Features

March/April 2012 We Can Live with a Nuclear Iran

Fears of a bomb in Tehran’s hands are overhyped, and a war to prevent it would be a disaster.

By Paul Pillar

The simple argument is that Iranian leaders supposedly don’t think like the rest of us: they are religious fanatics who value martyrdom more than life, cannot be counted on to act rationally, and therefore cannot be deterred. On the campaign trail Rick Santorum has been among the most vocal in propounding this notion, asserting that Iran is ruled by the “equivalent of al-Qaeda,” that its “theology teaches” that its objective is to “create a calamity,” that it believes “the afterlife is better than this life,” and that its “principal virtue” is martyrdom. Newt Gingrich speaks in a similar vein about how Iranian leaders are suicidal jihadists, and says “it’s impossible to deter them.”

The trouble with this image of Iran is that it does not reflect actual Iranian behavior. More than three decades of history demonstrate that the Islamic Republic’s rulers, like most rulers elsewhere, are overwhelmingly concerned with preserving their regime and their power—in this life, not some future one. They are no more likely to let theological imperatives lead them into self-destructive behavior than other leaders whose religious faiths envision an afterlife. Iranian rulers may have a history of valorizing martyrdom—as they did when sending young militiamen to their deaths in near-hopeless attacks during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s—but they have never given any indication of wanting to become martyrs themselves. In fact, the Islamic Republic’s conduct beyond its borders has been characterized by caution. Even the most seemingly ruthless Iranian behavior has been motivated by specific, immediate concerns of regime survival. The government assassinated exiled Iranian dissidents in Europe in the 1980s and ’90s, for example, because it saw them as a counterrevolutionary threat. The assassinations ended when they started inflicting too much damage on Iran’s relations with European governments. Iran’s rulers are constantly balancing a very worldly set of strategic interests. The principles of deterrence are not invalid just because the party to be deterred wears a turban and a beard.

If the stereotyped image of Iranian leaders had real basis in fact, we would see more aggressive and brash Iranian behavior in the Middle East than we have. Some have pointed to the Iranian willingness to incur heavy losses in continuing the Iran-Iraq War. But that was a response to Saddam Hussein’s invasion of the Iranian homeland, not some bellicose venture beyond Iran’s borders. And even that war ended with Ayatollah Khomeini deciding that the “poison” of agreeing to a cease-fire was better than the alternative. (He even described the cease- fire as “God’s will”—so much for the notion that the Iranians’ God always pushes them toward violence and martyrdom.)

Throughout history, it has always been worrisome when a revolutionary regime with ruthless and lethal internal practices moves to acquire a nuclear weapon. But it is worth remembering that we have contended with far more troubling examples of this phenomenon than Iran. Millions died from forced famine and purges in Stalin’s Soviet Union, and tens of millions perished during the Great Leap Forward in Mao Tse-tung’s China. China’s development of a nuclear weapon (it tested its first one in 1964) seemed all the more alarming at the time because of Mao’s openly professed belief that his country could lose half its population in a nuclear war and still come out victorious over capitalism. But deterrence with China has endured for half a century, even during the chaos and fanaticism of Mao’s Cultural Revolution. A few years after China got the bomb, Richard Nixon built his global strategy around engagement with Beijing.

The more sophisticated-sounding argument about the supposed dangers of an Iranian nuclear weapon—one heard less from politicians than from policy-debating
intelligentsia—accepts that Iranian leaders are not suicidal but contends that the mere possession of such a weapon would make Tehran more aggressive in its region. A dominant feature of this mode of argument is “worst-casing,” as exemplified by a pro-war article by Matthew Kroenig in a recent issue of Foreign Affairs. Kroenig’s case rests on speculation after speculation about what mischief Iran “could” commit in the Middle East, with almost no attention to whether Iran has any reason to do those things, and thus to whether it ever would be likely to do them.

Kroenig includes among his “coulds” a scary possibility that also served as a selling point of the Iraq War: the thought of a regime giving nuclear weapons or materials to a terrorist group. Nothing is said about why Iran or any other regime ever would have an incentive to do this. In fact, Tehran would have strong reasons not to do it. Why would it want to lose control over a commodity that is scarce as well as dangerous? And how would it achieve deniability regarding its role in what the group subsequently did with the stuff? No regime in the history of the nuclear age has ever been known to transfer nuclear material to a nonstate group. That history includes the Cold War, when the USSR had both a huge nuclear arsenal and patronage relationships with a long list of radical and revolutionary clients. As for deniability, Iranian leaders have only to listen to rhetoric coming out of the United States to know that their regime would immediately be a suspect in any terrorist incidents involving a nuclear weapon.

The more sophisticated-sounding argument links Iran with sundry forms of objectionable behavior, either real or hypothetical, without explaining what difference the possession of a nuclear weapon would make. Perhaps the most extensive effort to catalog what a nuclear-armed Iran might do outside its borders is a monograph published last year by Ash Jain of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. Jain’s inventory of possible Iranian nastiness is comprehensive, ranging from strong-arming Persian Gulf states to expanding a strategic relationship with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. But nowhere is there an explanation of how Iran’s calculations—or anyone else’s— would change with the introduction of a nuclear weapon. The most that Jain can offer is to assert repeatedly that because Iran would be “shielded by a nuclear weapons capability,” it might do some of these things. We never get an explanation of how, exactly, such a shield would work. Instead there is only a vague sense that a nuclear weapon would lead Iran to feel its oats.

Analysis on this subject need not be so vague. A rich body of doctrine was developed during the Cold War to outline the strategic differences that nuclear weapons do and do not make, and what they can and cannot achieve for those who possess them. Such weapons are most useful in deterring aggression against one’s own country, which is probably the main reason the Iranian regime is interested in developing them. They are much less useful in “shielding” aggressive behavior outside one’s borders, except in certain geopolitical situations in which their use becomes plausible.

Paul Pillar teaches in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University and was the national intelligence officer for the Near East and South Asisa from 2000 to 2005.

Comments

  • Sam Amer Ph.D. on March 05, 2012 5:19 AM:

    The problem is the the US and Israel are acting as the imperialists they are. They are comfortable dealing with slaves. They cannot deal with a country that stands for its rights.

  • Mikee on March 05, 2012 9:25 AM:

    An interesting article Paul, in which you seem to be saying let them do whatever they want because they are rational. I don't think their history of rational behavior is as well founded as you make it out to be, from the time of the hostage crisis until now they have directly and through proxies consistently attacked the US and its allies. Was it rational for them to attack the British small boat? Oh yes, the left wing analysis of that is it was not endorsed by the government but by a rogue element inside the military (which of course would have no idea where the nukes were).

    I found the idea of a nuclear Iran arming its proxies missing, which to me is the stronger argument for doing something.

    Overall, it's a point of view that should be discussed more because there is sort of a fatalism in some circles that Iran will be attacked but we don't know when. The Obama Admin's dysfunctional foreign policy that intervenes to overthrow someone who abandoned their nuclear program while it stands by during the slaughter of Iran's proxy Syria is a layer of complexity that I would have liked to see addressed in the article.

  • Silly Pillar on March 05, 2012 9:29 AM:

    Having worked in the Gulf commercially and in the area for over 20 years, I can say without This author is TOTALLY clueless and a propagandist (for what/ who) I cannot fathom. Either dishonest reporting or incompetent...

  • Michael on March 05, 2012 9:32 AM:

    It is not about Iran attacking Israel or anyone else for that matter. It is about Israel wanting to be far superior to any of its neighbors so that it can do whatever it pleases in the Middle East. The fear is that once Iran or others have the bomb, Israel can no longer attack its neighbors indiscriminately.
    It is all about the zionist supremacist philosophy. Read Gilad Atzmon's book, "the wondering who?" to understand what is really going on.

  • Jack Harllee on March 05, 2012 9:36 AM:

    One more element of Iranian rationality: Iran has not turned over biological and chemical weapons to terrorists for use against Israel. Anyone who is concerned about Iran turning nukes over to terrorists needs to explain why they have refrained from doing that with the lesser types of WMDs. Israel is physically small: biological and chemical weapons would be devastating even without killing many people Remember how disruptive the 2001 anthrax attacks on Washington were, with fatalities of six, as I recall.

    If Israel does attack Iran, Iran might toss aside its previous restraint and give biological and chemical weapons to terrorists or even use them itself in missile warheads.

    I am assuming that Iran has such weapons, in violation of their treaty obligations. If they don't, an attack would be the best possible incentive for them to develop them. They are much easier to develop and hide than nukes.

  • Jack Harllee on March 05, 2012 9:38 AM:

    One more element of Iranian rationality: Iran has not turned over biological and chemical weapons to terrorists for use against Israel. Anyone who is concerned about Iran turning nukes over to terrorists needs to explain why they have refrained from doing that with the lesser types of WMDs. Israel is physically small: biological and chemical weapons would be devastating even without killing many people Remember how disruptive the 2001 anthrax attacks on Washington were, with fatalities of six, as I recall.

