2006 February 11 Saturday
Tyler Cowen Bullish On Iran As Nuclear Power

In the mood for some contrarian thinking that steps out of the narrow confines of what passes for mainstream foreign policy thinking in the West? Tyler Cowen sees major benefits from Iran's coming status as a nuclear power.

Iranian nukes will create an Israeli-Iranian alignment of political interests. Iran is more hated by the Arab states than is often let on. Iranian nukes increase the chance that Arab terrorism will be directed against Teheran rather than Tel Aviv or Manhattan.

Iran with nukes will carve out a greater sphere of influence, in part at the expense of Israel and America. But it will seek to stabilize that sphere, and "Israel" and "stability" likely will be seen as complements. Iran won't want Iraq under the control of al Qaeda. Israel and Iran would work together, albeit covertly, to limit further proliferation in the region.

Some of the Arab nations would find themselves forced into a de facto alliance with israel, if only to resist Iranian power. This is not obviously a bad outcome.

Most politicians -- whether religious fanatics or not -- are pragmatic. The status of a nuke could be a substitute for the status earned by Iran from supporting terrorism and bashing Israel. More importantly, nuclear powers do not generally want to transfer much power to decentralized, hard-to-deter terrorists.

Do read the whole thing before you step into the comments below and confidently assert why he's wrong.

I think shallow and intellectually lazy Bush and the deluded neocons shot their wad on Iraq and are powerless to stop Iran's nuclear weapons development program. The American public is dead set against another foreign attack and does not trust Bush and his gang in another misadventure. Plus, the US military is stretched as it is. The best Bush could carry out is an air attack. But how to justify it? The Bushies assured us last time that an invasion was necessary to stop (non-existent) nuclear weapons development.

Anyway, I hope Tyler is right about Iran as a nuclear power. My concern is that even if he's right about Iran that Iran as a nuclear power will provide more impetus for other states to become nuclear powers as well.

Speaking of the Iraq Debacle and where it leaves us today Greg Cochran has this to say:

If the President had decided (because of a stroke with truly interesting side effects) that we could no longer stand idly by in the eternal conflict between penguins and skuas (penguins = Good, skuas = Evil) and sent an expedtionary force to Antarctica, an expedition in which a thousand soldiers froze to death and ten thousand others lost limbs to frostbite - an expedition that cost one hundred billion dollars, a conflict in which the skuas and blizzards left the issue in doubt, one in which we discovered that penguins are thoroughly unlikeable when you get to know them better - if he had done this instead of invading Iraq the country would be substantially better off than it is today.

Political opposition to an arctic attack would no doubt be met with a neocon argument that we could build an alliance with the Arctic Skua (which make me think of Ahmad Chalabi) against the Pomarine Skua.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 February 11 09:23 AM  MidEast Iran


Comments
TangoMan said at February 11, 2006 12:17 PM:

I think that more consideration needs to be given to the issue of a regional arms race. We do so in Asia when we consider the likely Japanese nuclearization in response to North Korean ambitions. Saudi Arabia and Iran are not closely aligned, Saudi's have deep ties with Pakistan (funding all the madrassas and other aid) and there have, in the past, existed significant ties to the Pakistani nuclear infrastructure. See this report for an introduction.

arch said at February 11, 2006 3:33 PM:

Cowen is a little too optimistic. Iran has many options available. Although it is true that Arabs and Persians hate each other, we should keep in mind that Iran has been forming very close ties to Syria. I don't think Iran would give nukes to Syria, but I'm certain they would at the very least offer the Alawite regime protection. Alawites are generally consiered to be apostate Muslims by Sunnis because of their veneration for the Virgin Mary. However, the Shia seem to accept them. An alliance with Syria would be very beneficial for Iran because if Syria reasserted its dominance in Lebanon and supported Hezbollah or if Hezbollah won a democratic election, then that could be a sattelite for Iran. Nukes would probably be given to Hezbollah if they formed a government. This would put tremendous pressure on Israel not to retaliate Hezbollah's missle attacks and to possibly cede the Golan Heights. This is just a possible scenario. The Syria alliance is more likely than giving Hezbollah nukes.

