Saturday, October 11, 2008

Robert Baer on NPR's Fresh Air, Part 3.

Note: Please read Parts 1 and 2 of this series before proceeding.

What would happen if, as John McCain and Sarah Palin have both advocated, Iran's nuclear facilities were bombed? Ex-CIA agent Robert Baer offers an unequivocal answer to that question- the Iranians would light the Persian Gulf and Saudi oil facilities on fire. Baer knows many of the old school Revolutionary Guard Iranian generals by name. He has learned about their collective temperament and understands their willingness to employ devastating tactics in order to protect their nation's territorial integrity. As Baer points out, these sober-minded men believe that the Persian Gulf has that name for a reason. Its rim consists of a population that is over 90% Sh'ite, and it will be defended at all costs.

If Israel launches air attacks (with or without American support) the Iranian government will almost certainly respond by shooting Silkworm missiles at every tanker in the Gulf, thus disrupting the international oil markets, causing an international Great Depression that will make the Wall Street crisis look like "a walk in the park", and setting off the first round of World War III. What sane politician would offer unconditional support for such a move? We do not have the financial resources, nor the will necessary to carry out such a massive operation for 30+ years. It shouldn't even be considered a realistic option. Yet we still hear the McCain/Palin ticket continually insist that they aren't willing to sit down with Iranian leaders, and that we can't "second-guess" the policies of our ally Israel.

The fact is that our current situation reflects the waning of the American Superpower. For better or for worse, the world recognizes that there is a fundamental shift occurring. The US dollar is flagging, and legislative efforts to avoid a complete economic collapse have not gone unnoticed by the rest of the globe. Yet our national politicians seem committed to a purported "War on Terror" that is steadily draining our resolve and treasure. Our adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq are becoming increasingly unpopular and untenable. Meanwhile Osama Bin Laden hasn't been heard from or seen in years. Robert Baer believes that he is dead, and suggests that the majority of his CIA colleagues agree with him.

Baer points out that fighting a war against an opponent whose leadership has been neutralized does not make any sense. Furthermore (like a growing proportion of the American citizenry) he is frustrated that there is no specific ultimate objective that would define victory in this amorphous conflict. The only final conclusion that seems consistent with reality is that we need a significant change in our longterm strategy. There is a growing awareness that the United States must dedicate itself to energy independence. We will not be able to afford this imperative if we continue to trick ourselves into believing that we can "democratize" the Middle East. Our goal must be to demilitarize that region.

I agree with Robert Baer's final conclusion. In order to preserve some relevance on the international stage, we must initiate a nationwide "Manhattan Project" to accelerate the development of sustainable alternative energy. In the meantime we may need to ensure that a steady supply of oil flows from the Middle East. No matter what McCain and Palin believe, this cannot be accomplished with a diplomacy relying on bombs and threat. We must sit down with the true power players, regardless of how we feel about them. That is the only way to avert the catastrophic path that the Bush Administration has placed us on. There is much more at stake here than Wall Street, federal taxation, corporate subsidies, and partial-birth abortions.

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Blogger Deekaman said...

So what would be your solution to a nuclear Iran? How would Baer respond to an Iranian nuclear attack on Israel Saudi Arabia or Europe? It's all well and good to criticize anothers' plans, but only if providing an alternative.

4:57 PM  
Blogger Deekaman said...

Indeed, there is more involved here than energy or economy, or, for that matter, American hegemony in the region. The reason MAD worked during the cold war was because both the Soviets and the West cared about their own lives. It's been pretty clear that thoswe who support Islamic terror have no such limits. Lobbing nukes may very well be no big deal to them, if done in the name of Allah against the Infidel.

Now, it can also be argued (and I'm not sure I disagree with this) that India and China would provide a balance to a nuclear-armed Iran in that region. Certainly, India has a vested interest in the regional stability.

I also disagree that the Bush Administration has put us on a path of destruction. While the middle east and Gulf regions may not currently be ready for democratization - some are, some aren't - there will come a time when they are. I argue that freedom is a universal desire and will eventually engulf those nations.

5:06 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


Thanks for taking the time to read an alternative perspective.

