Natanz seems an agreeable little town, perched nearly 5,000ft up in the majestic mountains of central Iran, full of dusty relics of Alexander the Great and black-clad peasants scurrying hither and thither. It is a shame, then, that we may soon be obliged to bomb it to smithereens. An even bigger shame, though, if we don’t. ~Rod Liddle, The Times Online

Via Andrew Sullivan

For his part, Sullivan had this rather zany question:

Iran, after all, is the ultimate exemplar of fundamentalist religious right government. Its regime is brutal toward women and gays and Jews. If you distrust American Christian fundamentalists, who do not condone violence or terrorism, and who are restrained by something called the Constititution, how can you not be horrified by Tehran?

There are a few problems with Rod Liddle’s article, and more than a few with Sullivan’s post. The latter speak for themselves. Sullivan doesn’t surprise, but Liddle has at least expressed fairly sensible and contrarian views about Islam in Europe and the problems of multiculturalism, which I suppose led me to mistake him for someone not normally committed to unthinking conventional wisdom. So much for that.

First there is this “we” business: “we” may have to bomb Iran, “we may soon be obliged to bomb it to smithereens,” etc. Who is he talking about? Who is this “we”? As Kuehnelt-Leddihn’s semi-autobiographical character in Black Banners said to the American, “Say ‘I’, not ‘We’.” Those who want to speak in terms of what “we” will do to Iran can pick up the slack for their desire to identify with the state–the rest of “us” would very much like to be left out of their obsessions. So will Liddle and his mates be flying the mission to bomb Natanz and the other facilities (not that he mentions the other facilities)? Certainly not. This sort of talk, into which I realise I often fall all too often, is nationalist claptrap that has poisoned our understanding of who “we” are and who or what the government is.

If the governments of the United States, Great Britain and Israel all sign on to bomb Iran, “we” will have had nothing to do with it; “we” will have had no say whatever; “we” will be passive spectators who will suffer the backlash against yet another unprovoked act of aggression. Barring a declaration of war, bombing Iran will once again be illegal and unconstitutional by the terms of our fundamental law–no surprises there–and it will assuredly violate the U.N. Charter. It will be grossly immoral. Once again we will be treated to the contortionist acts of court theologians who seek to find some scintilla of justification for attacking a country because of threats that do not yet even exist. The superficial “debate” prior to the bombing run will make the pre-Iraq debate look serious and deliberative. It will go something like this:

“Hawk”: I think we should use ‘tactical’ nukes to take out these facilities. We might have to invade or be prepared for full-scale war in the aftermath of the bombing. This could inconvenience us with slightly high oil prices, but it’s all worth it. Did I mention that we’re doing it for freedom? Yes, yes, all for freedom.

“Moderate”: Nukes might be unduly provocative. Couldn’t we just drop a lot of conventional bombs and then, if that doesn’t work, build our way up to nukes? Full-scale war should be avoided, if possible, but I’m sufficiently intimidated by all this talk of nukes that I will shut off my brain and accept whatever the government tells me. High oil prices are unfortunate, but since my brain has been switched off I am no longer considering the consequences of the policies I mutely support.

“Dove”: I find this sort of talk very unsettling. We should only aggressively use nukes as a last resort. And I think we should have nuked them before their facilities were online, so that the fallout from the debris of their facilities would be less. Someone in the administration should be held accountable for not being prepared to use nukes yesterday. But now that we have no other choices, nuking them is the only “responsible” thing left to do. High oil prices will teach Americans to drive less, which will be better for the environment, so it all works out for the best.

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: Iranian nukes are 1) going to be built someday by one Iranian government or another no matter what anyone does to these nuclear facilities and 2) do not threaten the United States of America (or Great Britain, for that matter). The one state Iran might plausibly target, Israel, has more than enough deterrent to make all sane Iranians resist the urge to attack. Ahmadinejad may be closely identified with the ideology of the Basij, but there are no politicians who have reached such levels who would rather pursue a suicidal policy and die than pursue a pragmatic one and live. We have heard the chorus of warmongers talk about “madmen” in power who cannot be deterred before, whether they were speaking of Milosevic or Hussein, and certainly in those cases the diagnosis was wildly off and was entirely propagandistic; Ahmadinejad is of a rather different cast from those socialist dictators, but I would bet not nearly as much as he and his dedicated opponents would like us to believe.

There is no American or British interest in provoking a conflict that will, in all likelihood, quickly double the price of oil, detabilise all of the Gulf states and probably help add another few decades to the current regime in Tehran. The possibility of a widened war outside Iran, should other major powers choose to defend a major trading partner and sometime ally, or ethnic cleansing inside Iran, should idiotic plans to incite Iran’s ethnic minorities succeed, are remote but not outside the realm of possibility. Mr. Liddle proceeds from the assumption that taking out Natanz alone will do the trick. Yet this will do nothing to the facility at Bushehr and any others that the Iranians probably have as alternate sites.

Such a conflict would probably result in the extensive targeting of our Gulf and Iraq military facilities, resulting in a considerable number of additional American casualties and the deepening of sectarian and anti-American violence in Iraq. Demands for full-scale war with Iran would build after Americans die at the hands of Iranian proxies, leading to at least thousands and probably tens of thousands more dead. Should the extreme measures of the Basij ideology be replicated again in this conflict, our light, fast forces could find themselves confronted with massive human wave attacks the likes of which Americans have not seen since Korea; whichever way you look at it, large numbers of people will die for the right of the United States to tell Iran how to run its affairs. Not only does this cause have no moral or legal justification whatsoever, but it does not even make geopolitical sense. We are already overextended; we do not need another dependency or protectorate whose security policies we dictate. For the most part Brits, Americans and Israelis are the only ones in the world who really care whether Iran has nuclear weapons (the French and Germans have made threatening noises, but are not prepared to start a war over this), and two of these three nations have no real reason to care. If the world can live with Pakistani nukes, and it can (though Pakistan is far more worrisome than any other nuclear power and certainly far more worrisome than Iran would ever be), it can live with Iranian nukes.