Time To Start Shoving

Arthur Herman in a review of Michael Ledeen’s book The Iranian Time Bomb suggests what needs to be done about Iran.

From an excerpt in the print edition of the Wall Street Journal:

…Given the ferocious character of the Iranian regime, though, and the extent of its ambition, one has to wonder whether Mr. Ledeen’s solution — a democratic revolution brought about, in part, by U.S. encouragement and aid — is enough. Mr. Ledeen and like-minded thinkers have been waiting more than a decade for such a middle-class challenge to the mullahs’ power. It has not happened yet, and it may well not happen for some time to come, as things now stand. The stark truth is that popular discontent rarely turns into genuine revolution until a country is staring military disaster in the face or suffering the loss of an imperial patron.

It was fear of advancing Austrian armies, not the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen, that finally convinced the people of Paris in 1792 to overthrow the monarchy and start afresh. It was the collapse of Russia’s armies in 1917 that prompted tens of thousands of workers, sailors and army deserters to toss out a worthless czar and his government. Even the so-called popular revolutions that swept Eastern Europe after the Cold War only happened because Mikhail Gorbachev’s Soviet Union no longer had the will to fire on unarmed crowds to protect its erstwhile power. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard will have no such qualms unless someone applies stronger medicine from outside.

The idea of a military confrontation with Iran usually brings to mind air strikes to take out Iran’s nuclear facilities or to cripple its infrastructure. Mr. Ledeen is opposed to such a move, and understandably so, given the risks. But there is another military option: using U.S. air power to protect a naval blockade of the Hormuz Straits, cutting off Iran’s supply of gasoline and other vital materials. At the same time, American special forces would seize Iranian oil platforms in the Persian Gulf so that the mullahs would lose their source of revenue and, one might hope, their legitimacy.

In fact, this strategy worked once before, during the so-called Tanker War of 1987-88. When the Iranian Revolutionary Guard started attacking American warships escorting Kuwaiti tankers through the straits, the U.S. Navy took out the Iranian oil platforms that the Guard was using as staging areas and then blew the Iranian navy out of the water when it came out to retaliate.

Largely forgotten today, the Tanker War remains the largest single naval conflict since World War II. It even convinced the Iranian Revolutionary Council that the U.S. was about to attack and forced the Ayatollah Khomeini to do the unthinkable and terminate his long war with Iraq. Afterward Khomeini said that signing the peace was like “drinking bitter poison.” But he clearly feared American intervention more.

Iran’s navy has never recovered from the Tanker War; its air force is moribund; and its army’s morale is in tatters. The one military force that the mullahs can count on, the vaunted Revolutionary Guard, is manifestly corrupt and operates more like the Mafia than a phalanx of storm troopers. By its own admission, one-third of its operations are not military at all but commercial. If war comes, the Guard’s leaders will likely be less concerned with fighting back than with protecting their ill-gotten business rackets and monopolies under whatever regime takes the mullahs’ place.

Meanwhile, discontent within Iran is growing. The country is awash in cash from oil but must ration gasoline to its unhappy citizens. Roughly 40% of them live below the poverty line. There has been, of late, a tattoo of anti-government riots in Iran’s cities, including Tehran. In short, the moment is propitious.

Commentators, including Mr. Ledeen, often compare Mr. Ahmedinejad’s Iran to Hitler’s Germany. A better comparison might be to Mussolini’s Italy. Behind the bombast and the facade of ideological solidarity is a regime rotten to the core. When American soldiers landed on Italian soil in 1943, the Italians did not rally to Il Duce. They strung him up by his heels. Perhaps Mr. Ledeen is right and we won’t need to take military action. But perhaps not.

What was it that Friedrich Nietzsche said? If you see something slipping, give it a shove. In the case of Iran, the time has come to start shoving.

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