Nuking Iran Without the Dachshund

How do you convince military planners to prepare detailed plans for a nuclear attack against a non-nuclear nation, without having them think you are a madman?

Use the dachshund principle, as illustrated by this old story:

A small boy asked his father how wireless telegraphy works.

“First let me explain how telegraphy works with wires,” said the father. “Imagine a dachshund so long that his tail is in New York and his head is in London. You pull his tail in New York and he barks in London [no reference to Tony Blair intended]. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” said the boy, “it’s perfectly clear. Now what about wireless telegraphy?”

“Exactly the same thing," replied the father. "Only without the dachshund.”

In July of this year, a remarkable story by former CIA intelligence analyst Philip Giraldi appeared in the American Conservative and spread quickly over the Internet. It read,

“The Pentagon, acting under instructions from Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, has tasked the United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM) with drawing up a contingency plan to be employed in response to another 9/11-type terrorist attack on the United States. The plan includes a large-scale air assault on Iran employing both conventional and tactical nuclear weapons.”

The “9/11-type terrorist attack” is, of course, the dachshund. You need it to make the process understandable, but not to actually do wireless telegraphy.

If you are Dick Cheney and you want to draw up plans to nuke Iranian installations, how will you go about it? You need a "reasonable" scenario to convince people that you are not mad, that it is not a waste of time to plan to nuke a non-nuclear country that is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, a country that is working with the IAEA to dispel unproven accusations that it is aiming to produce nuclear weapons, and that is at least a decade away from the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons (NIE estimate), further than it was in a CIA 1993 estimate. Well, if another 9/11 attack or worse were to occur, and it was attributable to Iran, such a response might be conceivable. So let’s draw up the plans, just in case.

Once wireless telegraphy is in place, it works without the dachshund. Once plans to nuke Iran are in place, they can be implemented without the “9/11-type terrorist attack."

Barely two months after the Giraldi story appeared, the Pentagon’s "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” [.pdf], which outlines several scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons against non-nuclear countries in precisely the same situation as Iran, came to light. Coincidence?

Barely two weeks later, the U.S. succeeded in getting a totally toothless resolution passed by the IAEA [.pdf] on Iran’s noncompliance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which implies, however, that the U.S. would not be violating its commitment to the NPT if it used nuclear weapons against Iran. Coincidence again?

John Bolton has been the administration’s point man on nuclear policy and aggressive in denouncing Iran’s supposedly evil intentions. He will be the ideal person to explain to the world, after the fact, why a preemptive nuclear strike on Iran was justified. Earlier this year, he was appointed as U.S. ambassador to the UN, over extraordinary bipartisan opposition. Coincidence again?

All along, the administration has been ratcheting up the pressure on Iran, disseminating "classified" evidence from a laptop computer that purports to prove that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. U.S. pressure managed to derail the negotiations between Iran and the European Union following the “Paris agreement” of December 2004.

The Philip Giraldi story concludes,

"Several senior Air Force officers involved in the planning are reportedly appalled at the implications of what they are doing –that Iran is being set up for an unprovoked nuclear attack – but no one is prepared to damage his career by posing any objections."

And those senior Air Force officers are presumably not prepared to make the information public, because it is classified.

Nevertheless, let us see if we can glimpse what the relevant classified information may be. Executive Order 12958 of 1995, dealing with “Classified National Security Information," says that information considered for classification includes, among others:

  • (A) military plans, weapons systems, or operations;
  • (B) foreign government information;
  • (E) scientific, technological, or economic matters relating to the national security;
  • (G) vulnerabilities or capabilities of systems, installations, projects, or plans relating to the national security.

Now fast forward to March 25, 2003, and the updated version, Executive Order 13292. All the above is included, with the following changes:

  • (E) now has added “which includes defense against transnational terrorism”;
  • (G) now has added “which includes defense against transnational terrorism”;
  • a new item: (H) weapons of mass destruction.

