Is there another way to deal with Iran?

As a Ron Paul supporter, I have become more comfortable lately with Mitt Romney as the candidate who appears likely to win the Republican nomination.  Although anything can happen of course, intrade has Romney winning by a wide margin.  Romney has made some serious proposals on entitlement reform in the last two weeks, and this helped me overcome his milquetoast 59-point plan.  I have always worried about Romney’s bellicose foreign policy, however, and the presidential candidate proved me right on Friday.

Romney published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that makes the following points:

  • Obama’s “engagement” policy is a failure.
  • Obama fumbled the “Green Revolution” opportunity of tumbling the ayatollahs in 2009.
  • Iran is about to become a nuclear power.
  • Romney’s policy will be to “prepare for war” to achieve peace.
  • Romney as president will send new carrier groups to the Persian Gulf.
  • Romney will increase military assistance to Israel.
  • Iran will not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon.

Given that the purpose of the Gospel of Jesus Christ is to proclaim peace, I would like to provoke some out of the box thinking with some admittedly politically incorrect statements.  If we are going to understand Iran and truly obtain peace, we must begin to look at things from a different perspective.  In that spirit, I would ask readers to consider the following points.

1)How could anybody possibly think we are not bellicose enough toward Iran?  We have troops in nearly every country surrounding Iran.  We have invaded two countries on Iran’s borders.  Obama talked about “engagement” but tripled the amount of troops in Afghanistan (actions speak louder than words).  The US toppled Iran’s president in the 1950s and installed a corrupt, fascist dictator as our puppet.  Imagine if China had invaded Mexico and Cuba and installed anti-US dictators there and still had troops there and then said they needed to “prepare for war” against the United States.  How would we receive this message?

2)Is it possible that Iran simply feels surrounded and on the defensive (somewhat how we felt in the 1950s when the Soviets began winning the space race) and is trying to find ways to defend the Persian homeland from a foreign aggressor?

3)Does Iran have a recent history of military expansionism?  Has Iran aggressively tried to invade any of its neighbors (the Iran-Iraq war was started by Saddam Hussein)?  There is no doubt that Iran provides support to Hezbollah and other terrorist groups and has been responsible for barbarous acts of terrorism.  Such acts are different than provoking a direct war against Israel, which is the purported purpose of acquiring nuclear weapons.  Based on what we know of past Iranian foreign policy, is it more reasonable to think that Iranian nuclear weapons would be used for offensive (attack Israel) or defensive purposes?

4)Do we really think that the entire Iranian leadership is suicidal?  Do we believe that they would launch a nuclear strike against Israel, knowing that Israel has more than 300 nuclear weapons and could destroy nearly all of Iran in a retaliatory strike?

5)We have been living with a “Muslim nuclear weapon” for decades in nearby Pakistan.  This is the same Pakistan that harbored Osama bin Laden and aided the Taliban for years.  In effect, Pakistan is directly responsible for policies that have resulted in the death and maiming of thousands of US soldiers.  Why are we OK with Pakistan having a nuclear weapon but somehow we cannot live with an Iranian nuclear weapon?

6)China and Russia have hundreds of nukes.  We have learned to live with these countries.  Why could we not live with a nuclear armed Iran?  Why is it impossible to imagine talking and negotiating with Iran when we talked and negotiated with brutal dictatorships in China and the former Soviet Union?

7)Is our policy in the Middle East working?    We have lost thousands of men and women in the region fighting two of our longest wars in US history.  What have we achieved?  Are we being drawn further into an endless quagmire, or are we winning quickly and leaving (which is the purpose of fighting a war in the first place)?  And by being bellicose toward Iran (which Romney says he wants to do), would we be further drawn into this quagmire or not?

8)Is is possible that the real aggressor in the Middle East is the United States?  And if this is possible, how do you think Iran is likely to respond to aircraft carriers in the Persian Gulf and even more military support for Israel?

9)If Iran were to get nuclear weapons, how would they be a direct threat to the United States?  Iran has no delivery systems that can reach North America.  Even if we accept the proposition that Iran is suicidal and will attack a much better armed Israel, how does this threaten the United States?

10)Iran has supposedly been right on the cusp of getting nuclear weapons for a decade now.  Their nuclear program has been severely set back by at least two computer viruses and the assassination of several Iranian nuclear scientists.  Is it possible that such activities will continue to delay an Iranian nuclear weapon and that we don’t need to increase our military presence near Iran?

