Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Some New Perspectives on Iran

First, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, writing for ConservativeHome, has a refined version of the policy put forward by EU Referendum. Instead of blanket trade sanctions he wants the EU to stop export credit guarantees to Iran. This is rather more consistent from Rifkind as he has some faith in the EU than it is coming from an EU nihilist. However, the problems seem similar. Firstly, the EU moves slowly particularly on issues like this where there is no real national interest for countries like Germany in favour of tough action against Iran. As the EU moves so slowly it would be very easy for the Iranians to use brinksmanship to undermine any ultimatum. Rifkind suspects that direct talks may be part of just such a strategy to delay and divide international opinion by appearing reasonable. The EU has a poor record in maintaining its unity in the face of calls for talks and other such delaying strategies.

Second, Newt Gingrich proposes the first thought out hardcore reaction I've heard:

"HH: Now let's get to the first major issue of the day, which is Iran. Mr. Speaker, if the United Kingdom feels obliged to use force, if diplomacy fails to get their people back, will you applaud?

NG: I think there are two very simple steps that should be taken. The first is to use a covert operation, or a special forces operation, to knock out the only gasoline producing refinery in Iran. There's only one. And the second is to simply intercede by naval force, and block any tankers from bringing gasoline to Iran ...

HH: Would you do? Would you urge them ...

NG: And say to the Iranians, you know, you can keep the sailors as long as you want, but in about 30 days, everybody in your country will be walking.

HH: So how long would you give them, to give them that ultimatum, the Iranians?

NG: I would literally do that. I would say to them, I would right now say to them privately, within the next week, your refinery will no longer work. And within the following week, there will be no tankers arriving. Now if you would like to avoid being humiliated publicly, we recommend you calmly and quietly give them back now. But frankly, if you'd prefer to show the planet that you're tiny and we're not, we're prepared to simply cut off your economy, and allow you to go back to walking and using oxen to pull carts, because you will have no gasoline left.

HH: I agree with that 100 percent. Would your recommendation to the United States president be the same if Iran seized our forces?

NG: Absolutely. I mean, the reason I say that, it is the least violent, least direct thing you can do. It uses our greatest strength ... you know, the mismatch in naval power is absolute. And so you don't have to send troops into Iran. Everybody on the left is waiting for conservatives to say things that allow them to run amok and parade in San Francisco, and claim that we're warmongers. I want to avoid war by intelligently using our power to eliminate the option of sustaining an economy, so that the Iranian dictatorship will be shown to be the hollow dictatorship it is, so the people of Iran decide they'd like to have a decent government with real electricity and real gasoline, so they overthrow it. And I want to do that without risking a single American life, or being engaged in a single direct confrontation. And naval power lets you do that."

There are a few questions I would raise over this proposal.

Firstly, this policy would almost certainly require US support. It seems plausible, although not certain, that the US would regard a possible backlash in Iraq as too big a risk to take over the hostages. Without US support our underfunding of the Navy would be exposed and we might suffer another Suez, forced to climb down in embarassing fashion. The only way around this would seem to be to make the hostages a package along with an end to the Iranian nuclear programme. Such a combination would involve a national interest sufficient to justify the expense and risks of a blockade.

Secondly, I'm honestly unsure as to the extent that Iran could avoid such a blockade by importing over land. Finally, if diplomacy can prove successful in securing the release of the hostages then this probably isn't the time we would choose for a serious confrontation with Iran. Our militaries are too stretched and insufficient time has been given to properly prepare the ground with our allies. Frum's argument that this crisis can be seen as a part of that process if handled well is convincing. Given that we are putting no serious obstacles in the way of their nuclear weapons programme at present a judgement has clearly been made that now is not the time for taking action against Iran. This caution is not going to be abandoned thanks to a small number of hostages.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Here is what is really going on:
A steady squeeze on Tehran
By Amandeep Sandhu
US economic pressure is mounting against Iran. While efforts to stop oil companies investing in Iran have produced mixed results, pressure via the financial sector has been more effective. At the same time, efforts to strengthen domestic opposition forces in Iran continue, as does the propaganda war. - Amandeep Sandhu