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Published on: March 3, 2010
Thinking the Unthinkable: War With Iran

“Do not even think about bombing Iran,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Reidel in yesterday’s Financial Times.  Pointing out that the US has two unpopular and unfinished wars in the region already, and that the damage from any military strikes on the Islamic Republic would be unlikely to do enough damage to its nuclear program […]

“Do not even think about bombing Iran,” wrote Michael O’Hanlon and Bruce Reidel in yesterday’s Financial Times.  Pointing out that the US has two unpopular and unfinished wars in the region already, and that the damage from any military strikes on the Islamic Republic would be unlikely to do enough damage to its nuclear program to justify the military and political cost, and also that Iran would have many opportunities to retaliate against US interests in the region, they urge President Obama to take this option off the table completely.  Living with a nuclear Iran won’t be fun, but it’s better than the alternatives, so let’s start making plans for the inevitable.

I actually agree with O’Hanlon and Reid that military strikes against the Iranian nuclear program aren’t likely to get us anywhere good, but that doesn’t mean we can stop thinking about them. Sixty-one percent of Americans asked called Iran’s strength a ‘critical threat’ in a Gallup poll last month;  an additional 29 percent said the Iranian threat was ‘important.’  With 90 percent of the public feeling threatened by Iran — at a moment when nothing special was happening — it’s not clear to me that domestic politics will allow the Obama administration to steer clear of hostilities with Iran even if it wants to.

Maybe it’s a consequence of the Bush administration; we seem to be assuming that America can opt out of war if the White House can just keep its cool.

Iran_Ahmadinejad_United_Nations

I wish that were true, but history suggests that it isn’t.  President McKinley wanted to stay out of Spain’s war in Cuba; he didn’t succeed.  President Madison didn’t want a war with Great Britain but the War of 1812 came all the same.  Woodrow Wilson hoped to stay out of World War One; the last thing President Truman wanted was a war in Korea, and Lyndon Johnson felt trapped by the war in Vietnam.  President Obama clearly doesn’t want a war with Iran (and, for what it’s worth, neither do I) but if history teaches anything, it’s that you can’t always get what you want.

It’s unfortunately rather easy to think of circumstances that could force the Obama administration into a war it would rather avoid.  Here’s a scenario: without asking American permission the Israelis launch attacks on Iran that bloody the regime’s nose and, while they don’t destroy the nuclear program, they do expose the regime’s inability to defend its airspace against the hated Zionist foe.  Not believing US denials or really caring whether they are true,  to distract public attention at home and abroad from its military failures against the hated Zionists,  and to capitalize on a perceived opportunity to pose as the leader of Islamic resistance to the “Crusader and Zionist alliance,” Iran retaliates against US targets — firing on our ships in the Gulf, for example, or openly attacking American forces in Iraq and/or Afghanistan.

Could President Obama turn the other cheek, or would he have to respond — and where would a cycle of tit-for-tat retaliations end up?

There are other scenarios that end up with the US and Iran with daggers drawn.   There are signs that the mullahs overestimate their clout and underestimate America’s ability to confront them.  In the past, Iranian radical factions have turned up the temperature in the US-Iranian relationship in order to improve their political standing at home. Calling on Iranians to unite against the foreign menace has worked before, isolating moderates and consolidating the radicals’ grip on power; it’s easy to see them trying this same tactic again.  Radicals used the 1979 seizure of American diplomatic hostages, for example, to discredit moderates during the Iranian Revolution.  At other times radicals have sent boats out into the Gulf to harass American shipping, and supported Iraqi groups fighting American troops.  It would be easy for radical clerics and activists to miscalculate and, intending only to stage a crisis, to overreach and set off a war.

Paradoxically, the only way to avoid scenarios like these with Iran may be to make the regime and its radical allies fear us more than they now do.

The United States genuinely does not want a war with Iran, but if Iran attacks American forces or American interests, that will change.  An attack from Iran would set off the kind of Jacksonian rage that followed Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor or indeed that transformed American foreign policy after 9/11.

Somehow the mullahs need to understand that this kind of war with the United States will involve more than a few air raids and cruise missile strikes.  A real shooting war between the two countries almost certainly means regime change in Tehran and could well bring an end to the modern Iranian state.  Instead of Iran, a large multi-ethnic and multi-faith state, the post-war period might well see the ethnic and religious minorities of Iran going off on their own — either as independent republics or as autonomous regions within a much looser and much weaker state.  The Arabs might break free to set up a new Gulf oil state on their own; the Sunni Balochs might come under Pakistani influence.  The Kurds might become as autonomous as those in Iraq; the Azeris might choose to merge with Azerbaijan or set up an authority on their own.  It’s not at all clear what would happen, but America’s priority in this kind of conflict would be to win the war decisively, not to preserve the Iranian status quo and any peace settlement would give the United States effective guarantees against any future Iranian threat.

To ensure the peace of the region, Iran needs to understand that starting a conflict with the United States is not an option.  Iran would emerge weak, divided, isolated and poor from any such conflict and, should Iranians initiate the war by an attack on American forces in the Gulf or in the region, the consequences for Iran would be unthinkable.

The Obama administration quite rightly does not want a war with Iran and it does not want to contribute unnecessarily to a crisis atmosphere.  I don’t think Washington should rattle its saber and issue hotheaded threats; that hasn’t worked in the past and there’s no reason to think it will now.  But there are cool and quiet ways of communicating a truth that for their own sakes as well as ours the Iranian leaders must never forget: that an attack on the forces of the United States would be an act of suicidal folly.

But we should not be so polite and so low key that they miss the main point.  Kaiser Wilhelm II, Hirohito and Hitler all made the same mistake: they underestimated how relentless and how powerful an enemy the United States would be.  We must not let Iran repeat their mistake.

show comments
  • http://n.a. Adam Garfinkle

    O’Hanlon and Reidel make the classic error of many American observers: They see force as diplomacy as opposites rather than as the complements they are and have to be. If the US declares force off the table, it will in effect place a condom on all forms of suasive US and allied diplomacy. That will leave us with not only a nuclear-armed but a confident Iran; a nuclear mousetrap proliferation sequence in the region; and, (if the Israelis don’t put a stop to it by preemption) a nuclear exchange in the region within a generation.

    That is why, Walter, you are right.