    If Israel does attack Iran, Iran might toss aside its previous restraint and give biological and chemical weapons to terrorists or even use them itself in missile warheads.

    I am assuming that Iran has such weapons, in violation of their treaty obligations. If they don't, an attack would be the best possible incentive for them to develop them. They are much easier to develop and hide than nukes.

  • John R. on March 05, 2012 9:39 AM:

    I continue to be amazed at how far pseudo-intellectuals will carry their leftist theories. The author tries to persuade us that Iran has never demonstrated actions that are outside of their own "self-preservation", or intended to maintain potlitcal power. I suppose the funding and training of militant terrorists doesn't fall into such an innocent defensive posture. In fact, Iran aquiring the means to produce and deliver weaponized nuclear material is the worst possible scenario available to the survival of Israel and peace in the Middle East. Once completed, Iran would not need to begin lobbing nuclear missles into the US or Israel. They would use their proxy terrorist Hamas to deliver the bombs into Israel, then offer an ultimatum; turn over Israel to the Palestinians or else. Iran would also position nuclear weapons off the US coast via ships or spread weapons into communist nations close to our shores (Venezuela), and use them if we seek to intervene.

    I would ask the author and others to stop playing the "rational actor" card with Iran. You are foolish to believe that the writings, teachings and actions of this nation's theocratic leadership are merely for local consumption. North Korea is many things on the world stage, and makes numerous threats, but they do nothing. Iran is an activist terrorist state, whose specific strategy and actions follow their extremist view of the Koran.

    Lastly, I emplore Dr. Sam Amer and other elitists to not make the same mistakes of history. Ignoring Iran as Chamberlain did Hitler brings enormous consequences. We must stop Iran now. Bring the maximum force of restrictions on them immediately, and if they do not relent within 90 days, use force to destroy their capabilities.

  • Mark on March 05, 2012 9:44 AM:

    The author forgot to mention that Iran is willing to sacrifice their country to sanctions, even if it means the total collapse of their economy. How rational is that?

  • Lipo Davis on March 05, 2012 9:45 AM:

    Iran has no rights. Iran is a poor, crappy, no account nation that presumes to threaten other nations with total annihilation. Well, I think Iran should be carpet bombed into the stone age. In any case, the United States doesn't need certifiable proof to defend itself. All that is needed is suspicion. It is up to Iran to prove it doesn't threaten the West, and if it doesn't, deserves to be summarily destroyed. I strongly suspect that Paul Piller is an agent for Iran. I invite him to leave the United States to live in the nation he so desperately wants to protect at the expense of the United States of America. I think Paul Piller should decide to whom it is that he owes his allegiance.

  • Rik Blumenthal on March 05, 2012 9:57 AM:

    When someone says he wants to kill me, I take him at his word.

  • Cute on March 05, 2012 10:35 AM:

    Lipo Davis on March 05, 2012 9:45 AM:
    >Well, I think Iran should be carpet bombed into the stone age.

    Rik Blumenthal on March 05, 2012 9:57 AM:
    >When someone says he wants to kill me, I take him at his word.

    Uh-huh...

  • Will on March 05, 2012 10:47 AM:

    Paul Pillar -- among the sane voices of experience and reason, NOT drinking the neocon koolaid this time.

    Wish WM had a one-page print format -- then I could block out these frothy over-hyped trolls from the "usual crowd" in the comments section.

  • red on March 05, 2012 11:32 AM:

    The first in what is sure to be a long line of pieces on how irrational the peopole who don't want to see a nuclear Iran really are. Its OUR fault that Iran wants to send nukes around the world. If the US would just destroy itself (not that that's NOT happening) then there would be no need for other countries to spend all that money and go to all that trouble. If Israel would just decide on its own to be wiped off the map then Iran would not need to do it. It's just so typical of the arrogant west to want to exist. (sarcasm off)

  • T Clark on March 05, 2012 11:36 AM:

    I agree with those who believe that a war with Iran would be castastrophic. I am convinced, more convinced after reading Mr. Pillar's essay, that the US can live with a nuclear Iran.

    I worry that President Obama is painting himself into a corner by drawing his "red lines" under pressure from Israel's supporters. There may come a time when he feels he has no choice but to attack Iran. The question we should be asking is not whether Iran is a rational actor, but whether Israel and the Republican party are.

  • Anonymous on March 05, 2012 11:41 AM:

    "We can live with a nuclear Iran."

    Well, some of us will, though we may have three arms and the open sores and cancerous tumors will, at the least, be aesthetically unpleasing.

  • W.R. German on March 05, 2012 11:43 AM:

    You fucking blew whatever credibility you had with this piece of utter bullshit. You can forget about me donating to what you have become--a chunk of Rush Limbaugh jetsam on the mass media garbage barge to nowhere.

  • Ramesh Raghuvanshi on March 05, 2012 12:00 PM:

    If U.S.Russia, China,Israel,Pakistan,India, Britain and France have Nuclear weapon,Why U.S. afraid so much if Iran develop nuclear weapon?Iran have no right for nuclear weapon?Is anybody appointed to U.S.inspector general to decide who to make nuclear weapon and who are not? I don't understand logic behind the argument of U.S.Why not America threatening to all nation who have nuclear weapon?I request to U.S. if you afraid so much about nuclear weapon let first you to destroy all your nuclear weapons other nation gladly follow you.

  • -maw- on March 05, 2012 12:04 PM:

    When Iran's President has repeatedly stated he wants to see the destruction of Israel and the battle of Armaggedon, it is hard to believe that any "rational" can calmly claim that Iran and its leaders are rational.


    When Hitler wrote Mein Kampf the intellectuals of the day poohed-poohed any suggestion that he actually meant what he wrote. Those who fail to take Iran's statements seriously are simply begging for a repeat of that horror.

  • Sderamus on March 05, 2012 12:15 PM:

    It's a good article. Hopefully our policy makers (on both sides) will take heed. Somehow I doubt it. The problem with our foreign policy today is there is a disconnect between our warrior class and the rest of the country. It's easy to cheer war as a solution when it doesn't affect you; when it is not you or your child that has to go there and risk their lives so hedge fund managers can continue to reap their billions, while complaining about their high tax rate of 15%. A recent poll indicated that 60% of the population claims that there lives have not been affected by the two wars and terrorist attacks on our country. War is an easy solution when you personally don't have to suffer the consequences.

    What the article fails to address is the impact that the article will have on our armed forces, which have already been stretched too thin by fighting two wars for over ten years. We are spending almost a trillion dollars a year on national defense. How are we going to handle a third war? Does anyone really think a simple attack won't spiral out of control into a general war requiring a complete invasion of Iran? Do people in the U.S. really understand what that would take in terms of money, manpower and death? We would have to institute the draft. Their could be no college deferments either. It would be a knock down dragged out conflict. We would prevail, but it would not be easy. And absent an unprovoked attack by Iran, would not be something we would want as our legacy.

    But given the disconnect between our military and our general population, I suspect the conflict is virtually inevitable. Our out of touch politicians, on both sides of the aisle have backed themselves into a corner that they cannot get out of without losing the next set of elections. But that's OK, as long as their children aren't drafted.

  • Mary G on March 05, 2012 12:27 PM:

    This article says many of the things I've been thinking. It's like a bad version of "Groundhog Day" to hear almost the same rhetoric against Iran that we heard about Iraq.

    Sad that so many commenters are posting abusive talking points instead of responding to the substance of the piece.

  • jlmsika on March 05, 2012 12:30 PM:

    The author considers that a nuclear Iran would not endanger the US (which in my opinion is wrong), so "let them have their nuclear weapons".
    At no point does the author seem to consider the threat to Israel, the only and close ally of the US in the Middle East, which the Iranians have declared again and again that they want to "wipe off the map", as "a cancer cell". So, in this line of thinking, there is no solidarity between democracies, no solidarity towards an ally who is directly threatened. The democracies will react to the threat in isolation, so as to be ultimately defeated by the islamists Does that make any sense?

  • roger gathman on March 05, 2012 12:33 PM:

    A voice of sanity! The commentators that disagree range from those who disagree because they have mystical personal experience to those who claim that the Iranians are irrational because they have attacked people who they perceived to be trespassing on their territory, because they have aided terrorist groups, and because they have continued to work on nuclear power despite sanctions. This doesn't seem to be a very good argument. The Iranians have used terrorist groups - as have every power in the Middle East, including Israel and the U.S. when it intervenes there, but the use has been small scale, and the argument that you don't give groups outside of your territory weapons they can threaten you with is pretty overwhelming. As for the idea that Iran is irrational because it hasn't surrendered to the U.S. led sanctions - is Israel irrational because it hasn't broken the boycott of the Arab states and others by withdrawing from the occupied West Bank?
    No, Pillar is right. Still, we have to deal with Iran. My suggestion: recognize them, drop the sanctions, end of story. No national interest is served by making Iran our enemy. Period.

