Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Mixed Signals

President Bush delivered a timely--and accurate--assessment of Iran's improving strategic capabilities this morning, warning that Tehran could have missiles capable of hitting all of Europe and the United States by 2015. Mr. Bush made his comments during a speech at the National Defense University, citing the need for European-based missile defenses to counter the Iranian threat.

"If (Iran) chooses to do so, and the international community does not take steps to prevent it, it is possible Iran could have this capability," Bush said. "And we need to take it seriously — now."

The AP account of the president's address was posted less than three hours ago, so it didn't contain the usual Democratic/Russian response, accusing Mr. Bush of "fear mongering" or "creating a new arms race." But, it's a virtual certainty that spokesmen for the Democrats and the Kremlin will reply in those terms by the end of the day.

But their rhetoric clouds a rather inconvenient truth of missile technology: almost any country with the financial and/or technical resources to acquire or develop short or medium-range missiles can eventually field a crude ICBM, usually within 10 or 20 years.

Consider the case of North Korea. Despite tremendous financial limitations, Pyongyang has, in less than two decades, moved from extended-range SCUDs to a long-range missile capable of reaching the western United States. While that system (the Tapeo Dong-2) still has apparent technical problems--the missile tested last year failed shortly after launch--it demonstrates the ability of a bankrupt state to develop an intercontinental strike capability, however crude it might be.

Unfortunately for the U.S. and its allies, Iran doesn't operate under the same fiscal constraints. Tehran is spending freely on its missile and nuclear programs, and with oil approaching $90 a barrel, it can devote even more resources toward WMD and delivery systems. With assistance from North Korea and Pakistan, Iran has already fielded the Shahab-3 medium-range missile (capable of striking Israel), and has acquired the intermediate range BM-25, which can hit targets in southeastern Europe.

Collectively, the combination of oil money, North Korean missile expertise and Iran's own experience with the Shahab-3 and BM-25 provide a foundation for an ICBM program. True, the number of Iranian ICBMs in 2015 will be very small, but (tipped with nuclear warheads), they would give Tehran a limited ability to hold European and CONUS population centers at risk--and provide a powerful negotiating chip for the mullahs.

Obviously, one of the answers to Iran's missile ambitions is the proposed defensive shield in Eastern Europe. Officially, the Bush Administration still supports that deployment, but its signals on the system have been mixed of late. Earlier today, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, traveling in the region, said that the U.S. might delay "activation" of the missile shield until it has "definitive proof" of a missile threat from Iran.

At a news conference with the Czech Republic Prime Minister, Mr. Gates told reporters that the "activation proposal" was a gesture toward Russia, which adamantly opposes U.S. missile defenses in Eastern Europe. Secretary Gates said that details of the offer have yet to be worked out.

"We would consider tying together activation of the sites in Poland and the Czech Republic with definitive proof of the threat — in other words, Iranian missile testing and so on," Gates said.

That must be music to Vladimir Putin's ears. After railing against the defensive shield for years, the Russians undoubtedly believe that their efforts are finally gaining traction. Look for them to ramp up the propaganda efforts in the coming months, to further delay--and potentially, derail--deployment of missile defenses in the Czech Republic and Poland.

We can only assume that Mr. Gates wasn't speaking out of turn, and that his comments about delayed activation of the defensive sites have the approval of the Commander-in-Chief. And, in fairness, the Defense Secretary sketched his activation proposal in only the vaguest terms. Perhaps its unfair to judge the overture on the basis of a few quotes at a news conference.

But, from our perspective, the contradiction in the messages from Prague and Washington was clear enough. After refusing to budge for years on European missile defenses, the Bush Administration appears to blinked. Depending on how one defines "definitive proof," activation of those sites could be delayed until the first Shahab-5 rockets toward Brussels or London.

Mr. Gates' remarks create some unnecessary wiggle room on an issue where the administration should be offering a united front. By offering to delay site activation, the Defense Secretary is suggesting that (perhaps) the Iranian threat isn't that serious, or that relations with Russia take precedent over protecting millions of people from an emerging threat. We're sure that the Russians, the Iranians and Congressional Democrats will be quick to seize on the contradiction between President Bush's warning, and Mr. Gates "offer" to delay our response to that threat.


S said...

interesting. Remember when the Us put special ops forces into the pamkisi gorge - was it not an implicit nod to Russia to have afree hand in Chechnya. No way the US gives in unless it extracted a serious concession of its own. Debka reports that the putin is agreeing to withdraw support for Iran nuke program and back harsh sanctions and by virtue giving the wink for strikes. Looks like a deal is in the works and the forces are aligning,. what will the iranian response be - my guess - the fast boat to China -

Also noteworthy that the Iranian pres hightailed it back home from armenia.

buy oil

Unknown said...

