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2006 October 01 Sunday
Noah Millman Opposes Preemptive Attack On Iran

Gideon's Blog author Noah Millman lists several reasons why he's decided that a preemptive attack on Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program is a bad idea. His first reason, Pakistan, is by itself very compelling.

1. Pakistan. Pakistan, like Iran, is an Islamic dictatorship. But there are important differences. Pakistan is, arguably, less democratic. Its people are, almost certainly, more anti-American. Pakistan has ties to al Qaeda, a terrorist group actively at war with America, while Iran is the patron of Hezbollah, a terrorist group actively at war with Israel but not with America, and which has only struck Americans as such when America was intervening in Lebanon (whereas they have incidentally struck American Jews in Israel and elsewhere in the world as part of attacks on Israeli and non-Israeli Jewish targets). And, of course, Pakistan already has nuclear weapons. America's "alliance" with Pakistan is already on its last legs. But the nuclear terrorist nightmare becomes vastly more likely if Pakistan collapses or is captured by al-Qaeda sympathetic forces. Indeed, the likelihood of nuclear terrorism originating in Pakistan must be rated more highly than the likelihood of nuclear terrorism originating in Iran. I'm convinced that an attack on Iran would mean the end of any prospect of controlling Pakistan and keeping it from going wholeheartedly over to the dark side.

I agree with his reasons and am pleased he's taken the time to articulate them all.

Noah says the United States has not been elected the world's policeman and we will not be appreciated even by our Western allies if we attack Iran.

War on Iran, then, would set a new precedent: that the United States feels it has the right to attack any country that seeks to acquire nuclear weapons. Now, one might be inclined to say: what's wrong with such a precedent? Wouldn't the world be a better place if would-be proliferators feared the wrath of the United States? Perhaps it would - if the United States were immune from any consequences of its behavior. But try to imagine what such a conclusion would feel like in Ankara, or Jakarta, or Moscow - or even in London or Ottawa or Canberra. Even if we want to be the world's policeman, the world has not elected us to the post as yet.

Noah says for demographic reasons we can not use war as a general solution. We do not have a population ratio in our favor big enough to allow us to occupy and subdue hostile populations.

In the heyday of Western imperialism, the West had an overwhelming demographic advantage over a South that was pre-modern, traditional, quietistic, and most of all sparsely populated. Today's South is still under-developed, but it is increasingly modern, politically mobilized and densely populated - and there are just a lot more of them. Strategies that might have worked 100 years ago are simply inapplicable today. I wish more war advocates understood this.

I agree with this argument and this is one really big reason why I favor physical isolation of the West from the Muslim countries. If we go the Open Borders road that many neocons and liberals prefer we are basically setting ourselves up for defeat by immigrant invaders. The battle of the womb will not be resolved in our favor in the foreseeable future. If you haven't so already go back and read my post on Pope Benedict's view that Islam is not compatible with Western societies.

Others have made the demographic argument. Lawrence Auster argues we should separate ourselves from Islam. Steve Sailer modestly suggests Europe should pay Muslims to leave. The further apart our respective societies become the less people from either society will do things that create conflict.

Anyway, read all of Noah's arguments. Are you convinced?

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 October 01 03:05 PM  MidEast Iran

MlR said at October 2, 2006 1:24 AM:

So what have we been elected to?

Kenelm Digby said at October 2, 2006 4:33 AM:

As I've said many times before, the political elites which rule the western nations would rather pay indigenous Whites to go, and keep the muslims.

nz conservative said at October 2, 2006 5:50 PM:

Demographic considerations are very important here.

One reason the Roman Empire fell was that it was very vulnerable to invasion with its long straggly borders.

It just couldn't find the manpower to defend itself. It tried letting in large numbers of non-assimilated foreigners to serve as part-time mercaniaries and this obviously back fired badly.

You don't see the Russians doing ambitious things in the Middle East because they are trying to perserve men and capital in case the Chinese invade Siberia. The Russians realise how vulnerable they are and don't want to make unnecessary enemies.

