Sunday, July 29, 2007

Should the US attack Iran? If so, how, where, and on what scale? Obviously, I have no idea, since I'm not privy to the kind of information that would allow someone to assess the likely outcomes of different types of attack with any accuracy. Those with the requisite intelligence data are presumably working through various scenarios as we speak, figuring out the worst-case, best-case and most probable outcomes, and trying to decide if they're worthwhile.

But there's one consideration that I fervently hope they aren't taking into account: the effect of such an attack on Iranian public support for the current government. Mark Kleiman, for example, points indirectly to a report that Iranian president Ahmadinejad is believed to be gearing up for a military confrontation with the US, hoping thereby to reverse the damage he's done to his own popularity by destroying the economy and generally behaving buffoonishly. Kleiman concludes that if such a military confrontation is in Ahmadinejad's interest, then it must clearly also be against American interests.

But that doesn't follow at all. It's true that if Ahmadinejad's successor were likely to be more pro-American, then there might be some justification for avoiding actions that could shore up his support. But under the Iranian system, in which candidates for president must be approved by "Supreme Leader" Ayatollah Ali Khamenei--the guy who approved Ahmadinejad's candidacy in the first place, lest we forget--the next president is highly unlikely to be significantly less anti-American than Ahmadinejad. He is, however, quite likely to be more competent. Hence, shoring up Ahmadinejad's popularity might well be a positive side effect of US military action against Iran.


Anonymous said...

You know, of course, that President Ahmedinejad is not the commander in chief of the Iranian armed forces, and has no authority over them at all. Any military action would be ordered by the Supreme Leader, not the President.

Dan Simon said...

Yes, of course. But that's not really relevant to my point (although it perhaps calls into question the plausibility of the Strategy Page report).

Whether or not Ahmadinejad has any influence on the Iranian armed forces, he nevertheless stands to gain from any rally-around-the-flag effect of an American attack. My point was simply that to the extent that such an effect exists, it might actually cause long-term net harm to the Iranian regime, and thus be of long-term net benefit for the US, since it would help cement the incompetent Ahmadinejad's hold on the presidency.