  • Ted Goldman on March 05, 2012 12:39 PM:

    I vividly recall another perceptive article written several years ago by Professor Pillar entitled:

    "Why we can live with a militarized Nazi Germany"?

  • jlmsika on March 05, 2012 12:55 PM:

    The author is a leftist, pro-islamist pseudo expert who is trying to help Obama out of the hopeless quagmire he put himself in by trying ta appease the islamo-fascists since he came to the white House.

  • odetocentipede on March 05, 2012 1:20 PM:

    If I accept the laughable premise that we can "live with" a nuclear armed Iran and ignore the dozens of terrible outcomes...

    So, what happens when Iran goes nuclear and as a result, Saudi Arabia and Egypt feel the need to also have nuclear capabilities to counter Iran's influence? What a shallow article. It's a propaganda piece of the same rationalizing thought camp that told us to acquiesce to hi-jackers because they really aren't crazy.

    All of a sudden, then nuclear armament also becomes Turkey and Iraq's goals too. The result is profliferation on a dangerous scale. Nuclear secrets and technologies ending up in minor states prone to bloodlust fueled dictators.

    States that do not share our values of women's and minority rights, etc... will be less influenced by normal diplomatic persuasion. People will suffer and die and in typical propaganda, the west will be blamed for it.

    At the very least, when these countries go into revolts and leadership changes, it will fall upon the U.S. to secure those weapons in the following anarchy because contrary to utopian thinking, the big attention getting badge over there is to attack the west and a lot unseemly groups will have their eyes on easy access.

  • pmg25 on March 05, 2012 1:23 PM:

    An Iranian secret documentary, “The Coming Is Upon Us,” clearly indicates that the radicals ruling Iran believe that worldwide war and the destruction of Israel will trigger the coming of the last Islamic Messiah." This is what the radical Islamic clerics most fervently desire.

    Please watch this video produced in secret at the behest of Iran's rulers to prepare the faithful – before you decide to believe Paul Pillar - "The Coming is Upon Us"- www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=WwiadYT-N9k

    The Iranian people overall may be rational as Pillar argues, but the clerics brutally oppressing them today are not. If these clerics get their hands on nuclear weapons, the eminent Paul Pillars of the left - let's call them the "don't worry, be happy" crowd - will have condemned the region, indeed the world, to a new nuclear doomsday clock and waiting for the first bomb to go off. Even if Iran’s fanatical Ayatollahs were as rational as Pillar would have us believe, we will face rapid nuclear proliferation as Saudi Arabia and many other nations rush to match the Iranians. After all, if the Iranians have nuclear weapons, why shouldn’t they. And Mr. Pillar can keep writing his blog about why the US and the world should not go to war to stop the next country, or the next country, or the next country, from joining the nuclear club.

    There are no good options with Iran. An attack will unleash hell, but the alternative could be still worse. Ironically, we don't have to worry about Saddam Hussein’s Iraq wielding nuclear weapons. Pillar tried tirelessly to keep the US from going to war in Iraq and even more tirelessly to discredit the Bush administration afterward. I am certain he was motivated to prevent the deaths and horrible injuries brought on by war. The lost lives cannot be un-lost. Yet one nuclear bomb could kill tens and perhaps, hundreds of thousands and scorch the earth with unlivable radiation for ten thousand years. I don’t envy those entrusted to make this decision.

    Read more: http://dailycaller.com/2012/02/23/irans-grand-ayatollahs-earth-belongs-to-muslims-end-is-near/#ixzz1nRta9FcC

  • cwolf on March 05, 2012 1:25 PM:

    ...another thing I didn't see in the article is how the ensuing cyber attacks might/would play out.

    The Iranians pretty much claim they hacked that late model US drone they captured.
    If they can do that they can probably change the color of our traffic lights... & maybe poke into a few other cyber places too.

  • ACraigs on March 05, 2012 1:35 PM:

    A simple question: Do you want a nuclear armed Iran gaining control of one third of the world's oil reserves? Yes or No?

    Those who throw up smokescreens about the Iraq war or defending Israel first are ignoring this very basic question. Iran's current "government" started with a calculated takeover of the US Embassy in Tehran. From there, they have repeated "Death to America" so often that some people have simply tuned them out like the buzzing of flies. Except these flies, Iran's Mullahs, Ahmadinejad and Revolutionary Guard, have always meant what they said, and they have taken consistent long-term action to make it happen.

    So I ask again: Do you want a nuclear armed Iran gaining control of one third of the world's oil reserves? Yes or No?

  • Ken McBride on March 05, 2012 1:37 PM:

    I agree completely with Paul Pillar! I suspect that the decision to go to war has already been made, sadly! I found it demeaning that the President of United States has to pay deference to Israel and AIPAC, religious right and the neoconservative �war hawks� Republicans in regard to Iran. After ten years of war, a war crime in Iraq, a strategic blunder and a humanitarian tragedy, and an appalling quagmire in Afghanistan with thousands of Americans killed and wounded, trillions of wealth expended, you would expect that Americans would be loathed to engage in another war! However, we hear again the same drumbeat for war with Iran by the neoconservative misinformation chorus that another potential �Mushroom Cloud� threatens!
    Israel holds the U.S. in disdain, for it believes it has unlimited support of the American Israeli lobby, the religious right and the neoconservative Republicans in Congress. This is evident by Israel�s obstruction of the Palestinian peace process or to constrain Israeli settlements in contested Palestinian areas. Is the current rise in gasoline prices a contrived conspiracy by Israel? The increase cost of oil is due to speculation, not supply, results from Israel�s threaten attack on Iran and the responding threats by Iran to interrupt the world�s flow of oil from the Persian Gulf. Israel has stated they will not warn the U.S. in their forthcoming preemptive attack on Iran, which should surprise no one. Let us not forget Israel�s vicious attack on the USS Liberty (AGTR-5) on 8 June 1967 killing 34 Americans.
    President Obama is being held hostage by Israel, American Israeli lobby and the neoconservative Republicans as he approaches a final strategic decision concerning Iran. Iran is an Islamic theocratic regime supportive of terrorism and merciless oppression of its own people. However, President Obama promised to negotiate with Iran in combination with international sanctions in contrast to his Republican political opponents. It is far better to negotiate with Iran than attend the funerals of U.S. military personnel at the Arlington National Cemetery or visit the tragically wounded at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. In regard to shared national sacrifice, we continue the immoral and morally corrosive policy of asking less than 1% of our young to bear the burden of war without any sacrifice of the majority, not even taxes to pay for the wars, while another 1% realizes unprecedented wealth.
    Israel seems willing to accept diplomacy by the U.S. with Iran only as long as it fails! Israel hopes by intimation, threats, assassinations, ruin of the Iranian economy to provoke the Iranian government into an act of violence against the West, those the Iranians view are strangling its trade, undermining its industry, assassinating its citizens and imposing bellicose ultimatums seeking regime change. Obviously, it would be best for Iran and the world community if Iran did not pursue nuclear weapons, which has not been confirmed, but the same applies to Pakistan, India or North Korea! Whatever forces of moderation exist in Iran will disappear when the first cruise missile or smart bomb strikes Iran! The Iranians will prove to be a different enemy than the Iraqis with long term asymmetric warfare possible on a global basis, not restricted to the Middle East but to include Europe and North America. No war with Iran!

  • odetocentipede on March 05, 2012 1:39 PM:

    The author discredits the possibility of proliferation based on a prediction based on analysis in the early 60's before any containment programs were ever instituted. That is what I mean by shallow.

    I think we all understand how much easier that knowledge proliferation would be in today's world. I would also propose that proliferation among even a few states is far too much. The author just dismisses it as no big deal because the states aren't likely to use it. The world has spent the better part of the last 40 years trying to slow and halt nuclear growth. The more proliferation you see, the higher the chances that a dirty bomb is created/stolen and is smuggled into Paris, Berlin, London, or Los Angeles and with more actors on the nuclear stage and a vaporized crime scene, we may not have a credible way of determining the responsible party... just as Iranian leaders would like it.

  • Dennis on March 05, 2012 1:47 PM:

    The Iranians are no saints, but they aren't crazy as people in the U.S. casually assume they are...they are going to get the bomb and that's all there is to it. Heck, they might have bought a few bombs off the shelf already from A.Q. Khan.