    I would only add here that, as I have written many times over the past 15 years, deterrence relationships that prevented war during the Cold War cannot be simply superimposed on the Middle East–for many reasons. This is a textbook example of the fallacy of the lesser-included case. Those who argue otherwise do not understand what deterrence actually is: it is a dynamic social-psychological relationship, not a static fait accompli driven by machines. Those who think the latter are positivists in the worst sense of the term. Kant rolls in his grave when he hears such nonsense,

  • fw

    True enough. Of course, Adam, no matter what happens, we Jews will still be blamed. I’ll make sure to buy a copy of your book.

    At least Saudi Arabia is becoming modern, while Israel goes backward. Maureen Dowd says so!

  • Joe

    I am afraid that I have to disagree with your assessment of President Obama. Should the Iranians retaliate against American troops after an Israeli attack, President Obama would not wait for the Jacksonian outcry for revenge but declare war.

    If you concentrate just on the ‘Long War’, President Obama is much more extreme than President Bush. He publicized the American presence in Yemen which had been an open secret since 2007 to intimidate and humble surrounding Arab countries. He has elevated assassination to a major tactical role in the prosecution of the war against Islamists, and he has gained effective Pakistani co-operation against Taliban elements operating within Pakistan, despite ramping up Predator and Special Operations within the country.

    More cynically, the Obama administration is in trouble: his domestic agenda is stalled, the Reid-Pelosi machine manages to achieve record levels of dissatisfaction amongst voters and Obama’s personal polling is below 50%. A war with Iran would be very popular and could restore his chances for a second term. The indictment for war even outside of an attack on American troops already exists: hostage crisis, Buenos Aires terrorist bombing, support for Hizb’allah and Hamas, interference by the Revolutionary Guard in Iraq, material support for the element of AQ that fled there post Tora Bora…The American public would be very enthusiastic. For many, it would be a reckoning that has been thirty years coming; remember, even Homer Simpson has a ‘Ayatollah Assholla’ T-shirt.

  • Peter

    When listing the U.S. presidents who wanted to stay out of war but got one anyway, you were right to omit FDR.

    Roosevelt was itching like a dog full of fleas to get America into WWII in Europe, and as president, he worked behind the scenes full time to achieve this objective.

  • http://none Russ West

    Your thoughts and observations are quite interesting, and prompt numerous thoughts —- and a question —- in return..

    You refer to several various possible scenarios involving an attack by Israel against Iran. But you do not include one that seems equally probable, and maybe even more so. And that is if, for example, in the latter part of the year Netanyahu visits Obama, looks him squarely in the eye and says, “Mr. President, Israel has made the irrevocable decision to strike Iran in 14 days from today, and nothing can now prevent us from doing so. Will you help us?”

    And of coarse the question is what would Obama then do?

    As you rightly point out there are many unknowns as to the consequences of a military strike on Iran . But two seem reasonably clear: One, if such a strike does occur, there are important interests of the US in the region that would be significantly benefited if it were a success, and, conversely, important US interests that would significantly suffer if it failed.

    Two, given the highly probable and so foreseeable retaliatory actions Iran would take against US interests and the foreseeable death to Americans which would result —- whether or not the US was involved —– it can be foreseen to be potentially politically grave for Obama to willfully not take defensive preemptive action to prevent such retaliation.

  • Roy

    I’m starting to think the world, whose prevailing mindset now is totally reactive against George W. Bush, will get what it’s basically wishing for, which is an Iran with nuclear weapons. Any strategizing that sounds even vaguely reminiscent of neonconservatism is reviled in the public square, for better or for worse.

    The question is then what the consequences of that will be.

  • Dan R.

    I hate like hell to say it, but I see war with Iran as inevitable unless the current leadership is somehow overthrown. This has been building for a long time now, and we simply cannot allow the fundamentalist mullahs who run Iran to get their hands on nuclear weapons.

  • http://none.com Dave

    Mead argues that a catastrophic war may be unavoidable since 90 percent of the public feels threatened by Iran.

    This August, 90 percent of the American public will probably feel hot and tired. The Obama administration probably won’t be able to avoid costly subsidies for air conditioners.

    90 percent of Americans feel bored and exhausted at their jobs. Obama surely cannot avoid catastrophically costly subsidies to cut the American work day in half.

    I am not sure what it matters to policy that 90 percent of Americans feel something. If 90 percent of Americans were participating in an honest and open debate about policy and not just responding to dumb provocations from survey-takers, the point might be more relevant. But frankly we are mostly just feeling our way through this.

  • Ray

    Hello Walter,

    I have a great respect for your insights on American politics, but sadly you don’t know much about the Middle East. Threatening Iran with disintegration is laughable, as it is the only real nation-state in the region, and quite frankly the oldest country in the world. Moreover, most Iranians are mixed (meaning a product from intermarriage). This is something that unfortunately, American policy makers, who have years of failed policies in the Middle East, simply don’t understand. Furthermore, every single state in the Middle East is multi-ethnic and multi-religious, so any instability in the region would have regional impacts on other multi-ethnic states. Azerbaijan, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan (all of Iran’s neighbors) are all multi-ethnic with great ethnic problems. The notion that Pakistan would “absorb” the Baluchis is just nonsensical. They can’t even hold on to their current territory – hence, the Al Qaeda problem.

    Again, your scenario of a shooting-war with Iran and the US belies current geo-political realities. What would happen to the current oil? Who would pay for this war? What would happen to Iraq? To Lebanon? To Afghanistan? To Pakistan?

    American jingoism is not good enough anymore. American policy makers need to understand the world better and know the very finite limits of force.

    Also, any attack on Iran will guarantee an Iranian bomb and the violence ensued from that attack will most likely sap the last reservoir of American hegemony.

    Please do some research before writing some comic book fantasy piece. Jacksonian, Jeffersonian, Hamiltonian, etc., etc. is not good enough when applied to geopolitics.

