Sunday, July 11, 2010

Iran, Israel, the Gulf States and a New Big Bang: Considering Vertical and Horizontal Scenarios

"For by wise council, you shall make your war" -- Proverbs 24:6 


The term "the big  bang" was first used by Tom Barnett in his Pentagon's New Map piece in Esquire and was further explained in his book of the same name. A quick rundown: a "big bang" is vertical scenario - for example, the war in Iraq - which sets off a series of horizontal changes in political realities of a given region. In the original article, Barnett was arguing that invading Iraq was a way to lay a big bang on the calcified political institutions of the Sunni Arab world. Barnett's core argument is that the U.S. can have a positive impact on the world when we construct horizontal strategies to deal with vertical shocks (even if we create those vertical shock ourselves) and that Iraq could have been/maybe still is an opportunity for the U.S. to redefine our relationship with both key Middle Eastern states and the rising new core of globalization, including India and China.

Today a new "big bang" waits in the wings, this time to be led by the Middle East's regional Leviathan - Israel - and this later day big bang offers a chance for the United States, if we seize the opportunity, to redefine the politics of the Middle East for the next century.

The Coming Vertical Scenario in the Mid East: The Iranian-Israeli War

I've been pretty critical of a potential American/Israel - for all intents and purposes there is little difference in this case - strike on Iran.

But Joe Liberman rarely calls me for advice about foreign policy - too bad, because we'd agree on a lot (but not Iran) - and he currently has more influence than I do:

U.S. Senator Joseph Lieberman says there is a broad consensus in Congress that military force can be used if necessary to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.
Lieberman cites a recent set of sanctions passed by Congress against Iran as a potential deterrent. But he insists that the goal of keeping Iran from becoming a nuclear power will be accomplished "through diplomatic and economic sanctions if we possibly can, through military actions if we must."

Liberman's comments, in a vacuum, might be disregarded were it not for a growing international cacophony calling for Israel to DO SOMETHING!:

"I think it's a cost-benefit analysis," Mr. al-Otaiba said. "I think despite the large amount of trade we do with Iran, which is close to $12 billion … there will be consequences, there will be a backlash and there will be problems with people protesting and rioting and very unhappy that there is an outside force attacking a Muslim country; that is going to happen no matter what."
"If you are asking me, 'Am I willing to live with that versus living with a nuclear Iran?,' my answer is still the same: 'We cannot live with a nuclear Iran.' I am willing to absorb what takes place at the expense of the security of the U.A.E."
When a prominent Arab leader is publicly calling for a strike - implicitly endorsing an Israeli strike against a Muslim nation, well, that sound you hear is Israeli jets revving their engines. This news, taken along with news that the Saudis are willing to look the other way while Israel uses their airspace - maybe even their territory - well, that sound you hear are Saudi F-15s gearing up to cover Israel on their way in:

Saudi Arabia has conducted tests to stand down its air defenses to enable Israeli jets to make a bombing raid on Iran’s nuclear facilities, The Times can reveal.  
In the week that the UN Security Council imposed a new round of sanctions on Tehran, defense sources in the Gulf say that Riyadh has agreed to allow Israel to use a narrow corridor of its airspace in the north of the country to shorten the distance for a bombing run on Iran.
To ensure the Israeli bombers pass unmolested, Riyadh has carried out tests to make certain its own jets are not scrambled and missile defense systems not activated. Once the Israelis are through, the kingdom’s air defenses will return to full alert.

D-Day -1: Considering the Vertical Dimension

Before those jets take off, however, it's important to consider the long term implication of an Iranian-Israeli war. Of particular importance we should consider the chances that such a strike would be successful and what the costs of even a successful strike might be.

Fortunately, we don't have to engage in wild speculation when it comes to an Israeli strike on Iran, because the Center for Strategic and International Studies has published a fairly comprehensive study on the issue.

First, let's take a look at the route:

At the time this report was written the CSIS determined that all three possible routes - southern, central and northern carried with them substantial political risk. Recent developments have eliminated many political risks. For example, although Israel's recent raid on the Turkish flotilla has virtually ruled out the northern route, the Gulf States are now clearly on board and I firmly believe the Obama administration - and by extension Iraq - have or will soon green light the operation, so the southern skies are clear for a strike anytime the mood strikes the IDF. Interestingly, the CSIS report lists the southern route as also having the lowest operational risk, which only supports my belief that what we see publicly WRT Middle East politics is so much theater and all the interested parties decided to hit the Shiite Devil many years ago.

The report goes on to suggest that an air-to-ground strike would push the Israeli air force to its limits and would require the deployment of the bulk of Israel's air asset, about 90 fighters, including all of their most advanced F-16i and F-15is and all four of their KC-135 tankers. It's not hard to imagine that Israel would be reluctant to commit all of their air assets to this one strike, no matter how big of a threat they considered Iran.