  • Anonymous on March 05, 2012 2:08 PM:

    we lived with nuclear soviet, china (with mao who said it wanted to kill half of mankind) and pakistan and north korea.
    china and north korea have missiles that reach US soil.
    i think we can live with nuclear iran.

    When Iran's royal guard army actually attacks US base in Iraq and Afghanistan or Israel, only then we should go to a military action. (they already do through hamas, hezbollah and other terrorists but not themselves, and not beyond crude bombs)

    it's not that crazy to want a defense when the two countries on both sides of you were invaded by US when they didn't attack US.
    a country without nuclear was invaded (Libya, Iraq) but the one with (north korea, pakistan) are treated with more caution.

    besides moral issues, wouldn't you be scared of US's next action?
    Iran never provoked a war on another country (though it promotes terrorists all over the world) while America and Israel invaded other countries.

    plus, worry over nuclear weapons are a bit overrated as bio weapons are more scary and also available. we shouldnt be only obsessed with hardware. we should worry more about israel and iran and its reconciliation... some days... like a century later.

    we just have to live with them.

  • Anonymous on March 05, 2012 2:13 PM:

    some correction on my comment above about Afghanistan not having attacked US.

    ok, no single afghan citizen attacked US BUT their government of Taliban hosted 9/11 attackers.
    But if i were an afghan, i would probably feel not responsible for 9/11 attack.
    but US came in not to just get rid of al quada but to change the regime and stay there.

  • Anonymous on March 05, 2012 2:15 PM:

    more clarification, by the way, i am not against US and NATO getting rid of al queda and taliban from the central northern alliance part of afghanistan, though i think they should move to counter-terror, not counter-insurgency at this point.

    always against iraq invasion, though.

  • bdop4 on March 05, 2012 2:30 PM:

    Wow, the nutjobs really came out in force against this article. I could spend all day countering the stupid, moronic statements made in this thread, but I got a life.

    I will say three things:

    1. The author is NOT saying that a nuclear armed Iran is "no big deal." That's your utter failure at reading comprehension. What he is saying is that an Iran with a nuclear weapon is preferable to the complete and utter clusterfuck that would happen if we launched a military attack on Iran. Do you jackasses actually think that some bombs and drone attacks is going to accomplish the military objective? It's going to take boots on the ground. A LOT OF THEM. I suppose you clowns will be the first to enlist and man the front lines when that happens. Didn't think so.

    2. Israel has anywhere between 200-400 nuclear weapons in its arsenal and would have no qualms using them. That doesn't even address the state-of-the-art conventional weaponry it possesses. Likewise, Iran is also encircled by 40-50 military installations either manned by U.S. troops or its allies. Iran's true leaders (hint: it's not the President) know that ANY linkage to an attack will result in their country being turned into a smoking crater.

    3. All the reports from people who know a HELL of a lot more than any of you indicate that Iran is nowhere near reaching that capability and that an attack would worsen the situation. An attack would drive any efforts underground and likely accelerate the process.

    I see a lot more rationality coming out of Iran than I do from neocon rightwing extremists. At the drop of a hat, you jackasses would drag us back into another drawn-out conflict, resulting in the deaths of thousands of our sons and daughters (probably not yours) and hundreds of thousands of Iranians on the same specious evidence that was proferred leading into the Iraq debacle. I you want war, then send your own sons and daughters (and yourself if you can hack it).

  • A.Oscar Antonio Oscar on March 05, 2012 2:35 PM:

    The main problem about those issues; His USA could play against Iran, when Israel nothing was talking about it of having more the one hundred nukes, and what for so many? Israel real is the most danger country in the world now; even so a very good instigator and Israel was the one that, manipulated USA to invade Iraq. I do not like Iran; because there are fanatics with religion, and woman are slaves of men. Otherwise why can’t have nuclear power plant? I believe Israel should force to demolish all of his nukes; then make Middle east a no free nuclear zone. Maybe after extend even slow; abolish all nuclear arms all over the world. We do not need sympathy to some and antipathy to others; we all are in the same boat to protect civilization. I do not agree Israel having more the hundred nukes and claim about Iran be a threat to peace in the world. Israel just joking to the world for long time with own policies in Palestine too. It’s enough of such jokes by Israel towards the world.

  • cwolf on March 05, 2012 2:52 PM:

    Some of the above comments are real headbangers.
    For example: this recent one:
    A simple question: Do you want a nuclear armed Iran gaining control of one third of the world's oil reserves? Yes or No?

    Your answer is in the article that you either did not read or did not comprehend.
    Admittedly one needs to think on a higher level than tic-tac-toe, but it's all there.

  • Greg Daniels on March 05, 2012 3:03 PM:

    Finally, a breath of fresh air on the subject!

  • MIST3R X on March 05, 2012 4:08 PM:

    It's amazing how much antisemitism there is in most of the postings here... You people are delusional if you think Iran having a nuke is a good thing, or that you can rationalize away a terrorist regime having WMD's. I don't hear Israel making threats to wipe another country off the face of the Earth. And most of you conspiracy theorists here haven't come up with a reason why, if Israel is the horrible aggressor you claim it is, they haven't already nuked the Iranians since they already have over 200 'unacknowledged' nukes. I wish they would! Would save us from having to do it later. The weird-beard mullahs are a bunch of goat f@#kers anyway.

  • jonah on March 05, 2012 4:35 PM:

    MIST3R X:
    Israel doesn't have to threaten -- it is actively wiping Palestine off the face of the earth.

    I don't give a $hit about Israel. When is the last time they have behaved as an ally? Bibi comes over and pisses on our president's shoes every once in a while. Well, have a nice day, and don't come again. An Iranian nuke might in fact be a good thing if it force Israel to be a bit more reasonable about Palestine.

    The nuclear genii isn't going back in the bottle. In fact, there is every reason to think it will just get cheaper and more straightforeward to build a nuclear bomb. If Israel is going to bomb every one of its enemies who can build a nuke, it will soon be at war with the whole world. The sooner the U.S. stands up for itself and refuses to be Israel's bitch, the better.

  • TCinLA on March 05, 2012 4:48 PM:

    Always nice to be reminded that some things can always be depended on. That wingnuts are by the fact of their wingnuttery morons is at the top of the list. Most of these comments demonstrate computers are now so user-friendly that Homo Sap, the hairless bipeds lacking frontal lobes and opposable thumbs (prerequisites for membership in the Right) can use them just like real people.

    You wingnut morons were taken in back in 2002 by little Georgie-Porgie, and you still are (how many of you still believe Saddam attacked us on 9/11?). What a pathetic bunch of braindead tools you are.

  • Socialis Pig on March 05, 2012 4:55 PM:

    Who are "we"? Speak for yourself.

  • JT on March 05, 2012 5:16 PM:

    There are significant flaws in Mr. Pillar’s logic.

    Most tellingly, Mr. Pillar undermines his claim Iran is a rational actor with his own statement.

    “And Iran’s own covert actions...last year’s bizarre alleged plot to blow up a restaurant in Washington, D.C., and kill the Saudi ambassador—feed even more hostility from the U.S. and Israel, escalating further the risk of open conflict.”

    Here is a definition of bizarre: markedly unusual in appearance, style, or general character and often involving incongruous or unexpected elements; outrageously or whimsically strange Synonyms: weird, freakish, grotesque; fantastic; unusual, strange, odd.

    Bizarre behavior is not congruent with rationality – especially in foreign policy. Perhaps the only nation on the planet with a more bizarre foreign policy is North Korea. Pyongyang serves as the best example of what could be expected from Tehran’s “Day After”. Chiefly, a constant state of crisis and instability and Exhibit A is the North Korean penchant for making constant threats against the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States. The key difference, however, is Iran’s proximity to the world’s largest supplies of oil and directing a large dose of threats of annihilation at Israel, a born from the trauma of the Holocaust, which also possesses nuclear weapons, is not the same as threatening South Korea. Furthermore, Israel is a nation with a history for preemptive military action when it feels insecure.

    When a nuclear stockpile or just the documented capability to produce nuclear weapons whereupon weapons could be produced in short order from fission material on hand emboldens Iran as was the case in North Korea we can expect a hefty dose of Iranian “mischief”.

    An Iranian Bomb is more than just a coup d ‘grace to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which under President Clinton received a “sucking chest wound”. We can expect an Iranian Bomb to be followed by Iranian mischief (as though there hasn’t been enough of that already) like a North Korean Bomb was followed by oodles of North Korean mischief. There will be plenty of future incidents which will prove wrong Mr. Pillar’s claim -

    “Further, in order for Iran to neutralize the threat of retaliation, the desired act of mischief would have to be so important to Tehran that it could credibly threaten to escalate the matter to the level of nuclear war.”

    Consider past events when Iran didn’t have nuclear weapons.

