May 14, 2006

What To Do About Iran?

We find ourselves locked in something of a deadlock with Iran. We say a nuclear Iran is unacceptable. We push some form of punitive action if Iran continues to balk. In turn, Iran, seeing us bogged down in Iraq, seems keen on calling our bluff. She is marching forward with her nuclear program. Meantime, there is talk of a cohesive UNSC sanctions regime if Iran continues to ignore warnings to cease and desist. But who knows if the Russians and Chinese will even abstain, let alone support such sanctions. So rhetoric looks to heat up, Bolton will run around Turtle Bay for 6-12 months of resolution-wielding diplomacy, and meantime the Iranian nuclear program marches on. Even if sanctions happen, of course, the Iranians might then become further radicalized and keen on getting nuclear weapons. Then what? The Krauthammer non-'defeatist' wing (perched cozily in the comfort of his Fox studio digs Kraut recently lugubriously opined that those against military action in Iran were but weak-kneed "defeatists") will urge us to summon up the requisite courage, this being 1938 and all, for a war, or at least a concerted bombing campaign (to the extent these end up being different propositions). But the results would be, at best, chaotic, highly unpredictable and very likely damaging to U.S. interests.

Yes, of course, we can bomb the hell out of Iranian nuclear installations. But there are a few issues with this 'strategy', alas. We aren't sure we know where all the nuclear installations are, that is, unless 'Dusty' Foggo or some such notable got all the locations down pat sometime between the Royal Flushes, Johnnie Blacks and Dominicans (cigars, of course, not gals...) at the Watergate. There will be too (cue furrowed brow and faux expressions of regret) 'collateral damage'. Even if, you know, 'we don't do body counts,' people in the region who aren't lucky enough to be taking in the Big Show from their couches in stolid New Hampshire will get a tad malcontent at the reality of the third war, in almost as many years, consuming their 'region'. And then, there's the reality that, even if we hit the jackpot, and decimate every last nuclear installation in Iran (highly unlikely) you can bet your bottom dollar the vast majority of the Iranian public will be united in demanding their government (whether a Khatami or Ahmadi-Nejad type) do its damn utmost to reconstitute the program--full speed ahead, and damn the torpedoes (or Tomahawks)! It will become the issue determining Iranian pride and national dignity in the post-bombing era. Are we going to bomb perenially, every two years or so, for decades?

There are also the possible Iranian responses. Anthony Cordesman spelled a few of them out recently, and they include (his language, with slight B.D tweaks): 1) Iranian retaliation against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan using Shahab-3 missiles armed with CBR warheads; 2) using proxy groups including al-Zarqawi and Sadr in Iraq to intensify the insurgency and escalate the attacks against US forces and Iraqi Security Forces; 3) turning the Shi’ite majority in Iraq against the US presence and demand US forces to leave; 4) attacking the US homeland with suicide bombs by proxy groups or deliver CBR weapons to al-Qa’ida to use against the US; 5) using its asymmetric capabilities to attacks US interests in the region including soft targets: e.g. embassies, commercial centers, and American citizens; 6) attacking US naval forces stationed in the Gulf with anti-ship missiles, asymmetric warfare, and mines; 7) attacking Israel with missile attacks possibly with CBR warheads; 8) retaliating against energy targets in the Gulf and temporarily shut off the flow of oil from the Strait of Hormuz; and 9) stopping all of its oil and gas shipments to increase the price of oil, inflict damage on the global and US economies.

Yes, we can game plan for some of these contigencies and take preventative action. But, lest we forget, we have a gross incompetent at the helm of the Defense Department, so chances are he'll make a mockery of a good deal of the war-planning. I don't say that cheaply for kicks. I say it because, you know, it's pretty much true. Frankly, as Tom Friedman recently queried, what's worse? An Iran with nukes, or Inglorious Ruin Rummy's Great Persian Campaign? A close call, eh? Smart money is with the latter, I'd think, given the collossal blunders Rummy has presided over in Mesopotamia, plain to all observers save, oh I don't know, Larry di Rita, Hindrocket, Charles 'Pali Towelheads Smell But Are Fed Well' Johnson and, lest we forget, The Decider himself (even Fred Barnes has gotten on the clue train, at this stage...).

So, what to do, you ask? Before we turn to going-forward prescriptions, we should also dispense with the Michael Ledeen school that believes revolution is nigh in the streets of Iran. To quote from an excellent (and still relevant) 2004 CFR Report:

Despite...widespread alienation from the prevailing political order, Iran does not appear to be in a prerevolutionary situation. Iranians are protesting the political system by witholding their participation from any form of organized politics, including involvement with the opposition. People are frustrated with the Islamic Republic, but they have also demonstrated that they are not prepared to take that frustration to the streets. This disengagement from politics is a direct product of Iran's recent history. Having endured the dissapointment of their last democratic experiment gone awry, Iranians are weary of political turmoil and skeptical that they can positively change their political circumstances through mass mobilization.

And, unfortunately, the same report goes on to report: "no organization or potential leader has emerged with the apparent discipline or stamina to sustain a major confrontation with the government's conservative forces." Yes, yes, I know. If we can only let Elizabeth Cheney turn on the $$ taps (with the predictable gang in DC doubtless getting palsy-walsy with the next Persian Ahmad!), pump USD 70MM in the polity, we might even drop a cutesy Los Angeleno into the Azeri parts of the country and establish a safe-haven or something. But you know what? I saw that movie, it played next door in fact, and I'm not gonna watch it again. Repeat after me: no effing way! No sale you discredited dreamers, out ready so soon for another delusional jolly. Basta!

Look, the AEI gaggles think this is Warsaw, 1980, Solidarity all over again. It ain't. As the above quoted report points out:

Flawed assumptions about Iran's murky internal situation have weakened the effectiveness of U.S. policy toward the country in recent years. Persuaded that revolutionary change was imminent in Iran, the administration sought to influence Iran's internal order, relying on the model of the East European transition from communism. However, the neat totalitarian dichotomy between the regime and the people does not exist in the Islamic Republic, and, as a result, frequent, vocal appeals to the "Iranian people" only strengthened the cause of clerical reactionaries and left regime opponents vulnerable to charges of being Washington's "fifth column".

So B.D., you snarky Foggy Bottom appeasement-minded buffoon (the typical reaction in comments from the Great Persian Interventionist School, who often don't know squat about the region...). You condescend. You wail. You bitch. What would you do about Iran? Well, I'd start by putting down the Kool-Aid, by recognizing all the limitations I sketch out above. I'd start by trying to apply lessons learned from Iraq. I'd start by not talking about idiotic propositions like we're training the Iraqi Army so they can go into Iran on our behalf with a few Special Forces embeds (yes, a prominent right-wing blogger recently suggested precisely just such an absurdity). In short, I'd get real.

Getting real means talking with the Iranians. To prepare for such discussions, we need to approach the Euro-3. We need to say, listen, we'll open up a U.S.-Iranian bilateral track, in tandem with the multilateral one, but if it fails, you (yes even Dominique de Villepin's government and such camembert-munching appeasers) have to promise you'll come along for sanctions if we fail in extracting concessions from the Iranians after pursuing a good faith dialogue with them. We need to have multi-party talks, but with bilateral break-outs. The multilateral talks should continue to focus on the nuclear issue, as there is a significant infrastructure in place already. The bilaterals should focus on key issues of mutual U.S.-Iranian concern, to include:

1) Iraq--Yes, we have mutual interests here. Unlike blogospheric ignorants chiming on cluelessly, who finger Iran as culpable for the shrine bombing (Because They Want To Stoke Total Chaos in Iraq (TM)), the reality is it is not in the Iranian interest for total chaos to engulf Iraq. Iranians mostly want a unitary Iraq where the Shi'a basically have the run of the mill. Yes, 'tis true, some Iranian elements would rather have a Shi'a super-state among eight or so provinces in the south. But such sectarian division could cause trouble on the Iranian side of the border, and most experts believe the Iranians want, all told, a unitary state. This better allows a Shi'a dominated Iraq to bestride the region as per the so-called Shi'a crescent thesis--penetrating into Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria.