  • Faha

    Walter,
    You have outlined several scenarios involving a war with Iran. As you have mentioned Iran is a multi ethnic nation. Of the 70 million people in Iran, only 35 million are Persian. The other 35 million are Azeri ( 17 million ), Kurds ( 6 million ), Turkmens ( 2 million ), Baluchs ( 2 million ), Arabs ( 2 million-mainly Shiite) as well as Qashqai, Lurs, Talysh, Gilaki, and Mazandaran( each of which number 1 to 2 million ). When Iraq invaded Iran in 1980 all these ethnic groups were united and fought against Sadaam Hussein’s armies. This fact will need to be taken into account by the United States or Israel prior to any thoughts about a war with Iran. Iran is in a strong positon to cause problems in Iraq, as the dominant Shiite political parties and their militias where all in exile in Iran during the Iran-Iraq war and are pro Iranian. It is doubtful that the United States military has the capability of waging 3 simulataneous wars in Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. The disruption of oil exports from Iran ( 3 million barrels a day ) and Iraq ( 3 million barrels a day ) could result in oil prices over $200 a barrel, which would cause a severe world wide recession.
    The United States and/or Israel will need to approach any war with Iran with the stated goal of dismantling the Persian empire. The Azeri of Iran should be united with the nation of Azerbaijan to form a nation of 25 million. The Kurds of Iran and Iraq should unite to form a Kurdish nation. The adjoining Turkmen regions of Iran should be annexed by the nation of Turkmenistan. The pro Iranian Shiite parties and militias of Iraq could be promised the adjoining Shiite Arab province of Khuzestan- which produces over 80% of Iran’s oil and gas. All the other ethnic groups should be offered independence. If all the ethnic groups of Iran, and the adjoining nations, know this in advance, then a war with Iran will be much more successful since the central government in Tehran could not suppress multiple internal insugencies AND wage a war against an external enemy.
    The empires you mentioned, Japan, Germany as well as the Soviet Union, are no longer a threat to any of their neighbors because they were dismantled after defeat in war or, in the case of the Soviet Union, collapsed from within. The abolition of the Persian empire, with independence for its constituent ethnic peoples, is the only long term solution to put an end to Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

  • Rosinante

    Why either or? Negotiate by day and bomb by night. After knocking out what little AD they have start with graphite bombs on the power grid. Centrifuges require enormous amounts of power. We can shut down the power grid with very little loss of life.
    If that doesn’t make it easier for the diplomats, start bombing the doors to their underground nuclear weapons sites. If raw materials can’t go in and finished product can’t get out, then an underground factory is just a hole full of expensive equipment.
    If that doesn’t get their attention, start on the bridges.
    As a final step, go after the Mullahs and their minions. Make them move into a bunker, like Hitler did. See if they can run a country by giving orders that their minions pretend to obey.
    The goal for the diplomats should be having Iran bide by the terms of the NPT, which they agreed to do when they ratified it. Those terms included unfettered site inspections.
    I’ll bet that they allow unfettered inspections before it gets to bombing the bridges.

  • Hass

    Funny: we are the ones who proclaim loudly that “force is on the table” and send warships off of Irans coast, and even proclaim a policy of using nukes on a first-strike basis against non-nuclear armed foes such as Iran, and pass budgets to destabilize Iran, and Mead thinks it’s the Iranians who are the aggressors who want to pick a fight? What rubbish.

    Ps: our threats against Iran constitute violations of the UN Charter and are war crimes (yes even the threat is illegal)

  • Hass

    The way to avoid such a war is for Obama to tell the Israelis in no uncertain term that they do not have the right to attack other countries in the Mideast and if they do, they will be held accountable under international law and will at the very least no longer receive billions of dollars of US taxpayer money nor US arms to engage on such activities. But we all know the reality is that Israel is the tail that wags the dog, and Obama is powerless before AIPAC and the pro-Israeli lobby is pressing hard for yet another US military adventure in the Mideast for Israels benefit.

  • http://thespiritofman.blogspot.com/ winston

    Why not just try ‘Regime change’ for once?

  • fw

    Give one iota of evidence that the Israeli lobby is pressing hard for another U.S. military adventure in the Middle East, Hass, maybe a memo from AIPAC demanding an attack, or a paper circulated to Congress demanding an attack. Produce it, Hass. Let’s see evidence of AIPAC in action, Hass.

  • Kevin

    Iranian leadership has said many times that Israel should be “wiped off the map”.
    According to their “holy book” the Koran, all infidels should either follow the word of Muhammed or be killed.
    Bottom line….this ultra-conservative, blindly loyal, and destiny-driven group radicals will stop at nothing to achieve their objective…kill all the Jews (no I’m not Jewish).
    Sorry folks…we need to take out the playground bully before another 6 million people are exterminated.

  • Pappy

    “The way to avoid such a war is for Obama to tell the Israelis in no uncertain term that they do not have the right to attack other countries in the Mideast…”

    Conveniently left out of this prattle is the consideration that, if Iran develops nuclear weapons and either uses them as a weapon of influence in the Mideast or worse, actually uses one or more, what then?

  • Cincinnati Rick

    “The way to avoid such a war is for Obama to tell the Israelis in no uncertain term that they do not have the right to attack other countries in the Mideast…”

    Conveniently left out of this prattle is the consideration that, if Iran develops nuclear weapons and either uses them as a weapon of influence in the Mideast or worse, actually uses one or more, what then?

    Comment by Pappy – March 3, 2010 @ 8:46 pm
    ————-
    Calm down Pappy, Hass just typoed his message with that extra “H” on his name :-)

  • hass

    There’s zero evidence of any nuclear weapons program in iran and Iran has already offered to open its nuclear program to US and multinational participation so as to ensure that it cannot be used to make nukes either.
    This entire conflict is not really about nukes (note that the US isn’t threatening to bomb Pakistan) but about Israel trying to establish regional dominance, and pro-israeli lobbyists corrupting and controlling the US government.

    You want an iota of evidence that the Israeli lobby is pressing for a war? LOL!
    Just read about the Israel Project’s efforts:
    http://uscatholic.org/culture/war-and-peace/2008/06/iran-spam

    Read Mearsheimer and Walt:
    “If the United States does launch an attack, it wll be doing so in part on Israel’s behalf, and the lobby will bear significant responsibility for having pushed this dangerous policy. And it would not be in America’s national interest.”

  • hass

    Rosinante: Iran has already allowed more inspections than the NPT requires.