    1979 - Iran Hostage crisis – 444 days of humiliation resulting from a complete disregard for normal diplomatic protocol or respect for a foreign embassy

    1983 - Beirut Bombing USMC barracks – Kills 241 US troops. This attack serves as the first modern act of a large scale suicide attack emulated by groups worldwide including Al Qaeda.

    1992 – Buenos Aires bombing of Israeli embassy – Kills 29.

    1994 – Buenos Aires bombing of Jewish cultural center – Kills 85.

    1996 – Khobar Towers bombing. Kills 19 US troops and 1 Saudi. Just ask the former director of the (Clinton) FBI whether or not Iran was culpable or not.

    2003 – present – Iranian support to Iraqi terrorists kills hundreds of if not thousands.

    2012 – Iranian attacks on Israeli diplomats in Georgia and Thailand.

    Indeed, Mr. Pillar himself indirectly recognized the implacability of the radical (meaning a serial perpetrator of terrorism) regime in Tehran when he wrote –
    “An armed attack on Iran would be an immediate political gift to Iranian hard-liners, who are nourished by confrontation with the West, and with the United States in particular.”

    Anyone with an interest in Middle Eastern geopolitics understands domestic subsidies in Iran dictates it is in the regime’s economic, political, and national security interests to keep the price of oil as high as possible for as long as possible. The eas

  • Anonymous on March 05, 2012 6:25 PM:

    ""one might think that talk about exercising the military option would be backed up by extensive analysis of the threat in question and the different ways of responding to it. But it isn’t. ""
    So, what the heck are YOU basing your argument upon? If it is the same intelligence the military is using, your own analysis must be as bad as the data they use, which you claim is not extensive enough.
    If you have intelligence beyond what our government has, lucky you and maybe we should listen to you. But I doubt you do.
    So, I'd start with allowing Israel to focus exclusively on eliminating Iran's air defense's, followed very quickly by American B52 and other high altitude bombers deploying the bunker-busting SMART bombs to eliminate the nuclear threat. Follow all that up with drones to recon the damage and clean-up any leftovers.

  • Back up the bus on March 05, 2012 6:26 PM:

    The US is facing its own existential threats. One, the economy and the criminalization of the economy. Two, the co-option of representative government by finance, and three, the lose of standing and most critically the lose of economic standing. When the dollar is no longer the reserve currency, we are going to be very poor indeed.

    Our country is sinking. How is it that people in Washington (apparently even liberals(?) commenting at the W. Monthly) remain unaware? Has the capital been hypnotized? Are you all on drugs?

    The last thing we need is another war. The Iraq War was a disaster. We haven't begun to pay for it. Even Obama's little adventure in Libya will turn out to be a mistake of unknown size until the civil war is finally settled. At minimum, for us it kicked off the rise in oil prices that will stop the alleged recovery cold.

    We have pathetic choices for the next election. The only requirement to run for office is to cheer for Israel while ignoring our nation's needs. Beyond vague references to creating jobs (never saying how) they treat our nation has one giant Jerry Springer show. They offer us nothing, but the money backing and television coverage that has replaced real dialogue in our national interest.

    Meanwhile, Obama commits us to war with Iran by saying "not now." Oh, later then. Great. I agree with a poster above that this entire charade needs to stop. It is not in our best interests to have another war. Our interests, even Israel's interests, would be better served by finally remembering that our government was never meant to be a global policeman and election rigging service. These clowns can't mind our own affairs, they certainly can't run the world.

  • mogar on March 05, 2012 10:13 PM:

    Just understand one thing. If Iran gets the nuke and Israel is threatened with that nuke, she is not going to wait until that nuke is in the air. She would be insane to do so. Iran has said over and over again that they would wipe Israel off the map. If they try that region is not just going to war it's going to nuclear war. The logistics would require it. Neither party Iran or Israel have the ability to project conventional armed force that far from their country. Nukes would be the only option.

  • Dan Burney on March 05, 2012 10:26 PM:

    This is the most idiotic article I have ever read, Is this how O' and his lemmings really feel? WOW

  • Canaan on March 06, 2012 12:27 AM:

    "Neocon habits die hard."

    I didn't know Howard Dean was a neocon. The Totally Anti-Iraq War Dean said "Nor, under any circumstances, can we allow Iran to have nuclear weapons."

    This article increases the risks of war: Regardless of every argument the author makes, Israel will use force. If they can't do it with air power, the IDF will go through the door and down the elevator. They will 'mow the lawn' again and again if needed. If jihad vows 100 years of war, Israel will defend itself for 100 years. Iran must understand that and then do the sane thing. That is the only way to avert a war.

    But just as children believe in the Easter Bunny, Iran may fantasize that a killer like Netanyahu doesn't really mean it when he says "I'm going to kill you." This article is a hallucinogenic that foments that fantasy -- a fantasy that will lead to war.

    It is infantile stupidity to fantasize that Israel is going to 'live with a nuclear Iran.' They will not.

  • jlmsika on March 06, 2012 4:10 AM:

    Pillar is writing rivers of nonsense in order to attempt to justify O's weakness and irresolution in front of the major challenge from Iran's islamofascist dictatorship to democracy and the free world.
    If O is reelected, Pillar will be rewarded for sure but the world situation will be much worst than 1940.

  • peter vojta on March 06, 2012 6:51 AM:

    Yes, pure lunacy to wage war of aggression against Iran. What will be sure thing during and after such a criminal act, that most of the World popupation will recognize, who was , is and will be the greatest danger to World Peace. To informed people of this planet - it is state of Israel with its etnocratic, rasist regime, equiped with arsenal of undeclared WMD, following unholy colonial ideology Zionism. Togheter with their ability control US "Knesset", World Media this truly Evil force - international Zionism is truly "Nightmare" for humanity.
    It may well be that awaken "World" will one day soon regret dearly only one think - CREATION OF STATE OF ISRAEL.

  • Duglarri on March 06, 2012 7:03 AM:

    One infuriating element in the debate, and one that should be predicted, as it has massive implications, is the bait and switch.

    There are already signs that the neocon/Israeli corner is preparing to jump from one "Hitler" to the next, as Ahmedinejad is sidelined in Iranian politics. We are already hearing that the real power in Iran is Khameni anyway, so all that about how dangerous Ahmedinejad is- well, forget that; we've got a new "Hitler" to "stop".

    The bigger problem is that the plan, long-term, is fairly clearly based on American invasion. Once bombing is started by Israel, at a risk of a few dozen pilots, tens of thousands of Americans can go in harms way. When bombing is shown to be ineffective, as it always is, Israel will then move to the next phase and clamour for an American invasion of Iran as the only sensible way to deal with the problem, in the same way that containing Iraq, even with frequent bombings, was insufficient.

    The plan is for a massive American invasion, whatever the cost. One recalls Stalin's remark during the Munich crisis, when he asked how many divisions they would send to face Hitler. The answer was "two now, and two later." Stalin said that to war against Germany Russia would have to put two hundred divisions into the field.

    Similarly, to war on Iran, Israel proposes to send twenty-five F-15s, and a few dozen F-16's. For this existential threat they see, they are intending to risk perhaps a hundred pilots.

    They then blandly call on the United States to put in harms way a thousand planes, four or five aircraft carriers, hundreds of supporting ships and bases, and tens of thousands of ground troops, leading up to an invasion that might require conscription.

    Chutzpah barely describes it.

    Like Iraq ("Come for the WMD's, stay for nation-building") and Afghanistan ("get in for Al Queda, stay for the Taliban"), Iran will be a massive bait and switch: Bomb them to stop an Iranian bomb- oh, wait, not working? Well, you have to invade them and replace the regime now.

    It is all sadly predictable.

  • ghouri on March 06, 2012 7:11 AM:

    I don,t know how many wars americans can afford for Isreal. A nuclear Iran is safer for every one.
    Israelis are too eager to wage a war and let them do it. Why america will support are fight for them.

  • W.R. German on March 06, 2012 7:20 AM:

    Commenter "JT" is 100% correct--this article is based on hugely flawed logic. Please, Washington Monthly, stop putting up idiotic articles like this--you are undermining your credibility badly.


    Plus, judging from the number of comments from "Washington/Obama want war" conspiracy freaks, you are starting to attract the wrong kind of audience...

  • Canbeiro on March 06, 2012 9:12 AM:

    Very enlightening article. Congratulations !

  • Eric Brody on March 06, 2012 9:55 AM:

    "Moreover, none of the current disputes between Iran and its neighbors (such as the one over ownership of some small islands also claimed by the United Arab Emirates) come close to possessing the nation-defining significance that the Kashmir conflict poses for both Pakistan and India."

    What is so nation-defining about the Kashmir conflict? It is a strip of land with an overwhelmingly Muslim population that through a quirk of colonial history came to be ruled by Hindus and is now fiercely retained by India.