TangoMan's caveat should be considered. Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are very close. Saudi Arabia is very rich while Pakistan is very poor. I'm sure the princes would pay the Pakistani government very well if they built them some nuclear weaponry in order to deter Iran from starting a revolution in the oil rich and Shia dominated al-Hasa province. From an infidel persective, it would be good if Saudi Arabia and Iran started a war with each other (and if the U.S. did not get involved), but factoring in nukes into the equation makes me a little nervous.

As for a civil war scenario, we could see civil wars. Despite what Ledeen says about the "fed up and pro-American" Iranian youth, they will not start a revolution unless conditions become dire. Iran is very diverse. According to the CIA Fact Book Iran is 51% Persian, 24% Azeri, 8% Gilaki and Mazandarani, 7% Kurd, 3% Arab, 2% Lur, 2% Baloch, 2% Turkmen, and 1% "other" (Armenian and Jewish). And it could get kicked off if the Kurds in Iraq declare independence. The Arabs will follow suit and so will the Azeris.

Ahamdinejad is a Hitler in training, but he does not have the power Hitler had in Germany and neither does Amadinejad rule over a "Germany" of his own. The Council will decide when to use a nuke and the Supreme Leader will have the final say over the matter. Ahmadinejad is just a cheerleader and an idiot. With all his sabre rattling, he is intentionally trying to provoke Israel into making the first strike, and I think they will.

diana said at February 11, 2006 5:08 PM:

I found it interesting that the only time Cowen mentioned mental stability was here: "Western crazies".

Look: we overuse the phrase "he's nuts" quite a lot.

But in the case of the mullahs, I think it's quite accurate.

MAD only works when the parties aren't mad. In this case, they are barking mad.

Bob Badour said at February 11, 2006 5:19 PM:

Diana,

If one really believes the Qur'an, then MAD is quite rational. It's a sure ticket to paradise.

daveg said at February 11, 2006 6:14 PM:

If one really believes the Qur'an, then MAD is quite rational.

Bob is dehumanising and demonising the enemy. Way to go Bob.

Iran has not attacked another country in at least 150 years. Can't think of many western countries that can match that, espsecially Israel.

Randall Parker said at February 11, 2006 6:40 PM:

daveg,

I have never beat Olympic class athletes or pro athletes in any athletic contest. Now, you could say (correctly) that I have no interest in doing so. But part of my lack of interest in sports comes from a pretty long running awareness that I haven't got the genetic endowment needed to compete. Would I have different interests if I had different abilities? Probably.

Iran has been lame for a long time. But suppose they had far greater capabilities to wreak havoc. Would they be more or less likely to lash out? Dunno. However, they have far more interest in lashing out than I do to compete in pro sports.

Bob Badour said at February 11, 2006 7:14 PM:

It's dehumanizing to call someone rational? If I wanted to dehumanize them, I would point out that Khomeini reduced the minimum legal age for a "woman" to marry to 9 shortly after he came to power.

gcochran said at February 11, 2006 7:33 PM:


The problem is not that so much that Bob Badour is dehumanizing Iranians: the main problem is that he's full of shit.

Randall Parker said at February 11, 2006 8:17 PM:

Greg,

My understanding of the Koran is that if one does in battle fighting the infidels really will give you 70+ virgins in paradise. Do you disagree that the Koran says that?

Or do you disagree that if the Koran says that and someone really believes the Koran they would want a nuclear MAD war of Muslims against non-Muslims as a sure way to ensure a great outcome for themselves?

My guess is that even if the Mullahs really do believe the Koran on this point most of them still would be afraid to die in a nuclear MAD war.

gcochran said at February 11, 2006 8:37 PM:


The mullahs of Iran haven't done anything particularly crazy. I hate to admit this, but lately they've been considerably less crazy than the United States Government.

