BOMBING IRAN….Over at The Century Foundation, Sam Gardiner has published a war-gaming analysis of possible military action against Iran. His narrow conclusion is similar to what Wes Clark told me in February: contrary to conventional wisdom, which suggests that Iran’s research sites are too widespread to be destroyed via bombing, a military strike could probably do a pretty good job of taking them out. Although Gardiner warns that there’s a lot of uncertainty over this, his baseline guess is that five nights of bombing would set back the Iranian nuclear program significantly.

He also notes that this very definitely seems to be the goal of the Bush administration, which has been carefully designing its diplomatic maneuvering to guarantee failure:

If the experience of 1979 and other sanctions scenarios is a guide, sanctions will actually empower the conservative leadership in Iran. There is an irony here. It is a pattern that seems to be playing out in the selection of the military option. From diplomacy to sanctions, the administration is not making good-faith efforts to avert a war so much as going through the motions, eliminating other possible strategies of engagement, until the only option left on the table is the military one.

I think that’s exactly right. The administration’s actions seem to have been carefully calculated at every step to leave no alternative to a military strike. When it comes, though, Gardiner thinks it will last longer than five days because the real goal goes beyond destroying Iran’s nuclear program. The goal is to use airpower to overthrow the mullahs:

The real U.S. policy objective is not merely to eliminate the nuclear program, but to overthrow the regime. It is hard to believe, after the misguided talk prior to Iraq of how American troops would be greeted with flowers and welcomed as liberators, but those inside and close to the administration who are arguing for an air strike against Iran actually sound as if they believe the regime in Tehran can be eliminated by air attacks….[But] no serious expert on Iran believes the argument about enabling a regime change. On the contrary, whereas the presumed goal is to weaken or disable the leadership and then replace it with others who would improve relations between Iran and the United States, it is far more likely that such strikes would strengthen the clerical leadership and turn the United States into Iran?s permanent enemy.

….At the end of the path that the administration seems to have chosen, will
the issues with Iran be resolved? No….Will the United States force a regime change in Iran? In all probability it will not….Will the United States have weakened its position in the Middle East? Yes….After all the effort, I am left with two simple sentences for policymakers. “You have no military solution for the issues of Iran. You have to make diplomacy work.”

Matt Yglesias has more, including an unconfirmed report he calls “The Craziest Goddamn Thing I’ve Heard In a Long Time.”

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