Now, do the Iranians wants to get all cuddly with the U.S. on the Iraq dossier? Well of course not. They are happy everytime a couple G.I.s get killed, and they are happy when Kurdish and Shi'a Iraq Army forces fight each other as over the weekend. Why? Because it means the U.S. is stuck in the Big Sandy, and needs to keep 130,000 or so (watch Rove and gang urge that said number get south of 100,000 pre-November, a dumb, dumb, dumb and short-sighted move) troops in theater and away from the next adventure. But there is much to talk about here given that, at the very least, both the US and Iran don't want Iraq to disintegrate in toto. Much like Iran played a sometime helpful role in Afghanistan (mostly in her national interest to facilitate consolidating control in and around Herat), a similar dialogue should be taking place on Iraq.

2) Hezbollah (& the Middle East Peace Process)--As Richard Armitage has famously declared, we owe a "blood debt" to Hezbollah. They killed over 200 of our finest Marines in Lebanon in 1984. They've caused much bloodshed elsewhere besides (the despicable attack on Jewish targets in Argentina comes to mind). But, like it or not, Hezbollah has also become part of political life in Lebanon, and is not but a surrogate of the Iranians. This is particularly true as part of Lebanon is still occupied by the Israelis (the Shebaa Farms), and Hezbollah derives legitimacy among many Lebanese as it is seen as one of the key parties that forced the Israelis to withdraw from the rest of the country after the ill fated 1982 invasion. Query: if there were some progress on this front, is it possible to see Iran putting pressure on Hezbollah to wind-down its paramilitary activities? Answer: Yes.

Further, if more dramatic progress was made on the Arab-Israeli peace process front, if Syria and Egypt and Lebanon were ulimately willing to play ball, and endorse a global settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict that returned to the Palestinians the lion's share of the West Bank, to the Syrians the Golan Heights, and to the Lebanese Shebaa Farms, what standing would the Iranians have to play pre-'67 irredentists? Little, if any. They'd likely sign-on to such a regional deal. By talking, we can start to make progress, even if only incremental steps. For instance, would getting the Israelis out of Shebaa better allow the Iranians to ensure no more rockets get to southern Lebanon via Damascus and the Bekaa Valley? Could we potentially then have a better chance of getting them to hand-over some of the worst Hezbollah thugs like Imad Mughniyeh? The point is, we don't know, unless we start talking some. Why can't we try to move forward dialogue on some of the fronts I sketch out above, in the context of bilateral discussions with the Iranians, accompanied by a regional initiative aimed at revitalizing discussions among Egyptian intelligence, selected Hamas and Fatah players, and Quartet representatives?

3) Al-Qaeda (and Afghanistan): Other estimable personages follow the question of what al-Qaeda figures are being harbored by Iran closer than I do. What's clear is that Iran is providing safe harbor to at least some al-Qaeda figures, and not just your latest Zarqawi "lieutenant" or similar low-level operative declared nabbed by Centcom and then passed on to Pentagon milbloggers who dutifully and breathlessly report to us each time the latest Emir of Mosul is turned up. But I'm pretty sure that good faith U.S. diplomacy on this front would yield dividends. The Iranians don't, really, care too much for Sunni al-Qaeda radicals. They likely view them as bargaining chips, of sorts, perhaps to be exchanged for some Mojahideen-e-Khalq types. I'm not necessarily advocating such a trade, but if we engaged in a real dialogue with the Iranians on al-Qaeda issues, we might end up getting our hands on more of UBL's gang, not to mention potentially make progress in areas of common interest in Afghanistan.

So, 1-3 above are meant as rough sketch towards a Chuck Hagel style "package of issues" that we could broach bilaterally with the Iranians, with the nuclear track still being pursued multilaterally via the IAEA, the Euro-3, as well as (per my proposal) ourselves, the Russians and the Chinese. What difference does this all make, save the obvious that jaw jaw is better than war war, at least when at all possible? Well, if the Iranians know the Europeans have really signed on to real sanctions if good faith bilaterals fail, they will be better incentivized to really talk and deal. And by not trying utopically for some "Grand Bargain", on the one hand, or merely piece-meal progress on too strictly demarcated issues on the other (just Zalmay and Iraq, say), we offer room and a venue for realistic forward movement on a package of issues that are more often than not inter-linked in practice and so better addressed together.

There is no need, as I said, for Foggy Bottom scriveners to busily go about drafting some chimerical roadmap to a Grand Bargain. There is a need to start talking, but within the framework of the ongoing multilateral process (on the nuclear issue), and a new bilateral channel (on Iraq, Afghanistan, Hezbollah, the Middle East Peace Process, al-Qaeda). Aside from the stick of real sanctions that the Euros will have signed onto in return for us opening up a bilateral channel, we should proffer commercial carrots such as permitting discussions re: executory contracts that would allow U.S. businesses to negotiate with Iranian counterparts--but importantly with a delay in the actual execution of the contracts if overall bilateral and multilateral talks didn't progress far enough. As the CFR report states: "...the return of U.S. businesses to Tehran could help undermine the clerics' monopoly on power by strengthening the nonstate sector, improving the plight of Iran's beleaguered middle class, and offering new opportunities to transmit American values."

So, here's a strategy. Does this make me a defeatist and a pie-in-the-sky striped pants wearing cocktail-swiller who is obsessed with talking and process, just for talking and processes sake? Or would attempting a strategic dialogue, as per my rudimentary sketch above, perhaps have a better chance of moving the ball forward, than empty talk of air strikes (especially as Iraq remains immensely problematic, and the Iranians could turn on a re-invigorated Shi'a insurgency like a light switch if so inclined)? Serious people have signed on to much of what I write above (at least the portions gleened from the CFR report). Macho folk like Michael Rubin at AEI to the contrary, who poo-poo such musings as but fodder for appeasers in the pages of the Wall Street Journal (in a highly disingenuous op-ed, more on that perhaps another day), neglect to mention people like Frank Carlucci, Mort Zuckerman, Steve Solarz and Bob Gates signed on to these findings. What makes them so naive and silly, and Ledeen, Rubin, and Mark Steyn so wise and wordly? Seriously, what? It's true, Carlucci signed on with a reservation, saying he agreed with the "main thrust" of the CFR report but believed "overtures" could be "interpreted as a sign of weakness and be rebuffed". But we just got an 18 page letter from Ahmadi-Nejad, in a very public overture indeed. We wouldn't be the limp-wristed first-mover here. Let's do something with it, something more than just run around Turtle Bay like bull-headed mustachioed Pavlovians for another 12 months, or contribute to the veritable cottage industry of Iran op-eds advocating regime change willy-nilly, with little thought to the actual conditions on the ground in Iran and the region generally.

Posted by Gregory at May 14, 2006 06:44 PM | TrackBack (0)
Comments

Sounds reasonable to me.

Posted by: Guy at May 15, 2006 12:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are a lot of moving pieces here, but let's try to consider them in light of the basic questions we would need to ask before starting any major negotiation.

What do we want from it? In fairness to Greg, in Iraq this is a very difficult question dependent on our knowing what the Iranians are doing there now. It may well be that not even all the people in the Iranian government know what the Iranians are doing there now, and some of what they do know they may not want to acknowledge. As to Hezbollah and the Middle East, it seems clear we ought to be pressing for Iran to discourage Hezbollah publicly and privately to abstain from terrorism. That is my idea of an objective; Greg's idea appears to have much more to do with how we deal with Palestinians and Israelis and other governments of neighboring states than with what we want from the Iranians. Al-Qaeda types held by the Iranians we would like handed over to us. Their execution by the Iranians would be an acceptable alternative.