    On 10 May 2007, both Iran and the IAEA vehemently denied reports that Iran had blocked IAEA inspectors when they sought access to the Iran’s enrichment facility. On 11 March 2007, Reuters quoted International Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Marc Vidricaire, “We have not been denied access AT ANY TIME, including in the past few weeks. Normally we do not comment on such reports but this time we felt we had to clarify the matter…If we had a problem like that we would have to report to the [35-nation IAEA governing] board … That has not happened because this alleged event did not take place”

    The Iranians have occasionally refused to allow inspections in places where they are not obligated to allow inspections anyway, such as at the centrifuge manufacturing sites (which involve no nuclear material, only the construction of the centrifuge themselves, and so fall outside of the authority of the IAEA inspectors)

  • Igor Dabik

    Regime change should be an interesting option, attractive too, if it could be done peacefully. Of course, tensions would escalate, but being in control of those tensions and setting up the proper infrastructure for operating is essential. This means keeping control of Israel as well.
    The goal is to isolate the regime, offer incentives and avenues of action for the basic population to access electronic networks, internet, satellite communications, etc and show displeasure of the government. You need to back the regime into a corner so that the only two options are direct attack or backing off into exile. The former, as they both know is not a real option. There is reason to believe that a democratic Iran will forgo nuclear weapons. The weapons are not the scary part. The regime is.

  • Timerover

    It is the internal assessment of at least one US intelligence agency that there are no circumstances under which the Obama administration would launch a preemptive attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. However, as Israeli attack is viewed not as a matter of if, only when. The existing Iranian air defense network is not that impressive, and there are certain vital facilities that are highly vulnerable to a conventional aerial attack. The assumption is that Israel will not resort to using its own nuclear weapons unless it appears that Iran has managed to produce a weapon and is about to use it, or if following an Israeli attack, Iran used missiles carrying either chemical or biological warheads against Israel. My estimate is that the administration has maybe twelve months, eighteen at the outside, before having to deal with the consequences of an Israeli strike. My guess is that the Israelis will tell the US that a strike is occurring about the time the bombs start going off.

    As for Rosinante comments about hitting the power grid, she is projecting the US grid onto Iran. Power for the nuclear facilities is being supplied by onsite diesel generators. Hitting the generators will buy maybe a week, hitting the transformer stations maybe a month. As for attacking the entrances to the underground sites, that would be good for maybe 12 hours at most.

    As for deterring the mullahs from continuing weapon development, that is not going to happen. They may convince themselves that the US will avoid at all costs a war with them because of the effects on the world’s oil supply. That will not deter the Israelis in the least, and on this issue, the US has no leverage whatsoever with them.

    Basically, by this time next year, the US must have in place plans to deal militarily with Iran as a follow-up to the anticipated Israeli attack. Unfortunately, I am not hopeful that the Obama administration will take the needed steps.

  • Rosinante

    Ps: our threats against Iran constitute violations of the UN Charter and are war crimes (yes even the threat is illegal)

    Comment by Hass

    Evidence please!

    http://www.un.org/en/documents/charter/index.shtml
    {snipped}
    “Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require the Members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter Vll. ”

    “Nothing in the present Charter shall impair the inherent right of individual or collective self-defence if an armed attack occurs against a Member of the United Nations, until the Security Council has taken measures necessary to maintain international peace and security. Measures taken by Members in the exercise of this right of self-defence shall be immediately reported to the Security Council and shall not in any way affect the authority and responsibility of the Security Council under the present Charter to take at any time such action as it deems necessary in order to maintain or restore international peace and security.”

    That last Para is from Chapter 7. article 51 to be precise. Iran attacked the American embassy in 1979. Read that paragraph closely. You won’t see anything about time limits in it. So as long as the USA reports our response to the Iranian attack on our embassy, everything is legal, The fact that we waited 31 years for Iran to make restitution for their attack shows how civilized we are being about the whole thing. Worse comes to worse, America just withdraws from the UN.
    =========================
    “As for Rosinante comments about hitting the power grid, she is projecting the US grid onto Iran. Power for the nuclear facilities is being supplied by onsite diesel generators. Hitting the generators will buy maybe a week, hitting the transformer stations maybe a month. As for attacking the entrances to the underground sites, that would be good for maybe 12 hours at most.”

    Evidence please! I have seen overheads of the power grid. It’s there.
    Do you have the slightest idea of how much power it takes to run 12,000 centrifuges?

    http://www.globalsecurity.org/wmd/intro/u-centrifuge.htm

    {snipped}
    “A typical centrifuge facility appears to have a capacity of 10-20 SWU/meter square, and to consume in the range of 40-50 kWh per SWU. A facility capable of producing one bomb per year would thus require about 600 square meters of floor space, and consume in the range of about 100 kWe. ”

    I think the most powerful portable generator around is about 20kWe. Electricity is not turnips. You cannot take 5 20 pound bags and make 100 pounds. It would have to be hooked up in series, which means the 3 generator would be need to push the first 2. I think you would discover the law of diminishing returns before you got to 100kWe. I have the software to calculate it, but not the interest in doing so. You need to.
    Tehran uses about 37 mega watts per day at peak. They produce about 35. So say again that the power grid isn’t a weakness.
    And as far as closing the door on a tunnel, if you think tons of rock can be moved in a few hours by guys with shovels, think again.
    Even if it could, there is nothing stopping the US Aur Force from closing it again.
    Remember too that no chain is stronger then it’s weakest ink. By dividing up their nuclear program into small parts, they make it easier to hide from the UN but also easier to interfer. You only need to hit one site in the chain to halt the entire process.
    You cannot stop it from the air, but there is no limit to how many times you can halt it.
    We are not looking for a silver bullet here. We are looking to delay the program until Iran decides it’s a waste of time and money. Negotiate by day, bomb by night.
    Everytime they get up, we knock them down. Until the lift their hand and say “No Maus”. Then we help them up, dust them off and go have a beer. Nothing personal. Iran is a nation of wrestlers, they will understand that when you lose, it’s best to lose gracefully.

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  • fw

    Citing something Walt and Mearsheimer write, about “the lobby”, which is a completely nebulous term when they use it, is not evidence. Their own standard of evidence is notoriously flimsy.

    I see you offer documentation, of some sort, respecting the UN, don’t you? But you can’t do that with AIPAC, can you, Hass?