    I am not particularly knowledgeable about South Asia. I readily concede I might be missing something. Someone please explain to me why, given all of the high stakes turmoil associated with the conflict, India will not relinquish the Muslim territory of Kashmir to Muslim Pakistan.

  • Dr. Jossef Perl on March 06, 2012 10:19 AM:

    Frankly, I am getting fed up with all these pundits, so-called "experts" and academics who write theoretical position papers from their comfortable Washington offices, about risks others should take. Mr. Paul Pillar tells us that Israel (a country the size of Connecticute with 7 million people) can afford to take the risk of a fundamentalist Iran, (30 times the area size of Israel with 80 million people which openly called for Israel's destruction) because according to Mr. Pillar Israel has between 100 and 200 nuclear bombs. It does not take an expert like Mr. Pillar to figure out that Israel would be wiped out with 1/2 atomic bomb and mutual assured destruction is not applicable here. I doubt that Mr. Pillar would express these kind "risky" views had his family lived in Israel.

  • Jack on March 06, 2012 10:40 AM:

    Excellent article. Three years ago a major concern of the Obama administration's Middle East policy was reducing tensions by working toward a resolution of the Palestinian situation. Who remembers that? Today the Palestinians are once again forgotten, expanding Israeli occupation of the West Bank is ignored, and Americans are fixated on a completely-manufactured confrontation with Iran. So the distraction strategy has been a success.

    We will spend the next several months with increasingly shrill and alarmist statements about Iran, each calculated to prepare the American people for military intervention. In all probability there will be some "incidents", quite possibly false flag in nature, to heighten tensions and grab media space. Once the presidential campaign is in full swing, probably late September to early October, the Israelis will launch a pre-emptive strike on Iran. If the Obama Administration withholds US support the Republicans will have a field day condemning cowardliness, failure to support Israel, the need to limit Iranian capacity, etc. The president may feel politically he has no option but to follow up by supporting the Israelis once they force his hand. We lose either way, the Israelis win, we pay the cost economically and politically.

    One observation about the alleged plot to kill the Saudi ambassador in Washington, a "plot" that smells of misdirection created elsewhere. What most commentators miss is the key piece of that plot was to very conveniently define Mexican drug cartels as a threat to American national security, thereby reinforcing arguments for US military involvement in Mexico. This does not mean armed formations on the ground but involvement in surveillance, training and logistical support, and perhaps some clandestine operations. It is entirely possible the real purpose of the plot was to facilitate and legitimize US military engagement in Mexico, something that would not have happened had the supposed killers been street thugs from Washington, DC.

  • ACraigs on March 06, 2012 11:08 AM:

    CWolf wrote - "Your answer is in the article that you either did not read or did not comprehend. Admittedly one needs to think on a higher level than tic-tac-toe, but it's all there. "

    No, it is you and Mr. Pillar who fail to think on a strategic level. Iran has taken repeated actions against the United States. They have learned the lessons from Libya (gave up nuclear weapons and Ghaddafi overthrown) and from North Korea (has nuclear weapons, sinks a South Korean war ship and shells a South Korean Army Base and we sit by idly and do nothing). If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, they can drive the price of oil through the roof, collapsing the American and European economies at will. Iran will be shielded to commit all new types of trouble. Iran sits on one of the most vital gateways for oil. With a nuclear weapon they can seize the minor Gulf oil producers and we won't be able to do a d-mned thing.

    Iran has made its intentions abundantly clear. They intend to sink the US, the UK, Israel, and Europe in that order. We cannot afford to let Iran have this level of power. You and Mr. Pillar need to pull your heads out of the sand. Think strategically.

  • Haim on March 06, 2012 11:15 AM:

    What American politicians don’t seem to understand but any reader of Haaretz would know

    There are OTHER papers in Israel, Mr. Pillar. Even in English. You should give them a try. Your calculus is clear to me - you can live with the perspective of some tens of thousands of Jews being incinerated, since they are anyway guilty of unspeakable crimes against your beloved Palestinians. However, Jews cannot and will not. Israel will strike Iran, and there's nothing you can do about it. Personally, I am happy that it is so.

  • Norma Lee on March 06, 2012 11:44 AM:

    Mr. Pillar, Your article confronted every position ,intelligently and with unbiased logic.
    Unfortunately, the commentors cannot take off the blinders of their own perspectives and prejudices.
    If they insist on the "Holacaust" agreement, I bring up Cyrus who frred the Jews from bondage,returned them to Babyon and rebuilt their templesOr,how about Xerxes who saved the Jewis people and married Esther.
    I support your argument 500%,please make sure Obama reads this.Thank you.

  • dave742 on March 06, 2012 12:16 PM:

    This is nothing but more nonsense propaganda from the right. It is funny that many people here think this article is from an anti-war position. The point of this article is to make the false assumption that Iran is building a nuke at all. Pillar says that "we can live with a nuclear Iran", and the point is for people to take the assumption that Iran wants or is actually building a nuke as true. If people assume that Iran is building a nuke, most will be afraid and oppose it. The problem is this: THERE IS NOT A SHRED OF EVIDENCE THAT THEY ARE BUILDING A NUKE - THEY STATE REPEATEDLY THAT IT IS AGAINST ISLAM TO BUILD A NUKE - THEY WOULD BE UNABLE TO BUILD A NUKE IF THEY WANTED TO BECASUE OF IAEA INSPECTIONS - AND THEY ARE NOT BUILDING A NUKE!!
    Remember Iraq's WMD?
    Propaganda.

  • Larry on March 06, 2012 12:29 PM:

    For your information -- The US has several military bases encircling Iran. The US has more nukes than all of the other nations combined.Who makes up all these ideas of hate and horror? What else do you need to know to become unafraid of Iran?

  • John D. on March 06, 2012 12:39 PM:

    When I read some of the comments in this thread, I'm more and more convinced that mankind really did evolve from apes.

    What a bunch of utterly incorrigible lunatics.

  • wtf again on March 06, 2012 1:04 PM:

    Neocons and The Lobby just want another bite at the apple. Don't go for it, O. It's poison.

  • Nudnik on March 06, 2012 2:08 PM:

    What the writer ignores is the overwhelming superiority of Israel Arab enemies in conventional weapons - the best of the Western airplanes, tanks and modern weapons.

    Once the perceived Israeli deterrence is neutralized by an Iranian nuclear bomb, there is nothing to prevent Islamism dominated Egypt army to move close to the Israel border, and stop there. As Israel has mostly reservist army, it cannot call them up for long time...

  • wtf again on March 06, 2012 3:16 PM:

    Nudnik, Here is what the writer actually said:

    "If Iran acquired the bomb, Israel would retain overwhelming military superiority, with its own nuclear weapons—which international think tanks estimate to number at least 100 and possibly 200—conventional forces, and delivery systems that would continue to outclass by far anything Iran will have."

    I think that neutralizes any Iranian or Egyptian Army capabilities - Islamism (sic) dominated or not.

  • Kevin Mulcahy on March 06, 2012 4:34 PM:

    I can certainly understand the fears of Israel, but the often used Hitler analogies are in at least one sense deeply misleading. Even if Iran's threats against Israel are meant seriously and not just political rhetoric for the home front, Iran lacks the capabilities of Nazi Germany. Iran is far behind the Israelis in all aspects of military technology. The Germany army under Hitler was arguably the most potent military force in world history--defeated only because enormous sacrifices, especially on the part of the Russians, and because of Hitler's strategic blunders and overreaching. The Iranian military is pretty good at killing Iranian civilians, but does anyone think it is in the class of the US or Israel? Israel has, and will always have, overwhelming deterrent power. And as morally questionable as mutual assured destruction (MAD) might be, it worked between the US and the Soviets (two more equally matched opponents) for 40 or so years. An attack on Iran will not be surgical, will not be decisive, and might well fail and provoke a regional or even world war. Sanctions, diplomacy, and if need be deterrence are better than a war that will not go the way the hawks think.

  • Tony O'Brien on March 06, 2012 5:37 PM:

    Iran is a reasonably capable power, not nearly big enough to take on Israel or the US and win, but big enough to cause significant damage if attacked. For more than ten years talk of attacking Iran has been going on, giving them plenty of time to prepare. Their nuclear facilities are hidden and hardened, their anti air and anti ship warfare systems have been substantially modernised. This will not be like attacking Iraq.

    So many are overestimating the effectiveness of war and underestimating the consequences. The consequences will be dire politically, financially, to the US's reputation and in lives.

  • wtf again on March 06, 2012 6:45 PM:

    Agreed. Iran also sits on the jugular of the world's main petroleum vein. You like $10/gal. gas? Maybe there is an abundance of electric cars and excellent public transportation everywhere in Israel. Not here.

    High gas prices would probably be only one of the most immediate effects. Once the dogs of war are unleashed, the damage they do is impossible to predict.