What do we think the Iranians want? I am not sure Greg is wrong about what Tehran wants in Iraq, though I expect Iranian policy to be as much motivated by Iranian clerics' desire to promote the fortunes of those Iraqi parties they are closest to as by a vision of the kind of Iraqi state they would like to see emerge from the current turmoil. With respect to the other two categories it seems to me that what Tehran wants is to maintain the capacity to threaten, deploy and aid terrorists as a tool of its foreign policy. This is not the same as a desire to use terrorism right now, but the conceptual and practical differences between Tehran and Washington on this issue are probably just enormous.

Are we willing to break off talks if differences between us and Iranians appear irreconcilable, or is just having the negotiations our main objective? I don't think you ever enter negotiations without being prepared to break them off; I'm not sure Greg agrees with me, at least not in this case. In any event I am deeply skeptical about the currently fashionable idea that values negotiations with the Iranians as an intelligence-gathering tool.

Are prepared to demand strict reciprocity from the Iranians, or do we instead anticipate offering concessions in the hope that this will make them less insecure and hostile? I won't presume to speak for Greg, but I'm pretty sure that strict reciprocity is the way to go.

The last thing I'll say relates to all four of these questions, and is simply that I doubt the above issues can really be separated from the nuclear question. The most important thing, by far, we want from Tehran is an end to its pursuit of nuclear weapons, definite and verified. Progress on that front would make movement on the others possible -- or make the lack of movement tolerable. A united front of the United States and its European allies would have the capacity to offer Iran a much better deal for ending its nuclear program than the Europeans could by themselves. For this and other reasons I think that if we are going to talk directly with the Iranians on any subject we will have to do so on this subject as well, and in such a way as maintains our position as closer to Iran's other interlocutors than the Iranians are. This means limiting the number of negotiations to as few as two, plus the IAEA.

I doubt very much that this administration is able to conduct a policy toward Iran disciplined enough for this approach to succeed. And negotiations with Iran could well prove fruitless in any event. But as I don't think much of talking for the sake of talking -- and perhaps, of convincing ourselves that we are not being the unreasonable ones -- I am convinced that Iran's international position has significant weaknesses that the United States could exploit, and is not exploiting now.

Posted by: Zathras at May 15, 2006 01:57 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Brilliant. That's the best collection of ideas I've read on what to do about Iran. I have to say I love your description of Bolton running amok among a press gaggle serving as symbol of the current US-Iran policy: a mad walrus strutting out his latest war dance steps.

Posted by: Manfred W. at May 15, 2006 01:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In turn, Iran, seeing us bogged down in Iraq, seems keen on calling our bluff. It is marching forward with her nuclear program.

You seem to be assuming that Iran actually has a military nuclear program. Seems to me that there's probably just as much/little evidence of that as there was regarding the Iraqi program. As they say, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.

Of course, they'd be foolish not to have a program because having nukes is the only way they can stop the US from attacking them. But we really need some real evidence before we start lobbing tomahawks at them.

As for the consequences you list, I think that a CBR response is very unlikely likely for three reasons, first, they probably don't have any useful quantities; second, it doesn't really work very effectively against mechanised first world armies that have trained to operate in a CBR'd European theatre; and third, it'd be a PR disaster that'd undermine their very successful split-the-west strategy.

I think if I were Iran I'd be initially satisfied with supplying Iraqi groups with a shipping container filled with sniper rifles and body-armour piercing rounds, oh, plus a container of anti-personnel and anti-armour land mines, plus a container of shoulder launched anti-aircraft missiles (well, anti-helicopter really), and maybe some anti-tank missiles that are more effective than the RPG-7s the Iraqi's are using now.

Then I'd sit back and watch the US death toll in Iraq skyrocket. While I'm watching that, I'd be thinking about hitting US interests around the world - maybe even blow up the Saudi royal family and watch that country go anti-US and fundamentalist.

Posted by: Stephen at May 15, 2006 02:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Pretty good analysis Greg. A couple of points:

The issue of the Shebaa farms area is more complicated than you indicate and most realize. The area was historically Syrian territory, not Lebanese. In fact, Israel originally captured it during the 1967 war (which didn't involve Lebanon), and not the Lebanese invasion. Lebanon and Syria now (since the 2000 withdrawl) both claim it is Lebanese, but they still publish maps that mark it as Syrian. Israel has consitently considered it part of the Golan since they took it in 1967. Given all that, I don't see the Israeli's turning it over to Lebanon. Even the UN recognizes the area as Syrian. Neither Syria nor Lebanon have announced the official border for that area or produced paperwork indicated how and when it was transferred to Lebanon from Syria.

We also need to talk to Iran for another reason - to let them know how seriously we take this issue. It's come out from a couple of CFR reports and other sources that Iran almost completely discounts the possibility that we would attack them over this issue. This would certainly explain why our rhetoric has had no effect on them. Talk also gives us the opportunity to paint them into a political corner if we can either catch them in a blatant lie on their nuclear program, or at least allow mouthy radicals like Ajahmenidad to bury themselves in their own rhetoric.

Finally, we need to learn the biggest lesson of the Iraq war, which is know your enemy. Analysis by the Joint Forces Command after extensive interviews with most of the senior Iraqi leadership after the war demonstrates that our capability of examining the decision-making processes of closed, despotic regimes is lacking. The Iraqi Perspectives Project (IPP) report is a real eye-opener and, with the ISG reports, pretty much solves the mystery of Iraqi WMD, or lack thereof. The latest issue of Foreign Affairs has a great summary, or you can read the whole thing at: http://www.foreignaffairs.org/special/iraq/ipp.pdf

We can't make the same mistake we made with Iraq. We need to understand what motivates the Iranian regime and how it makes decisions. The Iranian government isn't on the same level as Saddam Iraq was in self-delusion and despotism, but parts of it come close. The Iranian government is factional. Direct talks allows us greater opportunity to develop relationships with some factions and use those relationships to bring change into the government.

Posted by: Andy at May 15, 2006 04:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

" all observers say"

I think you meant to write:

"all observers save"

Posted by: typo at May 15, 2006 01:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"plain to all observers say"

I think you meant:

"plain to all observers save"

Posted by: Tad Brennan at May 15, 2006 02:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

duly fixed. thx

Posted by: greg at May 15, 2006 02:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As usual, much, much to chew on here. My only real question is how badly do the Iranians really want to talk? From their point of view (and with Russia and China seemingly running interference for them at the UN) the balance of forces are heavily in their favor in the region as any agressive move we make you rightly point out could be met with a devastating response.

The Europeans? Their dependence on Middle Eastern oil would seem to make any counterthreat by the Iranians to sanctions more problematic for them in going along with us on any multi-lateral basis.

Thankfully, we have time to address these problems - that is, unless the Iranians are able to procure HEU indpendently or, as the former Pakistani chief of staff revealed this past week, if the Iranians make an offer for a ready made A-bomb. Admittedly a remote possibility but one that must be taken into account.

What I don't see in your post is an endgame. Do we talk forever? Or perhaps a better question to ask you; is the prospect of a nuclear Iran under the present leadership acceptable or unnacceptable? Is that even a question that we should be addressing at this point, given that we may have at least 5 years before we get to that point?

Posted by: Rick Moran at May 15, 2006 03:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Where did you get the idea that Iran wants a nuclear bomb? It doesn't.
Iran is the upholder of true peace and warmth unlike a few other people.
Please let us try to work together instead of spreading false rumors.

Posted by: Muslim Unity at May 15, 2006 03:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. What Zathras said. what do we do if, as is possible, Iran A. refuses point blank to discuss a total dropping of enrichment? Or to make it contingent on unreasonable concessions Or simply to drag it out? How do we insure that the negotiations are not used against us? You dont trust the CIA to find targets, or the neocons to find dissidents with real oomph, or the military to pull things off. Fine. I dont trust the striped pants boys to avoid a diplomatic disaster. It would help if they first admitted that a diplmotic disaster is possible.