The West's needs to channel its declining population into productive activity to counter the economic threat from East Asia and not squander men and resources in more risky overseas campaigns in the Middle East.

Doug said at October 2, 2006 6:47 PM:

Interesting arguments worth considering. Not sure I agree with them all but I'm open-minded.

As I understand, the Al Qaeda supporting part of the Pakistani population is only about 10-15% (i.e. the "tribal" areas). That is to say that the large majority of the population are fine with a secular government. Granted, it is well worth considering how the "moderates" in Pakistan might change if we invaded Iran and got seriously bogged down there. But to me it is not for certain that this would lead to an Al Qaeda-friendly take over of Pakistan. Pakistanis are not Persians. Much incorrect predicting was done before the US invaded Iraq and there were no regime changes (for good or bad) in neighboring countries as a result. That being said, I imaging an invasion of Iran to be much more difficult than our problematic invasion of Iraq. But then again I don't know that we'd take the same approach. Specifically I think that we'd be much more aggressive and do a military government first, maybe even use the Azeris against the Persians and break up Iran in the process.

Yes, I think that it is abundantly clear that we'd be opposed by all left-leaning & nationalistic countries (i.e. virtually all countries in the world). Although we have not been elected to be the policeman of the world, it seems that anything requiring force will not get done unless the US leads the way (e.g. Action: Kosovo, Inaction: Darfur, Rwanda, Myanmar, N Korea, Iran). But each situation is unique and especially this is true for Iran. The alternative to action on Iran is not the status quo. It is, at minimum, an attack by Israel or if Israel neglects the danger, a test of an Iranian nuclear weapon could change everything. If an action by Iran is reasonably considered extreme then the world will sit by with little complaints while the danger is removed by the US. The main example of this is Afghanistan. Before 9-11 the world would have thoroughly trashed the US for taking "unnecessary" action. After 9-11 even moslem countries were relatively mum.

The obvious response to the demographic argument above is that technology lessens the need for a 1:1 match of soldier to civilian. It is now clear that technology is more relevant in a hot war than an occupation. But there are less obvious but more important responses to the demographic argument. One of these is ethnic differences. Iraq is a mess right now primarily because Shias hate Sunnis hate Kurds. But, for example, if we were to overthrow the North Korean regime the occupation would be south Koreans over north Koreans...and North Koreans being able to immigrate to the South where they never had it so good. This is a particularly telling example of how we shouldn't draw too many conclusions from history.

Iran is fairly different than Iraq. The majority (but only 51%) of Iranians are Persians who would be the ones we would be throwing out of power. This is unlike Iraq where we put the majority in power. Also, I believe that Shiites are going to be more suicidal jihadist than Sunni Iraqis have been. So it would be a huge mess! Trying to convince an overthrown Persian Shiite population to elect a friendly government would be like trying to convince the Iraqi Sunnis to elect a friendly Iraqi government. Possible but definitely not a given. Even now the Sunnis would probably elect Saddam. The logical approach would be to install a Persian military government that would strongly suppress (i.e. willing to shoot) any opposition. This military government would then give way to a truly elected Iranian government after the US pulled out. Again, possible but definitely not a given. In this scenario, the demographic issue is not so great because it would be Persians using a high degree of force against their fellow Persians. Generally, if people know they are going to be shot if they resist, they will not resist even if they greatly outnumber their rulers (e.g. Iraqi Shiites under Sadaam).

Richard said at October 3, 2006 8:22 PM:


Don't you think that the folks who ran our last adventure thought they were doing "the logical approach." Actually, your logical approach would be so only if you could make that "Persian military government that would strongly suppress (i.e. willing to shoot) any opposition" out of thin air.

Good luck.

Stephen said at October 4, 2006 5:05 AM:

Everyone else must know something about Iran that I don't because for the life of me I can't see why people wet their pants at its mere mention.

