Saturday, July 5, 2014

Matthew Kroenig’s “A Time to Attack” Is The Long Telegram on Iran

Matthew Kroenig
George F. Kennan

Seven months ago I wrote the post Re-reading George F. Kennan's Memoirs - Why is there nobody today to write The Long Telegram on Iran?

Well, I was wrong. A Time to Attack is the new Long Telegram. Just like George F. Kennan, in 1946, at that time American chargé d'affaires in Moscow, managed in a 5362  word telegram to analyze the USSR and define what the US policy should be, so does Kroenig today with his book make the definitive case for attacking Iran if diplomacy fails.

Reading A Time to Attack felt like reading a proof of a mathematical theorem, with the axioms, lemmas, proof and the concluding QED.  There is no point in going into details like nuclear brinkmanship or undetectable breakout, the book should be read in its entirety since all the arguments that one can come up with are duly taken care of and countered.  For instance, he gives this explanation on the threat to the US :

"As Iran's nuclear capabilities grow over time, it  is even possible that nuclear war with Iran  could threaten  the very existence of the United States. While the risk of nuclear war on every given day is low, it is not zero. And that risk needs to be aggregated day after day, week  after week, year after year, decade after decade as the countries  go through various political conflicts of interest, crises and possibly even wars.  Given enough time, there is a real risk that something could go terribly wrong."

And yet I remain torn in that although Kroenig has managed to prove his case perfectly, he has done so without touching upon the eschatological aspect of the Iranian regime and in particular the famous Bernard Lewis statement   “In this context, the deterrent that worked so well during the Cold War, namely M.A.D. (Mutual Assured Destruction) , would have no meaning.  At the End of Time, there will be general destruction  anyway.  What will matter is the final destination of the dead-- hell for the infidels, and the delights of heaven for the believers. For people with this mindset, M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an inducement...  “  

Does it make sense to go into this extra murky world and open a can of worms? Why do it if the case has already been so brilliantly made? Because we as a civilization have to make our decisions based on all the evidence at our disposal. Whether Bernard Lewis is right or not I cannot say.  Some scholars like Raphael Israeli and Matthias Kuntzel agree with him, others like Ze’ev Maghen and Timothy Furnish  (second article in the link) do not.  But to me it is rather odd that such fundamental decisions about the future of our planet are being made without the relevant opinions of the leading western experts on Shi’a Islam even mentioned!  

It is not that Kroenig totally disregards the problem. He writes: “And, finally, the adversary has to be rational enough to careful calculate costs and benefits before taking major strategic actions. If you are dealing with a madman, he might not care whether his actions provoke overwhelming retaliation. Or, if he is exceptionally crazy, he might actually welcome it.”  Bernard Lewis’s “M.A.D. is not a constraint; it is an precisely this case. Bernard Lewis’s words carry weight and his input should have figured in the discussion.

My second remark is regarding the assessment of the Israeli capability to destroy the uranium enrichment facility at Qom which is protected by 295 feet of rock.  

Of course it would be preferable for the US to do it with a stealth B2 using the Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP).  But what should an Israeli PM do when he sees the American President flip-flop on Syria, watch as his administration supports the anti-Semitic and anti-American Muslim Brotherhood all over the region and then listens to the State Department engage in verbal gymnastics to justify how the US can still work with the PA-Hamas unity government whose Article 7 reads “The Day of Judgment will not come about until Moslems fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jew will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say O Moslems, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him”? To top that all, you then have the US Secretary of State pin the blame for the failed negotiations with the Palestinians on Israel!

As Kroenig writes “It is never a good idea to put an opponent's back against the wall in international politics”. It would be only logical then that the Israel PM conclude that Obama-Godot cannot be relied on and that Israel has to take the matter into its own hands.  Since Netanyahu according to Ari Shavit has had in depth discussions with Bernard Lewis and is convinced that “if the ayatollahs obtained nuclear weapons, they would use them” it is not inconceivable that Israel would, according to the Sunday Times, use tactical nuclear weapons to destroy the facility at Qom.  

Let us hope that Kroenig’s Long Telegram achieves the same impact  as Kennan’s original one did and that such a decision by the Israeli PM will never have to be made.