Saturday, August 25, 2012

Space Cadets

Or maybe I should have said “cavemen in outer space.” The Iranian government has announced that its Imam Khomeini Spaceport will be operational by spring of 2013. Missiles for peace and exploration are the focal point. Nothing offensive, of course. Just science for the advancement of mankind. Iran says its goal is to launch manned space flight by 2020, and a manned moon landing by 2025.

I'm reminded of Wernher von Braun's book I Aim For The Stars. Shortly after its publication, comedian Mort Sahl said it should have a subtitle: “But Sometimes I Hit London.” In this case, we could add “sometimes we hit Tel Aviv.” It's a little hard to believe that Iran has peaceful intentions, though the arrogance of the whole program has a small ring of truth. Planting the Iranian flag on the moon would be one helluva big deal.

So far, the Iranian space program has been fairly successful. It has launched a communications satellite. It has sent rats and turtles into space. Unfortunately, the monkey they tried to launch didn't make it. How much more it will be able to accomplish within the time frames it has set itself remains to be seen. The step from sending rats and turtles into space and sending live human beings into space and bringing them back safely is a very large one, even if the program weren't facing huge opposition from the outside.

Unfettered by internal restraints or external sanctions, China has experienced setback after setback in its space program. At the same time, Iran is hampered by moderately effective Western sanctions and opposition to its nuclear program. Before Iran can aim for the stars and “accidentally” hit Tel Aviv, it faces the very likely possibility that Israel will strike at both Iran's nuclear facilities and its missile launch sites.

As recently as this past week, Iran has reaffirmed its position that Israel must be wiped off the face of the map. It is unlikely that Iran would carry out that threat by flying Sopwith Camels over Israel and dropping bombs by hand. The Iranian air force is at best pathetic in comparison to the Israeli air force. But missiles, ah, missiles. Even with the best technology available, short range and intermediate range ballistic missiles are hard to stop once they've been launched. The difference between a missile launching men into space and a missile launching nuclear weapons at a nearby target is minimal.

Even the United States has to take notice of the fact that a missile which can launch men into space has intercontinental capabilities as well. New York, DC, and Los Angeles may be safe now, but for how much longer? During the days of the Cold War, America and the Soviet Union raced into space for national honor and scientific achievement, but were also honing their military capabilities. Still, even the hardliners in the Kremlin weren't suicidal, and mutually-assured destruction (MAD) kept both sides from thinking the unthinkable.

The same is not true of national leaders who believe that to die in the cause of jihad is an automatic entry into paradise, complete with seventy-two virgins awaiting their arrival. Vile, but not crazy described the Kremlin hardliners. Vile and crazy describes the Teheran hardliners. The Iranian people may not be in sync with the leadership on self-immolation, but the ayatollahs look at them as collateral damage.

So far, Iran's missile program has proceeded more successfully and more quickly than that of its Asian counterpart, North Korea. China is highly suspicious of North Korean missile capabilities, but both China and Russia have been exporting missile technology to Iran, in spite of and in defiance of international sanctions. It isn't just Israel and the United States who are leery of Iran's advancement in the missile field. Britain’s Foreign Office said the [most recent Iranian] launch underscored “our serious concerns about Iran’s intentions” and “sends the wrong signal to the international community which has already passed five successive UN Security Council resolutions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program.” Of course, the UN is big on resolutions and nasty notes to crazy tyrants, but lagging seriously in actual action.

So someday soon, somebody is going to decide that Iran's space program is really an earth program and will take action against it. If Iran can't be persuaded to abandon its missile and nuclear programs, the result is not going to be pretty, nor is the outcome certain.


28 comments:

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

“cavemen in outer space.” That reminds me of the fake movie trailer for Jews in Space. I first saw it at the end of Mel Brooks' History of The World. Could it be that the Iranians got a hold of that trailer and are worried now? This really is the first time I had ever heard that Iran is interested in space.

El Gordo said...

The whole world already knows what the Iranians are doing. Who is that somebody who will take action? 10 or 20 years ago the use of the word would have been rhetorical, meaning the US. Today I fear Israel is alone and the knowledge will force them to act alone.

K said...

Actually, the missile program can be considered a "good sign" in some respects. It's a more stable strategy than say, smuggling nukes into US cities - something which IMO is not as difficult as producing a bomb.

I point out as historical precedent Communist China in the 60s. They were in the process of insanely murdering tens of millions of their own people while also developing the bomb. The Soviet Union strongly considered a preemptive strike on the Chinese nuclear facilities, but were warned off by the US. Eventually, a strategy of containment won for both the USSR and China.

While the Iranian leadership may be totalitarian goons, I don't think they have reached the Communist Chinese level of insanity during Mao. At the time the Chinese Communists themselves broadcast their eagerness for a nuclear confrontation - knowing that if we killed 500 million Chinese, they would still out number us.




El Gordo said...