I want to reemphasize that the purpose of this post is to provoke people thinking differently about Iran.  Ever since the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979, we have assumed that Iran is filled with crazy people intent on attacking the U.S.  And since then, we have surrounded Iran with more and more troops.  Romney’s response is even more military action and even more support for Israel.  Do we really think this is the way out?

It seems to me that latter-day revelation offers a different way of dealing with perceived enemies.  Righteous policy is to engage only in purely defensive strategies (re-read how the righteous Nephites dealt with the Gadianton robbers in the first chapters of 3 Nephi).  I would propose that an alternate policy, a true “peace through strength” policy, would be to declare victory and begin a withdrawal from the Middle East.  We should signal to Iran that we truly want peace and that we will no longer meddle in Iran’s internal affairs.  We could also take the step of cutting off foreign and military aid to Iran’s traditional enemies in the Persian Gulf (Iraq and Saudi Arabia).  Such steps would begin to change a dynamic that began when we started meddling in Iranian affairs in the 1950s.

Nobody will celebrate if Iran develops nuclear weapons.  But a policy of assuming Iran is a sworn enemy while we surround Iran with troops does not offer a peaceful way out.





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About Geoff B.

Geoff B graduated from Stanford University (class of 1985) and worked in journalism for several years until about 1992, when he took up his second career in telecommunications sales. He has held many callings in the Church, but his favorite calling is father and husband. Geoff is active in martial arts and loves hiking and skiing. Geoff has five children and lives in Colorado.

22 thoughts on “Is there another way to deal with Iran?

  1. Terrific post, Geoff. Right on the money.

    Iran has only a modest military capability, with no significant air or sea power. They would be helpless before a technologically and tactically superior American force. They’re currently surrounded by U.S. forces on all sides. IF they’re pursuing nuclear weapons (by no means a given), then it’s not hard to figure out why.

  2. I think, to be honest, Romney is sounding tough to appease the right wing crazies in his party. I don’t really think he believes — or any sane person believes — this is the way to deal with Iran.

  3. Geoff, you are spot on.

    I want to address one small point: “Is it possible that the real aggressor in the Middle East is the United States?” Yes, but it’s clearly more than only the United States. Britain, France, and Russia have all been manipulating the ME longer than the US (though at this point we’re pretty much “equal partners”). And that’s just on top of all the competition and infighting (i.e., aggression) between the major ME powers jockeying for regional supremacy: Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Turkey, etc. And it would be wrong to ignore all the power struggles between groups that aren’t state-level: Sunni/Shia/Ibadi/Sufi/etc, Shah/Caliph, pan-Arabism, secular/Islamic, etc.

    Point is: there’s plenty of aggression in the region without us needing to contribute more.

    (I don’t see this as contradicting what you say, namely that in regards specifically to US-Iran relations, the US is certainly an aggressor. I just mean this to expand on that idea.)

  4. Don: I don’t think your assessment is correct. Romney is clearly part of the neoconservative school of thought, which argues that the United States must intervene anywhere in the world where there is evil or American interests are threatened (with as broad an interpretation of “interests” as possible). In Romney’s recent speech at the Citadel, he asserted that the United States isn’t spending enough on its military (even though we account for 40% of global military spending). He is deadly serious.

  5. Clap, clap, clap.

    I question whether Romney even agrees with, let alone adheres to, the Lord’s counsel to renounce war and proclaim peace. I see no proclamation of peace from Romney. Even in his op-ed, where in one brief sentence he claims he wants it, he proceeds just a few short words later to endorse actions of preventive war against a group of people who have done us no harm. One wonders if he’s completely ignorant of what sanctions did to the Iraq people. Does he really want to stoke the flames of military conflict by causing women and children to directly suffer by denying them needed supplies such as food and medicine?

    Romney is, put simply, a warmonger. I believe his foreign policy positions stand at odds with the Lord’s teachings on what just war is, and that saddens me. Whether he’s trying to appease the neocon faction of the GOP or not, he clearly is advocating positions that cannot be reconciled with basic principles enshrined in the faith he claims to hold dear.

  6. Don, I wish people didn’t believe this about Iran, but I feel we are being pushed as a country toward another disastrous war. An invasion of Iran will make Iraq look like a cakewalk. I strongly feel there is another way, which is a complete reversal of our current policy. BrianJ, and Mike P, good points.

