A Further Thought on the “US’s Iran Attack Plan”

March 6, 2007

From the realist perspective, the US would not allow Iran to possess any nuclear weapon, this is not only posing a direct threat on the US by having a weapon of mass destruction, but the proliferation of such may fall into the hands of terrorists that the consequence to the US is unimaginable. The Graham Allison’s three models of decision produce a negative conclusion on the possibility of the war on Iran. But we challenge this statement.

The Rational Actor Model suggests that it would not be wise to fight two wars at the same time. But I wonder why not if the US has the capability to do so. What is the wisdom for one war or two wars? The US started the war in Afghanistan in 2001 and the war on Iraq in 2003, why not the US could start a war on Iran in 2007?

The Organizational Process Model and the Bureacratic Politics Model provide an explanation on the domestic political barrier that I totally agree, but it does not mean that a war on Iran is impossible. In the process of analysis, I think one very important state actor is missing, i.e. Israel, which has the intention and capability to start a war on Iran. Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has openly declared to wipe Israel out of the map. Israel would absolutely not allow Iran in having any nuclear weapons. Israel, backed up and supported by the US, could start a war on Iran anytime.

The US and the Israel, these two states cooperate by joining alliance when it serves interest in gaining relative power in short term, and the domestic political component in this situation, provide a good fit into the theory of neo-classical realism by Zakaria, right?

Si Wang

Ronny Chan


6 Responses to “A Further Thought on the “US’s Iran Attack Plan””

  1. edwardng Says:

    As mentioned by Si and Ronny, there is a precedent case that the US held two fronts of wars in Central Asia and Iraq within three years. But if we hold a realist’s view to analyse the probability of attack on Iran with the assumption that the US is a rational actor, it is of the US’s best interest not to overstretch on global affairs to undermine its capability in long run. So it is wise for it not to have two enemies simultaneously. The ‘wisdom’ of not to make wars in two fronts had been illustrated in the World War II – Germany, while fighting a war against the Allies, such as Britain, started its invasion against Soviet Union (which had not yet joined the Allies then). Its later failure in Soviet doomed it to lose the war. Or one may argue that Germany was not in a similar situation of the US, which is a hegemony in modern time. But being a rational actor, there is no overwhelming reason that the US must fight against Iran and involve in Iraq at the same time, unless an attack against Iran will help solve its trouble in Iraq. Also, it may be argued the fact that US had engaged in two wars between 2001 and 2003 because of some other factors behind the rational calculus of the US, that is, a outcome brought by the bureaucratic process of the US government that were not the intention of any individual parties (such as the President, the Cabinet and the Pentagon) – and this might not reflect the best interest of the US at that time perceived in a rational actor model.

    On the other hand, I agree that Israel is a key actor in the Iran issue. In the mind of the US and Israel governments, it would be better to launch a pre-emptive attack against Iran if the latter is ‘believed’ to have WMDs. However, it is also irrational for Israel to invade Iran in a situation when the US is in trouble in Iraq and the support from the US would therefore be doubtful. Even if Israel can achieve some gains by launching and even winning a war on Iran, it would be in a very difficult position as other Middle East states become more hostile towards it as the regional balance of power would be struck by the war on Iran.

  2. Eva Says:

    My understanding of neo classical realism according to Zakaria is the establishment of international power through foreign policy with the support of public opinion for the promotion of the national interest.

    For the US to attack Iran amid the growing anti-war movement within the US would seem to go against this theory. There is more and more sentiment amongst Americans that troop numbers should be reduced in Iraq and to send more troops to Iran would be against what Americans think is in the national interest.

    Americans are asking what real benefit America is achieving from these distant foreign wars, i.e. are they in the national interest.

    To start what would be a third foreign war against Iran would be seen by many Americans as financial suicide as the country cannot afford greater spending on another war when at home it is on the verge of entering a recession.

    Also, whereas the US was fairly certain that neither Iraq or Afghanistan had nuclear weapons, the same is not true for Iran (and North Korea) and thus the US would be more hesitant in waging war against Iran as it poses a much greater risk of defeat for the US.

    Of course part of the national interest is for Iran not to have nuclear weapons but the US cannot rely on Israel for support for the achievement of this goal. Vice versa, if the US was to support an Israeli attack on Iran this could be a destabilizing effect in the region and perhaps cause more Middle Eastern recruits to join the terrorists in their attacks on the US, again undermining the safety of Americans.

