My Iran Thoughts

In an interesting conversation with Xranger in comments to my previous post, I mentioned that right now we are in a minimize maximum regret decision making process on what to do with Iran, and that there are no cost free optimizing choices to be made.

The Glittering Eye lays out what I wish I was able to write as concisely and succintly, but was not able to do so:

Just for the record I oppose either invading Iran or bombing it. I do think that reminding the Iranian government that if an Iranian nuclear weapon is used against America, Americans, or American interests either here or overseas (fissibles have detectable signatures; if it’s an Iranian bomb we’ll know) that we will respond in kind with disproportionate force is long overdue. That’s been our policy for more than a half century.

We also need to take this matter very, very seriously without dilly-dallying. I don’t know of a single government (other than the Iranian government) that denies that Iran has a nuclear weapons development program. The evidence, which I’ve gone into before, is pretty dispositive. I don’t deny that it’s a perfectly reasonable thing for Iran to (in fact, I’ve argued in favor of the Iran regime’s rationality) but I also don’t much care: it’s perfectly rational of us as well to do what we can to prevent their acquiring nuclear weapons.”

This excerpt encapsulates my thoughts extremely well.

So what are the options that I would find favorable and given my extremely high distrust in the competence of the Bush administration to do anything other than play narrowminded hardball politics, and that includes a distrust in their ability to tie their own shoes, find plausible in its execution.

The first option is to step back and let the EU, Russia and China, all of whom have much greater amounts of leverage that does not fall from 40,000 feet with the Iranian government than the United States. Offer a deal where the Russians, Chinese and the EU member nations offer Iran enriched uranium sufficient for civilian grade reactor operations on the conditions of gram for gram accounting of the material as it is sent into the country and then taken back out of Iran for reprocessing or storage in exchange for full inspections and verification, including the military sites. This gives Iran the nuclear fuel cycle that they say they need for their civilian nuclear programs, while denying the infrastructure needed to enrich the uranium or divert the plutonium from the reactors for weaponry. At the same time, China, Russia and the EU pressure the US to give Iran a security guarantee that is credible.

I find this scenario rather unlikely as it is calling both the US and Iranian bluffs, but it is a good first pass to get some more cards on the table at a rather low cost.

The second element of this scenario is to reiterate that the US doctrine is overwhleming retaliation for a traceable nuclear strike, and given the joys of nuclear engineering, all detonated nuclear weapons are traceable. If one is worried about the Loose Nuke problem, traceability and the promise that the US considers a loose nuke employed by a stateless group to be the responsibility of the country of origin, deterrence is still very, very, very credible. At the same time, there is a potential for cooperative engagement where the US, UK, or France offers significant help in improving the accounting, and command and control nodes on nuclear weapons for recent nuclear powers so risk reduction can occur.

The status quo is a viable policy alternative, for the US has learned to live with a Soviet nuclear arsenal, where MAD was a viable reality, we have learned to live and reach an accomodation with a communist Chinese nuclear arsenal. We have learned to live with a credible North Korean nuclear deterrant. We have learned to live with an Indian nuclear arsenal, and we are actively cooperating and enhancing some of the confidence building measures that I outlined in my second option with Pakistan. A nuclear Iran is not a desired end state, but it is a highly probable end state, and it is an end state that the US can live with and should live with if the other policy options have significantly higher risks, which I think that they do.

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