Will we attack Iran?

Matt Yglesias links to some who see an imminent attack.  Daniel Drezner offers commentary as well.  Here is Seymour Hersh.

The core economic issue is this: in the midst of a "chicken" game, which verbal cues should lead you to conclude that things are going well (poorly) for your side?  Alas, I don’t know a good treatment of this problem, whether theoretical or experimental.

Under one view, there is no correlation between rumors and real plans.  Disregard the rumors.

Alternatively, you may view current rumors as orchestrated.  But you might infer the probability of an attack as less likely.  The rumors could be an attempt to scare Iran and thus they are a substitute for attacking.  A true intent to attack might do better as a (relative) surprise.  Of course Iran knows this reasoning also, so why should orchestrated rumors succeed?

Another scenario: perhaps our government is anti-rational, perhaps by the nature of bureaucracy.  In this view, the rumors are orchestrated, we usually do what makes no sense, so that means an attack is coming. 

How about this?  We make lots of noise, hoping to scare Iran.  If the noise doesn’t work (which it won’t) then we might feel we must attack, having put our credibility on the line.  Fred Kaplan argues that a tough public stance locks us in; we should instead be letting Teheran receive secret signals that we mean business.  The lock-in effect is a danger.  But don’t assume a (supposedly) secret signal is better; it costs little to send and it might be regarded by the Iranians as a trick, again to be ignored.

What do the betting markets say?:  Over at www.tradesports.com, the implied probability of a U.S. or Israeli attack before December is running about 20 percent (look under "Current Events").  For before March 07 it is running about 25 percent.  These numbers are up from a few weeks ago. 

The bottom line: We will not win this game.


Of course Iran knows this reasoning also, so why should orchestrated rumors succeed?

Now, a clever man would put the poison into his own goblet, because he would know that only a great fool would reach for what he was given. I am not a great fool, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of you. But you must have known I was not a great fool, you would have counted on it, so I can clearly not choose the wine in front of me.

The real "secret" signal isn't cheap at all - deploy an extra 3-4 carrier battlegroups and a dozen squadrons of bombers from the U.S. Slate had a good article on what pieces would move in the run up to a bombing campaign, quasi-effective measures to hide them, and occasional feints to keep those watching on their toes.

Obviously, I don't actually think that -- unless it happens, in which case you heard it here first

The rumors also serve to gauge the reactions of the public, and to prepare us for the notion of bombing Iran. (I don't think anyone is foolish enough to think they could get much public support for invading and occupying Iran, but bombing them is a different story.) The Iranians know this, and will see this as a kind of low grade military preparation.

But wars happen all the time, so this kind of negotiation by feint and implication and raised eyebrow does have a certain imprecision to it....

The U.S. might launch airstrikes. It might launch airstrikes AND then invade. It will not use bunker-buster nukes. But I think any of the above are unlikely (as in the 20% or less range).

So the chances of stopping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons are low. It seems to me that the real question is -- will Iran pay a high enough price for its defiance that other potential nuclear powers will be deterred? Will the EU, Russia, and China all support and then enforce serious sanctions? To ask the question is to answer it. No, they won't. Which means not only a nuclear Iran, but nuclear proliferation at a much faster rate.

I'm afraid the cold war is going to look awfully good in comparison.

I take at face value the Iranian threats to retaliate against us if we attack them. And Iran has the capacity to hurt us unless our attack completely destroys Iran's military capacity, so if our leaders also believe the Iranian threats it's unlikely they will attack, because I don't think the political will exists right now to completely destroy Iran's military capacity.

Barkley has a nice post over at Maxspeaks where he notes Tyler's game of chicken. See my comment Maybe Tyler is right and the 3/19/2003 alleged decision to invade Iraq after Saddam chickened out never really happened. Or maybe Tyler has been asleep for the past 4 years. Or is it that John Kerry was elected President last November and sanity has been restored to the White House. New flash - George W. Bush is truly insane and he's still commander in chief.

I'm amazed by people who try to develop systems for poker. Anything to avoid learning any history or anything about the players themselves.

G. Roper:

The tactic would not work. You simply underestimate the power propaganda has on defining reality.

If indeed a nuclear disaster were to happen in Iran, there would be no question in the minds of the common Iranians (and many others in the Middle East) that the one to blame would be US and Israel (and after the Mohammad-affair perhaps the Danes as well). No matter what the evidence.

Dictators like Mahmoud Ahmadinejad live of defining and creating external enemies and scapegoats - it is a very effective way to make sure the people you rule do not question your own authority. Ahmadinejad would thus most likely be strenghtened by an attack, making it even more impossible than it is now to chance the government in Iran.

