The Iran deal after the shouting.

Once upon a time, Iran signed up for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.[1] Under the treaty the development of nuclear power was acceptable, but the pursuit of nuclear weapons was not acceptable.[2] After n1979, the Islamic Republic of Iran pursued a secret program to develop nuclear weapons—not just nuclear power—until 2003. Then the hunt eased up, without entirely stopping. By 2006, Western nations had grown suspicious of Iranian actions, so they slapped on a series of increasingly painful economic sanctions. The vise kept tightening until the Iranians agreed to negotiate with a coalition of powers: the United States, Great Britain, France, Germany, the European Community, Russia, and China.

The Iran deal that was recently technically-not-disapproved by Congress does certain things. It does not seek a permanent end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program. It does try to extend Iran’s “break out” time to a nuclear weapon from the current estimated three months to one year.

What’s the up-side? The agreement imposes controls on Iran for ten to fifteen years. Some of this involves Iran backing away from its current level of development by surrendering 97 percent of the enriched uranium it already possesses, dismantling two-thirds of its existing enrichment centrifuges, and reconstructing its existing heavy water reactor. Some of this involves “intrusive”[3] inspections of Iranian sites all along the supply-chain from mines and centrifuge factories to enrichment facilities.

What’s the down-side? Iran fended-off really intrusive inspections that would have allowed inspectors to look wherever they want. Only certain sites are open to free inspection. Other sites where Iran might seek to reconstitute its program out from under Western eyes can be visited only with Iranian permission. Refusal sets in train an appeals process; rejection of the Iranian position—in theory—triggers a “snap back” of the sanctions that brought Iran to the negotiating table in the first place. Then, the agreement suspends the sanctions regime. Iran stands to earn up to $150 billion a year.

So, this deal will delay the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons for ten to fifteen years. What happens then? Both the Americans and the Iranians are wagering that people in the future will see their best interests clearly. The Obama administration appears to hope that Iranians in the future will see things differently than do members of the revolutionary generation that overthrew the Shah. Iranians appear to be thinking that the survival of the current regime depends on ending sanctions and that the future will take care of itself.

Will Iran try to cheat? Probably, but they are going to have spies all over them thicker than ticks on a hound.

What happens in 2025-2030? The Iranians may rush to “break out.” Or they may not care about nukes anymore. It’s hard to say.

How much confidence should people have in this agreement? Some. However, the opinion polls appear to show that Americans don’t want a big war right now. Give it ten years, and….   Then, neither Russia nor China has an interest in denying nukes to Iran.

So, take the deal, put the clutch down on war for ten to fifteen years, but don’t get confused about the possibility of hitting Iran if things don’t work out.

[1] “The Iran deal,” The Week, 9 October 2015, p. 11.

[2] Yes, there is gross hypocrisy in countries with nukes telling countries without nukes that they can’ t have nukes. Welcome to life.

[3] UN inspectors, video-cameras, and sensors.

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What would Bismarck drive? 3.

ISIS looks like a coalition of old Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia survivors, Iraqi Ba’athists, and conservative Syrian Sunni rebels against the Assad government. If ISIS wins in western Iraq and eastern Syria and establishes a caliphate, what will happen to that coalition? Will the coalition hold together in happier times once external dangers are reduced? Or will “hunting season” open as the members pursue disparate goals?[1]

If you look at this over the long-run, working to strengthen good governance and economic development around the world is a good idea. The Islamist movements and the refugees seeking to break into Europe (and the US for that matter) are fleeing stagnant economies, misgovernment, and often violence.[2] “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Alas, I’m not sure that we know how to do this—aside from empires.

The Iraq War was a disaster.[3] As a result, Americans don’t want another real war at the moment. It would take a real war to slow down Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons by any significant amount of time. It would take conquest and occupation to stop it entirely.[4] So, the odds are that President Obama’s pursuit of an agreement with Iran to delay that country’s acquisition of nuclear weapons by some indefinite, but shorter, period is about the best that we can hope for.

