Iran North Korea, How Similar, How Different

Iran North Korea, How Similar How Different 7-18-08

John Bolton, in a July 15, 2008 piece in the Wall Street Journal,  argues that if Israel attacks Iran’s nuclear facilities, the US should “make it as successful as possible.”  The U.S will be “blamed” for the strike, whether it succeeds or fails, so there is no gain for the U.S., should the attack fail.
One wonders whether Bolton is advocating direct American involvement, including boots on the ground, should the attack prove to be less than a knockout punch? It is not clear.

I do not know how many articles by John Bolton I have read; there have been a few. Most have addressed North Korea. This, I think, is the first that I have come across that deals with Iran. But one sees in the piece about Iran the same advice one sees in the articles about North Korea: More force, please.

First, the really major difference in America’s options against a nuclear ambitious North Korea and its options against a nuclear ambitious Iran: There is no player in the Mideast that looks remotely like China.

A generation  from now, maybe two, how good the Chinese algebra student is will be too visible to everyone to imagine that the  U.S. would invade North Korea, to destroy North Korea’s nuclear program, should China seriously object. In the mid 20th century whether a war on the Korean peninsular would go nuclear was strictly an American decision. That will not be the case by the mid twenty-first century.

So whether America’s leaders think that Iran and North Korea occupy roughly equivalent positions on the political moral yardstick is irrelevant. There is a long term tether on America’s behavior on the Korean peninsular in a way that there isn’t in the Mideast.

“Eventually” force may be the only alternative that the U.S. has available. Bolton addresses the meaning of the term correctly. It is not that instant before Iran has the ability to fire a nuclear weapon at another state. “Eventually” is that instant before Iran’s toddle down the path toward the nuclear wading pool becomes unstoppable. That is, when Iran has the ability to prevent an invasion against its nuclear program. What is required for Iran to  reach that instant of time? Consider Iraq.

If Iraq had a nuclear weapon that would have destroyed 100,000 American invaders, albeit at the cost of a couple of million Iraqi lives, would America have invaded? Sobering, but one begins to appreciate the attractiveness of nuclear weapons from the perspective of the Third World.

America is now an hour from nuclear annihilation from both Russia and China, because, between 1940 and 2000 it did not want to choose between the only two alternatives that could have kept Russia and China away from the nuclear cupboard. In the first instance, it could have joined with Germany to force Russia off the nuclear path. Failing that it could have subordinated every international goal to the goal of a nuclear free China, and, alone, or with Russia it could have terrorized China away from its nuclear goals with the threat of a nuclear attack. Today, those possibilities have been left abandoned in the dust of history.

I doubt that a much more pacific policy, more and bigger carrots, would have been successful. But, in retrospect, if America were afraid to force the issue through war, it would have been preferable to the policies that America followed. The worst alternative was the alternative The Greatest Generation took: Talk so tough that Russian and Chinese bureaucrats were afraid of the American nuclear fist; but not so afraid that they were forced to abandon their determination to obtain the terror themselves.

The second major problem with Mr. Bolton’s column is that it puts American prestige and lives at risk, and then allows for failure. This is why America has to make it clear to everyone, precisely what its position is should Israel start a war with Iran.

The really dangerous idea in the piece is almost a throwaway line: “John McCain responded to Iran’s missile salvo by stressing again the need for a workable missile defense system to defend the U.S. against attacks by rogue states like Iran and North Korea. He is undoubtedly correct…”

I do not believe that it is possible to develop a missile defense system that will not be interpreted by the Russians and the Chinese, and probably large portions of the American electorate, as systems that will offer protection against Russian and Chinese missiles. The Russian and Chinese response to that may be to develop their own defense system. But I suspect the more likely response will be to develop offensive systems that will “crowd” the American system.

The failure to look honestly at the capabilities of Chinese and Russian nuclear engineers, could result in better missiles aimed at America, closer to America. It would be ironic if a disagreement with a state that could not really threaten America developed into the staging ground for an engineering contest that made America more vulnerable to very serious threats.

r peppe




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