Sunday, April 23, 2006

Mad Mahmoud

The fanaticism of Iran’s Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (MA) embrace of martyrdom creates difficulties in resolving tensions between Iran and the rest of the world over its use of nuclear technology. Mahmoud’s willingness to accept many potential Iranian deaths, and his hatred for Israel and the United States, mean that policy responses to prevent him from acquiring nuclear weapons are likely to end up involving a military intervention that will ultimately not be a ‘limited’ attack.

Almost all countries oppose Iranian development of nuclear enrichment technology - though Russia is curiously opposing UN sanctions and is continuing with a planned sale of missiles to the Iranians. It is difficult to believe that Iran seeks nuclear power for peaceful purposes. In any event their successful development would hasten a nuclear arms race throughout the Middle East that could have globally catastrophic implications. And it is plain silly to assume that Iran has no malevolent intentions towards Israel.

A chilling story by Matthias Küntzel in The New Republic here (reprinted in today’s Weekend Australian) explains the background to the intransigent Iranian position.

President Mahmoud was an instructor in the Basiji Mostazafan during the Iran-Iraq war. This was the volunteer militia that sent young adolescent men in almost unarmed ‘human wave’ attacks against Iraq where they were slaughtered in droves. Sometimes the tactics worked because the Iraqi opposition refused to kill such innocents but mostly they were slaughtered. The Basiji experienced no fear of death since, their faith in one of the founding myths of Shia Islam, glorified death. Death, by helping to vanquish evil, help provide a precondition for the return of the 12th Imam who will establish paradise on earth under universal Islamic Law. We can all hardly wait! The Basiji glorify mass death and, since 2004, have trained an estimated 52,000 members of suicide brigades for suicide in foreign countries.

After Mahmoud’s election he stated ‘Is there an art that is more beautiful, more divine, more eternal than the art of the martyr’s death?’ This makes Mahmoud a dangerous terrorist leader. In a nuclear war with Israel the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iranians would be of little consequence to Mahmoud if Israel could be wiped off the face of the earth and the arrival of the new Imam hastened.

This message appeals to the poor in Iran who are having a difficult time. The Iranian economy is weak, overregulated with a huge public sector, with over 40% of the population living in poverty and almost completely dependent on oil exports. The narky message of the fanatical Mahmoud to Iran’s poor who, incidentally, identify nuclear power with progress.

Küntzel writes, ‘The history of the Basiji shows that we must expect monstrosities from the current Iranian regime’. Indeed Timothy Ash predicts a massive wave of attacks on foreign targets should the US bomb Iran. Tim Blair shocks by responding – ‘Better take out the whole country, then’. But that is the logical implication of the current mindset in Iran for US policy with respect to a military intervention there. Half-measures would be costly for the US since strong retaliation will be expected unless Iran is severely damaged by a US attack.

A paper from the American Enterprise Institute argues that the Iranian mullahs don’t really want war. The reasoning - if they really wanted it they would not broadcast their nuclear technology successes so loudly. What they do get from such broadcasts are higher oil prices, lots of publicity that is attractive to fanatics in their own society and even offers from European nations to protect the mullahs themselves from a US attack and even from attack by their own nationals.

Is this theory plausible? Are the mullahs making empty threats of the type made famous by Saddam Hussein. If so it’s a dangerous escalation game. But what seems more plausible to me is that evoking a hostile response from the US and its allies helps provide the Iranian leadership with a way of garnering mass support from the poor of Iran. It’s a completely cynical exercise since it is these people who will pay the main price.

The Europeans and the Russians must support strong moves by the US to limit Iran’s nuclear program and get rid of Mahmoud. Strong support for the US now will help avoid costly future military options.


Bring Back EP at LP said...

you are not being logical.

If he was fully supportive of Shiites becoming martyrs and going to paradise then why is he still alive?

If he is a hypocrite but still supports others dying then where are the Persian suicide squads?

Lastly given that Israel has between 150-200 nukes and the USA has teen to twenty times that how can those countries be threatened unless ALL Persians wish to die.

Bear in mind a nuke shot at Israel will kill a lot of Arabs who are Muslims!

hc said...

Homer, You have huge bargaining power in a military situation if your opponents know you are not afraid of dying. It is the standard strength of a 'suicide bomber'. If you read the NRO article you will see that even relatively 'moderate' Iranians are prepared to sacrifice 100,000 Iranians to knock out Israel. It is this that worries me.

rabee said...


