❄ Iran [II]: Use of Force?

Classic strategy assigns a place to ‘threats’, especially the threat to use force, and ‘deliberate ambiguity’ which leaves the other party unsure whether force will or will not be used. Thomas Schelling further suggested a “strategy that leaves something to chance”, including the risk that restraint will fail. [Note 1]

GW Bush’’s stock answer-book has been filled with phrases to use when asked certain questions. When interviewed on 11 August 2005 by Israeli Television Channel 1 he was asked what the United States would do if diplomacy failed to “make sure that Iran does not have a [nuclear] weapon”, Bush’’s declared aim. This exchange followed:

THE PRESIDENT: Well, all options are on the table.

Q: Including the use of force?

THE PRESIDENT: Well, you know, as I say, all options are on the table. The use of force is the last option for any President. You know, we’’ve used force in the recent past to secure our country. It’’s a difficult — it’’s difficult for the Commander-in-Chief to put kids in harm’s way. Nevertheless, I have been willing to do so as a last resort in order to secure the country and to provide the opportunity for people to live in free societies. [Note 2]

The Question

In designing a strategic approach toward Iran, what place is there for threats of force?


The threat of force—US military force—anchored the UN Security Council’’s call in Resolution 1441 for Iraq to admit UNMOVIC and IAEA inspectors. Even many who believe GW Bush was reckless to disregard the inspectors and launch war acknowledge that Saddam Hussein accepted inspection on UNSC terms because Washington threatened war if he did not.

On the other hand, the phrases ‘‘all options’’ and its equivalents have been used in the past as a coded reference to mean ‘even nuclear weapons’. Was that GW Bush’’s intent?

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder responded directly to Bush’’s 11 August interview. The Irish Times reported that

‘Take the military option from the table. “We know from experience that it’s for the birds,” ’he bellowed to a crowd . . .

Mr. Schröder said that no one was interested in letting Iran become a nuclear power, but that the ongoing dispute must be resolved by developing a ‘strong negotiating position’ through peaceful means and not through military aggression.

“‘For that reason I can definitely rule out that a government under my leadership would participate in that,”’ said the German leader.” [Note 3]

At the time of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’’s April 2005 visit to Crawford commentators drew parallels between Iran in 2005 and Iraq in 1981, when on 7 June 1981 Israeli aircraft attacked Iraq’’s Osarik nuclear reactor which Israel believed was a key element in a nuclear weapons program. The New York Times wrote of Sharon’’s “spreading photographs of Iranian nuclear sites over a lunch table” but said Sharon had given “no indication that Israel was preparing to act alone to attack Iranian nuclear facilities.” The Times noted that Vice-President Cheney had spoken of that possibility publicly in January 2005. [Note 4]

The Political Design Problem

Under what circumstances, if any, given Iran’’s ongoing interest in the nuclear fuel cycle, could US threats to use force against Iran be ‘credible’? meet approval of major EU states? of the UN Security Council?


[Note 1] Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960).

[Note 2] Israeli Televsion Channel 1, Varon Deckel, Interviewer. Crawford Texas, 11 August 2005. http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2005/08/20050812-2.html.

[3] Derek Scally, “Schröder raps Bush on Iran military threat,” Irish Times, 15 August 2005.

[4] David E. Sanger, “Sharon Asks U.S. to Pressure Iran to Give Up Its Nuclear Program,” The New York Times, 13 April 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/04/13/international/middleeast/13nuke.html

[Political Design 2005.08.16 Post A08. Front Door Index: http://www.learnworld.com/DESIGN/uncategorized/❄-iran-ii-use-of-force/ Permalink: http://www.learnworld.com/DESIGN/uncategorized/❄-iran-ii-use-of-force/]

3 thoughts on “❄ Iran [II]: Use of Force?

  1. On further reflection from another perspective circumstances could be envisioned in which threats of force may be effective—or at least necessary—and a substantial coalition might well be persuaded to join in.