"Actually, the missile program can be considered a "good sign" in some respects. It's a more stable strategy than say, smuggling nukes into US cities - something which IMO is not as difficult as producing a bomb."

Come on, be creative. The Chinese had nothing but nukes and people. If the Chinese had had the ability to choke off one of the world´s main oil supply routes, they would have used it. Both Russia and Iran benefit from skyrocketing oil prices (and so would Barack because he could blame foreign turmoil).

Missiles would be good for making threats that would send oil prices up. But they would also be good for holding the rest of the world hostage (you could release them on Saudi oil terminals as well as Munich or Mumbay) after you committed terrorist acts, nuclear or not, against anyone you chose.

Patriot said...

LawHawk.......I believe the only way this will be resolved is when the Iranian people rise up against their crazed overlords and instill a pro-western form of government. The west had our chance in 2009 but Obama would not support the "people" of Iran and they were crushed.

I, like many Americans, know some Iranians that fled the regime in the late 70's early 80's and these are good people. If they are at all representative of the great majority of Iranians, then it will be just a matter of time before the above happens.

A strong, pro-west Iran would be a significantly stabilizing influence, not only in the region but globally. Let's pray that a Romney administration will do everything in it's power to support the Iranian people against their religious oppressors.

BevfromNYC said...

El Gordo - Israel WILL be alone. But like when they bombed the nuclear plant in Iraq in 1980 everyone will condemn them opening a vehemently for while and then be thankful afterward that Israel had the guts to do what others would not. They seem to be the adult country in a room full of adolescent ditherers. But then they are also the only country that gets to be openly threatened with total annihilation with absolutely no comment from the UN or the US or any other country. So I guess they must be the adults.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: They're space cases, so why shouldn't they be interested in space?

LawHawkRFD said...

El Gordo: If Israel acts alone, which seems likely, the US administration will have to provide support of some sort or face a very angry American public. If it occurs before the end of this administration, the support will be all verbal with not much else. But even Obama can't stand completely idly by and allow our only ally in the Middle East to go it entirely alone.

LawHawkRFD said...

K: The communist Chinese were rabid ideologues, but not that much different from their colleagues in the Kremlin. They didn't mind killing, but they weren't much on dying themselves. The Iranian leadership is a different animal, motivated not only by ideology, but by fanatic religious zeal. Communists believed when they were dead, they were dead. Crazed religious zealots like the ayatollahs and Ahmadinejad believe that when they die in the holy cause of jihad, they have an express ticket to paradise. Mutually-assured destruction doesn't hold the terror for them that it did for the communist leadership. 500 million dead Chinese didn't bother the Chinese leadership, as long as they could guarantee that they weren't among the 500 million. They knew there was no such guarantee in a nuclear exchange.

LawHawkRFD said...

El Gordo: I'm in substantial agreement on your points. The Iranians really would like to be the first Islamic nation in outer space to enhance their image. Fair enough. But if that's their only goal with the missile space program, I'm the king of Siam.

LawHawkRFD said...

Patriot: There is a substantial Iranian expatriate community in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I knew many of them. One of my closest associates was from a family in which the father stayed behind but sent the rest of the family to the US for safety after the overthrow of the Shah. She would visit him from time-to-time, and always came back sputtering about having to wear those awful outfits while in Iran. But she also came back with uplifting stories about the revolutionary sentiments among the younger Iranians. We must encourage that, and use every means at our disposal to assist the freedom movement. It is the only way that Iran can be transformed without serious armed conflict.

LawHawkRFD said...

Bev: That's a good way of looking at it. My worry for Israel is that the situation in the Middle East has changed drastically. In 1980, Iran and Iraq had just gone to war with each other. Egypt was still basking in the glow of the Camp David Accords. Lebanon was divided. Syria was too busy harassing its neighbors to be bothered with more than a token slap at Israel, and Iraq, Syria and Egypt all had strong-man military governments which were more secular than Islamist. None of that is true today. Even Iran and Iraq have temporarily set aside their Sunni-Shiite differences in the name of a united holy jihad. Islamic jihad is now more of a danger to Israel and the West than at any time in the past. Our failure to make it clear that we will not allow Israel to be destroyed emboldens the jihadists.

AndrewPrice said...

Yeah, good luck. This stuff is a lot harder than it looks and few countries have pulled it off.

T-Rav said...

Frankly, I'm surprised Israel hasn't made any moves against Iran before now. I don't know how much I trust the Iranian technological capabilities--look how North Korea's attempt turned out--but the saber-rattling, aggressive behavior from Ahmanutjob and his coterie make it a high-risk situation. Maybe Netanyahu's trying to wait and see how the election turns out here.

K said...

El Gordo:

The Chinese had nothing but nukes and people.