They sit back and think about something as simple as starting a war against Afghanistan (back in 1998, for those who don't remember) they had plenty of reasons- mainly co-religionists (Hazaras) being stepped on by the Taleban - but demurred: evidently someone told them that wars are expensive and unpredictable. If the typical high-level mullah, your generic object of emulation, was hot to be martyred, he would have had plenty of opportunities over the years. It was pretty easy to end up killed by Saddam, for example: pretty easy to end up killed by the Shah for that matter. But most influential mullahs today were _not_ martyred back then. These guys are old: they sit around and read Koranic commentary. My profile of a big risk-taker looks a bit different. To be exact, never in the history of the world can I think of a big risk-taker with that profile. A lot of people are imputing the psychology of the 9-11 hijackers to all sorts of people who have never shown similar tendencies: that's like saying that Helmut Schmidt really thought just like the Baader-Meinhof gang. That's nonsense.

Lots of young Iranians ran willingly into machine-gun fire back in the Iran-Iraq war - trying to defend their country. Sane people couldn't be like that. Certainly Europeans couldn't, except at the Somme and the Marne and Verdun, at Stalingrad and Kursk... When people talk about how incredibly vioklent and bloody the world of Islam is, I have to think they're just a little short on historical knowledge. Just a little. Just a wee bit.

Lurker said at February 11, 2006 8:40 PM:

We may debate the reasons and costs associated with a strike against Iran, but I have to think that the Israelis will eventually force the issue. Launch a strike against Iranian nuclear targets regardless of the probabiity of success, with or without consent from the US. The Iranians will almost certainly retaliate and the US will have to make a forced decision.

diana said at February 12, 2006 9:22 AM:

daveg: records are made to be broken.

greg: You are being too complacent. When I said "the mullahs" I meant the ENTIRE iranian power structure. I admit that I don't know a lot about it but one thing I do know is that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad isn't a Koranic commentator, he is a populist. A popular populist. He was apparently a good mayor of Teheran with a sure feeling for how the average bloke feels. This shit sells. That's worrisome. I can easily foresee a scenario where we stumble towards a nuclear confrontation in the ME. I wouldn't be so concerned if we had sane, competent, sophisticated people in charge HERE. But as you yourself point out, we do not. Does this inspire confidence that our political establishment can manage a crisis? I guess your point is, there is no crisis. OK--I disagree. But can you agree that their incompetence can manufacture one?

Randall Parker said at February 12, 2006 9:36 AM:

Greg,

I can boil one of my big concerns about nuclear proliferation down to a single historical incident: JFK's insane advisors at the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Luckily JFK and RFK had more sense than the Joint Chiefs or else some of us would be living in a wrecked decayed civilization. Also, I read some book a long time ago about what McNamara found were the US rules for nuclear weapons use and vague memories have it that the rules put us significant risk of nuclear war in situations where it should have been avoidable.

Well, do you really expect the Iranian Mullahs and others like them in other future proliferators to have more sense than the early 1960s US Joint Chiefs? Maybe so. I sure hope so. But I'm not convinced. They'll be dumber on average than those Joint Chiefs. More superstitious. Though maybe people have had more time to think about nuclear weapons and other governments have absorbed some lessons from our near mistakes.

gcochran said at February 12, 2006 10:07 AM:

The Joint Chiefs, in 1962, weren't insane. They thought we had about 17 times more nuclear weapons power than the Soviets and they were quite right. If we had wanted to, we could have ordered the Russkies to withdraw their missiles, decapitate Castro and hand us his salted head - they would have done it. The crisis existed mainly in JFK's pointy head. If you read those EXCOM notes closely, it's apparent that he didn't even understand why the Soviets were bothering to put missiles in Cuba - the reason being that short-range IRBMS are far cheaper and easier to make than ICBMs, (the Russians had very few working ICBMS at that time) while an IRBM in CUBA is just as good, indeed better because of the shorter flight time, than an ICBBM in Minsk. But he didn't understand that and no-one had the nerve to explain the basics to POTUS. Amateur government.
By the way, in recent years, Russians were in the middle of this (as junior people) have confirmed what I just said - both the strategic facts and the Russian view of them at the time.
Of course, even with that much edge, we would have really hated winning that kind of nuclear war. So although Kennedy was ignorant and pusillanimous, there is something to be said for his point of view.