2. Will talks that dont aim at a grand bargain, really effect the posture of the Europeans. We may need some talks to keep the Euros on board. Im not sure theres any benefit to going any farther than is needed to do that, and I dont know that the Euros need the initiative youre proposing to stay on board. They seem pretty fed up with the Iranians. I trust you dont think that negotiations will get Russia and China on board, do you?

3. Im not quite sure why you seem to disparge the impact of economic sanctions when discussed in isolation, but warm to them when theyre the quid pro quo for getting negotiations going. Do you believe in them or dont you?

4. Its good to include the CFR report on internal Iranian politics. Im not sure it makes sense to dispense with the knowledge at AEI, including Rubin and Ledeen.

5. Should we not also consider the impact of negotiations with the regime on the Iranian opposition?

6. Its your blog, and you may do with it what you want. But it would be far easier to read you more closely, and not just skim, as I admit ive done, if you kept to the point, and didnt sprinkle it with ad hominems and irrelevancies.

7. I very much doubt a regional deal on Israels borders is possible right now. Im also very skeptical of the wisdom of getting Iran involved in that discussion. I cant see what the wisdom is of making that the center of our Iranian policy.

Posted by: liberalhawk at May 15, 2006 04:56 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"If we can only let Elizabeth Cheney turn on the $$ taps (with the predictable gang in DC doubtless getting palsy-walsy with the next Persian Ahmad!), pump USD 70MM in the polity, we might even drop a cutesy Los Angeleno into the Azeri parts of the country and establish a safe-haven or something. But you know what? I saw that movie, it played next door in fact, and I'm not gonna watch it again."

leaving the snark aside, when exactly did we do this? We did NOT use Kurdistan as safe haven for a provisional govt. After trying to launch a coup using the Iraqi military, and failing , we decided to launch a conventional invasion instead.

Re Shabaa farms. That seems absurd to me. Israel withdrew from the entire area occupied in 1982. That didnt stop Hezbollah from attacking Israel. AFAICT shebaa farms is an excuse, a red herring. I dont think anyone in Teheran really gives a damn about Shebaa Farms, or thinks the Zionist entity is entitled to live in peace once it leaves Shebaa farms.

How about this Greg. If talking is so great, how about Iran talks with Israel about Shebaa farms?

Posted by: liberalhawk at May 15, 2006 05:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"But we just got an 18 page letter from Ahmadi-Nejad, in a very public overture indeed"

well now, THAT was a reasoned, diplomatic overture, now wasnt it?


I think the best thing we can do is press for UNSC sanctions, and keep our alliance with the EU3.

Other strategies, from floating the idea of talks with Iran, to floating the idea of military strikes, should be to support that primary strategy, and should be subordinate to it.


Posted by: liberalhawk at May 15, 2006 05:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

rather often, i must say, i think liberal hawk is purposefully being disingenuous when he reads my posts. nowhere did i say that shebaa farms is a major issue in Iran. my point was that Hezbollah derives legitimacy from the issue within Lebanon, like it or not, and whether or not it's being used as a red herring. re: his point 7, nowhere did i say a regional deal with Israel and its neighbors should be the "center of our Iran" policy. I flagged the Middle East peace process, along with Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Iraq, Afghanistan and the nuclear issue (these, btw, are without limitation) as one of they key 'issues' in any Hagel-like package, not the "center"-piece. similarly, he misses my allusion to Chalabi in Nasariya which was the clear sub-text of my (admitedly snarky) reference to establishing safe havens. the point here wasn't to make a direct analogy to our war-fighting strategy in Iraq (yes, LH, you are right, we never established a safe haven....), but rather to reference our sad tendency (that some evidently wish to repeat) of relying on dubious personages to farcically stoke regime change, characters with no grass-roots support among the constituencies we are supposedly told they are players in. LH appears to purposefully misread me elsewhere too, as is his wont, but perhaps it's the skimming that ran him aground this time...

sanctions? i think they are not going to achieve our goals in iran, ultimately, but i obviously feel using it as a stick will be more effective if the iranians believe the europeans (and perhaps others) will sign on to them, which is much likelier if we've actually tried direct negotiations w/ the iranians and got the europeans to explicitly sign on and declare to us they'll be for sanctions if we initiate a good faith direct dialogue. could LH be right? that we don't need to take this added step to really get the Euros on board fully for going foward sanctions? That they're already there, all the way. Color me skeptical, when we really start talking turkey at the UNSC, that at least one of the Germans or French or British will query if we really did all we could, and look for backtracking on pulling off cohesive UNSC sanctions.

as for his increasing mockery of BD as custodian of some conscience caucus (see Boot link up-thread), and aside from his lame attempted gotcha about whether Boot said we should pull out the 2B abruptly or not (Boot: an aid cut off would be a 'shot heard round the world'!), i wonder how the Muslim Brotherhood would improve the lot of the Egyptian polity LH...

Posted by: greg at May 15, 2006 05:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

1. What Zathras said. what do we do if, as is possible, Iran A. refuses point blank to discuss a total dropping of enrichment? Or to make it contingent on unreasonable concessions Or simply to drag it out? How do we insure that the negotiations are not used against us? You dont trust the CIA to find targets, or the neocons to find dissidents with real oomph, or the military to pull things off. Fine. I dont trust the striped pants boys to avoid a diplomatic disaster. It would help if they first admitted that a diplmotic disaster is possible.

It would also help if you explained what a diplomatic disaster would actually entail.

Other strategies, from floating the idea of talks with Iran, to floating the idea of military strikes, should be to support that primary strategy, and should be subordinate to it.

As Zathras suggested above, negotiations might make it feasible to engage in more comprehensive sanctions regime.

Posted by: Guy at May 15, 2006 06:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"rather often, i must say, i think liberal hawk is purposefully being disingenuous when he reads my posts. nowhere did i say that shebaa farms is a major issue in Iran. my point was that Hezbollah derives legitimacy from the issue within Lebanon, like it or not, and whether or not it's being used as a red herring. re: his point 7, nowhere did i say a regional deal with Israel and its neighbors should be the "center of our Iran" policy. I flagged the Middle East peace process, along with Hezbollah, al Qaeda, Iraq, Afghanistan and the nuclear issue (these, btw, are without limitation) as one of they key 'issues' in any Hagel-like package, not the "center"-piece. "

I found you unclear. Im still not sure youre right - i think Hezbollah gets its mileage with Shiites mainly from their sense of injustice with the Leb system. I see little evidence the Hezb has any support from other parts of the Leb polity, who presumably are no less concerned with Shebaa Farms.

The only thing to discuss with Iran about the ME peace process is changes to Irans role, which are a prerequisite of any US security guarantees to Iran, which may be an Iranian prereq to dropping enrichment, which is the goal here. Any ISRAELI concessions have to be negotiated with ISRAEL.

As far as I can tell the only reason for negotiating these side issues, is to create the grounds for a grand bargain, a security guarantee to Iran in excahnge for no more enrichment AND no more unacceptable Iranian behavior. Im not sure from your mass of verbiage mixed with snark, if thats your goal. Forgive me for being unsubtle in the ways of diplomacy,


"similarly, he misses my allusion to Chalabi in Nasariya which was the clear sub-text of my (admitedly snarky) reference to establishing safe havens. the point here wasn't to make a direct analogy to our war-fighting strategy in Iraq (yes, LH, you are right, we never established a safe haven....), but rather to reference our sad tendency (that some evidently wish to repeat) of relying on dubious personages to farcically stoke regime change, characters with no grass-roots support among the constituencies we are supposedly told they are players in."

The group we worked with preinvasion, was made up of the PUK, KDP, SCIRI, Dawa, Allawi, and Chalabi. Look at who leads the groups in the ELECTED Iraqi parliament now - on the one hand Sadr, and some Sunnis - on the other, Dawa, SCIRI, Allawi, PUK, and KDP. The only guy we supported who turned out to have limited support was Chalabi. But the other "supportless exiles" DID have support.