  • Robert

    Your commentary on Iranian ethnic groups breaking away demonstrates a shockingly low understanding of the realities on the ground in Iran. For the most part, minorities in Iran are fairly nationalistic. Arabs stuck with Iran and didn’t defect to support Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war (much to Saddam’s suprirse). Azeris are some of the most pro-Iranian, pro-current government people in the country (the supreme leader is Azeri, leading political figures are as well, and much of the military is run by Azeris). As much as some of underestimated the kind of foe the US would prove to be, we should remain mindful that think tanks in this country classically over estimate how fragile Iran is and how easily it will crumple. We’ve been making that same mistake for 30 years.

  • justbeingman

    Is anyone actually reading what Hass has to say? He is on my personal ignore. Anyone who thinks Iran is not the problem is simply unreasonable.

  • Timerover

    At Rosinante

    First, it is quite possible to purchase diesel generators of up to about 6 megawatt capacity, while 1.5 Megawatt generators are quite common. I was just looking at a request from a ship-builder for a 1.5 Megawatt diesel generator for use onboard a cargo ship. If the facilities were on the grid, if you want to slow the development for an extended period of time, you do not use carbon fibers on the lines. You take out thermo-electric plants producing the power. Replacing a large thermal plant takes between 18 and 24 months, assuming that the necessary components are readily obtainable. The steam turbines are the primary target, followed by the generators, and then the boilers. I do not think that Iran has the capacity to replace the turbines with internal production. Spend some time researching diesel generators on the Web.

    Second, where did I say that the centrifuges themselves would be the principal targets? And you would be extremely surprised how fast a tunnel mouth can be cleared, and how hard it is to cause the damage you seem to think of. The US discovered in the Korean War that the typical duration of a tunnel blockage in North Korea was 12 hours, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter. That was done with strictly manpower. Given the mechanized equipment that the Iranians possess, I see no problem with them clearing tunnel entrances rapidly. As for the US Air Force hitting them again and again, if I were an Iranian air defense type, I would love to see that, and set up some nice flak traps, along with smoke pots and a few other goodies that I can think of. If I can get the US to use its limited number of attack sorties per day attacking tunnel mouth, I am winning.

    The centrifuges are not the weakest link in the chain, just the ones that most people focus on. The weakest link in the chain is the uranium yellowcake plant, followed by the uranium hexaflouride plant, The facility for centrifuge production is also a nice target. Then there is the uranium metal conversion plant. The centrifuges are by no means the optimum targets to hit.

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  • malek

    these are the exact analysis and arguments that justifies Iran s right to acquire nuclear weapons! in order to deter and in some cases to defend itself

  • Richard Marsden

    I think Haas is probably an Iranian spin-doctor? he may well be out of a job soon though as the situation within Iran is ripe for regime change! (through the progressive types of Iranian people with help from outside assistance?)

    Even if Iran gets the “bomb,” so what? Any threats of potential use, would provoke world-wide rebukes and hasten Iranian isolation further, leaving the regime a number of shiny bombs to turtle-wax day-in day-out! Further hastening its regimes demise…

    The Supreme leadership of the Iranian Islamic Republic, clearly must think a nuclear armed Iran will offer it political and military protection…I think the opposite is more likely, where the dream of Iranian regional power through its nuclear realisations, are just a desert mirages?

  • malek

    there are many reasons why Iraninians stormed the U.S embassy in Tehran in 1979. few of them are: the CIA coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadeque, the assistance provided to the murderous Cha s SAVAK, CIA torturing, eaves dropping and terrorism against the Iraninian people……and the list goes on………..

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  • Muhammad NaIya

    it is anasing how many experts are pushing the U. S. to ‘fight” Iran. In the first instance, it is a trite fact that the 9/11 attackers have no bond whatsoever with Iran. Moreover, despite all the rhetoric, the Iranians have evry reason to distrust the U. S.
    As for israel. Iran was never part of the holocaust nor inded ever attacked israel. What is all this fuss about? An atom bomb is not something that can be sent by post, not even carried in a car?! Really, the Administration of Obama has to be more honest and forthcoming to convince nuetral observers that Iran is pursuing the BOMB to attack Israel or the U. S. As for the U.Ss’ regional allies, they are far more dictatorial than Iran has ever been and are likely to remain head and shoulders above them on women rights!

  • Timerover

    RE Nayla Comment:

    First, the leader of Iran has repeated called for the destruction of Israel, and is a strong supporter of both Hezbollah and Hamas with weapons, including the unguided rockets used to attack Israel from Southern Lebanon and Gaza. The Israelis are simply taking him at his word based on his current actions.

    Second, a straightforward and reliable gun-type weapon, using highly enriched U-235, can be built within the following constraints, a weight of less than 700 pounds, a diameter of less than 11 inches, and a length of less than 5 feet. Those are the approximate dimensions of the US 280MM Atomic Cannon artillery shell, first tested by a live shot in 1953. That was the first time the US ever conducted a test of a gun-type weapon, and that test was primarily to verify that the nuclear payload could within the initial firing shock of the gun. The yield was 15 kilotons. Such a weapon can easily be carried by a ballistic missile such as Iran already possesses, a tactical aircraft, or even an automobile. A large unguided rocket such as the US Honest John could also be used, or a suicide boat as used in the attack on the USS Cole.

    As for the Islamic approach to women’s rights, I fail to see any basis for your point.

  • http://www.doctor-bob.biz Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D.

    I am not a military scholar, but I find this discussion fascinating. Thus, I provide an analysis/synthesis for subsequent critique.

    I feel economic sanctions of whatever ilk will not deter Iran, and I suspect everyone knows it; even if accommodations were made (akin to how ObamaCare is being sold) to this-or-that country, China and Brazil and Venezuela would not comply and, thus, the entire effort would be mooted…even assuming it could ever truly prove effective.

    Also, the task facing Israel would be daunting, were a bombing-raid to be contemplated and linked with the USA regardless (e.g., need to overfly Iraq); therefore, if Obama is baseline-reticent to perform this task, another proven-technique must be pursued…ASAP…before the S-300’s arrive from Putin.

    That is why I feel USA should institute a naval blockade. This would carry secondary-gain (limiting arms flow to Hamas/Hezbollah) and would limit input of refined-gasoline immediately…before internal capacity can be readied.