If Iran had a strong executive, which they don't, and they had the bad habit of electing the moronic & spoiled sons of the rich to that high office, you should maybe worry.

We'll have a big edge on the Iranians even if they manage to make couple of bombs in a few years, well over a factor of a thousand.

On the other hand, you never know. There certainly are examples of governments going crazy in this sense, although those past mistakes involved slow doom, over years usually, instead of sure annihilation in half an hour Look at Adolf Hitler: while still fighting with Great-Britain, a near-equal, over a six-period month period the Fuhrer invades _another_ near-equal (the Soviet Union) and declares war on the United States, a sleeping superpower with about three times Germany's war potential.

gcochran said at February 12, 2006 10:12 AM:

Japan went crazy on 1941: the rulers, mostly Army, convinced themselves that their fanatic martial spirit would let them win (or more exactly draw) a war of production agaisnt the United States. _Big_ mistake, as Jack Slater would say.

Our government right now is crazy, although the country is (ptrobably) strong enough to survive their fantasies. Not just on Iraq, either: it's close to general. Even when Bush talks about a Mars journey, dubious enough in the first place, he finds a way to triple the cost with a pit stop on the Moon.

Marvin said at February 12, 2006 2:02 PM:

I enjoy the carrying on of gcochran. Does he have his own blog? I'm sure it would be most popular. Especially if he enabled comments. Barbra Streisand and Ariana Huffington are similarly brilliant on every topic. How envious we all should be.
:^)

gcochran9 said at February 12, 2006 5:02 PM:


I know what a Hohmann orbit is, know what specific impulse is and I bet you don't, Marvin. The suggested Mars mission approach is unbelievably technically stupid: check it out. Personally I think a manned Mars mission could be a good idea if, for example, the methane signature looked biogenic: but it should be done efficiently.



gcochran said at February 12, 2006 5:29 PM:


Just out of curiosity, Marvin, what is _your_ area of expertise? Be specific. For example, if you have patents in some area, that counts. An undergtaduate degree, even a Ph.D. might amount to something. Publications can mean something. Undestanding something well enough to do decent industrial work in the area counts

If you come up woth a big idea that revolutionizies the field and gets international interest, better yet. If you used to be able to get decent grades in graduate-level courses on the subject, that's evidence. If you make counterintuitive predictions that come true, that's the gold standard. If you've just read 200 books on a given subject, maybe you picked up something.


So tell us. The world wonders.

diana said at February 13, 2006 9:34 AM:

"and no-one had the nerve to explain the basics to POTUS. " Nothing new there, then. Same goes for now. That's the problem.

Also, i don't think the issue is that WE have an edge over the Iranians. Of course we do, and I don't think that even if they are crazy, they aren't nuts. They don't hate us. They hate Israel. My fear is that somehow, due to maladroit diplomacy and sabre-rattling, a nuclear exchange occurs that involves Iran, Israel, and possibly Pakistan and India. I don't have exact scenarios worked out in my mind. It's just a vague sense of dismay. It would be better if all the nuke armed states in the Middle East including Israel would give them up. Don't ask for my expertise. I don't have any. I just don't think that any of this is going to work out well.

Rob said at February 13, 2006 9:53 AM:

Dr. Cochran,

I wish you had a blog too, but in a good way. Think about it will you?

