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At what point does a war with Iran become inevitable? 

Is that point in the very near future? Is it possibly in the past?

There is pending in the Iranian parliament, probably with the support of higher authorities, a bill to prohibit all foreign warships from entering the Persian Gulf unless they received permission from the Iranian navy, according to this WaPo report. If enacted, that would deprive the US of practical control of the situation, wouldn't it?  At present, we can send warships--or not send them--into the Gulf to send whatever bellicose or accommodating message we wish to send Iran.  But if Iran officially forbade our ships from entering the Gulf, how could the US not send ships in to vindicate our right to do so?  And how could the Iranians not try to sink them? 

Yesterday, I warned here that Iran may "overreact" to our pending new sanctions on oil exports and central bank transactions and surprise us, as Japan surprised us in 1941, by taking the go-to-war decision out of our hands.

At The Independent, Trita Parsi reminds us (h/t Christine) that we may not be able to postpone, ease, suspend, or end sanctions as quickly and as easily as most of us might assume.

The temperature between the West and Iran has increased dramatically. Escalation by both sides coupled with a reckless discourse that has normalised the idea of war have created an environment where military confrontation is a rising probability. The next escalatory step pondered by Europe - in the midst of its own economic crisis - is a total embargo on Iranian oil. An idea that a few months ago was considered a non-starter  now has an air of inevitability.

Sanctions are rarely effective. But right before their imposition - at the moment where they remain a withdrawable threat - their effectiveness is at their height. The challenge with multilateral sanctions, however, is that the diplomatic resources required to create concensus around sanctions are so great that once the sanctions threat gains momentum, the commitment of the sanctioning countries to this path tends to become irreversible. Rather than utilising the threat of sanctions to compel a change in policy, they tend to confuse the means with the goal. Backing down from the threat becomes too costly so sanctions become unstoppable - and ineffective.

This is what happened in May 2010 when the Obama administration and the EU opted for a new round of UN Security Council sanctions on Iran even though Tehran at the last moment succumbed to Western demands on a fuel swap offer.

Read the rest of the Parsi article.

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Reader Comments (1)

Charlie sent this comment via email:

This is likely the usual and regular Iranian hot air about cutting off the straits. But perhaps they're stupid enough to cut off 30% of the world's oil.

What I meant is any disruption beyond a short period. But yes. Certainly some near-term chaos and a quick spike in oil prices. My guess is that all Iranian naval and air traffic in the straits is now tracked down to the smallest dhow. Any mine laying by boat or air would likely be stopped immediately, and any mines could be swept in a matter of days. All tanker traffic would be escorted by combat ships, probably in convoys, eliminating any ship to ship interdiction. Missiles? If they're desperate enough to try, yes, that could be war, most likely an air war. But all USN squadrons have sophisticated anti-cruise missile technology, and if not interdicted, the firing source, ship or shore, can be tracked immediately and destroyed, plus probable strikes against other known Iranian missile sites. The Iranians have to know that the first missile fired against any ship in the Straits will lead to massive retaliation against Iranian military targets. (Unless, of course, Amedinajad is succesful in convincing Chavez to send the in the Venezuelan navy.)

January 12, 2012 | Registered CommenterSkeptic
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