I have no doubt there will be at least ONE figure in the Iranian opposition who looks good in exile but will lack internal support. As in the case of Iraq, I doubt they all will.

Are you perhaps focusing in on Chalabi in particular cause thats a bat repeatedly used to bash neocons? The striped pants boys liked Pachachi - he didnt turn out to be so popular either.

" LH appears to purposefully misread me elsewhere too, as is his wont, but perhaps it's the skimming that ran him aground this time..."

I understand you have limited time to put into writing your blog. Well i read other blogs, and so you must assume I have less time to read your blog than you put into writing it. If youre going to write in such a fashion that I can only skim, and take things out of context, thats what I will do.


"sanctions? i think they are not going to achieve our goals in iran, ultimately, but i obviously feel using it as a stick will be more effective if the iranians believe the europeans (and perhaps others) will sign on to them, which is much likelier if we've actually tried direct negotiations w/ the iranians and got the europeans to explicitly sign on and declare to us they'll be for sanctions if we initiate a good faith direct dialogue. "

If theyre not going to achieve our goals, then Id again like to know the actual benefits of the negotiation process outlined here.


"could LH be right? that we don't need to take this added step to really get the Euros on board fully for going foward sanctions? That they're already there, all the way. Color me skeptical, when we really start talking turkey at the UNSC, that at least one of the Germans or French or British will query if we really did all we could, and look for backtracking on pulling off cohesive UNSC sanctions."

From what ive read in the MSM, the current negotiating proposals are being made by the Euros to get the Russians and Chinese on board. I dont know whats true here either.

"as for his increasing mockery of BD as custodian of some conscience caucus"

Some kind of ? Excuse me, it was YOU who in a large number of posts made reference to a conscience caucus. It really was. To the point of obnoxiousness, implying that others lacked conscience. Well Id like to know if you really meant conscience across the board, or were only using it as a weapon against the neocons who look down on the "striped pants set". I was at the Darfur rally in Washington DC. I have yet to see you take up the cause of Darfur. I am eager to see you take up a cause of conscience in international politics that is about something beyond attacking Rumsfeld (who I agree should go) and neocons.


" (see Boot link up-thread), and aside from his lame attempted gotcha about whether Boot said we should pull out the 2B abruptly or not (Boot: an aid cut off would be a 'shot heard round the world'!), i wonder how the Muslim Brotherhood would improve the lot of the Egyptian polity LH..."

Has it occured to you that Mubarak comes down harder on the secular opposition than on MB because he is aware that we tremble in our boots at MB? That hes playing us? The MB would rule. If they rule poorly they will earn the enmity of the Egyptian people. If they rule poorly and refuse a new election, they will be vulnerable. In any case it will reduce the ability of our enemies to attack in the hearts and minds game for supporting Mubarak.

Do you think denying democracy in Egypt is a necessary tradeoff for strategic reasons, and we can absorb the hearts and minds hit? Well maybe we can. That, however, is no different in form from the argument for torture.

Posted by: liberalhawk at May 15, 2006 06:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"It would also help if you explained what a diplomatic disaster would actually entail."

see Camp David and Taba, where Arafat apparently took the Barak offers as a sign of weakness, and that there MUST be more he could get by escalating, and at the same time twisted the offers for propaganda value on the Pal street (and with sympathizers abroad)

Posted by: liberalhawk at May 15, 2006 06:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

" Hezbollah (& the Middle East Peace Process)--As Richard Armitage has famously declared, we owe a "blood debt" to Hezbollah. They killed over 200 of our finest Marines in Lebanon in 1984. They've caused much bloodshed elsewhere besides (the despicable attack on Jewish targets in Argentina comes to mind). But, like it or not, Hezbollah has also become part of political life in Lebanon, and is not but a surrogate of the Iranians. "

Im dubious whether they could have surpassed Amal among the Shiites without Iranian support. In any case, whats that to do with what we do about Iranian nukes, NOW?


"This is particularly true as part of Lebanon is still occupied by the Israelis (the Shebaa Farms)"


As others have pointed out, this is under dispute.

", and Hezbollah derives legitimacy among many Lebanese as it is seen as one of the key parties that forced the Israelis to withdraw from the rest of the country after the ill fated 1982 invasion. Query: if there were some progress on this front, is it possible to see Iran putting pressure on Hezbollah to wind-down its paramilitary activities? Answer: Yes. "

Why does progress have to made on this front first? Iran is quite capable of stopping its support to Hezbollah unilaterally. Are you saying that Iran is off the hook on its support for Hezbollah until theres an agreement on Shebaa Farms?


"Further, if more dramatic progress was made on the Arab-Israeli peace process front, if Syria and Egypt and Lebanon were ulimately willing to play ball, and endorse a global settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict that returned to the Palestinians the lion's share of the West Bank, to the Syrians the Golan Heights, and to the Lebanese Shebaa Farms, what standing would the Iranians have to play pre-'67 irredentists? Little, if any."


But thats unlikely any time soon. Are you saying we should NOT talk to the Iranians till theres a Pal-Israeli deal?

" They'd likely sign-on to such a regional deal."

I doubt it.


" By talking, we can start to make progress, even if only incremental steps. "

Talking to whom? Iran? Syria? Hezbollah? Abbas?

"For instance, would getting the Israelis out of Shebaa better allow the Iranians to ensure no more rockets get to southern Lebanon via Damascus and the Bekaa Valley?"


The Israelis have had enough of failed unilateral withdrawls from Lebanon. The logical partner for Israel to discuss Shebaa with is the govt of Lebanon. Will Syria allow that?

And why is that necessary to "allow" the Iranians to ensure no more rockets get to Hezb. They can do that now, if they want to. If they want their actions to be contingent on Israeli actions, they need to negotiate - not with the US, but with Israel.

" Could we potentially then have a better chance of getting them to hand-over some of the worst Hezbollah thugs like Imad Mughniyeh? The point is, we don't know, unless we start talking some."

How do we know they will be honest in negotiations?

" Why can't we try to move forward dialogue on some of the fronts I sketch out above, in the context of bilateral discussions with the Iranians,"

Well because we're leaving out the principles, like the Israelis.

" accompanied by a regional initiative aimed at revitalizing discussions among Egyptian intelligence, selected Hamas and Fatah players, and Quartet representatives?"

Because Hamas hasnt met the de minimus requirements for this, which is a renunciation of terror, and an acceptance of the Oslo principles.


Posted by: liberalhawk at May 15, 2006 06:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

evidently Walid Jumblatt is another who knows the ME less well than the folks at CFR.


"There should be dialogue first with Syria on the issue. But the question of Hezbollah shouldn't be tied to the Shebaa Farms. They must disarm now. No more excuses. No bringing other issues, like the conflict with Israel, into Lebanon," said Jumblatt. "

Posted by: liberalhawk at May 15, 2006 07:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

i think Hezbollah gets its mileage with Shiites mainly from their sense of injustice with the Leb system. I see little evidence the Hezb has any support from other parts of the Leb polity, who presumably are no less concerned with Shebaa Farms.

I've never picked up on this -- as far as I can tell, the rest of the Lebanese mostly want the Shebaa Farms back so Hizbollah will run out of excuses for keeping up a state of belligerancy (sp?) on the southern border.

Posted by: Guy at May 15, 2006 08:12 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

liberalhawk wrote:

"It would also help if you explained what a diplomatic disaster would actually entail."

see Camp David and Taba, where Arafat apparently took the Barak offers as a sign of weakness, and that there MUST be more he could get by escalating, and at the same time twisted the offers for propaganda value on the Pal street (and with sympathizers abroad)

I'll agree that diplomacy running out the clock without an attempt at sanctions (if necessary) would be a big mistake. I don't think this is a big risk given that we have at least a few more years until Iran acquires nuclear weapons.

Posted by: Guy at May 15, 2006 08:21 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Actually one more thing to add -- Greg's attack on LH was IMHO unwarranted.

