

When it reached Pearl Harbor, it was too late. The attack had begun, all the US battleships, cruisers, destroyers, tankers, and troop-carrying ships were bombed into oblivion, with nearly 3000 US sailors left for dead.

(iii.) The cold-war era was also replete with intelligence failures, by the US and its allies. At times --- as in 1956 when Britain, France, and Israel secretly agreed to attack Nasser's Egypt over his seizure of the Suez Canal --- our intelligence couldn't even fathom what democratic friends were up to. No need to elaborate. Most of these failures are well-known.

And Intelligence Failures Galore Since 2000

The intelligence record over the last six years isn't any more encouraging. American, British, Israeli, and all European NATO intelligence forces failed to penetrate the deceptive tricks carried out by Saddam Hussein to conceal, dismantle, or transfer abroad his weapons of mass destruction. North Korea's nuclear program --- especially its enrichment of uranium for weapons grade use --- caught all these agencies by surprise. The same is true of Iran's secretive enrichment program, despite the presence on the ground of International Atomic Agency inspectors. And the less said about the huge terrorist attacks in the US on 9/11 and the lesser but destructive attacks in Britain in July 2005, the better, no?

Want More Evidence of Intelligence Failures? . . . particularly the problems of making sense and analyzing the motives and ambitions --- never mind predicting the concrete behavior --- of secretive, revolutionary dictators who are accountable to no one but themselves in the Middle East?

If so, for a a brief buggy analysis of what might have happened to Saddam's weapons of mass destruction that confounded both US and other intelligence agencies before the war in March 2003, click here. Then click here if you want to look at the non-stop failure of all US intelligence agencies --- and the State Department and the Clinton White House to boot --- to get a proper fix on Yasser Arafat's personality, ambitions, and total aversion to a compromise peace with Israel under the Oslo Peace Accords after 1993. Both of these buggy analyses are found in an appendix at the end of today's article.


So What Lesson Can We Draw Here From These and Other Examples of Serious Intelligence Failure?

Simply this: some analyses of Iranian policymaking, nuclear ambitions, and the regime's probable behavior in a nuclear era --- above all, whether these ambitions and behavior can be successfully contained and deterred if seriously threatening to us --- are likely to be far more knowledgeable than most: above all, of course, those that best intelligence agencies and their friendly counterparts can generate. These agencies will likely have some talented specialists and better information than the outside specialists and journalists have; and if they exchange information with their counterparts in friendly countries, all the better.

All this on the plus side.

On the Debit Side, . . .

as we've just noted, intelligence failures abound in the US and in allied and friendly countries . . . at any rate, when it comes to analyzing and making sense of the motives, ambitions, and policymaking processes of secretive totalitarian or authoritarian dictatorial regimes, intelligence agencies.

These failures repeatedly bedeviled us and our allies before WWII, during the cold war, and ever since 1991, and they will undoubtedly continue to pile up in the future. Note quickly moreover. Our intelligence failures aren't confined to enemy states and Islamo-fascist terrorist movements. Far from it, they've repeatedly beset and befuddled our intelligence agencies' assessments of secretive, allegedly friendly Arab regimes --- themselves, don't forget, equally autocratic and ruled in the end by their secret police, just as brain-jolting botches have blinded the White House to the unreliability and deceptions of the governments in Baghdad since last year's elections.

Our Friendly Mass-Exporter of Hatred, Racism, and Other Niceties of Islamist Extremism

Then there are the Saudi royals, in a class of their own as far as self-serving machinations and double-dealing are concerned.

For the last three decades, these utterly corrupt, self-serving debauchees have been busy exporting blatantly anti-Western, Jew-hating Islamist extremism of the Wahhabi sort --- not to forget their buyoff bribes of al Qaeda with lavish payola; yet the CIA continued, apparently, to see the Saudis as a friendly country, while the State Department outdid even that botched view: believe it or not, until the journalist Joe Mobray revealed its bankrupt treatment of the big-spending Saudis in 2002, the US State Department allowed Saudi citizens who wished to travel to the US preferred treatment not given to any other country in the world, even our those of our NATO allies: Saudis did not have to be interviewed by a US consular official in Saudi Arabia to obtain a visa! All the while, of course, the oil-rich princes in or out of power continued to try buying off al Qaeda with lavish payola, and only long after 9/11's mssacres did the the CIA seem to pin down such generous Saudi protection-money.

And yet, remember, 90% of the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, recall quickly, came from Saudi Arabia, but as far as our permanent diplomatic staff was concerned, the Saudis --- who no doubt bribe everybody in sight --- could get a visa at a travel agency in Saudi Arabia without any background check!


Are Such Intelligence Failures Inevitable?

The Honest Answer: Yes and No.

It all depends, you see. Yes, a surprise and not inevitable . . . because some of these failures can be traced to bureaucratic pathologies like interagency conflicts, and some to group-think that can infest all large organizations, and many if not most of these can be corrected with proper political and organizational leadership. The same is true if there is a lack of qualified intelligence agencies. Possibly, without expecting too much, the efforts to create a more integrated hierachy over our numerous intelligence agencies under a National Director will ultimately lead to improvement here. We can only hope so.

But no --- not fully surprising, and to an extent inevitable. How so? Well, when you consider what the intelligence agencies of this country and its NATO allies are up against, the hard fact is that intelligent analysts will always encounter special problems when it comes to dealing with secretive dictatorial regimes, whether they're Communist, Fascist, Islamo-Fascist, or autocratic in nature; and the problems are even greater when trying to predict the attacks of Islamo-fascist terrorist groups. The chief reason is easy to pin down. Consider, to grasp it, what our top foreign and military policymakers require if they're to deal effectively with these closed, secrecy-enshrouded regimes led by dictators of various sorts.