  7. As a former neocon sympathizer, I can say that it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that “peace through strength” will really bring peace, rather than war. I don’t think Romney is purposefully trying to be a warmonger. I think he seems himself as Winston Churchill and Obama as Neville Chamberlain. But the situations are not comparable. Iran has a tiny army compared to ours and is not aggressively expansionistic. Even if we can’t talk to Iran (which I doubt), we lose very little by just leaving them alone.

  8. Okay, a couple of points:

    “As a former neocon sympathizer, I can say that it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that “peace through strength” will really bring peace, rather than war”

    Actually, this strategy worked wonders with Russia and the former Soviet Union. “Peace through strength” was, to the core, Reagan’s strategy and it worked amazingly well. So well that it would be hard to call it anything but miraculous. So I am concerned with claiming that it never works or had no history of working. There is a pretty good reason why the US often pursues this approach beyond simple testosterone levels of the leaders.

    It seems to me that, like most things, it all depends on facts we don’t have yet. Specifically, what is going to happen. I assume the real fear is that if Iran had nukes they would be willing to give them to terrorists and then claim they didn’t and we’d have no proof and no one to threaten with retaliation. The real fear is nukes in uncountable hands.

    I had a former professor that had worked in the government and with various agencies that dealt with foreign policy. He claimed the government’s biggest fear was that someone in the middle east with terrorist connections would get nukes and then use a suicide attack with nukes on a US base. No missles needed. There would then be a really difficult decision to be made with only two really bad possible outcomes. So they felt they needed to keep that scenario from every happening.

    He also discussed fear that if there was missle capacity enough to, say, reach New York, that there would be a nasty combo of terrorists to do strikes plus threats of retaliation if the US attempted to go in and put a stop to them.

    I suspect this professor was accurately portraying the fears of those he had worked with. But bear in mind that this was a decade ago and ‘the government’ is a huge organization where the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.

    As an alternative point of view, there is a professor I heard talk (forget his name out the moment, but author of “Dying to Win”) that suggested that the cause of all the problems in the first place is that we’re occupying their land. (The professor above believed that was an accurate assessment as well.) Suicide boming does not correlate with religiosity, it correlates with western democracies occupying a third world country’s lands. He suggested keeping our interests via naval forces with air power so that we didn’t have to be on their holy land, etc. An interesting proposal that follows the thoughts of this OP better. Perhaps it is our fault.

  9. It is the very idea of “keeping our interests” that promotes and perpetuates so much of this interventionist foreign policy. Just war cannot be waged to “keep our interests.”

    Of note, John Bolton’s admission of war for oil (“our interests”):

  10. Romney is clearly part of the neoconservative school of thought, which argues that the United States must intervene anywhere in the world where there is evil

    Mike, there is a constituency for that sort of thing, but it is not among neoconservatives, but rather liberals. It is called “responsibility to protect”, which neoconservatives reject.

    That is not to say that many neoconservatives are unusually bellicose and naive about military intervention with respect to actual or potential enemies, but I doubt you could find a single one endorsing the proposition that the United States has a moral responsibility to intervene anywhere there is evil in the world – Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, Bosnia, North Korea, etc.

    That is the hallmark of left liberal foreign policy, not neoconservative anything. John Bolton, for example, generally regarded as a neoconservative (if not one of the most prominent), loudly declaims the entire concept.

  11. As a point of reference I’ve done extensive research into early cold war politics. Every one of these arguments 1: We are the aggressor, 2: we put them on the defensive, 3: all of their past wars are peaceful or just, 4: they aren’t stupid enough to risk war with us, 5: our policies are stupid, 5: they are years from the bomb, 6: they are the picked on country, 7: they are too far away to be a threat, 8: they aren’t that aggressive, etc. were made by earlier isolationists in relation to the Soviet Union. To show particular examples of how this thinking turned out to be wrong, Russia got the bomb several years earlier than expected because of extensive espionage. When Dean Acheson merely suggested that Korea was outside of our defense perimeter Russia gave the green light less than a few months later for their proxies to invade. (Ironically if Dean Acheson had sounded more war like in the US committment to South Korea the Korean War would have been avoided.) And one of the central planks of Henry Wallace’s third party campaign was that the U.S. “was the aggressor” in Europe.