On the other hand, the report suggests that Israel could use up to 30 Jericho III ballistic missiles which would do an equivalent amount of damage to Iran's nuclear program, setting it back perhaps several years.

When taken together; Israel's aircraft, ground based ballistic missiles and submarine based cruise missiles; combined with the Arab world seemingly announcing "clear skies" for an Israeli strike, all the pieces are in place for a vertical scenario. According the CSIS report, the best case scenario pushes Iran's nuclear program back several years.

D-Day +1: Considering Horizontal Dimensions

It's worth considering, however, that even the best case scenario acknowledges that Iran will be able to rebuild, probably will, and will do so outside the confines of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, from which they will certainly withdraw. So even if the vertical shock - the strike itself - works like a charm, the world will still have to gird itself for the eventual Shiite bomb, as well as fallout - literal and figurative - from the strike itself.

When it comes to literal fallout, CSIS report is pretty pessimistic about the radiation related deaths. From  page 90 of the report:

• Highest level of environmental damage is caused by a strike on the Reactor, Spent Fuel Storage and the Reprocessing Plants.
• Actinides and Fission products are highly radioactive elements resulting from the fission process in the Reactor. Iodine-131, Stontium-90, Cesium-137 and Plutonium-239, have all been identified as the most damaging to human health.
• Attacking the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor would release contamination in the form of radionuclides into the air.
• Most definitely Bahrain, Qatar and the UAE will be heavily affected by the radionuclides.
• Any strike on the Bushehr Nuclear Reactor will cause the immediate death of thousands of people living in or adjacent to the site, and thousands of subsequent cancer deaths or even up to hundreds of thousands depending on the population density along the contamination plume.
The above quotes and map help illustrate the difference between a vertical and horizontal scenario.Thousands of deaths. As the map I posted above demonstrates, prevailing winds could easily carry contaminates over hundreds or even thousands of square miles, including over the territory of gulf states currently cheer leading for the strike. So even a perfect strike is going to set off political turmoil throughout the region, including in Afghanistan, where the Iranians are likely to take the gloves off - so -to-speak- when it comes to arming and training insurgents to kill American troops. Make no mistake, the soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines on the ground in central Asia will pay a tremendous price to support Israel's grand strategy - a price so high as to virtually guarantee an American withdraw.

What Kind of Day Had it Been?

In a perfect world, Israel wouldn't be considering a strike on Iran. In a perfect world, or even one that makes a bit more sense then the one we live, the U.S. would have normalized with Iran shortly after 9/11 and leveraged that relationship to buttress out other regional goals, including stabilizing Afghanistan and undermining Saddam Hussein. In even a marginally more rational world, the U.S. would have sent representatives to Tehran - say Kissinger, Bush 41, James Baker and Bill Clinton - to make peace with Iran as we ramped up for the invasion of Iraq. In that world, Hussein might have taken the very generous exile offer that was on the table before him in 2003 and gone away quietly, lest he fall before the coming American/Iranian onslaught.

Unfortunately, we don't live in a perfect world. We live in a world with a government controlled by failed lawyers (successful lawyers can't afford a career in government) where few Americans know the differences between Shiites and Sunnis, Arabs and Persians or even Iraq and Iran. In this world, the control of U.S. domestic and foreign policy has always been at least marginally influenced by radical Christianists (not to be confused with actual Christians) and faux patriots who were always on the verge of slightly deranged policy choices detached from reality. In this world, we look for the least bad American policy choice and understand that formulating a sustainable "grand strategy" is beyond the ability of any American government that can get elected.

Given the reality and limitations we face, we must deal with situation at hand. It's likely that Israel will attack Iran and, for better or worse, the U.S. will get sucked into the melee. Stopping Israel at this point probably forces Obama to pay an untenable political price - domestically - and further add to his international reputation as a later day Hamlet - a man who has allowed the native hue of his resolution to be sicklied over by the pale cast of thought. By wasting so much time and diplomatic leverage pressing for sanctions on Iran Obama backed himself into this corner, but here we are, and now the time has come to deal with coming vertical shock by coming up with a horizontal scenario that not only makes best of an ugly situation, but actually set up both the United States and the world for positive developments.

D-Day+2: A Horizontal Scenario for 2010

If we accept that Israel will strike, and that she will strike with the implicit or explicit support of both the U.S. and the Arab world, then it is vital that the U.S., Israel, the Arab world, and the world at large get something out of the strike. Because no matter what Israel does Iran will get the bomb, but a post-strike Iran is going to be even more paranoid, less connected and less transparent than the Iran we deal with today, and they'll be nursing a serious national trauma in the form of thousands of casualties from the strike.  So we don't get a non-nuclear Iran out of the deal, but here is a list of things we ought to get:

#1. Rapprochement  between Israel and Saudi Arabia. This must be the sine qua non of American support for any military action. I would even support the U.S. moving a squadron of F-22s to Iraq and making it very clear that any Israeli or Saudi jet that overflies is being shot down unless we see these two countries bury their respective hatchets.  Because whatever differences Israel and Saudi Arabia claim to have, its become pretty clear that in the real world their respective national strategies rarely diverge and increasingly we're seeing a convergence - which is terrific - but we can no longer let two of our strongest allies pretend to hate each other strictly for domestic political reasons. So if Israel and Saudi Arabia agree to recognize one another and begin a diplomatic relationship, the U.S. should agree to underwrite whatever they're planning WRT to Iran.