Four Barriers

Above all, what our policymakers want is to get solid, well-informed analysis of at least four complex matters regarding those dictatorial regimes (forget terrorist organizations for the moment), none of which complexities are easy to get accurate information about. This is true of all secretive anti-democratic systems, and it's doubly true of certain totalitarian regimes like Saddamite Iraq, Hitlerian Germany, Maoist China, Stalinist and even post-Stalinist Russia, and North Korea today. Even many of the leaders not at the very core of power in those regimes --- top generals, top diplomats, Cabinet ministers, or what you --- are almost totally excluded from the duplicitous wiles and arbitrary acts of a Saddam Hussein, Adolf Hitler, Mao Tse-Tung, Josef Stalin, and Kim Jung I or II.

So what are the four things our intelligence analysts need, but can't easy obtain (if at all)? In plain language, what happen to be . . .

1) The ambitions, motives, and mind-set of the dominant dictator or, possibly, the shared mind-set of any collective leadership --- especially those motives and ambitions that pose threats to us;

2) The actual policymaking processes that shape diplomacy, military, and terrorist-oriented policies --- including the distribution of power among competing factions (if any) --- both on a day-to-day basis and in overall long-term strategic ways (Grand Strategy is the name here);

3) The actual weapons-programs that the secretive regime is funding: their nature, their progress, and the likely uses of the resulting weapons in supporting the threats to us;

4) The degree to which the regime is stable or not: how much support for it among the general population can be conjectured in the absence of free elections or uncensored survey polls, and whether --- if there are apathy, resentments, or hostility on a large scale that can be fairly reliably estimated --- the regime will survive for two decades or more or, alternatively, will enter a crisis and collapse for one reason or another in the short- or mid-term.

These are formidable barriers to accurate intelligence analysis and predictions. What's more, thanks to to them, the spun-out record of such intelligence failures in democratic countries --- a good 70 years or so in length now --- suggests that no matter who leads the CIA and its counterparts abroad, significant failures will almost certainly occur in the future. That doesn't mean we should lightly excuse the failures when they materialize: someone --- the head of the CIA or its equivalents, or a group of analysts, or a President or Prime Minister --- should always be held accountable . . . the latter, key political leaders, if they've manipulated or ignored accurate estimates and fail to take responsibility for their actions and seek to remedy what went wrong.

Even so, we simply have to face up to the likelihood of intelligence analysis going astray, and possibly in serious ways, whenever it is confronted with ultra-secretive dictatorial regimes and strives to fathom what's what in the ideological and psychological make-up of their leaders, in their long-term ambitions, and in their risk-taking propensities . . . never mind their probable reactions to specific American policies toward them. The latter --- the options and risk-taking responses of our ideological enemies to American initiatives or counter-responses --- is critical, and it hinges directly on making sense of their leaders' traits, ambitions, ideological fervor, and so on, none of it easily gauged. And so, will negotiations work with such enemies as Chamberlain and Daladier believed they would in dealing with Hitler, or backfire? Will deterrent or compellent threats prove effective against such ideological enemies or lead to escalation, and if the latter, what then? How should carrots be combined with threats, or should they? What are the specific options that our enemies have for countering our own initiatives --- such as toppling a monstrous regime like Saddam Hussein's, only for us to find ourselves caught in violent anarchy, chaos, sectarian hatreds, and near civil-war? Etc, etc.


Still, However Tentative and Full of Speculation, Some Buggy Advice Rears Up Briefly Here

So what should the US do in order to gain more accurate information about Iranian policymaking in the Ahmadinejad era?

Well, this leads immediately to a recommendation of prof bug's --- his first --- but we'll only mention it at this point. To do more right now would be to run way way ahead of the argument. In particular, keep in mind that diplomatic talks or negotiations can serve more than one purpose, and there are all sorts of reasons for entering into them besides the chimerical and probably fatuous notion of a hoped for give-and-take settlement with Iran's leaders of our looming conflicts . . . or so today's buggy comments will argue.

What, is prof bug out of his mind?

No, not entirely anyway.

As you'll see, he'll argue argue that we enter into such talks for our own specific aims even in the era of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad: agreed, a frenzied religious megalomaniac, whose manic, cocksure belief that he's the personal vassal of the Mahdi-Messiah or Hidden Imam can't be doubted . . . any more than can his equally half-crazed, grandiose conviction that the Mahdi will return any day now and usher in the inevitable Apocalyptic Final-Battle with the infidel world. And the Islamic Savior will materialize again and prevail over the infidels, observe quickly, precisely because he, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ----a Heaven-Sent Great Man of Islam on the order of Saladin or maybe right up there with Mohammed himself --- is convinced that he soon preside over a nuclear-armed Iran, take control of the world Islamist movement, and guarantee its ultimate rule everywhere, slaying infidel-dragons wherever they resist and fight back.

Enough said for the moment. To add anything more about the various purposes of such talks with our ideological enemies --- such as the opportunity, assuming we can find a new Henry Kissinger, of playing Iran and Syria against one another --- would be too much of a presumably good thing at this point. Especially since, we have more pressing tasks at hand.


Oh oh! What with the length of part one --- already a good 10 pages of single-spaced paragraphs in Word --- this seems to be a convenient stopping-point for today's argument. Parts two, three, and four will unfold in a follow-up article that should appear in a few days.