How Adam Lowther learned to stop worrying and love the (Iranian) bomb

The  most frightening thing about this mind-numbingly wrongheaded op-ed in the NY Times (“Iran’s Two-Edged Bomb“) is the line at the end that describes the author:

Adam B. Lowther is a defense analyst at the Air Force Research Institute.

Let’s hope that he wrote this as a result of a bar-room bet on the gullibility of the Times, because we really don’t want anyone basing policy on this. In that spirit, let’s look at the five reasons that Dr. Lowther thinks the Iranian nuclear bomb has an upside:

Reason 1:

Iran’s development of nuclear weapons would give the United States an opportunity to finally defeat violent Sunni-Arab terrorist groups like Al Qaeda. Here’s why: a nuclear Iran is primarily a threat to its neighbors, not the United States. Thus Washington could offer regional security — primarily, a Middle East nuclear umbrella — in exchange for economic, political and social reforms in the autocratic Arab regimes responsible for breeding the discontent that led to the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

The US cannot provide ‘regional security’ when all it can offer is nuclear retaliation. So when Iran, which already controls Syria and Lebanon and will soon control Iraq, pushes to raise oil prices and threatens to unleash Hizballah, for example, what do we do? Nuke them? Iran knows that the US cannot afford to get bogged down in another conventional war.

Even if we could provide security, the ‘deal’ Lowther proposes will not help defeat Sunni terrorism, for the following reasons:

  • Even if we could somehow force democratic reforms, the organized opposition in the conservative Arab countries tends to be Islamist. Hold real free elections and we might not be happy with who wins, as in the Palestinian elections of 2006 when Hamas came out on top.
  • Real political and economic reform is impossible anyway. The ruling elites will not make reforms that involve giving up the reins of power and economic fruits of control, regardless of what we offer and what they promise.
  • Does anybody (still) think that terrorism is caused by ‘discontent’ rather than Islamist ideology? Apparently Lowther does.

Reason 2:

…becoming the primary provider of regional security in a nuclear Middle East would give the United States a way to break the OPEC cartel. Forcing an end to the sorts of monopolistic practices that are illegal in the United States would be the price of that nuclear shield, bringing oil prices down significantly and saving billions of dollars a year at the pump. Or, at a minimum, President Obama could trade security for increased production and a lowering of global petroleum prices.

What would be the motivation for the Saudis to cut prices to us? Both parties know that if we don’t defend them and they are overthrown by Islamists or dominated by Iran, the price will go through the roof and the supply will become uncertain. They have as much or more leverage as we do. Lowther’s argument that we could trade security for concessions of any kind simply doesn’t make sense.

Reason 3:

Israel has made clear that it feels threatened by Iran’s nuclear program. The Palestinians also have a reason for concern, because a nuclear strike against Israel would devastate them as well. This shared danger might serve as a catalyst for reconciliation between the two parties, leading to the peace agreement that has eluded the last five presidents. Paradoxically, any final agreement between Israelis and Palestinians would go a long way to undercutting Tehran’s animosity toward Israel, and would ease longstanding tensions in the region.

Believe me, Palestinians would be ecstatic if Tel Aviv and a million Jews were vaporized, even if they lost a few tens of thousands of Arabs. If their leaders cared about Palestinian casualties, they would have accepted one of the many peace proposals that they have rejected. During the Second Lebanon war in 2006, Hizballah rockets fell disproportionally on Arab towns in the Galilee. Palestinians cheered loudly; they were happy to take blows for the cause. Remember, this is the culture that popularized suicide bombing as a weapon.

As far as the linkage theory expressed in the final sentence: Lowther has it backwards. Iran’s animosity toward Israel exists because Israel projects American power in the Mideast and because the religious issue is useful to inflame Muslims. Iran’s project to dominate the region is a cause of Israeli-Palestinian tension, not a result of it!

Reason 4:

…a growth in exports of weapons systems, training and advice to our Middle Eastern allies would not only strengthen our current partnership efforts but give the American defense industry a needed shot in the arm.

With the likelihood of austere Pentagon budgets in the coming years, Boeing has been making noise about shifting out of the defense industry, which would mean lost American jobs and would also put us in a difficult position should we be threatened by a rising military power like China. A nuclear Iran could forestall such a catastrophe.