    Like the Soviet Union, Iran is carrying on extensive proxy wars. At the very least their nuclear weapon will lead to a conventional arms race if not a nuclear cold war in the middle east. And I teach a class on Pakistan, their cold war with India is incredibly volatile and not a good example of why we should be blase about proliferation. So its good that you are carrying on a venerable tradition but I still don’t buy it.

  12. Bruce N, the whole “projecting power while not occupying their land” strategy would be a huge improvement on our current strategy, and could be a mid-way point to an eventual pullout from the Middle East altogether.

    Morgan D, the compare Iran with its tiny army and pathetic economy to, say, 1948 Soviet Union, which had the biggest army in the world and was the biggest country in the world, shows a real lack of equivalency. The Soviet Union clearly was an existential threat to the U.S. — Iran is not by any standard. In the late 1940s and 1950s, in fact, it appeared that we were about to be overrun — Mao won China and the Soviets were (apparently) ahead of us technologically. There is simply no comparison to modern-day Iran, which is an oil-producing country but cannot refine gasoline in its own country.

    As for oil interests in the Middle East, I would remind readers that we are less dependent on Middle Eastern oil than we were just five years ago. We import twice as much from Canada as we do from Saudi Arabia, and other other biggest suppliers are Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria. If we were allowed to develop our domestic sources of oil, we could completely free ourselves of Middle Eastern oil in less than a decade. There are ways out of our current dilemma.

  13. I don’t know we can tell what Romney thinks here. There’s nothing wrong with strength so long as you’re willing to be pragmatic. Look at Reagan who bent a lot more than many modern conservatives are willing to admit. For all his many flaws, I do think that Romney is all about practicality and pragmatism above ideology. Indeed that’s why the base distrusts him so much. Yet in foreign policy that is definitely a plus. Heck, if Obama can do a 180° turn on many claims and end up largely following Bush’s second term strategies I think one should expect a pragmatic businessman like Romney won’t be invading Iran any time soon.

    The advantage of talking tough though is that it does enable a lot. To coin an old saying, only Nixon could go to China. If we want someone to talk Israel into some compromises it won’t be someone like Obama but rather someone talking like Romney.

    BTW – I think the basic ideology of neo-conservativism is fine. It’s just that too many neo-conservatives refused to admit the reality of the limits on the ground of what the US could do. Far too many neo-cons were guilty of wishful thinking and refused to look at evidence. But if you talk ideology it’s hard for me to fault neo-cons.

  14. I would think 9/11 would have underscored the dangers of “asymmetric” threats. They don’t have to have 100 divisions next to the Fulda Gap to be a threat. Rogue states that don’t respond to containment, those that support terrorism as an arm of foreign policy, and those that seek weapons of mass desctruction pose a serious threat in a way the Soviet Union never did. Iran does all three. The Wall Street Journal has a great article on it as well:

  15. Romney’s politicking on this issue is amusing. Obama campaigned on a platform of military withdrawal, diplomatic engagement, and transparency. Then he got into office and merely continued everything Bush was doing, reversing almost all his campaign promises.

    Romney’s assertion that Obama’s “engagement” has failed is laughable. What engagement? Obama has taken a much more militaristic stance in the Middle East than his constituents hoped for. Romney’s attack is simply the pot calling the kettle black.

    If Romney gets into office he’ll do little more than Obama is doing, and maybe less. Romney is a pragmatist. Once he gets out of his aggravating campaign mode, he’ll start acting rationally and actually do the smart thing. The smart thing? What Obama is doing. Listening to smart advisors, retaining a presence without appearing aggressive.

    The only aggressive muscle flexing the US needs to do is in the mirror, so the right-wing exceptionalists will vote for you. Then, go out and be smart. Play in the background, like Obama is trying to do.

  16. Points #1 & 2 are reasonable critiques of the president’s policies. Our security seems not to have improved, nor has the world become a nicer place due to the engagement or new revolutions in the middle east. Only the still nascent revolt in Syria looks capable of bringing a serious improvement on an international level.
    What if the green revolution in Iran had been moderately successful? Some of the popular demands would have been met and maybe the government would have gone somewhat democratic. A truly peaceful nuclear program with full international inspection would be perfectly fine. Obama could have been there to supervise the agreements. Remember, the mullahs were the only governing body of their kind for many years. They would love to get even greater legitimacy from major international bodies on good terms. If Syria goes down, they may reach out for any minor consideration. On the other hand, they may be ripe for a secular revolution, which could be very positive.

