National Security Background - Iran
As I noted in my previous post on national security background, we need to understand the other side, we need to view the situation from their point of view. That does not mean we agree with them, but it is critical to “know your enemy.” This helps us understand their actions, their reactions to our moves, and serves to help us choose which national security tools we will use. Let’s use Iran as an example.
I use Iran knowing full well that it will provoke strong opinions on all sides and earn me the ire of quite a few people but let’s forge ahead. We have declared Iran to be evil, bent on destroying Israel, the U.S., Saudi Arabia, you name it. It is the world’s leading source of terrorism; I could go on but you get the point. We will address all these issues later on but for now, let’s look at it from Iran’s point of view.
Here is what Iran sees:
This is a map of U.S. bases in the area. It is a little dated so don’t jump on me, but this is what Iran sees on any given day. It is surrounded by a country that in one form or another has advocated the overthrow of the Iranian government, and has done so in the past, that has declared Iran evil, a pretty strong statement. From Iran’s point of view, the United States overthrew the democratically elected government in the 1950s and installed a monarchy, backed up by a brutal, repressive security service, SAVAK. The U.S. and Israel trained SAVAK in all sorts of techniques in what we would call enhanced interrogations but in reality, were formed into out and out torture. The U.S. backed this regime with total commitment, virtually unlimited military hardware, including top-of-the-line items of the day like the F-14, and we expressed no real concerns as Iran developed a nuclear energy program that the rest of the region believed was a nuclear weapons program.
We encouraged the Shah of Iran to expand his influence throughout the region as a counter to Soviet influence.
When Iraq invaded Iran the U.S. provided intelligence to Iraq that it used to kill Iranians, we allowed Iraq to acquire precursor chemicals that it used to produce chemical weapons, which in turn, it used against Iranian forces, and eventually its own people, and blamed Iran for an Iraqi missile strike against a U.S. warship.
From this perspective, Iran views the U.S. as a hostile nation, bent on destroying Iran.
Let’s not forget that what I am listing here is Iran’s point of view, what they see. This could be one hundred percent accurate or not, but it is what Iran believes and must be taken into account for any equation in dealing with Iran. Also, at this point, you should be checking what I say to make sure it is accurate and to understand other points of view that may be relevant.
Next, we need to determine what is actually in our national security interests. Does Iran pose a threat to the U.S.? if so, what kind of threat, direct, indirect? I would argue that at present Iran does not pose a direct threat to the U.S. They do not have the means to directly threaten the existence of the U.S., cannot project power outside their immediate region, and have no intention to attack the U.S. in the foreseeable future. So, they are not coming for us. Should they develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver those weapons the equation would change.
Iran could launch terrorist attacks in the U.S. but that would likely happen only if the U.S. launched some type of military operation against Iran itself.
If not directly then does Iran pose other threats? I would argue that it poses a more direct threat to U.S. interests in the region and to nations friendly to the U.S. I use the term friendly to the U.S. pointedly because we do not have alliance treaties with the nations in the regions that require us to come to their defense, though we might do so because it is in our interests to protect the oil fields and defend friendly nations that help maintain U.S. influence in the region. Iran is at odds with various U.S. friends, Israel, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) religious and geo-political issues. I won’t get into the religious issues because it would take way too much space but geopolitically Iran wants to be the premier power in the region and the aforementioned nations stand in their way, and they too want to be the predominant regional power.
The U.S. cannot afford any one nation to dominate the oil wealth of the region because it would give too much control over the world economy to that nation. Even though the U.S. is pretty much independent from oil imports the global economy is not. Any negative impact on that economy through control of oil resources would reverberate back into the U.S. Even though we are oil independent do you believe that U.S. oil companies would not raise oil prices at home if prices were going up around the world? The effect would be seriously damaging to the U.S. so the U.S. needs to secure the free flow of oil and ensure stability in the region. This last is important because most actions we have taken in the recent past have had the opposite effect on regional stability.
We should look at how people try to sell us on what policy to pursue toward Iran. Many argue that we need to take military action against Iran to stop its nuclear program and, execute regime change. Others argue that diplomacy and negotiations would bring about the outcome we need, while even others recommend we pursue a middle course which centers on covert action (an activity or activities of the United States Government to influence political, economic, or military conditions abroad, where it is intended that the role of the United States Government will remain hidden.)
There are a variety of arguments used to garner support for action against Iran. The most cited one is that Iran is the largest supporter of terrorism in the world. I am not going to address Iran’s relationship with terrorism in this post because it is complicated and this post is getting way too long. Suffice it to say that this is a major reason we cite for action against Iran despite the fact that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are actually among the major supporters of terrorism and that Saudi Arabi, UAE, and Turkey all supported ISIS against the Syrian regime at one time or another and we said nothing. While understandable in geopolitical terms this attitude on the part of the U.S. tends to weaken our arguments against Iran and make it harder to win allies to our more aggressive policies. We look hypocritical.
The U.S. has cited Iran’s interference in the Yemeni civil war as further evidence of Iran’s malign actions in the region and produced evidence that Iran has been providing weapons to Yemeni rebels, all the while ignoring that our friends, Saudi Arabia and UAE intervened in Yemen using U.S. provided weapons and intelligence and have been complicit in one of the world’s serious humanitarian crisis. Hypocrisy and double standard aside, you can see how governments try to manipulate public opinion to lead the people into accepting certain actions. Iran is so bad because they are secretly providing the Yemeni rebels with weapons that the rebels use against our friends, yet we ask that citizens ignore the fact that we are providing our friends with weapons to kill rebels and civilians.
The effort is centered around provoking your anger, your emotions, your sense of outrage so that any action taken by our government automatically receives your approval because, after all, “those people” are evil. The main problem with that is that after selling the public on the good versus bad narrative the government finds itself in a bind. How do you step back from a policy when you have made the public angry and outraged at the other side? Anything less than military action will be perceived by the people as weakness on the part of their government. There comes a point where even the government starts to believe the narrative.
In my experience, I have never seen good outcomes from decisions made based on fear, anger or emotions. And that is what groups or governments try to do, manipulate your emotions, your fear to gain your support.
Now comes the big question, what do you do? Ask yourself, Do you support military action? Will kinetic strikes eliminate the Iranian nuclear threat? Forever? Temporarily? Will we have to keep going back again and again to degrade their nuclear program? Will it affect regime change or will it further strengthen the regime? Are we certain that not only is Iran’s population against the government and, equally as important, willing to support U.S. military action, or will they turn against us and support their government because we have such a terrible history when it comes to helping the Iranian people?
Will diplomacy and negotiations work? Or will it merely delay Iran from getting nuclear weapons? Will they lie to us and keep working on nuclear weapons while they claim they have stopped the program? Should we rely on sanctions alone?
There are lots of questions that need to be addressed, not to mention what happens when we take action. Will a strike against Iran lead to greater instability in the region? Will it lead to Iran taking action against our friends in the region or directly inside the U.S.? Are we actually provoking long-term instability and conflict as we have done in Iraq and Afghanistan? We like to think that our actions are isolated and that everyone will view them as we do. We blow up the nuclear program, everyone understands, the regime falls and all is good. I can guarantee that will not happen.
These are some of the things you need to take into account when making decisions related to national security. You need to do the research or at least think about it, don’t just accept what people tell you. Even my use of the term regime as it relates to the Iranian government in this post is an unintentional manipulation. Regime connotes a government that is not legitimate, repressive (which Iran is), somehow less than our government, and somehow more worthy of being removed. Always question, always think for yourself.