In order for a Mideast arms race to significantly affect the economy, we would have to shift massive amounts of our productive capability into weapons manufacture; even the Saudis can’t buy that much. And then of course when Iran or the Sunni Islamists take over, they get all that hardware. In addition, this implies that the Saudis would pay in oil dollars, which would motivate them to — surprise — keep the price of oil high.  And finally, although we are being ‘realists’ here, I might add: is this the direction that we want our economy and society to go?

Reason 5:

…the United States would be able to stem the flow of dollars to autocratic regimes in the region. It would accomplish this not only by driving down the price of oil and increasing arms exports, but by requiring the beneficiaries of American security to bear a real share of its cost. And in the long run, a victory in the war on terrorism would save taxpayers the tens of billions of dollars a year now spent on overseas counterinsurgency operations.

First, it will not drive down the price of oil (see my response to reason 2 above). If anything, it will increase it; the price of oil has always been proportional to the degree of tension in the region. Second, it will not give us victory against terrorism. Iranian-sponsored terrorism will increase, and Sunni terrorism will not go away even if there are ‘reforms’ in the conservative Arab nations, which there won’t be (see my answer to reason 1).

Lowther argues further that nuclear weapons in the hands of the Mullahs will increase stability in the region:

What about the downside — that an unstable, anti-American regime would be able to start a nuclear war? Actually, that’s less of a risk than most people think. Unless the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and his Guardian Council chart a course that no other nuclear power has ever taken, Iran should become more responsible once it acquires nuclear weapons rather than less. The 50-year standoff between the Soviet Union and the United States was called the cold war thanks to the deterrent effect of nuclear weapons.

There are at least four problems here. First, Iran might use nuclear weapons against another country, Israel for example, on the reasonable assumption that the US would not retaliate in kind for an attack on a third party. Second, Iranian leaders like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad could be motivated irrationally by apocalyptic religious beliefs to use the nuclear weapon. Third, the Iranians might transfer weapons to Hizballah, for example, to use them against another country while maintaining deniability. And fourth — and most likely — the possession of such weapons may be enough to influence the balance of power in the region, even if they are not actually used.

As a final example of the triumph of wishful thinking over reality, I give you Lowther’s last argument:

Saudi Arabia and Iraq would be united along with their smaller neighbors by their fear of Iran; the United States would take the lead in creating a stable regional security environment. In addition, our reluctant European allies, and possibly even China and Russia, would have a much harder time justifying sales of goods and technology to Tehran, further isolating the Islamic Republic.

Iraq will not be united with Saudi Arabia by anything, because as soon as US forces leave, the Shiite government will align itself with Iran. Proximity is destiny, and there is no way that the castrated Iraq can resist Iranian domination, even if the leadership wanted to.

And Lowther gives no reason why China and Russia would “have a hard time” justifying trade with Iran. Why should they, when they have had no trouble refusing to help apply sanctions that might have impacted Iran’s nuclear project in the first place? Who do they have to justify their actions to, anyway? The US has little influence over Russia and perhaps less over China, our major creditor. Anyway, what would their advantage be from making an enemy of an already nuclear Iran?

Please, somebody tell me that this article was not meant seriously!

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One Response to “How Adam Lowther learned to stop worrying and love the (Iranian) bomb”

  1. Robman says:

    Great article, Vic. But you left out another major argument.

    If Iran gets nukes, given the short flight times for missiles in this rather cozy neighborhood, Israel then most go to a “hair-trigger” launch on warning footing. They can’t afford to waste any time “spinning up” their own nukes when a decision on whether or not to retaliate has to be made in less time than it takes to read this paragraph.

    So, under these circumstances, if an Israeli radar operator so much as sneezes, and mistakes their spittle for incoming missiles, a regional cataclysm beyond historical experience will result, even if Iran does not in fact initiate it.

    Anyhow, did you send any of this to the NYT? Of course they won’t publish it, but you should try anyway, and add a little jab about how their retirement accounts must have indeed benefited from a shot of Iranian petrodollars from printing that article. You can bet that this Lowther guy is on the Iranian payroll, just like Gwynne Dyer, and many others, I’m sure.

    That is what will be inscribed on the tombstone of our civiilzation:

    “Here lies what was once a great power that stood for great things. Then, everybody got so comfortable that this became the only thing that anybody stood for anymore. We were all for sale. We sold ourselves to our executionors. Our last meals were very tasty before we were led to the gallows.”