    This would require qualifications which could come to pass before long. There would have to be unbiased, creditable and overwhelming evidence that Iran is on the verge of the production of nuclear weapons and has committed itself to use these weapons against other nations. It would also require a clear agreement on the part of the European and American leaders that negotiations and sanctions have reached an unsuccessful dead end.

    In this case it might be reasonable to conclude that the only course open to stop a nuclear catastrophe is war against Iran and the last hope of “diplomacy” might be the threat of war.

    Could it be suggested that Bush’s veiled threats are in anticipation of that possible eventuality. If that is the case it could be argued that they are appropriate and could be an aid to reach strategic ends.

  2. If Dr. Larkin will forgive me for not first answering his question before my tangential pervious post here, I will try to make amends by answering his question now. From my outside view I see little strategic value in threats of force toward Iran. As my above comment relates, I think force would strategically aid the Iranians. It is my opinion that we need to ask what Iran’s goals are and what they perceive that the use of force might do to impede progress towards those goals.

    As I write it is being reported that European negotiators have reached a dead end with Iranian hard liners concerning the monitoring of their nuclear program. The Iranian posture leads me to suspect that sanctions or the threat of sanctions—while disruptive and undesirable—would not prove a primary motivation to Iran’s Muslim leadership. It seems to me that autonomy; including the demonstration of symbolic autonomy, is their primary goal. If that is true the use of force might serve more to encourage defiance.
    Does Iran believe that the U.S. or the Europeans would commit to a major military effort against them? The German Foreign Minister’s statement that continued efforts to solve the problem would proceed “diplomatically, multilaterally and by peaceful means.” seems to me at least in part a pointed message to the Bush administration. Surely even President Bush would not believe the political atmosphere in the U.S. at this time would support going to war with Iran.
    Even if such a commitment was made at most it would create little more than economic and related infrastructure problems. These problems are secondary to the leadership’s goal of shaking the yoke of foreign intervention.
    The Russians in Afghanistan, the U.S. in Vietnam, Lebanon and now in Iraq make it seem that the resources necessary to militarily occupy and control a non-receptive nation for more than a relatively short time are beyond even the richest nations. In today’s world (probably since the beginning of time) the use of force has limited value and would best be used sparingly, in select situations and, one would hope, by those who have some eye toward history.

  3. In the U.S. mainstream news there is at this time little more than a subtle background rumble of the possibility of U.S. forces—or a “coalition” led by the U.S.—attacking Iran. What I see as a possibility and greatly fear is what happens if Iran attacks the occupation forces now in Iraq.

    Primary strategic goals of Iranian leadership include eliminating foreign influence in Iran and in the Muslim world and the United States is the primary agent of this unwanted influence.

    The most effective means available to Iran to effect the elimination for foreign influence would be to launch a military attack engaging U. S. led coalition forces now in Iraq. Given their current military capabilities, the proximity of enemy forces is tailor made for Iran to engage their mortal enemy on a major and significant scale. Iran is not Iraq: its soldiers fight for their beliefs and not out of fear from their leadership. Iranian troops and civilians have recently proven their willingness to give up their lives for their beliefs just as Iran’s leaders have proven their willingness to accept millions of casualties. A war with Iran would prove so costly in American lives, in American money and to American political leaders that it is possible that there would be a “hands off” policy towards the region for years to come.

    Iran would mass troops on their common border with Iraq. Following a real, imagined or fabricated provocation Iranian ground troops would invade Iraq.

    The coalition forces would have no choice but to engage the invaders. Not only would they have to fight a large, motivated army, they would also have to maintain at least the present level of troops assigned to deal with insurgent activity. This would require a very large increase in military effort; probably requiring a military draft. Would this be politically possible in the U.S. at this time? I contend that the U.S. public commitment to the consumption of vast resources without a direct and significant positive connection to the everyday lives of Americans is close to exhausted. It is predicted that after a lot of bluster, some build up of forces and a bombing campaign concentrated mostly on Iran’s civilian population. The only viable option would be to quickly declare victory and get out as quickly as possible.

    Hoping to be shown that I am wrong, Art

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