Professor and historian Arthur Herman on the Iran military option.
HH: Joined now by Arthur Herman. He is a prolific writer, author of How the Scots Invented The Modern World, as well as To Rule The Waves: How The British Navy Shaped the Modern World, and of a Commentary Magazine article that turned a lot of heads this month. Professor Herman, welcome. Good to have you.
AH: It’s a great pleasure to be on, be able to talk about my article.
HH: I look forward to…I just have one bone to pick. Shouldn’t it really be how the Scots-Irish invented the modern world, and how the British navy ran by the Scots-Irish shaped the modern world?
AH: No, Jim Webb stole that, and used it to get into the U.S. Senate, so I’m not going to go that direction.
HH: The reaction to your Commentary piece, which is entitled Getting Serious About Iran: A Military Option, must have been somewhat ferocious.
AH: Well, it was. I mean, a lot of people, and understandably so, are very gunshy about getting involved in another shooting war in the Middle East. And I am not in the article saying that that’s the step that we need to do right now. What I am saying is that it’s going to be inevitable unless we start taking some serious steps to prepare for a showdown with Iran for control of the Persian Gulf, not just over their nuclear status, and their attempt to get a nuclear bomb, but also about their rise to becoming the dominant regional power in the Middle East. And this is something that we really have to worry about, and start to prepare militarily to deal with.
HH: The Arthur Herman plan begins with announcements that we will tolerate no interference in the Straits of Hormuz, that we will halt Iranian oil shipments, that we would blow up Iran’s gasoline refineries, that we would reduce Iran’s capacity to respond via marine operations against key Iranian oil assets, and that we basically reprise ’86-’88, when we did pretty much the same stuff. Can you expand on that for the benefit of the ’86-’88 period, Professor Herman, for the benefit of the audience?
AH: Well, for a lot of people, they forget the fact that between 1986 and 1988, when Iran and Iraq were in the middle of a ten year war, the United States stepped in to prevent the Iranians from blockading and stopping oil shipments through the Hormuz Straits. And we did a lot of the things that I advocate in this piece are going to be necessary if we’re going to deal with the Iranians now, and that is the U.S. Navy assemble oil tankers into convoys, they reflagged oil tankers, so that it would become clear that attacks on oil tankers by Iranian missiles or missile boats would be an attack on the United States, and we would respond accordingly. And people don’t realize that that so-called tanker war of ’86-’88, in which we really blew the Iranian navy out of the water, was the single largest naval engagement since World War II. And we still have the capacity to engage in that kind of forthright action at sea against the Iranians, and the Iranians have not really rebuilt their navy since that war. So the Iranians…and my point in my article, Hugh, was that they’re much more vulnerable than we realize. The media and people who are kind of war weary with Iraq, understandably so, have kind of blown this Iran issue totally out of proportion, and have really sort of created this kind of paper colossus ruling over the Persian Gulf. And the Iranians have come to believe that themselves. My point is that we need to be clear that we have military options to deal with them straightforwardly, to reduce their ability to become the dominant regional power in the Middle East. Because when that happens, the problems that we see now taking place, the kind of spreading turmoil, is going to get worse and worse. And the West is going to be in a very, very serious predicament if that happens.
HH: Now Arthur Herman, when you talk about these scenarios, though, I am reminded of Robert Gates’ confirmation hearing, when he was asked point blank by Robert Byrd, what if we invade Iran, and he said oh, they’ll unleash Hezbollah, they’ve got sleeper cells in the United States. In essence, he said that. The fear of Hezbollah may be more than the fear of the Straits of Hormuz shutting down.
AH: Well, that’s a worry that I think a lot of people are, again, sort of blow up Iran into this sort of status of a kind of paper colossus, and that is this fear that they’ve got sleeper cells, you know, in every medium sized town in Indiana, who are going to go on the rampage, and that there is going to be terrorist strikes and airplanes flying into buildings and suicide bombings around the world. But let’s be honest, groups like Hezbollah have become emboldened because of Iran’s success. They’re not going to be emboldened by Iran’s failure. And the more forthright and bolder we are in dealing with Iran and proving the fact that they are in fact so vulnerable to naval and to air attacks that we can shut down their economy in a matter of weeks, because of their vulnerability…you know, they import 40% of their domestic oil for their cars and for their tanks and for their airplanes. And when we demonstrate the fact that these…the Iranians really are a paper colossus, that they can be dealt with militarily, groups like Hezbollah are going to head for the tall grass. They’re not going to go down fighting for a doomed Iranian regime. But they will be a threat to us, they will be a serious menace in the Middle East, against Israel, against the United States and the West, if we allow Iran to remain this kind of rising power that can break international law, that can conduct war through its proxies in Syria and Lebanon, without any kind of punishment, with total impunity. That’s where the real danger lies.
HH: Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, now the Likud chairman, warned 60 foreign ambassadors in Tel Aviv today that Ahmadinejad is working to create a thousand year Islamic reich. And that really amps up the rhetoric quite a lot. Do you think he’s correct? And is he prudent in making that statement?
AH: You know, Americans have to realize, we’re not used to dealing with political entities or ideologies that have behind them the force, not just as a set of idea, Islamic fundamentalism, but in the case of Iran, the sense of thousands of years of civilization, a ringing in civilization, a new Persian empire. This is what drives the mullahs in Tehran. The Islamic fundamentalism is the vehicle to achieve that. They see themselves extending their power, extending their dominion both to the west, across the Middle East, which is already taking place now, and into a takeover in places like Iran, but also to Afghanistan, to Pakistan. All of these things, the thousand year reich that he’s talking about, existed under the ancient Persian emperors. And this is what they’re attempting to recreate today. And Americans kind of underestimate the degree to which those ambitions, those geopolitical ambitions can expand like that in a time and energy that rulers, absolute rulers like these mullahs, are willing to commit to do that, unless we make it clear that we’re not going to put up with it.
HH: Arthur Herman, in the opening of the Oak and the Calf, Solzhenitsyn’s memoir, he said what if it’s all paper mache, referring to the Soviet Union. Is the mullahcracy paper mache? We’ve got about 30 seconds.
AH: I think it is. I think that they are…they have a fragile economy, which is heavily dependent upon foreign oil, and imported capital. We can shut them down with military action, a naval blockade and air strikes. And don’t forget that the key, the path to success in Iraq lies through Tehran. And we can deal with, in a sense, two, two major turmoils and conflicts in the Middle East at once, if we deal with the mullahs soon, and deal with them forthrightly.
HH: Professor Herman, author of Commentary Magazine article, Getting Serious About Iran, as well as To Rule The Waves, and other magnificent books, thanks.
End of interview.