  • anonymous on March 06, 2012 7:08 PM:

    First of all, thank you for your brilliant article!
    I am an Iranian and I have some comments for the people who has commented on this article:
    For those who compare Iran with arab countries, you are so off the middle east topic that makes me feel sorry for you! The writer of this article has been doing analysis for US intelligent agencies for over 28 years!
    Iran has not attacked any other countries in more than 250 years! US has attacked countries in middle east! Who is more likely to do something irrational?! Who gave Iraq chemical weapons to attack Iran?! Who bombed Hiroshima?!
    The only reason that US and Israel are insisting on destroying Iran's nuclear facilities is that after Iran gets that power, it changes the balance of power in middle east and Israel cannot bear that! That is why they used their lobby in US to change the king of Iran!
    I can just feel sorry for those people of America that talk without taking some time and read easily accessible resources like Wikipedia to understand politics and middle east and your own government!

  • Roark on March 06, 2012 8:45 PM:

    There is one fundamental question not the author or anyone posting has bothered to ponder, let alone answer: how does a nuclear Iran make Iran, and for that matter, the world, a better place?

    A nuclear weapon is a hugh lever until used. Then it is overwhelmingly destructive. Iran has not be bashful about its intentions, with or without a nuclear weapon and has been acting upon those intentions. With a nuclear weapon, it would seem unlikely Iran would back down from its stated intentions. Iran applying this lever would cause escalation in all surrounding middle east countries, not just Israel.

    It does not take profound logic to conclude a nuclear Iran would not make the world a better place and has wasted significant resources in an otherwise struggling nation.

  • John on March 06, 2012 8:53 PM:

    If you believe Allah wants Israel gone and those that do it will have rewards a nuke is seen as a gift to be used.
    Those in power think that way. People that blow themselves up for god think nothing better than to do it to Israel So Iran has not started war in 250 years that has nothing to do with anything. It is how long the now leaders in Iran have been in power. They are supplying weapons that are killing people so they are at war.

  • Ridiculous Posters on March 06, 2012 9:01 PM:

    Wow. So many neocons. Let's face it, launching a nuke (or any linkable use of one) would be suicide for Iran and their leaders. Why do you think Pakistan and India are more wary of fighting each other? Do you really think Iran is that stupid? Additionally, all intelligence estimates have openly stated that Iran has given up (at least for the time being) its weapons program.

    High level military officers have stated quite openly that they do not think war with Iran to be necessary or achieving the its goals even remotely easy. Much like Iraq - unleash the dogs of war and prepare for some of the worst to happen, much of it unexpected. Wars tend to take on a life of their own. The author has intelligently explained just a few of those possibilities. The only winners will be oil companies.

    Our sons and daughters in uniform have been asked to do enough. This one is unneeded and, frankly, has a much higher level of potential downsides then Iraq, Afghanistan or Vietnam. How many of those demanding action have children in the military. Certainly no one who is a presidential candidate.

  • KE Disbrow on March 07, 2012 12:01 AM:

    Talk about a fool!

    Sure, why wouldn't we want those who want us dead, who believe the way to usher in the 13th Imam is to bring about Armageddon--why wouldn't we want them to have a nuclear bomb?? Global warming to the nth degree.

    'Duh' doesn't quite express the degree to which this guy is deluded.

  • Sandy Steubing on March 08, 2012 6:59 PM:

    This is the most sensible, pragmatic analysis that I've heard. Thank you, Mr. Pillar for writing it.

  • Max Carthew on March 09, 2012 8:56 AM:

    At last the voice of reason from a scholar. I heard Mr. Pillar answer questions on the NPR news hour this morning and what a breath of fresh air. Have we not heard these wild accusations of nuclear danger from another country in the Middle East -Iraq. And did we not fight a war to keep Isreal safe from a supposed Iraqi agression. Now that state has been reduced to civil war and the rights of its citizens are trampled by zealots who have been set free in the name of Democracy. America was not founded to be the surrogate of Isreal or any other state. Let us use peaceful means to solve this crisis and tell the Isrealis to take a cold shower.

  • RichardC on March 09, 2012 10:46 AM:

    This was an excellent, well reasoned article, and also, quite frankly, a bit of a relief to read.

    This article shows there is at least one SANE analyst working in the sea of foreign policy insanity that is greater Washington DC.

    It makes me feel a little better.

  • Luis Clay on March 09, 2012 11:11 AM:

    Terrific article Mr. Pillar. Profound, researched, authoritative, sensible. Hopeful. Please keep up the good work. Thanks!

  • Sandy Maliga on March 09, 2012 11:32 AM:

    Thank you! I hope people pay attention to this.

  • Pedro Benitez on March 09, 2012 11:46 AM:

    Attacking Iran can amount to a Pyrrhic victory-MAYBE
    To say that nuclear weapons matter insofar as there is a credible possibility that they will be use-SOMEWHAT NAIVE-You see, past performance does not guarantee future results.
    A nuclear weapon will grant Iran much leverage in an area with abundant oil, populated by Sunni and Shiite Muslims, fervent Arab nationalism, much poverty, many fundamentalist groups and fanatics.
    I am not saying that Iranian are less rational human beings. I am saying that there are many factors that can catalyze an unwelcome event.

  • M.E. on March 09, 2012 12:50 PM:

    Americans are not taught how to think. Somehow Mr. Pillar has learned to do so. Thank you for your concise and clear voice of reason on this issue.

  • tt on March 09, 2012 1:55 PM:

    For all of us who think that no one else should have nukes, let's remember that the only country to use them against another is the US. Also, that the US maintains the largest nuclear stockpile all over the world, and the US routinely threaten others with its military force [especially during the farce, I mean regime, of the great, God-preaching W.] The way we, the US bullies, either economically or militarily, other countries into submission is, in itself, proof positive that we are the first country that should not have nukes to begin with, but our imperial leadership [is the word leadership for the US government a joke since any US regime from Kennedy has been responsible for countless violation of international laws [ironically which we helped write]& basic human morals?] continues to try to force others not to believe in something that it itself has defied.

  • Michael Cox on March 09, 2012 2:56 PM:

    A surprisingly objective piece of work acknowledging the full-circle effects and unintended consequences overly agressive miliary/economic actions in the region. I agree with his assertion we it comes to the politicians ability to deal with the conflict ............. we're fucked.

  • TT on March 09, 2012 3:05 PM:

    Michael Cox, nicey said

  • dapperdan on March 09, 2012 4:11 PM:

    I haven't heard anyone address the issue of Iran needing to test a weapon. North Korea did'nt do that well.

  • Woody Pfister on March 09, 2012 4:43 PM:

    Better this guy is collecting his fat federal pension and polluting the young minds of the leading Islamic Jesuit institution in the world than writing false national intelligence estimates.

  • Phil Lancaster on March 09, 2012 6:05 PM:

    So far "NO" country has deployed a nuclear arm except the U.S. on Japan to end WWII, so far the world has handled in an O.K. way India and Pakistan having the bomb and what about North Korea shouldn't we reduce their nuclear arms before going after Iran? Politics, politics, politics = Money, money, money

  • Joseph Butterweck, DVM on March 09, 2012 9:00 PM:

    I am surprised at most of the comments. No wonder we got ourselves in the mess including Viet Nam, Iraq and now Afghanistan. I have been to Iran a few years ago discussion food irradiation and their current problems of being able to feed the growing population. The educated understand us better than we do them

    I think the Mennonites have a better approach to the problem. We need to be more tolerant.

    We do not need the cowboy approach of shoot now and ask questions later. The majority of Americans seem not to learn from experience. Part of our problem maybe we do not get off the farm enough and see first hand what the world is like in the 21 st Century.s .

  • Antihypocricy on March 10, 2012 3:23 AM:

    The secret of modern propaganda is to simplify and repeat. This has been frequently employed in every step of a process which involves demonizing Iran, exaggerating its threat and, finally, trying to find an excuse to attack it (apparently, there are those who think that have a "God given" right to do this). Anybody who dares to challenge this process will be attacked by the Neocons, Christian-Zionists, and the worst elements of the pro-Israel lobby in this country (their Internet commandos).

    P.S. JT, I have two words for you: Lebanon and Gaza! Remember those shooting-in-a-fish barrel exercises?

  • Pedro Benitez on March 11, 2012 12:11 AM:

    What are Iran’s ambitions in their neighborhood? Which groups in the area they provide with funds and arms? What sectors and industries of their economy are controlled by their military? What is the structure of their government?
    A nuclear Iran will bully its neighboords, increase the supply of funds and arms to fundamentalist groups in the area, and boost military ownership of important domestic industries. Can we live with that? Sure we can!
    Will a nuclear Iran be a nightmare for the United States and others? You bet!