If the US just pulled its head in and normalised relations, my guess is that Iran would have a predominantly secular society in 25yrs. Hell, makes me wonder how Iran would look today if they hadn't been unlucky enough to humiliate the US when they deposed their tyrant king 25yrs ago. After all, isn't it supposed the be a good thing when the people rise up and depose a king??

Stephen said at October 4, 2006 5:27 AM:

Doug, you are so blase about killing a few million men, women and children.

Congratulations, your application to join the Bush White house has been successful.

Allen said at October 5, 2006 5:13 PM:

I don't agree.

Regarding Pakistan. I don't think Pakistan is as anti-American as you think.

Further, I think we have some arrangement with Pakistan that lets us keep track of their nukes.

Finally, in terms of population issues someone raised, if Pakistan doesn't play ball, India is probably more than willing to reabsorb Pakistan to prevent from Pakistan from using its nuclear weapons.

Regarding attacking Iran. I believe it must be done. We do not have the tracking arrangements for nuclear weapons that we have with Pakistan. The risk is too great that nuclear weapons will be used against the United States.

Iran is already intervening in Iraq, so attacking Iran also makes it easier to pacify Iraq.

The attack should be done without regard to issues of collateral damage. Countries that aspire to develop weapons of mass destruction, must expect mass destruction to be levied on their country as a lesson to other aspirants. Military history shows that gradualism in war only creates greater casualties and longer wars.

Looking at Iran as an attacker,Iran is unbelievably vulnerable. Iran is surrounded by many avenues of US military access - from Afghanistan, from Iraq, from Kuwait, from the Persian Gulf and from the air. And probably, if necessary, from Balochistan as well. Perhaps Iran's neighbor Turkey would also join this time, if it were guaranteed access to oil from Iran or Iraq. This is a very bad geographic situation for Iran.

As an aside, the Iranians have to think we are such stupid Americans. They have been able to bluff us while the Iranians have been in such a position of quick conventional military vulnerabilty, while at the same time being one of the largest oil producers. Irrespective of any other consideration, conquering Iran pays for itself. Logic would dictate that as long as the US military is Iran's neighbor from a number of directions, that Iran would be be our friend. So, if in a time of their conventional military weakness they are our enemy, what is the situation going to be like when they have weapons of mass destruction with suicides to deliver them? Only stupid Americans would not perceive the coming mass death. American opinion leaders can concoct such mental gymnastics to avoid looking reality in the face!

Back to the war. While we are deconstructing Iran's infrastructure and weapons sites from the air and with special forces, we do not have to initially try to take over all of Iran. Our initial heavy ground attacks and naval attacks should be focused on taking control of Iran's petroleum production areas, dominating its radio and tv communcations, and not much more. The oil production areas are along the western border of Iran. This is reasonably good tank country adjacent to the border with Iraq and Kuwait. So we don't have to delay for months while we figure out how to land and ship in our equipment. We can very quickly carve off a strip of Iran, that is away from most of the population centers, but is the center of Iranian oil production.

This conquered area should then be established as "Free Iran," with Iranian-Americans establishing a new country. The revenue from petroleum sales would then be devoted to this country, and its "civil war" to reclaim the rest of Iran. The oil revenue is approximately $150-$200 million a day. This can finance a lot of equipment and mercenaries (including unemployed Iraqis and Afghans, which will help solve another set of problems we have). Part of the oil sales to France, China and other countries, can, incidentally, reimburse us for our initial invasion expenses (I'm tired of the USA spending $8 billion a month to pacify a country with the world's 4th or 5th largest conventional oil reserves, for no Iraqi financial contribution). This money can also be used to lure part of Iran's population to relocate to a safe zone away from the mullah's zone of destruction. The Iranian population has wanted more of the oil revenues going to them. So some of the revenue can be used in this way.

Further, when it is seen that this "Free Iran" is adequately established, it will then be possible to sell off part of the oil reserves and exploration sites to foreign countries to generate more funds for the civil war, and buy the acceptance of the governments of China, France, etc., who have already demonstrated that they will prostitute their countries' for access to oil.