Marvin said at February 13, 2006 10:35 AM:

Cochran, stop boasting and start thinking. Having a big head prevents you from noticing a lot of important things. They say when a physicist leaves physics and goes to biology, he raises the IQ of both fields. That may be true, is it?

You are not a universal expert on all things. Get used to it. It may help, and eventually become a comfort to you.

gcochran said at February 13, 2006 1:16 PM:


I restrict my postings to things I know something about, Marvin, You don't.

Marvin said at February 13, 2006 7:52 PM:

Perhaps. But you don't know that. There is much you don't know that you don't know.

Bob Badour said at February 14, 2006 5:05 PM:

Marvin,

If I am not mistaken, Dr. Cochran has a track record of identifying something that not only did he not know but nobody else knew either and then proceeding to find out and expand our cumulative knowledge.

Do you have anything similar on your curiculum vitae ?

lurker dude said at February 15, 2006 12:22 AM:

There is no possible way to spin Iranian Nukes as a good thing.

IF the US does not have the political will to take out Iran, it is because of the efforts of people like yourself to make 2500 deaths a "quagmire" and defeat for America.

We may not have the military to take over all of Iran, but we don't need to. Simply confiscate their oil. 80% of Iran's oil fields lie within 150 miles of the Iraqi Boarder. The 82nd Airborne, backed by overwhelming air power could control them within a weak.

diana said at February 15, 2006 8:34 AM:

I don't speak for gc but I don't think he ever said that iraq was a quagmire. From everything he's ever said to me, he thinks iraq was a bad idea but if we get out asap our wounds will be minor scrapes and burns, nothing major. His main point is that the peoples of the ME aren't a threat to us, so let's stop turning them into bogeymen.

Marvin said at February 17, 2006 8:08 PM:

The problem is not that so much that Bob Badour is dehumanizing Iranians: the main problem is that he's full of shit.
Posted by gcochran at February 11, 2006 07:33 PM

Just a typical gcochran post. He is most noted for making assertions outside his field for which he fails to provide support. He has a considerable record of achievement in doing that, I will admit.

Whatever he does within his field of experience and expertise is fine. All of us have achievements of that nature. Some of us enjoy boasting about them and simultaneously denigrating others more than most.

This is nothing against cochran as a person. Merely his outre style of commenting.

Bob said at March 13, 2006 6:05 AM:

The mullahs of Iran haven't done anything particularly crazy. I hate to admit this, but lately they've been considerably less crazy than the United States Government.

They sit back and think about something as simple as starting a war against Afghanistan (back in 1998, for those who don't remember) they had plenty of reasons- mainly co-religionists (Hazaras) being stepped on by the Taleban - but demurred: evidently someone told them that wars are expensive and unpredictable. If the typical high-level mullah, your generic object of emulation, was hot to be martyred, he would have had plenty of opportunities over the years. It was pretty easy to end up killed by Saddam, for example: pretty easy to end up killed by the Shah for that matter. But most influential mullahs today were _not_ martyred back then. These guys are old: they sit around and read Koranic commentary. My profile of a big risk-taker looks a bit different. To be exact, never in the history of the world can I think of a big risk-taker with that profile. A lot of people are imputing the psychology of the 9-11 hijackers to all sorts of people who have never shown similar tendencies: that's like saying that Helmut Schmidt really thought just like the Baader-Meinhof gang. That's nonsense.

Lots of young Iranians ran willingly into machine-gun fire back in the Iran-Iraq war - trying to defend their country. Sane people couldn't be like that. Certainly Europeans couldn't, except at the Somme and the Marne and Verdun, at Stalingrad and Kursk... When people talk about how incredibly vioklent and bloody the world of Islam is, I have to think they're just a little short on historical knowledge. Just a little. Just a wee bit.


great post gcochran. Iran had good reason to attack the Taliban in 1998, after 10 of its diplomats were murdered in Afghanistan by the Sunni Wahabi Taliban.


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