However, confessing that we don’t want to do anything serious about Iran estranges us from Israel and Saudi Arabia. A nuclear Iran appears to both Israel and Saudi Arabia as a grave security threat. One of these days, the two countries may decide that Allah/Yahwey helps those who help themselves.[5] Perhaps the key decisions will be made in Jerusalem. Israel and Saudi Arabia have a community of interest in doing something about Iran’s nuclear program. The Saudis probably could not manage a pre-emptive attack on their own. The Saudis probably could not manage to fend-off an angry American reaction on their own. In both cases, a tacit alliance with Israel would be very valuable. On the other hand, Israel and Iran have a community of interest in doing something about ISIS, while Saudi Arabia has not made much of an effort against ISIS because it is beating up on Iranian clients in Iraq and Syria. It is difficult to imagine Israel working a deal with Iran over ISIS if it meant tolerating Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons. It is easier to imagine Saudi Arabia turning on ISIS as part of a deal with Israel. The thing all the decision-makers—in Riyadh, Jerusalem, Tehran, and Washington—are bearing in mind is that any attack on Iran’s nuclear program will start a bigger war in the Middle East, rather than end the current ones. So, perhaps cooler heads will prevail. Perhaps there will be a grand bargain instead of Armageddon. An American presidential campaign in which a host of Republican hopefuls appear to have been recruited from clown college and the anointed Democratic candidate once voted for the Iraq War just to appear tough enough to be president doesn’t inspire confidence.

[1] See: Gordon Craig, Problems of coalition warfare: The military alliance against Napoleon, 1813-1814 (Colorado Springs: U.S. Air Force Academy, 1966); Winston S. Churchill, The Second World War, vol. 6: Triumph and Tragedy. .

[2] It appears that the long drop in homicide rates in most American cities has been problematic for local television news stations. Perhaps they should just keep news crews in some place like South Sudan.

[3] In a few years, someone is going to add a chapter to one of those What If? books that explores “counter-factual history.”   My own version runs something like the following. Saddam Hussein was 66 when he was overthrown by the coalition of “the all-too-willing”; he had a bad back, but was afraid to have surgery because it would involve general anesthetic and something might happen; his sons were violent morons who were unlikely to be able to either share or hold power after the eventual death of their father; Iraq had attacked Iran in 1980 and the Iranians were—and are—eager for pay-back; the Shi’ite majority and the Kurds were eager to chart their own course, if only the Sunni minority would get their boot off the necks of the vast majority of Iraqis; and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the founder of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia (the ancestor of ISIS) was operating in Syria from about 2002. So, even without the invasion, things might have shaken-out pretty much as they did. Only, we wouldn’t have our finger-prints all over the rubble. See: Richard K. Betts and Samuel P. Huntington, “Dead Dictators and Rioting Mobs: Does the Demise of Authoritarian Rulers Lead to Political Instability?”, International Security, Vol. 10, #3 (Winter 1985-1986), pp. 112-146.

[4] Perhaps we could partition the place with Russia? See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anglo-Soviet_invasion_of_Iran

[5] One of the ways to think about Saudi Arabian intervention in the Yemen civil war is as an opportunity to give their soldiers and flyers some combat experience before, you know…..

Recent American Public Opinion.

Iran. In March 2015, 68 percent of Americans approved of negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program. Broadly, we can see the effects of the Iraq war on the public mind. Most people favored negotiations over the risk of war. What is remarkable is the degree to which the words and actions of leaders have had a disruptive effect in spite of this broad consensus.

First, Americans seem to have arrived at an “a plague on both your houses” attitude to the Obama-Netanyahu conflict. In March 2015, only 38 percent had a favorable view of Netanyahu, while 27 had an unfavorable view of the Israeli prime minister. In April 2015, only 37 percent approved of the Prime Minister’s handling of relations with the United States. However, only 38 percent approved of President Obama’s handling of relations with Israel.[1] In many eyes, it has begun to look like a personal dispute, rather than an affair of state.