    *

    There is no rationalization to support living with a nuked-Iran, a la O’Hanlon and Reid. The ability to extort political support in increasingly-growing spheres (initially, arabs, then europe0 would be overwhelming…and it appears this capacity looms within a year.

    Not that campaign promises matter much, but both Obama/Hillary claimed they would PREVENT a nuked-Iran…but legion is the number of lines-in-the-sand that Tehran has traversed.

    Mead (and others) envision a shooting-war and subsequent dismemberment of Iran (the “oldest country”), dividing-and-conquering, one might say. But I know that geopoliticians have advised that the State Dept. generally fears this approach, because one such entity could harbor a nidus of terrorism and then provide a problematic haven. This may be desirable–and it’s certainly preferable to the status quo–but it’s daunting when confronting the reality of the Revolutionary Guard.

    Another consideration is the essay by Daniel Pipes suggesting that Obama could gain politically–domestically–were he to become a hawk. I was advised otherwise during a chat a week ago, with a prominent political observer, because the mid-terms generally depend upon the “base” (which would presumably not enjoy this eventuality).
    *

    Once Hass quotes Mearsheimer/Walt, he jettisons credibility; they have admitted they overstated their case…which wasn’t controlling anyway. For example, even the “great revelations” in Rove’s book clearly contradict their claim that AIPAC, etc. drove the Iraqi shock/awe. That he fails to quote Ahmadinejad constitutes a deafening silence; that he ignores the IAEA when asserting “There’s zero evidence of any nuclear weapons program in iran,” this is damning.

    And, regarding Malek, he promotes decades-old old-saws [“CIA coup against democratically elected Prime Minister Mossadeque…” almost six decades ago] that have been discounted by historians. I cite unpublished work that I have had the privilege to edit-for-grammar-only. Yet, even were that the case (and Obama’s apology were justified), this would not justify the immediate aggression evinced in 1979 (under Carter’s OK) and thereafter.

    These are Islamists and they want to slit all of our throats on the way to creating a worldwide caliphate. They must be stopped.

    Thus, notwithstanding the myriad ideas about the effects of various military weapons/strategies, is it not desirable to help domestic opposition mount by simply enforcing a physical isolation of the country?

    This would ameliorate pressure on our troops in Iraq/Afghanistan, as well, and it would certainly promote Human Rights.

    I invite comments, please….

  • Timerover

    Re Nayla Comment again.
    The experts are not “pushing” the US to fight Iran. I believe that I made that clear in the first sentence of my original post. The likelihood of a US preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities or in fact, any military action at all, is essentially zero. The discussion is how does the US respond to the consequences of an Israeli attack.

    Re Dr. Sklaroff

    First, you are correct with respect to the almost certain failure of sanctions. Even the authors of the Financial Times piece assume that they will fail. However, as I indicated above the likelihood of US military action prior to an Israeli strike is pretty much nil. A naval blockade to have teeth would have to stop all ships trying to reach Iran. I cannot see the administration sanctioning stopping, or if necessary, sinking a Chinese-flagged tanker carrying refined petroleum products to Iran.

    Second, I am considerably more hopeful about Israel inflicting serious damage on the Iran nuclear program than are O’Hanlon, Reidel, and Mr. Mead. There are a sufficient number of critical targets that are not hardened to any degree as to allow considerable damage to be done. Depending on the extent of the Israeli attack and its duration, we might be looking at between 1 to 3 years delay.

    With respect to the S-300, it is one thing to take delivery of the systems, it is another thing to determine where to site them, integrate them into the air defense network, and then train the crews to use them properly. That is something that is not done overnight. The system was originally deployed in 1979, so it is hard to say how compromised it might have been during the breakup of the former USSR.

    Concerning a possible breakup of the Iran state. I was one of the consultants in 1991 saying not to go to Baghdad for fear of having Iraq disintegrate. I am not sure that would be the aim of the US, and I am not sure that would occur. While several small states would have a much lower likelihood of continuing nuclear weapons development, the potential for much increased instability would be extremely high. I would prefer a weak but unified Iran over a group of highly unstable smaller states.

    Last, but not least, any military action by the US would most definitely infuriate Obama’s liberal base, as is presently occurring with respect to the shift from civilian trials to military tribunals for the 9/11 conspirators.

  • http://www.doctor-bob.biz Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D.

    Instead of discussing some of the detailed concepts (such as the speed of implementation of the S-300 or the reasonableness of a fragmented opponent), it is necessary to confront the existential threat posed by the Iranian Hitlers.

    If the only fundamental disagreement with my perspective is the putative conflict with China, then this can be addressed assertively.

    Beijing can be told that its cargo will be asked to return to its port of origin, period.

    Such resilience is long overdue and would have a positive ripple-effect regarding other longstanding conflicts (such as regarding Formosa and Tibet).

    Therefore, this “hypothetical” can be handled, and the overall effect need not yield military conflict with China…which is not yet prepared to oppose America anyway.

    I recognize this can be perceived as an act-of-war, but we already have a fleet (or two) in the region (and airborne support in four countries on the eastern Arabian Peninsula).

    There are risks, but the desirability of early resolution of this conflict could actually prompt the EU (along with eastern Europe) to facilitate this effort (albeit reluctantly, publicly).

    With or without the UN, time ticks….

  • Charles

    Pardon me for pointing out the obvious, but the atom bomb was developed by scientists with a 1930s education. The genie is out of the bottle. Anyone with a basic knowledge of physics can build a nuke. We grew up with ‘mutual assured destruction’. Maybe Iran should reconsider joining the club.

  • http://www.doctor-bob.biz Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D.

    The Iranians have periodically reconsidered this approach and, regardless of who has served as President (“moderate” or “extreme”), this program has progressed inexorably.

    “Attention Must Be Paid!”

  • Timerover

    At Dr. Sklaroff:

    I agree with you that a naval blockade could be one option pursued by the US. What China’s response would be is unknown, however, I can think of One Trillion or so reasons why the US would not push a confrontation with China. I do think that I can predict Iran’s response, and that would be to immediately launch attacks against the blockading force, triggering the military confrontation that the administration wishes to avoid at all costs, including acquiesing to their acquisition of nuclear weapons. If you are prepared to mount a naval blockade, you might as well go ahead and hit their nuclear facilities as well.

