Home » Spencer's Writings » Iran: Peace in our time?

Iran: Peace in our time?

For those of you who don’t know, there was a British Prime Minister called Neville Chamberlain who, in 1938, flew to Munich and held a series of tense meetings negotiating with a certain obscure Chancellor of Germany named Adolf Hitler, who was threatening to invade Czechoslovakia (an invasion which, it was thought, would kick off another great European conflagration akin to WWI because Britain was allied to Czechoslovakia and promised to declare war on Germany if they did invade Czechoslovakia). This threat was being made by Hitler after he had already invaded Austria and a part of Germany called the Saarland (which until then had been owned by France but was inhabited mainly by German speaking people).

Chamberlain was desperate to avoid war, not only because obviously it would cost a lot of lives but also because Britain’s military at the time sucked; it had been starved of new weapons and essential money during The Great Depression and was totally inadequate for fighting Nazi Germany. So to avoid war, Chamberlain agreed (on behalf of the Czechoslovakians and without their say) to let Hitler have a part of Czechoslovakia (the Sudetenland, also largely inhabited by German speaking people) if Hitler promised not to take any more land, which he did. Chamberlain was either being naive when he trusted Hitler or he was very cynically trading away the Czechoslovakians’ sovereignty to buy time needed for Britain to re-arm itself (the former view is the most common). Well, Hitler got what he wanted and took the Sudetenland, which, funnily enough, was where most of the Czechoslovakian Army was stationed and where the lynchpin of the Czechs’ defences (their very formidable border fortresses) were located. Robbed of their best means of defence, the Czechoslovakians were left defenceless by the British, which enabled Hitler to take the rest of Czechoslovakia while Britain did nothing.

Anyway, Chamberlain, upon his return to England from Munich, gave a press conference. At one point he took out a piece of paper and waved it for the crowd to see declaring that it was the paper he and Hitler had signed which guaranteed “peace in our time”. Needless to say, it didn’t. Within a year and a half, Britain and Germany would be at war.

So what does this have to do with Iran, Obama, and the nuke deal? Well, for one, Obama wouldn’t be caught dead uttering “peace in our time” but that is precisely what this is. This deal is nothing more than peace in our time, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a bad thing, nor is it a sure thing that Iran and the United States will go to war (and for the love of all that’s Holy, pray they never do).

Firstly, I think it is worth noting that many, many famous international treaties and agreements have had secret provisions attached to them which the public would not learn about until many years (even decades) after the event, and I would not be the least bit surprised if there are some very important details being agreed upon to which we are not privy. I would also bet good money that this deal was signed based on highly classified information known only to a handful of American or Iranian leaders revolving around what America knew, what Iran knew, and (more importantly) what Iran knew America knew. Public speculation about this deal is thus almost entirely meaningless (probably).

However, a deal is better than nothing and the fundamental reason for that is this: only Iran can prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon. Only if Iran agrees not to procure a nuclear weapon will Iran remain a non-nuclear power.

Simply put, despite all of America’s might, its options are extremely limited when it comes to preventing Iran from going nuclear. We have the negotiating table and we have full scale war (the cost of which, in lives and money, would far exceed the likely costs of there being a nuclear Iran). Other than going to war or asking Iran nicely not to build a bomb, we have some very limited means of subterfuge to try and undermine Iran’s nuclear program. Computer viruses, assassinating nuclear scientists, and maybe, maybe limited airstrikes are about all we can wield against Iran, and all three have their limits (and all three are violations of international law, for what it’s worth). However, the sad fact of the matter is that the know-how is the most difficult part to acquire when it comes to building a nuke, and Iran has the know-how (if only barely). Russia, China, and Pakistan all have nukes and all three are just the right combination of evil, corrupt, and unscrupulous that they might sell Iran the know-how and the material. So, while Iran might struggle to gain the necessary material, if they want a bomb, they will get one, and the US can only delay that.

As such, only Iran can stop Iran from getting a bomb…unless we fight a full scale war, and that would involve the largest American military commitment since Vietnam certainly, possibly larger than Korea or even rivaling the Second World War.

Iran is a country which cannot be underestimated. It may not be the largest country in the world, it may not have the largest army, the latest and greatest fighter planes or tanks, or an unsurpassed industrial base, but Iran would be a very tough nut to crack for several reasons. Iran is a very large (physically) country, a very mountainous country, and it is not a maritime country, three things which make it difficult for a power like America to subdue because to conquer Iran would involve 1)a significant, protracted war on land in which our immense power at sea would be largely unhelpful, 2)a war which gives an advantage to the defender due to the nature of mountainous terrain (above all, it would hinder any invader’s mobility), and 3)a war against a very large, hostile population. The effect of numbers cannot be understated. Although sheer mass alone would not be enough to win victory for Iran, it would present difficulties. Equally, those people would be well motivated. Although the Iranian regime may not be popular with many Iranians (and many Iranians are not as hostile to America as their leaders would like), when fighting for hearth and home, even the least popular regimes can enjoy fanatical levels of support from their people. When the Third Reich invaded the Soviet Union, Stalin and his regime were so despised many Soviets welcomed the Nazis as liberators! Nevertheless, the Russian people would rally around Stalin in defense of the Motherland and would continue to resist the Nazis despite losing millions of lives (and despite the fact that the reason the Nazis had come so close to winning the war in Russia was largely Stalin’s fault). And if there is one lesson learned from the wars of the Twentieth Century, it is that the morale of the people is not so easily broken, especially in dictatorships. Despite ever increasing punishments from strategic bombing, neither the Germans or the Japanese people (or their leaders) were made to surrender any earlier than before their armies were defeated (excepting of course the two atomic bombs dropped on Japan which did have the desired effect, an effect which it was wrongly thought could be obtained from conventional bombing alone). Likewise, despite dropping more ordnance on Vietnam than on the whole of Germany and Japan in the whole of World War II combined, the Communist leadership of North Vietnam retained their grip on power and were not defeated. In short, in a dictatorship, where the people know only what their leaders want them to know and where the leadership can safely ignore the will of the people, any kind of “shock and awe” aimed at bringing a war to a swift close will likely not result in what is intended (that is not to say, however, that indiscriminate bombing is entirely useless).

