Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Iran war would be devastating to its people - Published in the Centre Daily Times, January 2012

A lunatic is building a bomb.  We know where to find him, but he’s also holding a group of innocent people, including children, hostage.  Do we use deadly force to obliterate him, and all his hostages, to prevent him from bombing us?  Or do we work carefully to talk him out of doing anyone, including his hostages, harm?

This is where we are with Iran.  The religious fanatics that run their country are determined to develop their own nuclear bombs.  Many are rightfully worried they’d threaten to shoot them at Israel for political leverage.  At the same time, the fanatics hold their own people hostage and slaughter them if necessary to retain control.

What should the United States do?  During campaign season, it’s popular for some politicians to feign toughness by threatening Iran with bombing, and in some cases all out war.  Let’s consider these options.  First, we’re not sure whether our bombs can actually damage Iran’s nuclear sites, which are buried up to 80 meters underground.  A failed bombing attempt would make for a bolder, more defiant Iran while showing the world our weapons have serious limitations. 

Also, lunatics don’t often respond rationally when attacked.  Potshots at Israel would be likely, perhaps escalating to a regional war involving other difficult elements, like Syria and even Russia.  Expect a surge in oil prices as a result, shoving the world toward another global recession.  Finally, for those who favor all out war and occupation, consider this:  Iran is four times the size of Iraq, with three times the population.  The cost and scale of an Iranian conflict are simply beyond our military and budgetary means.

The effect of a potential war on Iran’s people is deeply personal to me.  I spent part of my childhood there.  The Shah was in power then, and as a 4-6 year old I sat on friendly Persian men’s knees, ate like a prince thanks to their doting wives, and played with their children.  Iran is a beautiful place, thousands of years in the making (explore it sometime on YouTube – look for ‘Iran cities’).  Its citizens are civilized, outgoing, friendly, and like us, care deeply about their children and future.  It is not their fault the ruling clerics are misguided, vicious, and obstinate.

Most Iranians want new leaders.  They were tantalizingly close to overthrowing their oppressive government in 2009 after blatant ballot-box stuffing reelected the clerics’ stooge Ahmadinejad.  Months of uprisings and demonstrations, a precursor to those we’ve seen recently in the Middle East, were eventually suppressed with much blood and suffering.  However, the 2009/2010 tensions remain, and the country seems ripe for another, perhaps successful, revolution in the future, particularly with parliamentary elections later this year.

This should be our approach then – doing whatever we can to help the hostages turn on their oppressors. Anything that weakens Iran’s government, and its influence throughout the region, will eventually empower its people.  The proposed oil embargo is a good start.  Diplomacy, mixed with aggressive covert operations (spying and propaganda distribution within the country) initiated by President Bush, and continued by President Obama, are our best hope for a new Iran.