Second, a sharp partisan division had begun to manifest itself in attitudes toward Netanyahu. In the March 2015 poll, 53 percent of Republicans had a favorable view of Netanyahu, while only 28 percent of Democrats had a favorable view. Doubtless, this division of views reflected the invitation to Netanyahu to address Congress that had been schemed-up by the Republican leadership and the Israeli ambassador, the former-American and former- Republican activist Ron Dermer. That isn’t the same as saying that American attitudes toward Israel itself have shifted dramatically. Yet.

Third, in March 2015, the Republicans pushed their luck by meddling with the negotiations with Iran.[2] Forty-seven Republican Senators sent a letter to the Iranians warning that an agreement that was only an “executive agreement” could be undone by a subsequent administration. Almost half of Americans (49 percent) disapproved of this action. The hyperventilation on the left about “treason” (cue Ricky Perry) was silly. However, a lot of Americans seem to take the same view as did Napoleon: “It was worse than a crime. It was a mistake.”

Energy. In March 2015, Pew Research surveyed Americans on their attitude toward energy and climate issues.[3] At this point, 81 percent favored government-imposed higher fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles and 64 percent favored tighter emissions limits on power plants. However, 59 percent favored building the Keystone XL pipeline. On the other hand, 31 percent opposed building the pipeline and 31 percent opposed tighter controls on emissions from power plants. On the subject of ranking the means to develop America’s energy resources, 60 percent assigned priority to alternative energy sources (wind, solar, hydrogen) and 30 percent assigned priority to exploring for and developing carbon sources (coal, oil, natural gas). At the same time, 56 percent favored more off-shore drilling for gas and oil, while 40 percent opposed it.

There is a lot of incoherence here. How to sort it out?

First, the opponents of the Keystone XL pipeline and the opponents of controls on power plant emissions represent the very large numbers of crazy people in American politics. Together they total 62 percent. Either the middle ground learns how to make deals or we’ve got problems.

Second, more carbon energy means more oil and gas, not more coal. The “war on coal” has already been won. Mitch McConnell just doesn’t know it.

Third, the President is pandering to his base in vetoing the Keystone pipeline.

[1] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 13 March 2015, p. 17; “Poll Watch,” The Week, 10 April 2015, p. 15. In the March poll a lucky 23 percent had never heard of the Israeli leader.

[2] “Poll Watch,” The Week, 27 March 2015, p. 17.

[3] “Voice of the People,” WSJ, 31 March 2015.

Trudy Rubin on an Iran Deal.

Trudy Rubin has been covering the Middle East for more than thirty years, first for the Christian Science Monitor and then for the Philadelphia Inquirer. A few years ago she was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Her views have to be taken seriously. Recently, she gave a basic guideline for evaluating a deal with Iran on its nuclear program.[1]

The goal of the negotiations is to create the conditions under which it would take Iran at least a year to “break out” to having at least one nuclear weapon. A highly-intrusive inspections regime will have to replace the sanctions regime: free access for I.A.E.A. inspectors to any suspicious site, snap inspections, and a full explanation of suspected previous work on weapons design. Without the inspections regime, the deal isn’t worth making.

Neither a deal nor the failure to reach a deal will have any effect on Iranian policy in the Middle East.[2] Iran is a strong state surrounded by weak Sunni states that are in upheaval.[3] It will seek to expand its influence in the region. There is going to continue to be turmoil in the region, rather than some kind of “grand bargain” that calms the stormy seas.

If a deal in March 2015 is impossible, then keep sanctions in place and keep talking until the final deadline in July. Iran may blink.

What if there is no deal?