  • Dwight Eisenhower's ghost on March 12, 2012 2:11 AM:


    You know, 65 years ago, there were individuals telling us that we had to wage a preventive war against the godless commies and march on Moscow, or else all of Western Europe would fall and Uncle Joe would be on the Channel...

    Good thing we didn't all get starched in the late 1940s, because 55 years ago, some of the same armchair commandos were telling us that we had to cross the Yalu and drive on Peking, before the godless Chicoms got the bomb...

    Good thing we didn't all get fried in the 1950s, because 45 years ago, we had to fight and die in Vietnam because if we didn't, the dominoes would fall and Charlie would be in Australia before we could stop him...

    Good thing we all didn't end up on the wall, because 35 years ago, Team B and the Gipper told us we had to stand tall against the Soviets again - and so we ran our economy into the ground.

    Of course, good thing we didn't end up getting nuked in the Fulda Gap or wherever, because 25 years ago, the last of the cold warriors were telling us that Saddam Hussein's two bit dictatorship was the next Hitler...

    Of course, 15 years ago, we went through it again with the terrible threat of Husseun, or whoever it was...

    Now, supposedly the lurking Persian menace must be dealt with.

    Spare me - been there, done that. I'll pass for me and mine.

    As Dave Shoup (MOH, Tarawa, 1943) said about Southeast Asia in 1966 - "there's nothing there worth the life or limb of one American."

    Same is true for Southwest Asia, and it has been since 1945.

  • Copperhead on March 13, 2012 5:40 PM:

    The problem isn't Iran having nuclear weapons, but who they would sell nuclear weapons to. Everyone knows if they launch at anyone, they would be annihilated immediately. But a random terror group who gets a nuke? There's much less deterrent to a group if there is no real country to counterstrike to.

  • Andrew on March 19, 2012 2:44 PM:

    Who's we? Does this guy have a mouse in his pocket? I think the Israelis would beg to differ with your comments.

  • 1984 on March 20, 2012 3:36 AM:

    The media and spin-masters repeat lies until people give up even thinking about the statements, viz. the novel 1984: "War is Peace."

    The real truth is Israel is the EXISTENTIAL THREAT to Iran, not the other way around.

    300 nuclear bombs and an imminent threat of war are its current position.

  • Philip Atoigue on March 27, 2012 10:55 AM:

    It's hard not to be somewhat anxious when your country is described as the "Great Satan". And for Israel, the threat of total annihilation is quite real. I'm pretty sure if Canada vowed to utterly destroy the U.S, we'd be concerned. I'm no warmonger, but seriously, the threat of violence that Iran has made must be challenged.

  • Jack on March 29, 2012 10:28 PM:

    Pakistan has nukes, the Taliban and to some extent Al-Quida(whether the Pakistan gov't knew they were their is another matter, but it raises doubts). But NO OIL.

    India has nukes, but it also has cheap labor which the beloved corporations use to fatten their wallets.

    Iran will get nukes regardless if that is their intention. They know that if they do anything stupid, they will be wiped off the planet.

  • fred lapides on March 31, 2012 2:35 PM:

    A well argued piece that is just fine except for leaving out one importgant thing:
    Saudi Arab is already on record as saying that if Iran get nukes, then they will get them from China to have in clase...and Egypt hinting the same

    all thoser nations with many crazies in each?

  • Sara B on March 31, 2012 9:55 PM:

    Iran has plainly stated its intention to wipe Israel off the map. That, alone, is sufficient grounds for the United States to take whatever steps necessary to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb.

  • Michael on April 01, 2012 8:10 AM:

    Some powerful arguments, thank you! �However, in your analysis of how other nuclear powers have behaved you left out N Korea.

    Thinking about N Korea, a few quick observations �1. �They've had a de facto nuclear weapon (massive artillery pointed at Seoul) for decades �2. �They have consistently used this threat as a backstop against retaliation for... �Assassinations, proliferation, illicit drug production, counterfeiting, kidnappings, terrorism, military "hit and run" operations, etc; not too mention the internal horrors. �3. �Compared with Iran, N Korea has a much more narrow and less proactive foreign policy agenda, it's international and popular support is negligible, as is it's ability to act internationally. �4. �Even without a nuclear weapon, Iran has shown similar tendencies as N Korea (Buenos Aires is one example, but the list goes on and on)

    How much more emboldened would Iran be with a nuke (the 64m question, of course)? �Given their past history, and assuming sanctions are already at a hilt... �Why would they hold back on behavior they have already shown a predilection for? �Given that Israeli and western interests are more widely dispersed and easily targeted, proxy wars/ covert operations (the end result) would, arguably, be to the Iranians advantage. �And we'd have no solid leverage. �Think of Mumbai... �

    Also, I wouldn't discount the proliferation aspect. �Pakistan and N Korea have both taken that path. �And Iran will no doubt keep a lot of anti western allies; Hugo Chavez types.

    The relatively benign scenario you paint may be more likely (I tend to agree), but it's far from a sure thing. �What odds would you put on it... 60-40, 70-30? �Do we really want to risk spending the next 30yrs dealing with a "N Korea on steroids"? �

    And how exactly do you deal with that? �India and S Korea seem impotently resigned to taking dozens of casualties a year, along with the economic costs. �Is avoiding war worth that price? �Maybe, but I'm not convinced...

    Also, how would your scenario change if it was a joint US/ Saudi strike??? �

  • Mel Gallo on April 22, 2012 12:05 AM:

    Are you paid by Tehran or Russia? This is insane! These are the recommendations of a man in early stage dementia or one who is a foreign agent.

  • Mel Gallo on April 22, 2012 12:11 AM:

    When did you convert to Islam? Or, when were you inserted and activated within the American military-industrial complex by the Soviets?

  • Corey on April 30, 2012 9:31 PM:

    I completely agree with this article. Their is no way that attacking Iran would be a good idea. The regime will likely collapse eventually anyways just like the Soviet Union.

    Half the people commenting on this site probably would have been egging Kennedy on to toss a couple of nukes to Russia during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

    Calm down war-mongers, we have A LOT of options ahead of us..

  • Terrence on May 23, 2012 2:48 AM:

    Iran has caused more death and destruction in the middle east than any other country, they fueled the Sunni, shiite feud in Iraq, they have cause the termoil in Lebanon and Syria, they have cause bombings and supplied terrorists all over the middle east. The Government of IRAN has to go, it will be harder but it must be done, as well in Syria. What if the Hezbollah had no one backing them. Missles would quit being pointed at Israel and the people in Lebanon could live in peace.
    80 percent of the population in IRAN want a new government. If Iran is left to getting a Nuclear Weapon, they will cause problems in every Arab country for the next 50 years.

  • John Williams on May 23, 2012 4:42 PM:

    The current Iran situation got me thinking and going back to the book, "All the Shah's Men," and what we did the country in the '50s. It's amazing that Iranians don't hate us (and the Brits).

  • vince on June 07, 2012 7:16 PM:

    you want to know the worlds problem and this is coming from a 15 year btw the world is caught up in a dick measuring contest and the worlds leaders world just put their dicks away none of this shit would happen and people need to stop blaming US for everything its not all our fault.

  • JennieWalsh on October 31, 2012 5:46 PM:

    The Satanic globalist neo-con organized crime cartel (and Obama is a member) organized and executed the entire Benghazi attack. They will say, do, manipulate, kill anyone and anything to GET WAR STARTED! The propaganda and lies on the mainstream media are absolutely appalling! To overcome mountains of lies and propaganda see: youtube.com/watch?v=bCw-oWp1wf8&feature=player_embedded#!

    For more eye opening information to expose the Satanic globalist neo-cons' vicious agenda, lies and propaganda, see: forbiddenknowledgetv.com/videos/big-oil/wwiii-is-coming-soon--heres-why.html

  • Karl Shirvanian on January 29, 2013 10:25 PM:

    "Iran The Devil & Its holy Bomb"

    The radical Islamic republic of Iran, which I feel ashamed calling it an Islamic country, for being very well informed what Islam means. Islam is a religion of peace, prosperity, mercy & forgiveness.

    The legislations & policies of the current regime in Iran serves the interests of the regime itself & not Islam or Irans community, aimed to destroy the western civilization, but its hard to recognize the reasons Iran being such an anti-western country. Meantime it is clear that Iran is not focused with its internal problems but the main focus to destroy the western powers in order to achieve more control in the entire world.

    Iran desire to develop & use of nuclear weapons of mass destruction on
    major population centers targeting civilians & innocent people is a form of terrorism & a crime against humanity. Iran is a terrorism supporter in different areas of the world.

    Irans current regime is abusing almost all kind of human rights, violating the minimum rights that a human can enjoy during his life. A country which is isolated from the entire west, driving itself to an economical death.

    Karl Shirvanian