The situation with Iran highlights number of things:

1) A hidden cost of the war against Iraq. The west is now in a situation where it is very difficult to effectively deal with Iran. We have got ourselves into a protracted war relying on the goodwill and cooperation of Iran to keep us undefeated in Iraq.
2) The trouble with the NNPT. This treaty explicitly allows the type of activities and research that Iran wants to undertake. We can’t simply say, well we don’t trust you because you are a bunch of lunatics. The NNPT should be strengthened in a non-discriminatory way. It should explicitly ban nuclear enrichment activities by all non-nuclear states and centralize such enrichment in nuclear states. The NNPT should become a compulsory protocol so that states such as Pakistan and India are covered by its restrictions.
3) The most pressing issue for the west other than the inevitable defeat in Iraq is the elimination of al-Qaida. I can’t believe that these criminals are still free, encouraging mass murder. They should have been smashed three years ago. They are more dangerous than Iran and SaDam, who were natural allies against the al-Qaida and affiliated groups. Iran, because it is fundamentally a civilized country that was as shocked as all of us by the murderous attacks of al-Qaida. SaDam, because he was fiercely secular and felt threatened by al-Qaida. We have destroyed one ally, SaDam, and have consequently strengthened al-Qaida in its home, the Middle East. Can we really afford to destroy the remaining barrier to al-Qaida domination of the Arab world? This barrier is Iran and specifically its encouragement of Shiite Arab groups!
4) How do we expect to solve our problem with Iran if we are not talking to them? In particular, the US refuses to talk to Iran. Why? We need direct contact with Iran and not diplomacy through Fox News.
5) Iran is faced with increasing oil prices, just like the rest of us. It makes sense for them to look at alternative ways of producing energy and they want to do so in a way that is consistent with their international obligations. It doesn’t make sense to say, well you’ve got plenty of oil why would you want to go nuclear. Because a barrel of oil costs $74 dollars, it makes a lot of sense for them to diversify.

hc said...

Rabee, The points you make are (as usual sensible).

1) Stiglitz et al in costing the war in Iraq mentioned (but did not put a dollar figure on it) the cost of foregoing options when you go to war. Its a general cost - if you start a war with someone your ability to deal with another threat is reduced. And with the difficulties in Iraq there is a loss of moral position I agree.

2) Agree on NNPT but in the ansence of this I still think Iran is an exceptional case. POne gesture that might create more credibility would be if Britain and France agreed to abandon nuclear weapons. Got a broadcast today on BBC that Iran has signed deal with Russia to enrich uranium there - will see.

3) I agree Iran is highly civilised country and a country that should be an ally of West. I think its economic problems cand significant population of poor the reason for current lunatic's popularity. But he is dangerous.

4) I don't understand the US politics - probasbly agree. Maybe there is some strategic subtlety in not talking directly but don't see it.

5) I actually thought over the last week of making a post on your last point. Australia and all countries price their domestically produced oil at international prices because efficiency requires pricing at opportunity cost. So same for Iran? I agree but still think this is being cute given the situation in the Middle East and Iran's bellicose antipathy towards Israel. It scares me so much I am happy to compromise on any efficiency argument.

More important issue for Iran - attract foreign capital and skills, reduce size of massive public sector and deal with high unemployment, signifivcant drug problem and poverty. A capital-intensive nuclear facility has low priority from this perspective.

Bring Back EP at LP said...


Assume Iran has the bomb and sends one or more to Israel.

The only thing close to committing suicide they will do is being part of an Israeli nuke pancake.
I am betting few Persinas would like that way of suicide!

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civitas said...

On the issue of talking to Iran, do you mean talking to the mullahs, or to Ahmadinejad or to the people? There's 3 different audiences and they are not the same. I think it's unlikely that the Iranian people, the majority of whom are under 25 years of age and fans of the US, want war with the US. Unfortunately, Ahmadinejad does seem to want war and I don't know why we wouldn't take him at his word. It took all of us many years to believe Stalin and Hitler when they spoke. Let's not make the same mistake with Ahmadinejad.

Under no circumstances can the mullahs and/or Ahmadinejad have access to nuclear weapons. The US and Israel are not going to allow that to happen.

hc said...

To the President - he reflects Mullah views anyway. I do not want Iran to have access to nuclear weapons but who does? The question is what to do? The people - particularly the poor - apparently support President on this.

I am hoping Homer (Bring Back EP...) is right that the Iranians are sensible enough not to want to suicide. But this President is a fundamentalist madman.