Iran will resume development of nuclear weapons, probably at an accelerated pace. It will seek to “break out” as soon as possible. Moreover, “if talks collapse, the international sanctions regime is likely to crack sooner rather than later, especially if the United States is blamed.”[4] This seems also to be the position of the Obama administration. That is, it will become easier for Iran to reach its goal with the passage of time.

To head off this danger, Saudi Arabia and Israel will press for an American attack on the Iranian nuclear sites. Rubin believes that an attack would delay Iranian progress for “a couple of years, but it wouldn’t destroy it.”

If the Iraq war didn’t work out quite the way American leaders had anticipated, why would an Iranian war have limited and easily-predicted consequences?

Some unknowns.

If the sanctions regime inevitably will crumble if there is no deal, why would the Iranians make any significant concessions to reach a deal? Is announcing that sanctions will not long survive the failure to reach a deal equivalent to announcing a dead-line for withdrawing American forces from Afghanistan?

Why would Saudi Arabia and Israel follow the American line? Why wouldn’t they strike before Iran “breaks out,” then hope for the election of a Republican president in 2016?

If air strikes would delay, but not end, Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons, why would air strikes be limited to a one-time attack? Why wouldn’t they become a continuing form of “sanctions”?

What if there is a deal and the Iranians cheat on it? All Rubin’s arguments against action still apply. Sanction will be hard to restore; war may be a disaster. That’s not too encouraging.

[1] Trudy Rubin, “4 rules to judge any Iran deal,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 26 March 2015.

[2] That is, Rubin isn’t taken in by the “transformational” hopes of the Obama administration. See: The Iran Dilemma.

[3] Here Rubin blames a combination of American invasions and the dry-rot caused by decades of corrupt, autocratic, and incompetent governments. See: The Muslim Civil War.

[4] Rubin doesn’t explain why this is so, although one could conjecture that Putin might engage in pay-back for the Americans sticking their fingers in his eye over Ukraine.

Peenemunde.

Usedom is an island of the shore of Germany in the Baltic. Peenemunde is a little town on Usedom. In 1936 the Luftwaffe bought a big chunk of the island to use as a weapons development and testing facility; in 1937 the German Army took over most of the site for the same purpose; and by the end of 1938 the Germans were engaged in rocket development projects at Peenemunde.[1] The V-1 and V-2 long-range weapons and the “Waterfall” air-defense systems were meant to be war-winning devices. Britain’s “Operation Crossbow” attacked these efforts.

By June 1943 a combination of Polish resistance reports and aerial photographic interpretation had persuaded the British that the Germans were conducting important rocket development at Peenemunde. Prime Minister Winston Churchill ordered an attack.

The attack faced formidable difficulties. For one thing, the British intended to destroy the knowledge base of the program. That is, they meant to kill scientists, engineers, and technicians. Destroying the material base—machine shops, assembled rockets—formed a distinctly secondary object. Therefore, the bombing would be done from 8,000 feet, instead of the customary 19,000 feet. For another thing, the power of German air defenses had long since forced the Royal Air Force (RAF) to bomb at night. The RAF had developed radio guidance beams (Gee) to direct the bombers, but Peenemunde fell beyond the range. Therefore, the precision bombing require to destroy the German base would have to be done by moonlight. This meant that German night-fighters would have favorable conditions. Recognizing the dangers, the RAF committed all of Bomber Command to the attack. To improve the chances of the bombers, the RAF planned to launch a simultaneous mock diversionary attack on Berlin by “Pathfinder” units and fighter attacks on German airfields.

The attack—“Operation Hydra”–stepped off on the night of 17-18 August 1943. The 596 RAF bombers dropped 1,800 tons of bombs on a geographically limited area. Navigational, target-marking, and human errors cropped up. They killed 2 German scientists and 730 others, most of whom were Polish slave-laborers. (The RAF lost 40 planes and 215 aircrew killed.)