The new executive order was put in place right after the Iraq invasion started, so presumably it does not relate to Iraq but to the next adventure. (Especially since the information on Iraq’s “weapons of mass destruction” was much more definite and detailed in Cheney’s unclassified version than in the classified one.) Why was it important to update the executive order? From the difference between the 1995 and 2003 orders, we may conclude that perhaps the administration has the following information that is being kept classified, which was not covered by the 1995 version but is now covered by the 2003 version:

What does the U.S. do in response? It follows point (A) above, i.e., drafts “military plans, weapons systems, or operations," which, of course, are classified. Again we can guess what the classified plans are by looking at the "Doctrine for Joint Nuclear Operations” [.pdf] that was revealed in September 2005. It envisions using nuclear weapons in scenarios such as:

  • Against “an adversary using or intending to use WMD against U.S., multinational, or alliance forces or civilian populations.”
  • “To demonstrate U.S. intent and capability to use nuclear weapons to deter adversary use of WMD.”
  • “[O]n adversary installations including WMD, deep, hardened bunkers containing chemical or biological weapons…."
  • “To respond to adversary-supplied WMD use by surrogates against U.S. and multinational forces or civilian populations.”

So there are many reasons to believe that the plan that Philip Giraldi (and Seymour Hersh, and William Arkin) talked about has been developed and is firmly in place – just as the plan to attack Iraq by air and invade it with ground forces was developed and firmly in place already four months before UN resolution 1441, as revealed by the New York Times on July 5, 2002.

It is truly peculiar, given the strident rhetoric the administration has launched against Iran, that it has not publicly accused Iran of having WMD. Contrast this with the case of Iraq. There are, of course, many administration documents that make such statements [1], [2], [3]. The U.S. also accuses Hezbollah and various Palestinian groups of being surrogates of Iran and terrorist organizations, and the 9/11 commission has suggested that al-Qaeda has ties to Iran. It would be relatively straightforward to connect the dots and make a strong case to attack Iran, much stronger than the case for Iraq ever was.

However, the administration is deliberately not “connecting the dots” publicly yet. Why? Because this time we are talking big guns, nuclear. If the administration did make its case public in advance, there would be enough time to check the veracity of the claims, and to consider whether they justify a nuclear strike on Iran. By keeping the information classified, the administration can prepare for the nuclear strike without being subject to public scrutiny. The dots will be connected after the bombing, too late for any debate.

Why are all the people who know about this plan not telling? Donald Rumsfeld tells you why:

“I think anyone who has a position where they touch a war plan has an obligation to not leak it to the press or anybody else, because it kills people.”

Sure enough. If you were told that leaking top-secret information on the Iran war plan could cause Iran to launch preemptive chemical missiles against U.S. forces in Iraq and kill thousands, or could unleash terrorist attacks against the United States, you would not do so. Not to mention the potentially severe penalties associated with leaking classified information.

Administrative and criminal penalties apply to anyone who “has information relating to the national defense” and has “reason to believe it could be used to the injury of the United States or to the advantage of any foreign nation” and “willfully” transmits that information to “any person not entitled to receive it."

But what if you knew of the nuke-Iran plan and sincerely believed that it would severely injure the United States, because nuking a non-nuclear country would turn the U.S. into a pariah nation in the civilized world? And that leaking information on this plan could help the United States avoid such a fate?

The Nuremberg trials, commemorated this week, would not have existed if following the law of the land and orders from superiors were the only criteria to be considered under any circumstance. Principle IV of the Nuremberg Tribunal stated:

"The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him."

Furthermore, the International Court of Justice has ruled that "the threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law."

What if you were in a position to leak the Iran plan, and you sincerely believed that using nuclear bombs against a non-nuclear country is a crime against humanity?

What if you sincerely believed that using nuclear bombs, no matter how small, would break a 60-year-old taboo and unleash a chain reaction that could lead to the obliteration of humanity from the face of the earth?

You would be facing a very difficult moral choice (see [1], [2], [3], [4]).