    In my opinion, if the US were to invade Iran, it would cause more disadvantage by way of heightened risk both at home and abroad. As opposed to any potential advantage.

  3. Maggie Says:

    From a realist point of view, US, in its national interest, always wants to have its foothold at Middle East region because of oil resources, and that’s explain the happening of war against Iraq, under a vivid banner of bringing democratic and stable Iraq in the region. Nonetheless, I don’t think the regional actors, at least Iran and Syria, in the region would share the same views as of US, realizing its crystal clear hegemonic ambition and absolute gain. Despite internal rife among the Middle East regimes, for sake of relative gains, most of them will share the same idea to have US out of their backyard. Hence, I would say US’s war on Iran will not be welcome by other Middle East partners and even will fail to secure assistance from its European and Asia Pacific allies because of last mistake committed in Iraq. Some might suggest, as what advocated by Iran Study Group (ISG), US can adopt ‘engagement’approach with Iran, but US might then displays its weakness and must abandon its ally Israel in which has long been hatred by Iran but also the one has developed its substantial nuclear weapons capabilities, and even worse if Israel to become another “axis of evil” with nuclear threats against the world. To a certain extent, I endorse what Ronny ans Si cited about neo-classical realism can fit into Middle East situation. And what I wanna share is the theoretically neoclassical realist approach from Malik Mufti’s Sovereign Creations (1996). Mufti suggest the regional regimes like Syria and Iraq used Arab nationalist ideology and Arab unity efforts to gain the necessary breathing space in the region to consolidate their regimes domestically and marginalize their domestic opponents. He views Arab leaders not as bound by normative understandings of Arabism, but rather as cynical exploiters using those norms to balance their regional opponents and destroy their domestic opposition. I would say it is an additional remark of neo-classical realism to explain the Middle East politics.

  4. Ernest Says:

    Don’t know why, when I first read the original posting, Nike’s slogan “Impossible is nothing” came to my mind. Well, it may be true that a US war against Iran is POSSIBLE. But is it PREFERABLE? The race to US presidency has already started, with various Democrats and Republicans announcing their intention to run for the position. The two parties, if they were to support going to war against Iraq now while the situation in Iraq continues to deteriorate, will risk fanning the anti-war sentiment within America to a new high and undermining the support of their candidates in the coming election. This political consideration, imho, will certainly be a major obstacle that the Bush Administration cannot easily ignore.

    The Economist magazine in January also noted that as the US was too busy in Iraq, it may not lend a helping hand to Israel in any fight against Iran. But going it alone, Israel may not be able to suppress Iran’s air defence and stop Iran retaliating. So I am not sure if an Israel attack on Iran is imminent.


  5. wooi yee Says:

    I think most of you have missed the “oil factor” in considering the issue. Michael T.Klare has a very good elaboration on the oil factor in his article titled “Oil, Geopolitics, and the Coming War with Iran”. (Sorry! Don’t know how to create hyperlink.)

    Iran has huge reserve of oil & natual gas that are crucial to the surging world demand. It is now a major supplier of oil & natural gas to China, India, and Japan. Besides that, Iran also occupies a strategic location that will threaten oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, and the United Arab Emirates. Furthermore, Iran also sits athwart the Strait of Hormuz with 40% of the world’s oil exports pass through everyday.

    In this sense, the US may attack Iran to protect its enery suppliers in Persian Gulf, like the case of Iraq invasion.

  6. ralphchow Says:

    From the realists’ perspective, the tension between Iran and the U.S. seems inevitable. Under the international system of anarchy, individual state has to resort to “self help”, making it logical for Iran to build-up its military power, even nuclear weapons, to achieve the national interests of maintaining security and survival. As for the U.S., they probably feel obliged to challenge the undemocratic and evil states like Iran.

    According to Kenneth Waltz, when faced with unbalanced power, states may try to increase their own strength or ally with others to bring the international distribution of power into balance. As such, allying with Russia or China seems to be a natural development for Iran to balance against the U.S., albeit the realists have also suggested that there is general distrust of long-term co-operation or alliance between states.

    Personally, I feel that multilateralism like the 6-Party Talks will be useful in providing a platform for all relevant parties to negotiate and work out a solution to avoid the outbreak of war between Iran and the U.S. (or Israel). The only problem is the lack of a respectable host country for the talks like China in the case of the Korean nuclear crisis. Realistically, President George W. Bush will also need to overcome the domestic anti-war sentiment in order to launch the pre-emptive war against Iran.

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