The attack did a lot of damage to the material base (machine shops, rocket components), but not a lot of damage to the intellectual base. However, the Germans could not afford to risk a second attack that might succeed. By the end of August 1943, the Germans began evacuating the Peenemunde operations to more secure locations. This delayed the German weapons programs by six to eight weeks.[2] V-1—“flying bomb” attacks on Britain began on 13 June 1944. V-2 rocket attacks began in September 1944. So, perhaps the V-1s might have begun flying in mid-April 1944 and the V-2s in July 1944.

How should we think about this historical event?

First, the British had a short time period in which to act. They had to stave-off some catastrophic event for a couple of years at the outside. After that, Germany would be defeated by other means. They did not have to resolve the problem of a long-term threat.

Second, in a short time-frame, attacking the intellectual base can work because it will take a while to get the successors up to speed. An educated nation, can fill holes eventually.

Third, attacking the physical weapons infrastructure didn’t do much good because it was viewed as secondary. Making it primary wouldn’t have changed much.

Fourth, the movie “Operation Crossbow” (1965) has Sophia Loren. Jus sayin’.

[1] Thereafter, all the guards made it difficult to for ordinary Germans to vacation on the “Sunny Isle,” sylph around in the nude as part of that weird German cult of the sun thing.

[2] Nevertheless, the Germans continued to test rockets at Peenemunde until February 1945.

The Iran Dilemma.

Tom Friedman’s opinion on Middle Eastern matters must command respect. Friedman has remarkable access to American government sources. The Obama administration often appears to voice its views through his column.

Since the Revolution of 1979 overthrew the Shah, the United States and Iran have been at odds. At the same time, Sunni Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran have been at odds. So, an alliance of convenience formed between the United States and Saudi Arabia. Recently, the upheavals in the Middle East have consolidated the grip on power of Iranian clients in Iraq, Syria, Libya, and Yemen. Over the longer term, however, Iran’s long pursuit of nuclear weapons has been profoundly destabilizing to the region. (See: Bomb ‘em ‘till the mullahs bounce.)

Friedman’s recent column on the negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program lays out some essential issues, even if it does not fully explore them.[1]

First, the Obama Administration hopes that a nuclear deal with Iran will be “transformational.” If sanctions are lifted, Iran can be drawn into the larger world. Contact with more liberal societies may—eventually—turn Iran into a “normal,” non-revolutionary state.

Second, the Obama administration sees Iran as a legitimate counter-weight to the Wahhabist version of Islam sponsored by America’s nominal “ally,” Saudi Arabia. Iran has competitive (if not “free”) elections; respect for women beyond the norm in the Muslim world; and real military power that it is willing to use. In contrast, Saudi Arabia is an absolutist monarchy that sponsors the spread of the extremist Wahhabism that can easily turn into Islamic radicalism, but will not use its powerful military for more than air shows.

Third, “America’s interests lie not with either the Saudis or the Iranian ideologues winning, but rather with balancing the two against each other until they get exhausted enough to stop prosecuting their ancient Shi’ite-Sunni, Persian-Arab feud.”

Fourth, “managing the decline of the Arab state system is not a problem [the United States] should own. We’ve amply proved we don’t know how.”

Points worth discussing.

What caused the collapse of the Soviet Union, contact with the West or the inherent stupidity of Communism? Is expanded contact with the West eroding the power of the Chinese Communist Party? These examples go to the “transformational” aspect of the issue.

Is the Obama administration hoping for a Nixon-Kissinger style “opening” (as to China) that will remake the politics of the Middle East? If so, is the game worth the candle? What American interests will be advanced by such an opening? Iran will fight ISIS and Saudi Arabia will back opponents of the Shi’ite government in Baghdad regardless of such a change.

Does the Obama administration accept that we are witnessing the undoing of the Sykes-Picot borders? If so, which borders are likely to be redrawn? Iraq, Syria, and Libya are failed states. What about Saudi Arabia (home to most of the foreign fighters in ISIS) or Egypt?