Posted by: Guy at May 15, 2006 08:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BD continues his descent into "Peace at Any Price" ideology. Iran is as clear as Nazi Germany was about intent -- they intend to get nuclear weapons and then use them either 1. Against Israel 2. Against America 3. To Become the Regional Power in the Persian Gulf.

I got two questions for BD:

1) Is there any kind of time limit? What if Iran is just trying to run out the clock? Would you ever support military action to forestall Iran nukes?

2) How could you possibly call an 18 page screed an "overture" -- especially when it has been admitted that the letter was a "Call to Islam" which is mandated before an attack according to the lovely rules of Jihad?

Oh, and BD, if you get a Grand Bargain, then there will be a diplomat with an umbrella over his head declaring that there will be Peace in Our Time because He Holds in His Hand a Piece of Paper....

Posted by: quantum at May 15, 2006 08:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It seems to me that before we can even discuss whether your approach could be a viable alternative to those who see the situation as eerily analogous to 1938, we need to understand your bottom line positions on a few points:

1. Is a nuclear-armed Iran acceptable to you? If it is, your not offering a viable alternative to those who believe that it is not. At least formally, the United States and all of the European powers have said nuclear weapons in Iranian hands are unacceptable.

Corollary: if you agree Iranian nuclear weapons are unacceptable, that means that at some point you would be willing to use military force to prevent the Iranians from obtaining and/or keeping nuclear weapons, regardless of whether the Iranians will try to retailate as you posit above or fold like a cheap suitcase.

If you're not willing to run those risks at the ultimate point, then you're willing to accept a nuclear Iran. It's really that simple. The ultimate choice is that stark, assuming the Mullahs are hellbent on obtaining nuclear weapons, which no serious person reasonably doubts.

If you're not willing to surrender, you are willing to fight. If you're not willing to fight, you are willing to surrender.

All the language about dialogue and mutual interests assumes that the Iranians may be dissuaded from a course they seem bent upon.

I think there are many people who are prepared to accept a nuclear Iran. I'm simply not interested in what they have to say about dealing with Iran, because their premises are not mine. Even if we'd both really, really like to see a resolution of the situation that ends without Iranian nuclear weapons, when it comes down to it, either you are willing to accept them -- and hence your strategy is all ultimately about getting the best terms for surrender -- or your're willing to go to war to prevent it.

So, assuming you are not on the side of those who will not fight ever, that brings me to my next question in evaluating your approaches:

2. What are the requisites for us to go to war over the Iranian nuclear program? Will it require Iranian announcement they possess nuclear weapons? Will it take Iranian use of a nuclear weapon? Short of those eventualities, what evidence will you require? Are you setting an impossibly high burden of proof? Or is it reasonable? In short, when will you fight?

The value of your suggestions for dealing with Iran depends entirely on your answers. I would love to be able to take your ideas seriously - no one in their right mind really wants war. The question here is whether the alternatives to war are better or worse than war. Churchill's famous "jaw jaw is always better than war ware" doesn't really mean one should never fight.

Since it's pretty clear the West, including the US, would rather talk than fight, then, the real question is whether the Iranians are prepared to give up their nuclear ambitions. If they're not, we're facing a war, and an unpleasant war at that. So, would it not be better to fight that war on our own terms than on the Iranian's terms? I'm just asking....

Posted by: CatoRenasci at May 15, 2006 09:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iran is as clear as Nazi Germany was about intent -- they intend to get nuclear weapons and then use them

No.

Posted by: Guy at May 15, 2006 09:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The crux of the problem is that nuclear technology is dual-use. Advanced centrifuge enrichment programs are not illegal under the NPT if they follow the IAEA rules. So I don't see how we can rightfully stop Iran from pursuing its enrichment program unless we catch them doing something blatantly bad. One weakness of the NPT is that the jump from an advanced "peaceful" nuclear program to a weapons program is relatively small. There are many countries in the world today who could build a bomb in a matter of months, if not weeks, were they so inclined, simply because they already possess the nuclear expertise and enrichment infrastructure. At the least, Iran wants to be one of those nations with a wholly "civilian" program.

Unless we have definitive evidence Iran is violating IAEA and NPT protocols in a meaningful way, then we will not get support for sanctions, much less a bombing campaign or invasion. The Iranians know this and they are using it to their advantage. It's one thing to say we'll attack Iran if they get "the bomb," but it's quite another to say we'll attack if they get the infrastructure necessary to make bomb-grade material.

The sticks only approach isn't working with Iran. Sanctions could work, but only if the whole world participates. Sanctions were effective in bringing Libya around, but it took over a decade of effective sanctions to do it. I don't think key players like China have any interest in enforcing the kinds of globabl economic sanctions against Iran that will be necessary.

So unless the Iranians do something stupid, we are faced with nothing but bad choices.

Posted by: Andy at May 15, 2006 10:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Now if I was king, and maybe it's just as well I;m not, I'd look up the other two big oil addicts, China and India, and see how they'd feel about jointly moving in and sharing the spoils. Call this hitjob something boring and repectable like the IIRA, International Iranian Resources Administration. Oil is the only reason why we're even talking about that pisshole country, and anyway, Islam is nothing but a pain in everybody's ass. We're just the first to feel it.


Posted by: Uncle Doo Doo at May 15, 2006 10:37 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Confused that I haven't read anything lately about Hezbollah rocket attacks into Northern Israel from Lebanon, I hit Google news just now. It at least seems that Hezbollah hasn't fired any rockets into Israel recently. There are a fair number of stories about rocket attacks from Gaza this month, but none about rocket attacks from Lebanon. (So it seems like rocket attacks on Israel are newsworthy - IOW, if they're reporting attacks from Gaza they'd presumably report attacks from Lebanon too.) Is this in fact a current event, or something that used to happen, and could theoretically happen again, but isn't happening now?

Posted by: Jim Henley at May 15, 2006 10:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

JH

Googling, i dont see any the last few months.

I suspect the fragility of the Syrian position in Lebanon has kept them under wraps.

They have not renounced terrorism, however.

Posted by: liberalhawk at May 15, 2006 10:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Whether Churchill said it or not, it is "far better to jaw, jaw, jaw then to war, war, war! last week, the head of Israeli Military Intelligence told the Knesset Committee on Defense that Iran would have nuclear weapons by 2010, i.e. another 3 yrs or so. That is how long we have to determine whether or not we & Israel can live with Iranians having nuclear weapons. Negotiations with Iran should not really be about trying to get Iran not to build Nukes, it should be to determine whether an understanding can be reached wtih Iran on have they would behave once they had nukes. I.E. whether or not the Iranian govt is crazy or sane according to our judgement. If they cannot be trusted with nukes, if they really do believe that the 12th Iman, the apocalypse, etec is at hand, then the current Iranian govt cannot be allowed to have nukes. One way or the other it must be prevented. My guess is we and the Israelis under cover of negotiating about whether or not Iran should have Nukes, can work out an arrangement, the rules of the road, so to speak, so that Iran can know the responsibilites that go with having nukes and can agree to abide with it

Posted by: David All at May 15, 2006 10:59 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

CatoRenasci and liberalhawk sound like the right-wing paranoids of Iran.

Why are right-wing nationalist so obsessed by divine suicide.

Posted by: NeoDude at May 16, 2006 12:01 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Iran is as clear as Nazi Germany was about intent -- they intend to get nuclear weapons and then use them either 1. Against Israel 2. Against America 3. To Become the Regional Power in the Persian Gulf.

Total nonsense. In fact, Iran has never invaded another country in recent memory. Not under the mullahs, not under the Shah, not for a long time. The one war Iran fought was against an aggressive Iraq which attacked it first.

Yes, the mullahs have been guilty of supporting Hezbollah and providing support to terrorist groups. [ But so has the US -- remember the mujahdeen ?]. They are not angels.