Baer is quite clearly not proposing a game-plan for a scenario wherein Iran acquires a nuclear weapon. In fact, that's not within the purview of this interview. His point is that the best chance we have to forestall their development is direct negotiations, rather than aggressive posturing. That's the alternative to the McCain strategy.

I can't presume to speak for Baer on that subject. I don't know what he recommends if Iran does acquire nuclear capabilities. But I believe that he would consider it foolish to assume that Iranian nuclear weapons are a foregone conclusion. Otherwise why bother with diplomacy? Is that what you are suggesting?

You can't draw conclusions about what the Middle Eastern nations would or would not do with nuclear weapons. The only example we have is Pakistan, and they have yet to use theirs. In fact the US is the only nation ever to use them. Do you honestly think that Pakistan is more rational and stable than Iran?

What Middle Eastern nations are ripe for democratization, and how do you suggest we facilitate the possibility? The path of destruction that Bush (the face of the neocons) has put us on involves the sinking of our economic resources (such as they are) into Middle Eastern adventurism. Do you think the US is creating a "democratic" nation in Iraq? Western-style "Democracy" cannot be imposed from without on Islamic nations.

5:22 PM  
Blogger Deekaman said...

I'm a big fan of diplmacy, but it must be done from a position of strength. I don't believe there has been a case (at least in modern history of the last few hundred years) where negotiating from a position of weakness has worked. You can argue that Ghandi was in a position of weakness, but that would be untrue. He had high popular support that gave him a position of strength. Same would be true of MLK, Mandela and others. They appear to be in a position of weakness, but their success resulted from popular support.

I do not believe that Middle Eastern nations are necessarily "ripe for democracy". what I can tell you is that the yoke of a master is a heavy one and there will come a time when that yoke is thrown off. How is it facilitated? I'm just a blogger, but I suggest it be done differently than was done with the former Soviet Union and differently than it has been done in Iraq. But that is 20-20 hindsight. Easy for me to say.

No, Pakistan is not more stable or rational than Iran (maybe a little, but hard to gauge). I am not, nor are any of my neocon associates within the VRWC big fans of nukes in Pakistan. But it's a bigger problem for India and India provides a balance in the region.

Last, I think a nuclear Iran is a forgone conclusion. I think they will have one within the next five years, but I don't think they will be a significant threat for 10-20 years. Even so, the ability to provide "suitcase nukes" to terrorists is a possibility. Much of that depends on how seriously Iran wants to be taken by the rest of the world. I can only speculate.

Thanks for the forum. Makes me think.

9:19 PM  
Blogger Merge Divide said...


You know, as a self-professed "neocon", you make an impressive ambassador. I admit that I am struck by the even tone and the lack of rhetoric in your comments. Truthfully, I have a low opinion of most of the "theorists" and politicians associated with your foreign policy movement. Perhaps it's just the specific personalities of the highest profile representatives, but they've come off as self-righteous and close-minded.

I appreciate your honest approach to answering my concerns and hope that you will feel welcome to share your thoughts here in the future.

As far as the specific content of your last comment, I believe that we are in a position of relative strength already in the Middle East. If Baer is right that Iran wants to work with us, then it's for that very reason.

1:36 AM  
Blogger Deekaman said...

I agree that we are in a position of relative strength at this time and overtures by Iran should be viewed as opportunity.

As a self-professed neocon, I can tell you that most of us are not what we've been portrayed by the media. We don't foam at the mouth (unless there's beer involved). We don't hate (frankly, that's such a strong word that I save it for things and not people). We tend to be pretty generous and go about our business without fanfare. We are frustrated by the governments lack of restraint (both Republican and Democrat). We don't mind paying taxes when we see the value (I haven't seen much value in my 52 years). We think smaller government works better. Stewardship is better than mandates and logical evidence sways us much better than screaming in our faces. We don't have time to go to protests; we are busy with jobs, bills and family. We hope that our example is enough. Are we completely virtuous? Not even close.

I have enjoyed this exchange and hope to do so in the future. I have linked up to your site and will "see" you soon, I'm sure.

Enjoy your life. It's too short to miss a beautiful day.

7:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it was a pleasure for me to read these comments - 2 gentlemen reasonably discussing differences.. THIS is refreshing

10:10 PM  

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