Saturday, April 29, 2006

# Posted 10:55 AM by Patrick Porter  

MORE ON BOMBING: One of the presumed benefits of bombing Iranian nuclear sites, allegedly being discussed at high levels, is that it will trigger a domestic revolution, in which disillusioned masses overthrow the government.

Its still not clear that this is actually an operating assumption of the Pentagon. But regardless, the broader political and psychological effects of any airstrikes on Iran ought to be considered carefully.

For some perspective on this particular aspect of the debate, Richard Overy makes some sobering observations in his chapter on Allied strategic bombing of Germany and Japan in World War Two (promise this is my last post referring to Overy!).

The parallel is hardly exact - the bombing in World War Two was on a whole range of civilian sites. But it does throw up some subtleties about the different material and psychological effects of bombing.

Overy concedes that bombing did have a psychological impact. It did demoralise. It exhausted the working population. In one measurable example of this, and its concrete impact on the war effort, it dramatically increased absenteeism, by rates as a high as 20 to even 50%. This damaged production schedules. And those who attended work were distracted, tired and anxious. It made them doubt the possibility of victory.

But one thing it didn't do: it didn't prompt a 'tidal wave' of uprisings and resistance that could topple governments. If anything, the regular bombings reduced the horizons of targeted populations to the most basic priorities: survival and food. It dispersed and weakened potential segments of rebellion.

In other words, bombing can materially weaken a regime while strengthening its domination of a country at the same time.

On Iran, my slowly developing view remains the same: our best chance of a relatively peaceful resolution of the dangerous extremism of the Iranian government is an internal revolution.

But air strikes in anything other than a full-scale invasion will probably strengthen the regime politically by creating a national emergency which stifles and delegitimises internal opposition to it. Even in the unlikely event that bombing the scattered nuclear sites was sufficiently penetrating to 'set back' its programme, it would also 'set back' the chances of an internal political revolution.

But Oxbloggers, strategies for what we do in the meantime?
(12) opinions -- Add your opinion

you don't have to go back all the way to WW2 to prove this point. Just look at the first gulf war and Saddam. The fact that he survived the campaign only made him perceived (by arabs) as stronger.
The potential rallying effect of an attack should also be borne in mind. The political experiences of one major country in recent years have shown something about how perceptions of loyalty change when you are 'under attack' or 'at war.' Even reasonable criticism becomes unacceptable.
Patrick, love, I must have rattled you because your thinking is getting very circular. A rebellion is the best solution to Iran? And a bombing would stiffin the existing regime?

First, there is little evidence that British terror bombing and the mass killing of civilians did anything to stop the Nazi war machine. American bombs at least were were more targeted at industrial sites, but were equally useless. Why? First, they were not very accurate. Second, what killed production was not the bombing but cutting off supplies and internal transprot (not to mention the Soviet army) Third, the Nazis were quite williing to try a coup attempt to STOP the sensless destruction of Germany by Churchill. And with Japan, again different facts. The inability of the Allies to propose a peace solution which left the Emperor in place is what stiffed the resolve, not the bombing.
Anoymous number two, or are both anony mouses the same person:

I can only imagine your cherry picking of WWII history is in honour of the Cherry Blossom Festival here in Washington. Otherwise, I would suggest that your attempts to heckle Patrick would be better served by a little more research.
wow, a jar-jar comment. nice
in some respects japan, germany vs iraq, iran etc is all apples to oranges. germany and japan post war followed orders because they had lost tens of millions of people and their entire countries had been pounded into snot. there was nothing left. more importantly they knew that the allies would kill every last one of them if they did not cooperate.

palestine, iraq, iran, radical islam and all the other assorted losers in the middle east have no fear that they will all be taken out and shot. i'll guarantee you iran would not be saying a word if they actually thought something like that was possible. while our precision warfare is the most humane warfare the world has known, at extreme cost to our treasury, it does have one major drawback---the bad guys have no fear in real terms. oh, a few will disappear but the majority will remain behind.

military historians have remarked on more than one occasion--if you are going to make war, make total war. sherman's march to the sea. then the enemy lays down. using iran as an example--if you believe that they are building nukes that they will use, we should devastate the country--everything disappears along with about 15% of the population. i'll guarantee you every other islamic country would fall right in line. radical islam would cease to exist.

now of course we are not going to do that, but we did--in world war II. that's why we cannot compare them in any way.
I don't basically think there IS an option. Western policymakers should either act with full force and resolution, or not at all. The great weakness of modern democratic politics in Western societies is that when a 'problem' emerges, democratic dynamics
mean that the political class cannot resist the urge to do 'something'. Usually this 'something' will make the problem much worse.
The proposed attack on Iranian nuclear sites is completely different from the WW II-era mass bombing. WW II bombing on the Douhet theory targetted the whole country, with the object of causing pain or suffering to the populace, so they would depose the government and surrender. Or alternatively, it was to cause such damage to industry, transport, and utilities that the organized life of the country would collapse, and it could pose no effective resistance to invasion.

The anti-regime rationale for bombing Iran is to destroy targets associated solely with the power and prestige of the regime, which is already broadly unpopular. In theory, this humiliation could cut off the remaining support for the regime. Then the already-present opposition would remove the regime.

IOW, the object is not to drive Iranians against their government, or break the Iranian state by breaking the whole country, but to break one key prop in a tottering structure.

Personally I don't see it. But it's wholly different process from the Douhet theory.

Thank you, well said.

It's too bad the Brits here are so anti-American that they won't see that a limited strike again Iranian nuclear facilities would work and delay the program by several more years. Other tactical incursions might also help. I suppose it's our fault that the Bush folks made anti-American behavior popular, but there is always that nasty streak just behind the pink little skins.
dear Anon,

If by referring to 'Brits' you are referring to the opinions on my post, I'm not British, and am decidedly not anti-American. I just don't think it will work.

Sounds like Patrick conflated two issues: One is the mass bombing in WW II which dispersed the potential for revolt and shortened the horizons of the population. The other is to presume that will be the effect of strikes on certain facilities. This will not put the population in the situation of Germany or Japan during the bombing.
It does run the risk of strengthening nationalism as opposed to an interest in pitching the mad mullahs. But that is not the same thing.
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