Unlike most of our recent wars, this civil war can take as long as is necessary for total victory. With a reduced level of US casualties and financial expense, the US will be positioned to wait as long as it takes for the Mullahs to either militarily, economically or morally collapse. While the immediate benefit is the US will have ensured that Iran does not become a country capable of attacking the US with WMDs. But there is also the longer term benefit that a new Iran should be able to rebuild itself into a prosperous and free, non-terrorist country once the civil war is concluded, with the oil revenues reasonably spent, and theology separated from the government.

rtove said at October 6, 2006 3:34 PM:

I prefer Doug to Gideon. Gideon rationalizes how a nuclear Iran might not affect us in the end. He claims the risk of an irrational, al qaeda like regime developing in Iran and using weapons is less likely than a rational power-oriented regime. Maybe so. I mean, sure, if I was willing to accept a modest increase in the nuclear terror risk, maybe I could embrace the whole nonsensical basket of state department or even Pat Buchanan/Steve Sailer type foreign policy thinking. The potential for Iran to become a much more dangerous proliferator than North Korea, or even as dangerous a proliferator, in the non-action scenario also has to be considered. So far, we've had one "rational" rogue govt. with nukes and significant proliferation as a result.

The idea that we can't act against Iran because Pakistan could be thrown to al qaeda seems long on "great game" chessboard nuance, and not fully appreciative of the fact that Pakistan's authoritarian regime seems firmly in control there. I mean, how many mideast revolutions have toppled authoritarian regimes, anyway? Hasn't Pakistan been stable, with a kind of tribal regions detente and the same backroom interests maintaining control of the military/government over the last few decades? As for China, if one of the organizing principals of Nepal was "Death to China", they sponsored terrorist acts against China, and they had a secret nuclear weapons program, wouldn't we and the rest of the world lose all respect for China if it didn't act against them? wouldn't we "understand" if they did take action? Perhaps Gideon's principal interest in highlighting China and Pakistan as key reasons not to attack Iran is a desire to flaunt some supposed foreign policy expertise. This could corrupt a clear analysis of the issue.

The key reasons for an Iran war are reduced nuclear terror risk, improved good guy/bad guy balance in the mideast, and incentives to potential rogue players to behave, all achieved at some cost but without any meaningful consequences. In all likelihood, the Iraq-style post-war backlash would be lower in Iran because we would have adjusted our approach to post-war security and the principal paymaster for nefarious behavior in the mideast would no longer be there. that's right, would no longer be there. imagine.

Stephen said at October 7, 2006 12:27 AM:

rtove said: ...and the principal paymaster for nefarious behavior in the mideast would no longer be there

I can't see how invading Iran stops the Saudis funding terrorists.... You might have to explain your logic on that one.

More seriously, how much do you actually think the Iranians spend per annum funding terrorists? Do some research, I'll wait....

Okay, my guess is that even using the most self-serving claims you're going to have trouble topping 100 million per year.

Now, answer the following questions about your Iranian invasion and occupation plan:

(1) how many troops would you need in your occupation scenario?
(2) Where are you going to get the troops from?
(3) how many years will it take you to train the troops?
(4) Considering that the Iranians will have also evolved their tactics, how many more occupation troops will you need over your initial estimate?

Rtove, great war leader and strategist, please enlighten me about how much you estimate your war will cost.

Here's some other information you'll need for your estimate:
Iraq population: 26 million (but declining rapidly)
Iranian population: 68 million
Iraq land area: 432,162 SQ KM
Iran land area: 1.636 million SQ KM
Number of troops occupying Iraq: 150,000 (widely believed to be far to few)
Iraq war cost ytd: $330 billion
Your Iran war cost: ???????

Oh, finally, tell me why the cost of your war is the best way to stop Iran giving $100 million per year to Hezbullah?

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