[Translated from Le Figaro (Paris)]
THE UNITED STATES CANNOT AT PRESENT LAUNCH A MILITARY OFFENSIVE AGAINST IRAN
By Renaud Girard
** No one in Washington can predict what would happen in the Middle East after an American strike **
Le Figaro (Paris)
February 22, 2007
Since President George W. Bush ordered the departure of a second carrier strike group to the Persian Gulf, rumors have been growing in Washington about the possibility of American air strikes aiming to destroy Iran's nuclear potential. The press conference the commander in chief of the armed forces of the United States gave on Feb. 14 only fed the rumors: Bush took the occasion to complain about Iran's sending to Iraq explosive devices that have been used against American soldiers, and he ruled out all possibility of a direct dialogue between Washington and Tehran.
Many an observer of the American administration has concluded from this that the president is seeking to provoke an "accidental conflict" with Iran, a country that figured along with Iraq and North Korea in his famous "Axis of Evil" list in his address to Congress on Jan. 29, 2002. Many analysts are endorsing this possibility by observing that the president desperately needs for his historical legacy to leave behind a foreign policy success to compensate for the fiasco of his Iraq intervention, his failure to solve the Israel-Palestine conflict, and NATO's quagmire in Afghanistan.
The reality, though, is that too many obstacles at present make an American strike on Iran very unlikely. These obstacles are technical, political, and diplomatic.
Technically, the exact site of all the Iranian uranium-enrichment installations is not known to American aviation. Spying by satellite clearly demonstrated its limits the day that George Tenet, head of the CIA, learned one morning in 1998, on the radio like everybody else, that India had gone ahead and exploded an atomic bomb. No American strategist can presently guarantee that air strikes would effectively and durably annihilate Iran's capacity to enrich uranium. The centrifuges are not very bulky machines (about the size of umbrella stands), and they are easy to move and hide.
Politically, a military operation would have two immediate consequences in Iran, which Pentagon and State Dept. strategists are obliged to take into account. The first would be to weld the entire Iranian population in a patriotic reflex behind the extremely radical President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Moderate tendencies like those recently expressed in elections to the Assembly of Experts (a chamber corresponding to our Senate) would be swept from the political landscape for a long time. The hope of an internal change in the regime as the result of young people's demonstrated aspiration for more liberty would evaporate.
The second immediate consequence would obviously be Iran's withdrawal from the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and the expulsion from the country of all of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) inspectors. The authorities in Tehran have always declared that their wish to master the production cycle of enriched uranium has been seeking only the production of electricity and that they have no intention of acquiring atomic weapons. American bombs would finish off these proclaimed, if not genuine, good intentions.
In the longer term, American strategists must have asked themselves about the next phase, something that eluded them when planning the invasion of Iraq -- an oversight the price of which America is now paying very cruelly. No one in Washington can predict, now, with any confidence what would happen in the Middle East after such a strike. Would we, or would we not, see a popular outpouring of anti-Americanism beyond anything heretofore seen? Would regimes allied with the United States (Saudi Arabia and the other petromonarchies of the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq) be strengthened or weakened? Would insurrections, even revolutions, break out? Would America be able to contain them? So long as American strategists have not answered these questions, they will be inclined to stick to prudence.
Finally, there are the diplomatic obstacles, which are considerable. There is no chance today that the U.N. Security Council will give its approval to such military initiatives. Russia would certainly veto them, as Vladimir Putin showed in his recent speech in Saudi Arabia, where the Kremlin chief attacked quite directly the U.S.'s "foreign interventionism." China, which intends to maintain its privileged oil links with Iran, would most likely follow Russia in this by casting its own veto.
In the United States itself, the possibility of a new violation of U.N. Security Council by the Bush administration would be very badly received, including in the Republican camp. The U.S. was a founder of the U.N. in 1945, and most Americans still believe in the value of keeping intact the present system of international law. In addition, America would not, in such an adventure, have even the support of its usually most unconditional allies. In the United Kingdom, two generals have just said that to attack Iran would be "pure madness."
Sending more American naval forces to the Gulf, therefore, should at present be seen merely as a gesture, designed to give Iranian leaders pause. It's the stick you wave in the hopes that the adversary will ask for a reasonable carrot.
Translated by Mark K. Jensen
Associate Professor of French
Department of Languages and Literatures
Pacific Lutheran University
Tacoma, WA 98447-0003
<> Home page: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/