This is another scare article about Iran and a missile defense system. To start off with Bush admits that Iran wouldn't have a threatening missile system until 2015. Now if it is really that far away I think it is in America's best interest to let the next president decide how we will face that threat. I don't believe Bush has any credibility left to make important decisions to ensure our safety. Second a missile defense system has never shown to be effective in doing what we are told it can do. In fact the building of a defense system would give us a false sense of security that we would be able to knock out any missiles that Iran has. What if we spend $100 Billion just to find out that Iran has new missiles which we can't intercept. I mean the Russians are already making those, you really don't think Pootie-Poot would share? Also a false sense of security would embolden us to take a unnecessary even harder line with the Iranians making peaceful negotiations less possible. Imagine George Bush in a fight against someone who can't hit back (which is every time, geez what a bully). I can't believe we would rather spend a fortune than at least talk to the Iranians. What do we even have leaders and diplomats for? Third is what I really don't get. What would the Iranians have to gain by shooting missiles at Europe? The Iranian leaders are not irrational. We do a disservice to our thinking if we believe the media which paints them in cartoonishly evil way. This is not some nut job in a cave beholden to no one but Allah. They have a real country and real people to look after. Their goals are self interested and they want to stay in power. Hitting Europe with missiles would signal the end of their country as we know it and at the very least it would end in a regime change and bombed out country. Even Putin, Pakistan, China, the Sudan or any other of their terrible friends would be able to help them in that situation, they would be done for. So basically a missile defense system is the brainchild of a incompetent president which threatens to further destabilize the middle east, killing much needed negotiations with the enemy, hurting our rep with Russia and providing little to no security at an outrageous cost. At the very least let another President look at this problem, we still have time. And if anyone can come up with a valid reason why the Iranians would want to bomb Europe please let me know. And just because they can is not a legitimate response.

halojones-fan said...

Nobody believed that Islamic terrorism was a serious worldwide threat until September 11 2001. I doubt that anyone will believe that Iranian ballistic missiles are a serious threat until one is launched as a warshot. People just don't want to believe in threats, because if you believe in a threat then you have to deal with it, and you might deal with it in the wrong way...and people, these days, have a pathological need to avoid having been wrong.

halojones-fan said...

andrew: Who says that they need a reason beyond sheer extortion?

Give me ten thousand dollars or I shoot you, right now. Sure, I'll probably get caught afterwards; certainly go to jail; might even be executed. How will that help you? You'll be dead. Are you really willing to die rather than give me ten thousand dollars?

Now imagine Iran's government saying "we have nukes and missiles. Give us ten million dollars and also institute a worldwide boycott of Israeli products. Otherwise we launch." What's your response?

Unknown said...

Your argument here of nuclear threats is based on thinking that Iran is an irrational player, which they aren't. This is a tactic that this administration has created to put fear into the American people to make them go along with this administrations wrongheaded foreign policies. The truth is that Iran will make decisions based on their best interest. If they have nuclear weapons in the future they might be able to knock out a couple cities before their entire country is turned to dust. They know this so their threat of using nuclear weapons for offensive purposes is basically non-existent. They want nukes to deter people from attacking them not the other way around. And if you don't believe this than you must really be scared of Pakistan because they already have nukes, AQ and the Taliban. Iran extorting money from the rest of the world is also highly unlikely. They need the rest of the world because their economy is not self sufficient. There is no way they would contaminate their water further by employing this tactic. To understand more about the Iranian situation, their history, their goals and their people people have to get your information from sources outside of the American media and biased bloggers who don't have a in-depth understanding of the country. Iran is dangerous for sure, but they are not self destructive to the point that they would risk nuclear annihilation. Not even the destruction of Israel is worth that.

davod said...


You fall into the same trap of most other opponents of the President's policies. You attack him for being beligerant without any recognition that he may be responding to a threat. To you, he is the problem.

I agree that Iran is not an irrational player. However, Iran has been killng off Americans since 1979 and is doing so today. To think that Iran would not build a nuclear and ballistic offensive capability is not only irrational it is simplistic.

I agree with halojones-fan: It is to late to enact missile defence programs and the 747 carrying Laser when the threat arrives.

Is it in the best interests of the USA to let the next President decide the way forward. Such a suggestion is typical of those not in power.

Your friends in the Dhimified Congress have already slashed the BMD and 747 laser program. Anything to delay progress on the defence of the US. Any second, minute, hour, day, month, or years delay is a victory for the short sighted, a win for the fellow travellers who would rather wait for an attack than prepare for one.

Unknown said...

Your assessment of President Bush correctly identifying a threat and then dealing with it successfully flies goes against everything we have seen with his administration. If you still feel comfortable with him driving the car after these seven years don't be surprised when he drives you off a cliff.

Ken Prescott said...

Now if it is really that far away I think it is in America's best interest to let the next president decide how we will face that threat.

In terms of defense acquisition, "2015" is akin to "next week" for those of us not beholden to gazillion different executive and legislative agencies when it comes to deciding what or car we're going to buy. If Bush does nothing, the next administration isn't going to have any option, one way or another, on deploying missile defenses vis-a-vis Iran.

Also a false sense of security would embolden us to take a unnecessary even harder line with the Iranians making peaceful negotiations less possible.

Iran has been at war with the United States since November 4th, 1979. The only acceptable "peaceful outcome," as far as I'm concerned, comes down to the United States winning and the Iranians losing.

Be thankful I'm not the President: my negotiating posture for Iran by now would be "Would you like your country obliterated by Trident missiles from the USS Nebraksa or USS Kentucky?"

What would the Iranians have to gain by shooting missiles at Europe?

From doing it? Nothing. From being able to credibly threaten to do so? A hell of a lot. Look up "escalation dominance" some time.