The consequences of nuking Iran
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. Within Iran there are more than 450 major strategic targets, including numerous suspected nuclear-weapons-program development sites. Many of the targets are hardened or are deep underground and could not be taken out by conventional weapons, hence the nuclear option. . .
As in the case of Iraq, the response is not conditional on Iran actually being involved in the act of terrorism directed against the United States. 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.
With regard to this alleged Cheney/Pentagon plan for nuking Iran whenever another big terror attack occurs in the United States, it seems unlikely to me. But the Pentagon makes all sorts of contingency plans, and we know that Cheney's chief aide, Scooter Libby, was a liaison to the Office of Special Plans, which specialized in far-fetched schemes and intelligence dirty tricks.
In the real world, there are consequences of such actions, however.
First, the Vice President and the Department of Defense may have by now noticed that Iran is a Shiite Muslim country. There are other important Shiite Muslim communities in the Middle East that would, let us say, mind their coreligionists being turned into shadows on walls.
Among these, even the Vice President and Mr. Rumsfeld may have noticed, is Iraq. Nuking Iran would certainly produce large-scale attacks on US troops in Iraq. I suspect the Iraqi government would fall over it, insofar as it is closely connected to the US. If you think things are bad in Iraq now, you don't even want to think about this scenario, in which religious Sunni Arabs and religious Shiites would almost certainly unite in an anti-American pan-Islamism.
Some 15 percent of Afghans are also Shiites. In addition, the Tajiks or Persian-speakers in Afghanistan are closely allied to Iran. The same scenario, of attacks on US troops and the dragging of Hamid Karzai's body through the streets of Kabul, would likely ensue.
Both the Shiites and the Sunni Muslim fundamentalists of Pakistan would rise up over such an action. The government of Pakistan, led by secular Gen. Pervez Musharraf, might not mind the attack on Iran, with which it has a rivalry. But the Musharraf government is not popular and could be overthrown in such a crisis. At that point angry Shiite and Sunni fundamentalists in Pakistan might gain control of that country's nuclear arsenal.
A US nuclear strike on Iran would be absolutely unacceptable to China. The Chinese could wreak major harm on the US economy by simply disinvesting in it. They hold massive US debt.
A US nuclear strike on Iran would anger many publics in Europe. An economic boycott by Europe would also be devastating.
Although US trade with India is still small, all the attempts to build a stronger relationship with Delhi would be undone. India has a tacit alliance with Iran and would certainly be absolutely outraged, both at the governmental and the public level, by a US nuclear attack on Iran. Pushing both China and India toward postures of enmity toward the United States would greatly weaken it.
The US would suddenly find its influence throughout the world plummeting, its economy badly hurt by boycotts. It would become a pariah nation. And, if it thinks it faces a terrorist threat now, you can only imagine what kind of retribution would be exacted.
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