So if the morale and the resolve of Iran and the Iranian people can realistically be said to be limitless, can the same be said of America. No. Democracies are not very good at fighting wars of aggression (and make no mistake, if America declares war on Iran to prevent them from getting a nuke, it will be a war of aggression), and democracies are even worse at fighting wars which impact ordinary people on a daily basis. To fight a war against Iran would involve ruinous taxation (either during or after the event), conscription, and tremendous loss of life, all of which are anathema to most Americans. Moreover, Americans in general are a simplistic, naive, and sentimental people who cannot stomach the thought these days of any life being lost in the settling of great questions of international import. Although Americans can easily ignore the deaths of a few dozen people abroad at a time (people whom Americans regard as guilty brown people worthy of whatever comes to them so long as their government calls them “terrorists”–that is if Americans give them any regard at all), they cannot and will not ignore death if it happens en masse and suddenly. Indeed, Americans are predisposed to give undue weight to death if it strikes suddenly and en masse, hence our fixation on airplane crashes and our overreaction to 9/11. Of course, when I say “Americans” I am really referring to American TV news, but it is American TV News which shapes opinions and world views of American policy makers (American people in general ignore serious news subjects, and on the atypical occasion they pay attention, have the attention span only for the most lurid and simple of news narratives). All of which adds up to this: IF war should come and IF Iran’s military merely throws droves and droves of poor conscripts at the American invaders (whom the American military should have no problem killing in droves), it would look bad on TV. It would look like a big evil bully is fighting an unfair fight against a poor, oppressed nation, and well-intended foreign governments would decry our use of “excessive force” (a phrase which should have no place in a serious war), which less-than-well-intentioned governments (*cough*PUTIN*cough*) would latch on to. All of this would serve to weaken American resolve, and in war no shortage is more acute than a shortage of will to win.

This of course is all speculation, but I believe it to be well informed speculation, an educated guess. War with Iran is possible, we must not kid ourselves nor shy away from the option if it is deemed the best (or, more realistically, least worst) option. However, it would be extremely costly and victory would not be assured.

All of this returns to the recent deal. Iran agreed not to acquire a nuclear weapon for 10 years, which Iran could violate at any moment. If they suddenly announce they have a nuke 7 years from now, are we really going to attack a nuclear armed country for violating an agreement 3 years early? In exchange for this promise, the sanctions under which they have for so long been suffering are immediately to be lifted.

I can’t claim to be an expert on Iran, nor yet to know intimately conditions within Iran, the thoughts of the average Iranian or the thoughts of Iran’s leadership, but I can see the immediate obvious effects of the agreement: Iran grows stronger. In exchange for this, America has only a promise. This is not nothing however. Of course Iran will probably try to get around this agreement (if not subvert it entirely, à la Hitler’s abrogation of the Versailles Treaty), but they will have to go to greater lengths to hide their nuclear development, which will likely retard their progress. Who knows? This deal might even work and actually buy 10 years of a non-nuclear Iran…but of course that is the most it can do.

I am not hesitant to criticize President Obama, especially on domestic matters but also on matters of foreign policy. Domestically I think he is a serpent lipped socialist who espouses some of the most radical leftist preachings of any American president since FDR while claiming to be a reasonable moderate (and at the same time lambasting anyone who opposes him as an unreasonable extremist). His foreign policy is nothing short of a disaster; he has not pulled us out of Afghanistan, were we ought not to be, and yet removed American forces way too quickly from Iraq. In fairness, American troops ought not be in Iraq either, though if Obama had left Iraq to its fate that would be a somewhat defensible, if very cold-hearted decision; instead though he made Iraq an even bigger mess than it was in 2008 and is again involving America in the perpetual quagmire which is the Middle East. I mean, where is the Ottoman Empire when you need them? Hell, even the Persian Empire would do; at least they weren’t Fundamentalist Muslims. Obama involved America (and NATO, by which it is largely meant America) in Libya, for no real reason, which has subsequently degenerated into nightmarish violence between competing fundamentalist militias trying to fill a power vacuum America played no small part in creating. Obama then did not get involved in Syria, which was the right decision (in my opinion) and yet he managed to do nothing and ended doing it badly, making empty threats and appearing to be cowed by Putin. Obama has also presided over a generally corrupt administration which has covered up several serious scandals (or had the press willingly cover it up on their behalf), and in general has not only failed to stem the ever growing tidal wave of government regulatory agencies which operate largely without oversight…Obama has helped them grow!

Despite all of that, I am willing to give Obama credit: this nuclear deal might have prevented war. However, we must not kid ourselves: this is a deal fundamentally predicated on the concept of “peace in our time”.

If this deal buys ten years of a non-nuclear Iran, good. Perhaps in that time, the Iranian regime will begin to crumble or soften its resolve; perhaps the hardliners will fall from favor or lose their influence. Perhaps, even, the Iranian people will make clear they have no stomach for war, least of all with the United States. Perhaps.

If we waste those years, however, then it will all have been for naught (and since Obama won’t be president for most of the coming ten years, whatever happens largely will not reflect on him, and as such I think he ought to be given credit for getting this deal; it will be up to his successors to make of it what they will). So what can we do in those ten years to ensure either a non-nuclear Iran or a peaceful nuclear Iran? Well, I don’t know what we can do, but I’m sure we can come up with some ideas.

-SL

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