Vali Nasr's commentary, "Hard-line U.S. policy tips Iran toward belligerence" is so misleading that it deserves an immediate reply.
The Iranian government is belligerent and has been for 33 years. As someone who served in Iran during the Iranian revolution, worked on Iranian issues for 12 years in the U.S. State Department, and helped plan our initial Persian Gulf policy for the highly successful 1986-88 "Tanker Wars" in the Gulf, perhaps I can add a little balance to Nasr's perspective.
Yes, the United States and its allies have been squeezing Iran to comply with the International Atomic Energy Agency's efforts to stop Iran's nuclear research. Yes, the United States and its allies and even Russia and China (Nasr is wrong about Russia and China) have placed sanctions on Tehran, and, yes, our actions might ultimately threaten to cut Iran's oil revenue.
And finally, yes, the Iranians see U.S. policy on Iran — toughening sanctions and attacking Iran's human rights record and support for terrorism — as a threat.
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Naturally, the clerics are trying to rally their troops because they understand only too well that this threatens their hold on power. But there is no way to discourage the extremist Iranian ayatollahs by appeasement.
President Jimmy Carter tried that when he moved part of the Seventh Fleet into the Persian Gulf area in December 1979, but backed off when the Iranian revolutionary students threatened bodily harm to the hostages.
The Iranians stiffened their demands, and the hostage crisis went on for another year. We learned when the hostages were released that the Iranians were on the verge of giving them up, and, absent firmness to pursue our goals, we missed a great opportunity to get our folks back early — and wouldn't history have been different if we had.
Today's strident Iranian threats to close the Gulf of Hormuz indicate just how desperate the Iranians are. They tried that in the mid-1980s and were roundly smacked around by the combined allied navies before giving up the effort. The U.S. Navy's measured response to the current threat ("It will not be tolerated") sounds, as it should in Mark Twain's words, like "the calm confidence of a man holding four aces."
The Iranians hope they can deliver a smothering attack from PT or mosquito boats. Didn't work then, won't work now. Allied naval and air units have far more power at their disposal than they did 25 years ago and are more prepared for this kind of war. Even if Iran hit the first ship, the end score would be more like 750 to 1. The Iranian navy would be completely destroyed, as would most of its shore bases.
Other measured efforts might be employed by the allies. Selected attacks against Iran's few refineries, or the threat of them, could bring the country to a halt and might even produce counter-revolution, which would scarcely be unwelcome anywhere in the region with the possible exception of Syria.
Russia and China would stay out because they would have their minds on the future, but they would want to, and have to be, included in the rebuilding.
In the extreme case, Iran's major nuclear targets could even be destroyed or severely damaged, but I suspect long before that, the vast majority of the Iranian people would consign the ayatollahs to history as Iranian's lives become even more impossibly difficult.