Iran Drumbeat Watch: Rand Weighs In

By James Fallows

[Please see update below.] After a 5 am airport checkin, my thoughts naturally turn to: Armageddon, despair, the bleak inevitabilities of life. Though on the brighter side, the TSA operation at San Diego turns out to have an metal-detector-only line, which for once I managed to sidle towards and make my way through without being intercepted for "random" extra screening.*

Back to the dark side: the Spring 2012 issue of Rand Review, from the Rand corporation, has published an article on the threats posed by Iran and the ways to deal with them. Please read the whole thing, which elaborates on this opening premise:

An Israeli or American attack on Iranian nuclear facilities would make it more, not less, likely that the Iranian regime would decide to produce and deploy nuclear weapons. Such an attack would also make it more, not less, difficult to contain Iranian influence.

As a reminder of the main point: a nuclear-armed Iran would be a very bad thing. A military strike on Iran in the name of averting that possibility would similarly be a very bad thing in itself, and in all likelihood would make the original problem even harder to solve. The reason the Iran situation is genuinely so difficult is that both these unpleasant realities apply. Serious proposals for dealing with Iran's ambitions, as opposed to the threats and bluster we have heard from many Israeli and American politicians (and very few military officials in either country), proceed from awareness of both truths.

Update Thomas P.M. Barnett has a recent item on the relative effectiveness of "hard-kill" and "soft-kill" approaches toward Iran:

While I have written that I think Israel will be hard-pressed not to attack in the end, I still maintain - as I have since 2005 - that the soft-kill on Iran will work.  To me, the soft-kill is the detente here, just like it was with the Sovs.  Open up ties, admit the regime is valid, blow off the nuke pursuit (which grants Iran nothing in terms of leverage with anybody - including already nuked-up Israel), and let the connectivity that results do the rest in terms of regime delegitimizing from within leading to eventual democratization.

Ultimately, this strategy - and not Star Wars - brought down the Sovs, and it can do the same on Iran - in far faster order.

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*Yes, I know it is actually random -- even though, for whatever reason, in the past 18 months it has never not happened to me at Dulles. More on screening status of different airports here.

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/05/iran-drumbeat-watch-rand-weighs-in/257247/