And if you think peace between Arabs and Israelis is a lot to ask....

#2. Israel, Saudi Arabia and India get permanent seats on the U.N. Security Council. For too long, the U.N. Security Council has been a the group that won WWII, and sooner or later the UNSC will have to grow, and this is as good a time as any.  Each of the three countries I've selected is important in both their respective regions and in terms of the global economy. All three are also relatively stable in terms of both their governments and their borders, and all three have a serious interest in the stability of both the global economy and international security. In short, all three are perfect candidates for the first round of new admits to the UNSC since 1945 (not counting the ROC/PRC switch and the Soviet Union/Russia switch).

Given their nuclear status, population and increasingly prominent diplomatic and economic position in the world, its high time India joined China on the UNSC anyway.  For the U.S. India is a largely selfish pickup, because bombing Iran probably means giving up on Afghanistan this round, which means we're going to have to use India to counterbalance Pakistan and as a base for deploying drones and Spec Ops forces to kill ISI assets (let us call things by their proper names: Taliban, Al Qeada = ISI asssets) in the region. Sponsoring them for UNSC membership is just our way of saying "you guys were right about Pakistan, we're sorry, let's be friends". 

This whole mess has been at least partially driven by Israel's - not entirely unjustified - belief that the whole world is out to get them and that too many countries in the world today might be more or less indifferent to A-Jad following through on his promise to "wipe Israel off the map (the actual quote was probably a mis translation, but I digress). UNSC membership, when combined with a daring raid on Iran nuclear facilities and rapprochement with the House of Saud finally gives Israel the global respect and sense of stability they've been clambering for since 1948. They'll soon discover that with great power comes great responsibility, and also along with their new relationship with Saudi Arabia they'll have to deal with some lingering issues WRT both Gaza and West Bank, but resolving those issue is both inevitable and desirable if Israel is to develop global economic power commensurate with their regional military prowess.

Finally, Saudi Arabia may seem like an odd choice. They are neither the largest nor the most progressive Muslim nation, nor are they all that integrated into global economy - oil exports notwithstanding - and they certainly leave much to be desired when it comes to human rights. In the scenario at hand, however, the Saudi's are willing to stick their necks out, both to recognize Israel and to strike Iran, and they deserve something for that effort. Also, the strike on Iran, assuming it goes down as described in the CSIS report, will kill thousands of Muslims in Iran and maybe other countries in the region, so sponsoring the nation that houses Mecca for membership on the body that can veto U.N. action should go a long way to make clear that our beef is not with Islam. As a bonus, just as UNSC membership will elevate Israel and force them to deal with internal contradictions, UNSC membership will give a little push to a lot of the changes underway in Saudi society.

In order to make this plan happen, it would have to be a package. I'm not sure how a state gets a permanent seat on the UNSC, but I'd imagine a unanimous vote of all 5 current permanent members ought to be enough. While the 5 member may find reasons to object to any of the 3 new members individually, forcing them in as a package deal makes it difficult for anybody to object. France and the U.K. would be fairly easy to convince to go along with whatever the U.S. suggests, and Russia has a long-standing relationship with India and a developing relationship with Israel they would want to buttress. China will protest to India's ascension to permanent status, but recent history suggests that China rarely wants to be the odd man out on the UNSC, so once the three European (counting U.S. as "European") powers plus Russia are on board, China should come along.     


In a perfect world, this wouldn't be an issue. In a perfect world, the U.S. and Israel would both realize the realpolitik advantages of an alliance with Iran and count on deterrence to keep their nuclear weapons in check. But we don't live in a perfect world, so we have to make do with the hand we've been dealt. As Israel and the Arab countries beat the drum for the ultimate vertical solution to Iran's nuclear program, it falls on the U.S. to demand a horizontal strategy that forever changes the politics of both the Middle East and South Asia.  



1 comment:

Nathan said...

By even quoting Barnett (a pathologically militaristic Pentagon tool) as someone to take seriously, you are appearing like a joke of a political scientist!

How can you even refer to him and the UN on the same webpage??? And then to suggest Israel could be placed on the UNSC?!?!?! What a contradiction ....

Sadly, it looks like your University education, your imagination and your website have all been colonised by US Imperialism. You should change this.