The Chinese had copies of the Russian "Badger" bomber which were to be flown on "one way" missions. At the time it was also anticipated that the Chinese would put nukes in disguised cargo ships to take out our harbors. Nuclear bomber suicide bombing runs were the only strategy available to both the Russians and Chinese before the "Bear" and missiles went online and nobody thought the bombers wouldn't complete their mission because the pilots were afraid to die. This kind of conditioning required fanaticism be maintained in the ranks of the "faithful". When missiles went online, not so much.

After nearly 10 years of war, I think we should be a bit more circumspect when it comes to starting another one right now. Reagan was politically aggressive against the Soviets, but he was a miser when it came to deploying his forces in the world - allowing the country to recharge from Vietnam.

Hawk: Perhaps you don't remember, but the 50s Soviet and 60s Chicoms were just as bellicose and just as rabidly ideological as the Iranian leadership. Communism is as much a religion as Islam. You just pray to the "great leader" instead of Allah. And I think you would be surprised just how much those religious fanatics at the top would rather keep their perks than die from radiation sickness.

ElGordo said...

LawHawk, I honestly believe that Obama´s first instinct wold be to cut Israel off, deny them any help at all. He can´t do that before the election. If he won the election, he may find it convenient to be embroiled in a conflict he can blame on others. It would be a crisis he can use. Something to keep the right occupied while he focuses on domestic change. It is hard to imagine, but I am convinced that he thinks in these terms.

Logic suggests that if Israel cannot knock out the Iranian nuclear programm all by itself, and cannot hope to get help, the best option for their survival would be a nuclear first strike. Israel will probably not do that. But it is where the current course leads. There are no "unthinkables" when survival is at stake.

T-Rav said...

K, I for one don't think any of us would be surprised by that.

LawHawkRFD said...

Andrew: Yes, that's true. Which is another reason for everyone to be suspicious of the true underlying purposes of the alleged space program.

LawHawkRFD said...

K: You're making an assumption that I simply can't accept. I remember the 50s and 60s very well (and not from reading about them). I don't remember a single Chicom leader talking about paradise or seventy-two virgins if he was suddenly nuked into nonexistence on earth. It is an over-simplification to compare rabid communist ideology with Islamist religious zealotry. Communism has, perhaps too often, been described as a secular religion. But it is not a religion, and Islam is. Communists don't believe in an afterlife, and particularly an afterlife which involves rewards for having died in the war for communism.

The feelings of the secular devotee toward his leaders is a secondary issue. It's what the leaders in charge of the weaponry believe that is ultimately important. Although there may be some of the Iranian religious leaders who have second-thoughts about causing their own deaths, most are religious fanatics who truly believe they are guaranteed a very special spot in paradise even if they destroy the entire world and cause their own painful deaths.

LawHawkRFD said...

El Gordo: That seems reasonable, and a very likely scenario. There are a great many unknowns involved in this crisis.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: I agree that even among zealots, there are those with doubts or ulterior motives. But I do have to point out that true believers will go the whole way in support of their beliefs. In an entirely different context, the history of the Christian martyrs proves that those deeply committed to their religion are willing to risk painful deaths in the name of their God. We would be foolish to assume that the Islamist rulers are any less dedicated to their religion. Evil they may be, but that doesn't automatically mean they don't truly believe what they say they believe.

LawHawkRFD said...

T-Rav: I neglected to respond to your first comment. I do think that waiting for our next election may be part of Netanyahu's calculus, but I'm not sure it's the determining factor.

LawHawkRFD said...

Speaking of space programs and the Cold War, I just heard that Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has died of cardiac complications. He was 82.

Joel Farnham said...

LawHawk,

I just saw that about Neil Armstrong. Do you remember that year he walked on the moon? I do. I also remember how cool it was about Space. And I think it was about a year or two later, I started to hear the money spent on the Space Race could be better spent on the poor. If we knew then what we know now, I would have argued that not enough money was spent on the Space Race and too much was spent on the poor.

LawHawkRFD said...

Joel: I certainly do remember it. I was working in the field that day, but I heard the broadcast on radio even if I didn't get to see it on TV until later.

I also agree that the funds spent on the space program versus those spent on the poor have been out-of-whack. Particularly now that the welfare rolls are being secured by executive order and the space program is being starved to death.

rlaWTX said...

When I was in Idaho, I thrilled my cousin (80+yo) by reading his Weekly Standard that came in the mail (partly because I was without internet and needed my political fix and partly because it was interesting). Anyway, they had an interesting article about Iran and the dimbulbs in charge - one of their points was that this round of Iran-runners are not only less worldly and more insular, but they are also killing/running off the moderates and attracting/creating a new class of even more insular, unworldly Stepford Iran-runners... It's not going to get better.

LawHawkRFD said...

rlaWTX: That sounds about right.

LawHawkRFD said...

Here's a link to an August 30 article by Charles Krauthammer. And to be upfront about it, I'm linking to it because I agree with it: The "Deterrence Works" Fantasy.

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