    The US Navy can blockade the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean coasts of Iran, however, there is not a lot the US can do about blocking shipments across the Caspian Sea, or land traffic from Turkmenistan, or smuggling from Azerbaijan or Turkey. Assuming the Iranians do not react violently, the chances that a naval blockade would convince them to desist from the nuclear work is pretty small. I would say that it should be attempted, but I also do not expect this administration to attempt anything of the kind.

    At Charles:

    A reasonably capable individual with a bachelor degree in nuclear physics should be able to design a bomb. Design is not the sticking point. Acquiring the fissionable material, either highly enriched U-235 or Plutonium is another story entirely. It takes an enormous amount of engineering and technical expertise to either field the necessary equipment to enrich Uranium, or produce and then reprocess Plutonium from an extremely radioactive breeding medium. Once you have the fissionable material, a gun-type U-235 weapon is fairly straightforward to build. A Plutonium implosion bomb is a wee bit harder. The Iranians are discovering how hard it is to enrich Uranium, and have not yet even started the Plutonium production route.

    The nuclear Genie is out of the bottle, but he is a very hard Genie to tame.

  • Karl Maier

    I believe the USA can defeat Iran cheaply and without boots on the ground. A strategic bombing of Iran’s fragile energy industry (power plants, pipelines, tank farms, etc…)
    1.Would put Iran in the dark and on foot for a long time
    2.It would cut off funding of terrorism, nuclear development, and Iran’s government and hangers on
    3.Put fear in the heart of all the oil tyrannies that it could happen to them
    4.Force domestic energy development on the USA
    I find it hard to find a downside to this action.

  • http://www.doctor-bob.biz Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D.

    Meshing the two comments, supra, it is plausible to conjure a sequential approach…performing the former and threatening the latter.

    The bypass mechanisms, as stated, are “energy intensive”; although painful, and I know I’m sitting here as an armchair-general, it would appear that the passage of time has limited entertaining other alternatives.

    The reasons for a bombing campaign must be focused, and coordinated with domestic forces that would immediately confront the Guards; it is what would occur therafter that would be pivotal with regard to outcomes measures.

    Overall, the key-task is to confront the procrastinators that time is not on our side.

  • douglas thomas

    The question is will the United States go to war for Israel as it did for in the war against Iraq.
    Iran nor Iraq represent a threat to the United States but Israel decided these countries are threats to their superority in the middle east and therefore it becomese manditory for the US to fight for then since they cannot do it on their own.

  • http://www.doctor-bob.biz Robert B. Sklaroff, M.D.

    According to Carl Rove, it is not true that America went to war in Iraq on behalf of Israel.

    http://www.jpost.com/International/Article.aspx?id=170598

    Similarly, anything America does regarding Iran would be performed to promote USA’s goals.

  • c moore

    All you retards who think a war with Iran will be short and clean deserve what you are going to get if that war ever starts (death). If we attack Iran then Iran, Lebanon and Syria will destroy Isreal with missiles packed with explosives, napalm, bio weapons, and radiological material. Lebanon alone has 100,000 missiles carrying at least 30kg loads each pointed at Isreal in case of war. Isreal will respond to the death of half their population by destroying every population centre in the middle east friendly to Irans cause. Oil flow from the middle east will be cut off during all this raising the price of oil dramatically and destroying western economies. Iran will probably activate their sleeper cells in the west, releasing deadly genetically engineered diseases that may wipe out a significant fraction of the western populations. Radiation from the nuclear weapons dropped on the middle east will spread to non-hostile counties and enrage the international community. The psychopaths who call themselves our leaders will support Isreal through all this. China, Russia, India and Pakistan will not be so supportive, especially Pakistan which has probably had a revolution by now, overthrowing the west’s puppet government and getting their hands on nukes. Global tensions could esculate and lead to full scale nuclear war. In which case you and your family would suffer an agonizing death, remember Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Like that but their would be nowhere to run to.

  • William Hyres

    I’m afraid that as much as Iran and the noted allies would like to think they can defeat the US, Israel, and allies in an all out war, that is extremely unlikely. No matter how many subterfuges and contingency plans, no matter what WOMD they secretly possess, the end result would be the same.

    If you feel like having to surrender without condition to the USA, then go ahead and attack us.

    Why can’t Iran’s leadership accept a peaceful ending to their nuclear ambitions?

    We should all negotiate for the end of nuclear and biological weapons.

    Join the US and Russia in negotiating the end of Nuclear weapons worldwide.

  • from iran

    my brothers,i am from iran,sorry for bad english but we are people just like you,we didnt come from mars or any place like that.
    we are your brothers,lets talk about peace,i and every boys that i know is not terrories.i can say it with 100 certainly i didnt see any boy around me even had a gun or see a gun by near all over life.
    i can understand.our leaders talk very much,their words is just like defence wall to fear others.
    we dont wanna to war.you and world see iran’s peopleon june 2009 after iran election.
    we are shia and one shia dont wanna to kill any body its our learn.
    maybe al qaedeh wanna to kill every one even one iranian.just like history but you can see one shia to kill his brothers even he was american or like that.

    i just wanna to say from my friends..we dont like to war…because every one in this world is our brothers/
    we are from one father and one mother…

  • Dennis

    This is when true leadership is called for. The fact that 90% of the populace is scared, or angry, should play NO PART in leading us into war. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs just stated publicly that we have a plan for attacking Iran. Of couse we do. We probably have a”plan” for attacking Canada, though of course we’re not going to. Who was he talking to? Not our military. Everyone above the rank of Captain already knows. Not our people. Most of us don’t care. His audience was Iran’s leadership. Of course they know too, but hearing it spoken by such a high ranking official sends a message. So do a pair of aircraft carriers steaming off Iran’s coast. Message sent and received. Here’s hoping Armadinejad is listening.

  • Kostas

    I happen to work in the M.East. I’m not an American, an Arab, an Iranian or an Israeli. I’m Greek and currently i’m working in Egypt.

    Always in the back of my head i have an “exit plan” in case a major war starts in the area, so i can return (hopefully) safe in my country.

    But nuclear attack in Israel is not a scenario that i believe its possible and i will explain why.

    In this analysis there is a key component missing. Religion. And trust me working for 2 years in the area (even in the moderate pro-western country of Egypt) that component is still crucial in every aspect of life (and i think it will remain that way in the near future).