And how would the European allies react? You simply don't know. What you do know is that the reaction would be much more moderate in case US were to use conventional weapons instead.

Just in passing I think all of you miss an important factor that ought to be included in the analysis: Israel.
It's not even a year ago Ahmadinejad without even an attempt to conseal it said that the nukes they are trying to develope are going to be used to remove Israel permanently from the face of the Earth. Do anyone think the Israelies are just going to sit and wait for this to happen, or that they are as deluded as the Europeans - believing it was just another empty threat?

I don't.

Tyler: "Another scenario: perhaps our government is anti-rational, perhaps by the nature of bureaucracy. "

Um, did you mistakenly type 'bureaucracy' when you meant to type 'current political leadership'?

Paul Woodward:

There are two senses in which you may call some foreign leader the next Hitler. In one case, he's a danger to some or all of his own people. That's true of a depressingly large number of leaders, some of whom like wiping out irritating ethnic minorities, others of whom prefer disappearing and torturing political enemies in boxcar lots.

But the sense in which a Hitler type is really scary to the outside world (not just to his own intended victims) is when he's likely to take over a big swath of the surrounding territory and become too dangerous to tangle with. It's hard for me to see any middle-eastern leader who is in a position to do this, though I'm certainly no expert on the region.

today's news!

I think the President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's line "Death to America" is slightly worrying. US replies with "Iran is moving in the wrong direction" lolol. Nice euphemism there haha

Do the Iranians look at the Tradesports numbers? They should.

If they do, the CIA should invest some money and move the market. A sudden jump to 75% probability of a strike might put the fear of Allah in them.

Is this kind of like point shaving on NCAA games, only with nuclear bombs?


I was not going to say more on this, but "Iran needs to go" with talk of vaporizing the
country simply cannot pass. Do you have any other countries that should be vaporized on
your list? Syria, North Korea, maybe China? How many millions do you want vaporized?

Let's be clear. The current expert opinion is that it is at least ten years before
Iran could get a nuclear weapon, even if it were in a full scale push to do so. Its
current uranium enrichment is not a violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty to which
it is a party, even if the UN Security Council has asked it to stop doing so. This
current form of enrichment cannot lead to nuclear weapons production.

Furthermore, to repeat a comment I made above that nobody seems to have noticed, the
Head of State and commander in chief of the military and Supreme lawgiver and religious
leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamene'i has issued a religious edict, a fatwa, against the
building or use of nuclear weapons. Even if there are elements in the regime that wish
to disobey him, I would bet that this at least slows down, and more likely for the time
being, is absolutely stopping any nuclear weapons development.

Ahmadinejad is shooting off his mouth to get internal popularity because he was elected
on a platform of cleaning up domestic corruption. Unfortunately for him, the main source
of this corruption are the mullahs who run the banyads, the Islamic Foundations that
dominate the economy, and he is in no position to boot them out. So, whipping up the
populace by drawing the stated wrath of the Great Foreign Enemy while standing up for
national sovereignty is a good distraction. The man is internally unpopular. Highly
unlikely he will not be reelected in three years. We will not have to deal with him at all
anywhere near when the Iranians might be able to have nuclear weapons, if they were
pursuing them as a crash program, which they are almost certainly not.

So, please cool it with all the vaporizing talk. On this Easter weekend, I would say that
your soul is in mortal danger when you call for the murder or genocide of millions of people,
especially for no good reason at all, and I am not much more of hot button Christian
than is Tyler Cowen.

In the end there is no way to avoid action with Iran. The powewrs that be are convinced that god is on their side . If one is going to be attacked and with nukes , as sure as the sun rises ands sets each day the extremists muslims will try to kill all of us when they can. If they get a weapon to do that they will use it . so I ask you all if you know your ememy is going to kill you if they can ,what do you do? Do you wait till they have the weapon? or do you attack them first ,hit them hard and try and kill them all. To me its a no brainer kill them all kill them now !

Americans are idiots. You must have a deathwish.

Russia will happily kill you given a reason to.

You are not a superpower - you're a joke.

The sooner Bush is dead the sooner the party poppers come out.

Guys, IRAN will not benefit the world and attacking it is the main thing that is important for the Western world. But, the situation might be like the one we have in Iraq if Iran is attacked. A BETTER step would be enormous eonomic pressure, sanctions, closure of illegal banks, cancellation of economic aid and psychological strategies in order to force Iran stop its nucler programme. Hacking into governments websites and obtaining information. using electomagnetic devices from Iraq to somehow damage or stop from working Irans air defences and then bomb strategic targets if all of the above fails. irrationality will lead to Extremists controlling the world. STOP ENEMIES OF THE FREE WORLD NOW!!!!!!!!!!

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