For all the talk among the warmongers about how this is an existential threat (to the US with 1000s of far more sophisticated nukes), the stark fact is that the mullahs have never invaded another country, show ever sign of being deterrable. WHereas -- now how many countries has the US invaded in the last 27 years, now ?

Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 12:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


What are the requisites for us to go to war over the Iranian nuclear program? Will it require Iranian announcement they possess nuclear weapons? Will it take Iranian use of a nuclear weapon? Short of those eventualities, what evidence will you require? Are you setting an impossibly high burden of proof? Or is it reasonable

Let me put it this way -- we need a hell of a lot more than Bush talking about how we cannot waif for proof since the proof may be a nuclear cloud.

Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 12:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And incidentally, Michael Ledeen is a nutjob. He's been frothing at the mouth to invade Iran for years, and his prognostications on Iran have been pathetically wrong.

Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 12:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Heeheeheeheehee.....wow, Greg, good one:

"Getting real means talking with the Iranians. To prepare for such discussions, we need to approach the Euro-3. We need to say, listen, we'll open up a U.S.-Iranian bilateral track, in tandem with the multilateral one, but if it fails, you (yes even Dominique de Villepin's government and such camembert-munching appeasers) have to promise you'll come along for sanctions if we fail in extracting concessions from the Iranians after pursuing a good faith dialogue with them."

And you're telling right-wing bloggers to GET REAL?

C'mon! And what does the U.S. do if the Euro-3 does, oh, I don't know, the exact same thing they did in the run-up to the Iraq War and run screaming for the exits while pointing the finger at the Cowboy-In-Chief?

Call their mothers and complain?

Seriously, how would you hold them to such a promise? What would the US do if they backed down?

Oh, wait, yes I know the answer to this one: We'll end up all alone and having to do what was necessary by ourselves, acting in the face of international condemnation and international law briefs against the President all while wasting a year and a half for Iran to get ready.

Look, I know you're a smart guy, but let me just ask you to come down to my level for a minute:

1) Iran is a revolutionary regime with a long history of extra-terratorial terrorist activity;

2) Iran's formal policy, announced frequently, is that the United States must be destroyed;

3) Iran has a long, well-documented history of ignoring the most basic rules of diplomacy and international law; and

4) They are about to develop nukes.

Gee. Tough one.

Posted by: NewSisyphus at May 16, 2006 12:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

neodude wrote: CatoRenasci and liberalhawk sound like the right-wing paranoids of Iran.

Arguments ad hominem do not advance the debate.


erg,

It's all very well to say we need a hell of a lot more than Bush talking about how we cannot waif for proof since the proof may be a nuclear cloud, but my question are serious: what exactly would it take to convince you that action is necessary? Or, are you setting stardards so difficult it is virtually impossible to meet them because you would - like the French and Russians in Iraq - never agree to action under any circumstances? For the sake of argument, assuming Bush saying so isn't enough, what, exactly, would be enough?

Posted by: CatoRenasci at May 16, 2006 12:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Gregory, I feel cheated. I spent about 20 minutes of my life wading thru your post, to read for myself your strategy for Iran - and I'm left disappointed finding out that it took all them words to simply say "more diplomacy".

Jeez, why hasn't anyone else thought of that!

Posted by: joe at May 16, 2006 01:03 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


2) Iran's formal policy, announced frequently, is that the United States must be destroyed;

When exactly ? Where is this formal policy ?


3) Iran has a long, well-documented history of ignoring the most basic rules of diplomacy and international law; and

a) Revolutionary Iran has not attacked another country unless attacked first (cf. Iraq)
b) Iran has never used WMDs against another country unless WMDs were used against it first (again in the Iraq war).

Whats the record of the US in terms of using WMDs, and in attacking other countries when not attacked first ? Who's guilty of worse violations of international law ?


4) They are about to develop nukes.

If Iran develops nukes, it will probably be several years in the future. They are surrounded by a nuclear Pakistan (which developed nukes 15-16 years back), a nuclear India, a nuclear China and a nuclear Russia. They face a nuclear Israel whose technology and delivery capabilities far, far outweigh their own, and a US whose nuclear capabilities are orders of magnitude beyond Iran's. Iran has never used WMDs unless attacked with WMDs first.

Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 01:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


serious: what exactly would it take to convince you that action is necessary? Or, are you setting stardards so difficult it is virtually impossible to meet them because you would - like the French and Russians in Iraq - never agree to action under any circumstances?

Yup, the French and Russians set standards so difficult that they were impossible to meet. Standards such as some actual evidence of WMDs in Iraq found by the inspectors. Turned out those standards were impossible to meet, because Iraq had no WMDs. And when the UN inspectors pleaded for some time to complete the inspections (weeks, no days or months), Bush ignored it, and went ahead with something that had been planned for over a year -- the invasion of Iraq.

Why not enumerate exactly what you mean by action ? Is it bombing nuclear sites ? Is it a fulll scale invasion and occupation ? Its all very well to yell about what action is necessary, and bang hard on the keyboard about how all others are appeasers, but I for one would like to hear more details about what is proposed and evaluate the realistic chances for success before I agree to the next Imperial war and the next trillion dollar invasion.

Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 01:15 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

CatoRenasci,

However, you agree with my point...that you have an obsession for "divine suicide"

Posted by: NeoDude at May 16, 2006 02:26 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

erg: I have neither pounded the keyboard nor 'yelled' so at least insofar as my comments are concerned, you raise a straw man.

Moreover, you have not answered the ultimate question, which I regard as primary to the debate: are you prepared to accept nuclear weapons in Iranian hands? If the answer is yes, then as far as I'm concerned there's no point talking because we will never agree. On the other hand, if the answer is no, you have made the choice for war if in fact the Iranians insist on developing nuclear weapons. Then we are having a discussion on a couple of levels: 1) are the Iranians developing nuclear weapons? and 2) if they are (which is the consensus), and if diplomacy is ineffective, at what point do we go to war and in what way?

From my perspective, it is not being a warmonger or an imperialist to try to understand what alternatives one has. No one has claimed there are any 'good' alternatives in this situation. As a negotiator, you cannot be effective if you don't know what your bottom line is; that is, the point beyond which you believe the alternatives to a negotiated agreement are preferable to the terms available in the negotiation.

Good faith in persuasive argument requires that one be open about what one's ultimate goal in the urged course of action actually is. To say that one opposes Iranian nuclear weapons when one is not willing to go to war to stop them from obtaining them should other methods fail, seems to me to be an argument made in bad faith.

Given the feckless history of negotiations with the Iranians over their nuclear program, I think it is incumbent upon those who urge further negotiations to explain whether they favor negotiations at any price, or whether there is a point at which they are prepared to say "enough."

Posted by: CatoRenasci at May 16, 2006 02:50 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

NeoDude: Hardly, I consider it simply part of your ad hominem attack, unworthy of separate mention.

Posted by: CatoRenasci at May 16, 2006 02:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think that Iran is in a different, lower, quantum of danger to world peace than a psycho like Saddam presented three years ago. I reluctantly conclude that I could live with a nuclear Iran, with the mullahs keeping some semblance of control over whatever nutjob is in the President's chair, whereas I could not live with the threat of Saddam wanting to rewrite history in blood. I would advocate continuing our present policy of letting the E3 get a taste of responsibility in negotiating this issue, and possibly once more highlighting the moral and functional bankruptcy of the current UN system to any right thinking person.
I'd also like to add that the snark and defensiveness directed at LiberalHawk was unwarrented, I've never seen his posts try to deliberately misstate any commenter's position.

Posted by: wks at May 16, 2006 03:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


To say that one opposes Iranian nuclear weapons when one is not willing to go to war to stop them from obtaining them should other methods fail, seems to me to be an argument made in bad faith.

To say that one is willing to go to war to stop Iran from possessing nuclear weapons without indicating precisely what is meant by "war", whether its a full scale invasion and occupation, or mere bombing, and giving some indication of whether this would actually stop the Iranian nuclear program, seems to be an argument made in bad faith.

