What the heck are Outposts of Tyranny? (Part II)

Don’t Panic!... Your war questions answered

Where was I? Oh, yeah.

In honor of the United States “turning the corner” in Iraq for the approximately 37th time (we went in for WMD stockpiles, but all we’ve found so far is an endless series of corners), I wrote last week about some of the other spots on Earth whose leaders might want to sleep with one eye open during Bush’s second term. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice referred to these countries as “Outposts of Tyranny.” You may recall that I relayed some information about the countries, made some jokes, and predicted that four of the six Outposts of Tyranny, (Cuba, Burma, Zimbabwe and Belarus) are unlikely to find themselves on the receiving end of a precision-guided pummeling anytime soon.

The two Outposts more likely to find themselves on the receiving end of some American whoop-ass are two “Axis of Evil” alumni, Iran and North Korea. Of the six so-called Outposts, those two pose the most imminent threat to U.S. security. Iran is actually the top state sponsor of terrorism in the world (so says the State Department and Sports Illustrated). Iran and North Korea also just happen to have large contingents of U.S. forces based at their doorsteps. With forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, Turkey, a few Gulf states, and the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, Iran is completely surrounded by U.S. forces. North Korea has an ally on its Northern border (that’d be China), but across its southern border sits a massive and superbly equipped South Korean force alongside a smaller (and nuclear-equipped) American force. North Korea’s southern border is the most densely militarized international border on Earth. It’s called the Demilitarized Zone.

By one account, military action against Iran has already begun. Last month in The New Yorker, Seymour Hersh wrote that the U.S. military has been operating inside Iran since last summer, if not earlier. The mission’s goal is to scout the exact locations and configurations of several dozen chemical, biological and, gulp, nuclear weapons-related sites. To put it simply, in the event that we decide to attack the sites with air raids and Special Forces, we gotta know where they are and what they consist of.

Surprise, surprise, Pakistan is actually cooperating with us on the mission. Pakistan’s top nuclear scientist, A.Q. Khan, sold Iran much of the equipment and know-how underpinning its nuclear program. In exchange for us not demanding that Khan be put on trial for handing nuclear weapons to two of the nastiest regimes on Earth, Pakistan is telling us about sites in eastern Iran accessible to U.S. commando teams entering from Afghanistan.

By the way, all of this is top secret, so please don’t tell anyone.

In the meantime, a war of words with Iran is heating up. While touring Europe, Secretary of State Rice said that an attack on Iran is “not on the agenda at this point.” It was a masterful example of what diplomacy lovers call strategic ambiguity. It’s a phrase that sounds nonthreatening but is in fact very threatening because it’s so open-ended. “Not on the agenda at this point” also means, “Could be on the agenda if you keep pushing us, Iran.”

Clever saber-rattling is required if we’re going to talk Iran into giving up its nukes program. Remember those inspectors who were rummaging through Iraq up until a few days before we invaded? Those inspectors wouldn’t have even gotten to the luggage carousel at the Baghdad airport if not for the threat posed by the American, British and, uh, Micronesian Coalition forces that were gathering around Iraq’s borders. Now it looks as if we’re going to use our military to pressure Iran into a diplomatic solution (meaning they give up nukes in exchange for cash or a pledge not to attack them, or both). Or, we’ll just attack them.

As for North Korea, it seems unlikely that we will strike them pre-emptively to take out their nukes (which, by the way, they got from Pakistan, but that’s another column). In a fit of insanity, it’s entirely possible to imagine the dear North Korea leader Kim Jong-il lobbing a missile at Japan, to which we’d have to respond. That likelihood would be reduced somewhat if we got serious about negotiating with North Korea, but for some reason that still hasn’t happened.