  17. I have been a student of Arab culture and thought for many decades now. My Master’s in History was focused on the Arab/Israeli conflict, and with the help of the Air University (USAF schools) primary documents from Israeli and Arab pilots and officers, I learned much on how the Arabs tend to think. For example, I knew it was a major mistake when Reagan sent marines into Lebanon, and the destruction of the towers the marines were living in, was proof of that.

    The problem with the culture is it tends towards extremism. During WWI, Libyans tied an ankle to their thigh, to keep from running away from Germany’s tanks, while they only had muskets to fight with. They were slaughtered, but that wasn’t the point. They fought for Allah, and that in itself was the victory.

    The only thing they truly understand is a harsh and violent response. You cannot easily corral chickens for long. You can only cut their heads off.

    A cry of peace is viewed as weakness by them. Whether Romney follows with his claims or not, it is the right thing to say to the Iranians. It is the only thing they understand, is a strong face. Captain Moroni did the same thing in writing to his Lamanite counter-parts and to the Nephite governor. In this instance, proclaiming peace, means you must insist that the other side want peace as much as you do, or else you make them think twice before doing anything rash.
    That is what Reagan did with the Soviets. It is also how he spoke as a candidate concerning the Iran hostage crisis. The Arabs mocked Jimmy Carter’s pleas for peace and getting along. But as soon as Reagan was inaugurated, they released the hostages. They knew they met their match, and they backed down.

    Under George W Bush, the neo-cons got too comfortable, thinking they could waltz in anywhere/everywhere and people would want American-like democracy and freedom. They don’t. They want their own version, based upon a different culture. Often based on Sharia law, which tends to be inimical to freedom. For the most part, the Arab Spring will not lead to real freedom, just a new leadership that will edge back towards dictatorship.

  18. “I have been a student of Arab culture and thought for many decades now….

    …it is the right thing to say to the Iranians. It is the only thing they understand, is a strong face.”

    In your studies did you consider that Iran is not Arab? (Probably worth mentioning that it is not Lamanite either….)

  19. I agree that Iran is not Arab, however via Islam and being in the region, they share many views.

    Hondurans are not Mexicans, however they eat many of the same things and have similar cultures. While Iranians are a different race, they are in most other aspects similar to the Arabs (religion, culture, etc).

  20. That’s possibly the broadest brush I’ve ever seen. The US can support a more nuanced foreign policy than lumping all countries into (by extension of your argument) 6-7 buckets. It’s this kind of coarse insensitivity that has caused the US to make so many blunders in the region. Iran is not Iraq, Saudi Arabia is not Yemen, Egypt is not Libya—heck, Iraq isn’t even “Iraq” if it weren’t for this kind of foreigner-imposed lumping 100 years ago.

  21. Actually, had I said that American and Arab culture were similar, THEN we would have a broad brush.

    Are there exceptions to the rule? Of course. Some Arab/Islamic nations have embraced western or other ideals. But most have not. Most still deal with monarchies or dictators. Most deal with Sharia law. Almost all hate Israel and want to wipe it off the earth.

    Culture is a hard thing to dismiss. Culture rarely changes over short periods of time. For example, even in the face of government action to destroy Native American culture, it still exists today.

    Both the Soviets and Americans have used military might to try and change events in Afghanistan. But the culture will invariably return to its roots, once we are gone. Woodrow Wilson drew new national boundaries, including creating Yugoslavia. However, even after generations under strict rule, once the brutal dictators running Yugoslavia were deposed, it collapsed back into its constituent races/cultures of Serbia, Bosnian, Croatian, etc.

    The Arab/Islamic culture goes back centuries. And those based upon Wahhabism and other radical forms are even more imbedded.

    I am not saying that such a culture is either good or bad. I am saying that America will not change it. The people will have to change it themselves.

    That said, at this moment in time, as in the past, they only understand a strong hand. Where we failed in Iraq and Afghanistan, is we stayed. We allowed a new anger to arise among the people, and they invariably push back against a new enemy.

    With Iran, we will need to be very tough. I don’t think we need to invade. In fact, I would oppose that under most conditions. I would favor covert operations to eliminate any nuclear development they have. As it is, Iran is employing thousands of North Korean scientists to develop nuclear weapons and deployment systems

    Given their ties to terrorists and suicide bombers (what better way to commit suicide, than to set off a backpack nuke on the National Mall?), we need to remove the danger as best we can now, or risk major nuclear war later.

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