Finally, Friedman argues that “if one assumes that Iran already has the know-how and tools to build a nuclear weapon, changing the character of the regime is the only way it becomes less threatening.” First, he accepts the thrust of the piece by Broad and Sanger, that Iraq knows how to make a nuclear weapon. (See: A note of caution in Iran.) Second, he argues that changing attitudes is the “only” way to deal with the danger. Really? Soldiers usually plan for an enemy’s capabilities, not his intentions—which can be hard to discern.

[1] Thomas L. Friedman, “Looking Before Leaping,” NYT, 25 March 2015.

A note of caution regarding Iran.

In 2003 American intelligence discovered that Iran was conducting a massive nuclear program. International monitoring of Iraq’s program focused on fuel-development because these created a large foot-print that could be tracked by satellites and imports. Meanwhile, a whole series of increasingly-severe international sanctions followed. Eventually, in August 2013, Iran was forced to begin negotiations with six major powers.[1] Currently, the six powers want Iran to greatly reduce its uranium and plutonium production for an extended period. This is intended to block an Iranian “breakout” to possession of a nuclear weapon. Those negotiations are supposed to conclude at the end of March 2015.

Under these conditions, it is useful to consider a recent report in the New York Times.[2] Producing potentially weapons-grade material is one thing. Actually turning that material into a weapon is something else. So, does Iran know how to build a nuclear weapon?

The International Atomic Energy Agency (I.A.E.A.), a UN agency, has accumulated a lag amount of material that shows that Iran has been working hard on warhead design. Iran has dismissed this evidence as forgeries by the Americans and the Israelis. The IAEA claims to have confirmed the American and Israeli material through other sources.

Knowledgeable people assign priority to the nuclear “fuel” over the “knowledge” factor for a good reason. The fuel is the hardest problem to solve and knowing how to build a bomb without the means to make a bomb doesn’t constitute much of a threat. However, the Times correspondents point out that there are both bad actors (North Korea) which possess nuclear fuel that they might be willing to transfer, and a black-market.[3] Between 2007 and 2009, I.A.E.A. inspectors tried to discover what was happening inside certain laboratories. The Iranians stone-walled the inspectors. Since the beginning of negotiations in 2013, the Iranians have continued to rebuff inspectors interested in the “military dimension” of the issue.

The I.A.E.A. has published a list of a dozen critical technologies for building a warhead. Some of them are dual-use technologies that can apply to legitimate civilian purposes. The I.A.E.A.’s file of secret material on Iran’s nuclear program alleges that the Iranians have pursued work on all twelve. However, of the twelve, only one is under discussion. One is electrical detonators. The Iranians have claimed that these were used for civilian purposes (like mining). Two others have been raised, but have not been addressed by the Iranians. The second is “explosive lenses.” The third is computer modeling and calculations of a bomb’s release of subatomic particles. The remaining nine have never even been discussed at all. The fourth is a “neutron initiator,” a sort of spark-plug. The fifth is the technology for a long-distance test-firing. The sixth is a Uranium-235 metal core of a bomb. The seventh is the system for fusing, arming, and firing the weapon when it reaches its target. The eighth is a re-entry vehicle, that is, a capsule that protects the weapon during re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere. The ninth is a fuel compression test run on a mock core. The tenth is a complex program management organization. The eleventh is procurement activities, in this case run through ‘front” companies. The twelfth is the covert acquisition of bomb fuel.

None of these allegations can tell us how far the Iranian may have moved toward being able to build a weapon. The Iranian rejection of transparency creates a terrible dilemma. Keep the sanctions in place and wait? Strike a deal and hope for the best? Bomb them now?

[1] Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, and the United States.

[2] William J. Broad and David E. Sanger, “What Iran Won’t Say About the Bomb,” NYT, 8 March 2015.

[3] Both some of the former states of the Soviet Union and Pakistan are at least conceivable sources.