Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Pre-Strike Civilian Warning?

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's mind may be warped the same way Saddam Hussein's was. He may think he can stall forever by stringing along the U.N. while bouncing between promises and threats without getting bombed by the U.S or Israel. He may think that we learned a lesson from overthrowing Hussein that it's too hard and costs too much, in money and lives. He may think we wouldn't even drop bombs on his nuclear facilities without invading because we're too -- take your pick: weak, tired, soft, foolish, etc.

Maybe he's right. I don't know if President Obama has what it takes to decide we're too close to a homicidal dictator getting working nuclear bombs to actually stop him, rather than merely lament and plead until after they detonate their first underground bomb as a test and testament.

Certainly the pronouncement this week that the world is safer now from nuclear weapons than before the security summit is not encouraging. The security summit changed exactly nothing, and Iran wasn't even mentioned in the self-congratulatory assurances that sounded too much like Neville Chamberlain's "peace in our time." That was shortly before Hitler launched World War II, for those who don't recall.

Obviously, I don't know if we'll strike, or allow the Israelis to strike. But as far as I know, we might. So, here's a wild idea I had, and I'd love to get some responses from other folks. If we decide to bomb Iran's nuke sites, what if we were to warn the entire population before-hand? Give the civilians time and warning to get out of the way, in order to minimize innocent casualties?

It might make things more difficult and riskier for our military. If so, that's a clear down-side. Saving civilian lives would be a clear up-side, but I don't think this would simply be trading our military lives for their civilian lives. Just because it might increase risk to our guys doesn't mean it would definitely cost more of our lives, or any, for that matter. If we were to use high-altitude stealth bombers that can fly above the range of Iran's anti-aircraft missiles, that'd be one option. Another would be stand-off cruise missiles, or even non-nuclear ICBM's.

For the sake of discussion, suppose we were certain we could bomb them with them being able to strike back. Would it be a good thing to warn them to let the civilians flee to safer places? We would haven't to specify the exact day or time. The targets are fixed sites, so we can't exactly surprise them there, except that we may know more of their secret places than they hope.

After 6 months of incinerating scores of Japanese cities with conventional bombs brought them no closer to surrender than ever, we finally dropped the first war-deployed nuclear bomb on Hiroshima. That killed over 100,000 people. When they still didn't surrender, we dropped a second one on Nagasaki, and they finally surrendered. Regardless of what you like or don't like about that history, two things are clear: it was effective in getting them to surrender unconditionally, and it killed a whole lot of civilians.

Yes, the situation between the U.S. and Japan was far different from the situation between the U.S. and Iran, by many measures. And if we had warned them about which city we intended to bomb, they may have been able to shoot down our bomber. But suppose we had warned the Japanese that we were going to annihilate one of their cities without telling them which one, and urged their civilians too leave all their cities? Maybe no one would have paid heed and the same people would have died in Hiroshima. What would have happened when we warned them the second time? Perhaps a lot of people would have fled cities all over the country, including at least some in Nagasaki, and perhaps tens of thousands of lives would have been spared.

We only had two bombs back in 1945. If either one had gotten shot down, maybe they wouldn't have surrendered for a much longer time. How much would a warning have increased their chances of intercepting one of our nuclear bombers? I don't know. And if they had, perhaps even more civilians would have died in the continued conventional bombings. I can't help but recall that my Dad was in the U.S. Navy, in Hawaii, about to ship out toward the fighting front, when the Japanese did surrender a few days after Nagasaki. That was before my dad met my mom and fathered my brother and myself.

But in this situation, the point of bombing Iran wouldn't be to get them to surrender. It would simply be to physically eliminate their ability to process weapons-grade uranium. No invasion necessary. Cruise-missile their underground processing facilities with non-nuclear warheads until there's nothing left but dust. That's my best guess as to what we would actually do, IF we do anything other than talking until seismographs reveal they've succeeded in a detonation.

Well, if we were to do that, what would be the harm in giving them advance warning? Something along the lines of, "Citizens of Iran: We wish you no harm, but we cannot allow your dictator to finalize his efforts to build nuclear weapons. We have reasoned, we have urged, and we have threatened, all to no avail, and now we regret that he has forced us to act to eliminate this very serious threat to world peace. Therefore, we urge you to stock up food, water, and medicine, and move as far as possible away from your government's nuclear facilities. We will begin bombing them within a few days and will continue bombing them until they have been completely destroyed. Here is a list of the most prominent facilities that you should remain far from at all costs..."

So... what do you think?

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