    Lets say Iran hits with Tel Aviv with a nuclear device. The distance between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem is 58km (36miles). Even if the blast wont destroy Jerusalem too, the fallout will render the city uninhabitable.

    Even the most crazy islamist will not exchange the destruction of half of the Israeli population, for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock (the oldest islamic building in the world and the third most holy place for all muslims, sunni and shia).

    The outrage between the faithfull of their own religion it will be so great that i strongly believe they will not survive not even a week after such an incident (even if they will manage to survive after Israeli and American retaliation).

    Also we must consider that Jerusalem is still a center and a holy place for Christianity (specially for the Orthodox Church with the majority of the faithfull in Eastern Europe including Russia and the Balcans). And the rise of Christianity in Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union is playing a major role in Putin-Medvedev administration. There is still a war going on in chechenia and you can easily tell the identity of the 2 religions fighting – there are muslim martyrs from one side and christian martyrs (officially canonized from the russian orthodox church) from the other side.

    I really cant see how a major nuclear attack in Israel will leave Jerusalem intact. And i strongly believe that a regime that controls the masses through religion cannot in any way destroy that religions holy places.

    Also we must bear in mind that most propably the West Bank and some million of Palestinians will be dead,sick or refugees in such an attack. So what the Iranian regime could do about it? How can be “excused” for such an action? Proclaim martyrs the dead? Martyrdome by force from a shia regime to palestinian sunni arabs through nuclear attack? They just cant do a trick like that and be believed by anyone in this planet.

    And i think they know all the issues involved in such an attack. For me the only way they can attack Israel with weapons of mass destruction without destroying Jerusalem in the proccess is through a very accurate biochemical warfare so they will wipe out the population without destroying holy places of any religion.

    I personally i’m an agnostic, but i strongly believe that Jerusalem is the key, and can be used for the protection of the Israelis and in general for the peace and prosperity in the region because is the holy city of the 3 religions that are half of the globes population and it must remain that way.

    If that city go down in a nuclear blast maybe i will start praying again :)

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  • aaprime

    Not a single comment about the fact that the current geopolitical situation in Iran is a colonial construction of Britain and the major powers that won WWII. What needs to be calculated is the resolve of Iran to USE a nuclear weapon. If the socio-psychological aspects of USING a nuclear device stopped the Soviets, then imagine what a first strike scenario looks like to the Iranians. There seems to be no real upside for Iran.

    Let’s not forget that Iran still refines most of its oil in India while China owns major gas and oil leases in Iran that were largely abandoned by Japan after 9/11 in exchange for US military technology transfers and security guarantees. The real unknown is how China and India will define their interests in relation to a nuclear armed Iran. Power relationships in the region are much more complicated than dividing a post-conflict Iran in the event of US military intervention, it will be a realignment of power relationships on the Asian subcontinent that will define the entire 21st century.

  • SAJJAD

    i agree with you all. but we should not underestimate
    iranian’s power . believe it or not, they can be more powerful than US. just think about the war between iran and iraq happened long ago. iranian’s land were almost in iraqian’s hands but their will changed the situation and won the dispute surprisingly. ( sorry for my poor english)

  • !

    US will never make it. Iran, the land of islam will never fall into the darkness. so think again

  • ohno

    got talking to a man on holiday in Spain he worked for the MOD in the UK he was getting drunk and blabbed that we would probably be at war with Iran by early 2011

    lool or not
    .

  • http://www.stupidamericans.,com noname

    stupid americans. put some nuclear warheads [vulgar suggestion deleted — ed] and fire them.

  • anti iran

    ameraicans are professional fighter while iranians are fanatics. that is the same mistake that japanese did during ww2.

    i’ll just sit in my house watching irans collapse. [non-family friendly epithet deleted — ed]!

  • Kirk

    Let’s bring it all to a head NOW, before Iran gets nukes. Smash them so they cannot be a threat to us, or anyone else. Smash them so they cannot supply oil to China or Russia, and do it before their alliances with China and Russia are tight.
    I would rather be poor for several generations, yet have the West survive, than to have Islam be victorious throughout the world by a series of small actions against the West. “Death to the U.S.” is Iran’s cry now. I say we return the favor. NOW.

  • lou sweet

    it’s obvious that if iran does not attack, it is missing a whale of an opportunity. but anywhere you have stupid people……

  • lou sweet

    after irak comes iran and then n korea…..if you say a, you also must say b and c. it’s that simple. attack iran or return irak to saddam hussein….via the time-machine… iran must attack if it’s not stupid. i’m awaiting the outcome of the u s – iran war… good luck, to both nations. lou sweet.

  • lou sweet

    fight that damn war and put the outcome on the internet.

  • Domination

    The U.S.A should take up arms with the U.K and anyone else that would like to help and blow these SOB’s in the ground.

  • pj

    I’ve read these comments, many of which advocate going to war with Iran.

    But may I ask, are you willing to enlist or be enlisted and trained to be a soldier and be shipped or flown thousands of miles from your home, away from your family, not knowing whether you’ll ever see them again?…

  • Basil Talib

    The writer makes several serious, but common errors of assessment, projections and recycled fallacies, frequently made by US “Think Tanks” that don’t think several moves ahead, like all amateur chess players. The United States has hardly ever won a single war. The Russians won WWII in Europe. The US resorted to nuclear bombs against Japan; it could not finish a conventional war (a million casualties?). Since then it tried and lost the Korean war, Vietnam, and several little wars in the Middle East: Somalia, Lebanon, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc. She will certainly lose a war against Iran because the US cannot withstand a Thirty Year War. The war will not stop even if it takes Tehran, which she can’t. The BRICS will use the resulting vacuum to build their economic, political and military powers; after that war,the US will not follow a policy of “Splendid Isolation” but “Splendid Silence” (no one will ever hear of the United States). The US will emerge not just a loser, but a second rate power, less than Britain in the late 1940’s. Those who want the US to commit suicide prod it onto endless wars while the rest of the world moves ahead, quietly. With friends like these, the US needs no enemies.

  • mwebazza b gates

    that is a third world war , already cooked ready to be served. so who is interested, be ready and receive ur share

  • Gas Prices

    With a war on Iran, you will have a good chance of seeing $9 a gallon gas. This will probably be high enough to stop the trucks and trains from being able to haul our food.

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