Thursday, March 08, 2012

Can Iran Comply?

Yesterday, the Big Six-- the United States, China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain-- issued a join communique urging Iran to open up its nuclear facilities to inspection by the IAEA.
For the sake of world peace, one can only hope they can comply.
Deep in the background of this story should be the lessons learned on both sides from the run-up to the Iraq invasion: Saddam Hussein swore he had no weapons, even got some confirmation from former weapons inspectors like Scott Ritter (who was then mauled by the right-wing dirty tricks units) and from Joe Wilson (again, mauled).
Events proved Hussein was right. Ironically, all he had to do was open his borders again to the IAEA and he could have caused more embarassment to the Bush administration than the war itself eventually caused.
Indeed, a deeply paranoid and cynical person might make the claim that Hussein was complicit in the war, that he was made an offer he couldn't refuse to play his part in his own demise. More likely, tho, is that he simply assumed the US was bluffing, since the establishment of the No-Fly Zones had effectively cut Iraq off from the outside world and the economic embargo was taking its toll. "What's the point in attacking me?," I'm sure he thought at some point. "I have nothing, they know it, and I had nothing to do with September 11."
It's understandable that he'd grossly underestimate the desperation of the Bush administration to do something in the wake of 9-11.
If there's anything good to have come out of the Iraq debacle, it's that the US exposed itself as an unstable and easily antagonized world power. This is at best a dubious asset to have.
It could work to our benefit in the Iran situation, however. Ahmadinjead needs to keep recent history in mind as he makes his next calculation. Right now, the "cold war by proxy" being battled by America (through Israeli intelligence) and the Russians and/or Chinese (more likely the latter, since Russia has its own oil and gas reserves to worry about even if a spike in oil prices makes Putin happy) is a relatively stable place to be.
Yes, there are threats that it could go nuclear, in both senses of the word. A quick analysis of the whole mess indicates there's really no endgame, no way to provide a clear victory, short of armed conflict and the subjugation of either Iran or Israel. And that would require a withdrawal of the backing partners.
I think its precisely because there can be no winners that the situation-- and I stress this: right now-- is stable: it also means no one can lose, which means no one has to become desperate about survival. That doesn't mean that it can't become an armed conflict, by the way, but I think as with the real Cold War of the 60s and 70s, this will be done in ways that will mask the actual nature of the conflict. For that war's Vietnam, we'll see a Syria devastated by weapons.
In the Fifties, a term of art was used to describe the state of that Cold War: brinksmanship. I think this is the game theory that Iran is pressing now. Push the world as hard as it can, and see what they can get away with. So long as it sees a firm opposition to its activities, it will be hesitant to push very hard.
Which means, of course, it can't open its borders to nuclear inspection, simply because it doesn't matter.
If Iran has nukes or nuclear capability or the capacity to develop nuclear capability in the near future, this will firm up the NATO and Arab League arguments for shutting them down and pretty much force Israel's hand.
If Iran is nowhere near this capability (more likely, but you never know,) then Iran loses a very valuable piece on its board. Losing it may in fact destabilize the situation and force Iran to attack Israel simply as a show of power.
So, win or lose, the one thing Iran cannot do is allow inspectors in its borders now. Here's hoping we can find cooler heads on our side.