You have not answered my central question -- to what extent are you willing to go to stop Iran from possessing nuclear weapons and what you will do when "enough" is said ?

Answer that, and I can tell you whether I support it or not.

Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 03:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

erg: we are clearly talking past one another. I tried to raise the question of whether one was ultimately prepared to accept Iranian possession of nuclear weapons, and you answered with the question of to what extent are you willing to go to stop Iran from possessing nuclear weapons and what you will do when "enough" is said ?

I hope I am not distorting your position, but it strikes me if the answer to your question is not "whatever military measures are necessary to accomplish the mission, up to and including the use of national strategic means," then you are in effect conceding that there are scenarios under which Iranian possession of nuclear weapons is acceptable to you.

I pose the question starkly and describe the answer in ultimate terms not because I like the idea of a war, but because it is my impression that many of those who most strenuously urge negotiation fall into two categories: (1) those who find Iranian nuclear weapons acceptable, and (2) those who would prefer not to make the ultimate choice and hence do not wish to think about it seriously.

I am simply not interested in what those who are prepared to accept Iranian nuclear weapons have to say. To their credit, they have thought the matter through, but we have reached opposite conclusions.

Others, whom I suspect have not thought the matter all the way through, may well have valid points about timing, evidence, etc., but I would like to know they come out after thinking it all the way through: would they still counsel such delay and caution?

Posted by: CatoRenasci at May 16, 2006 03:46 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I hope I am not distorting your position, but it strikes me if the answer to your question is not "whatever military measures are necessary to accomplish the mission, up to and including the use of national strategic means," then you are in effect conceding that there are scenarios under which Iranian possession of nuclear weapons is acceptable to you.

Yes, there are such scenarios. If the alternative is to turn Iran into a lake of glass, then that is most definitely such a scenario.

Am I willing to accept North Korean nukes ? Only because the alternative might be for Seoul to become a wasteland or an even worse case scenario of fighting China.

The threat of war with Iran needs to be on the table as the ultimate deterrent. However, it has to be the last alternative, not the first (as was the case with Iraq), and it has to involve a plan that has a realistic chance of success and of not causing Iraq or the rest of the Middle East to explode.

Otherwise, at the very least, negotiations give us a chance to stabilize Iraq and use various covert means to neutralize or subvert its agencies and contacts abroad and weaken its nuclear program.


Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 04:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

All discussions have unfortunately to be in light of Dumsfeldian/Bushian incompetence and uncaring for the next two years, haven't they?

I mean, it might be nice to discuss what could be done if someone were smart enough to declare victory in Iraq and start recovering our military might, but if that is infeasible due to the incompetents running things, then it isn't as useful an option to consider...

I'm mildly humored by the comments people make about Saddam being an unsustainable lunatic, when it was Dumsfeld who was our envoy ot Saddam in 88 when Saddam started using chemical weapons, and Dumsfeld who said Saddam was a man not up to mischief...

Posted by: frank wallace at May 16, 2006 04:42 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I was just reading an allegation that Reagan pretended that Iran was involved in chemical warfare in the 80s, when the US was shipping stuff to the Iraqi Atomic Energy commission, including bio-warfare samples, before some Democratic Congressman forced him to recant and admit it was our buddy Saddam using chemical weapons.

If that is true, then presumably Dumsfeld was involved in that pretense -- lying about weapons of mass destruction in Iran whilst helping to plant them in Iraq -- it makes me wonder if Dumsfeld could be up to something similar again now?

Posted by: frank wallace at May 16, 2006 04:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

CatoRenasci, how pleasant it is to hear a fellow student of negotiation theory.

Part of our problem here is that the BATNA (Best Alternative To Negotiated Settlement, for anyone who didn't know) is very hard to predict. If we fail to prevent iran from getting nuclear weapons, just how bad is that? Does it mean that we lose several cities and inevitably we respond by killing everybody in iran? That woul be a very bad outcome, we'd want something better. But it isn't at all clear how likely that would be.

Let me suggest some background. I believe that nonproliferation is dead. Invading iran wouln't bring nonproliferation back, it's too late for that. We will accept a nuclear australia. We will accept a nuclear brazil and argentina. We will accept a nuclear japan and south korea. We will accept nuclear poland and turkey. We will accept ukraine with their own nukes, and czech republic, and slovakia. Venezuela. Nicaragua. Nuclear albania. Nuclear greece. Nuclear mexico. In 20 years there might easily be 40 nuclear powers, unless something stops them other than US diploamcy or US military might.

Supposing we could stop iran from getting nukes for 20 years, how much would you pay today to make that 39 nuclear powers in 2026 instead of 40?

Of course if you firmly believe that a nuclear iran would destroy us, then you'll be willing to pay anything to prevent that. But if you aren't sure, I expect the price you'd be willing to pay might go down some. But we don't really know what the chance is. Would iran attack when they had everything ready to destroy 4 american cities? Or would they wait and hit every city? Or would they wait jindefinitely and somebody else attacks us instead?

So, let's guess that an attack on iran would cost us $100 billion. That's twice as much as the Bush administration guessed it would cost us to attack iraq, and we're gettingi close to the half trillion mark. But never mind that. We attack iran, and it costs us $100 billion, and it delays their nuclear program by 3 years. Is that worth it?

Now imagine that we try to negotiate with us. And they make us the following offer:

"We are willing to prove we have no nuclear weapon program. We will let the USA and russia and china and india all send inspectors and troops into our country. The foreign troops will do everything in groups that are multiples of 4, with the same number of troops from each country. Similarly the inspectors. The inspectors and troops can go anywhere at all to inspect for signs of a nuclear weapon program, but not for any other purpose. If we decide to throw the inspectors out we will have four occupying armies to persuade us not to, but we hope you won't cooperate to oppress us in other ways. See, we give you continuing proof we have no weapons program. In return, all we ask is that the USA give us $100 billion this year."

If you would spend X dollars to attack iran to stop their nukes, would you spend X dollars to bribe them to stop their nukes? Why not?

Either way, how much would you spend when iran is only one of many?

Here is my own suggested strategy. It completely ignores domestic politics.

First, look very hard for ways to revive nonproliferation. I don't particularly see any. Invading countries to stop them from getting nukes is like doing artificial respiration on a corpse, it isn't going to bring back nonproliferation. but there might be some way i haven't noticed, and that possibility is worth a lot of research. Throw out a lot of small research grants for academics the way you'd throw chickenfeed to attract chickens, and see if any of them get an idea that's worth trying.

Second, accept that iran will get nukes. Negotiate with them; offer them reasonable rewards for verifiably not making nukes. Maybe they don't want nukes as much as we think, nothing to lose by trying. Maybe offer them small punishments if they do make nukes, but nothing we'd hesitate to carry out. No bluffs, and nothing so drastic we'd have trouble carrying it out. Skip the threats entirely if they look ineffective and insulting.

Third, work out a plan in case iran uses nukes. Here is my suggestion. Iiran nukes one or more US cities, nuke one or more iranian cities of similarsizes. Ask them if they're ready to quit. Chances are they will be. If not, continue to respond to them, tit for tat. It's very very unlikely we'd ever have to use this plan but people feel more comfortable when they have a plan.

Work out an agreement with russia and china (and maybe france and england and india,why not?) about what to do if anybody else nukes anybody else. This would include a quick-reaction team to assist in immediate aid to the victims, along with scientists to measure whatever might be useful to measure and media to publicise the victims and the fallout patterns etc. Also all the nations involved would threaten each nation that attacked. Submit to inspections to remove your remaining nukes and nuclear program, or else. If the media team did their job pretty much everybody in the world would agree it was justified.

This same result would work on the USA, china, russia etc if they did a first strike. If US media ran the reports on surviving victims from our first strike we'd agree we should be disarmed. And then nonproliferation would be revived like Lazarus from the dead.

This plan has advantages and disadvantages. It has the advantage that we don't have to spend a hundred billion dollars this year to delay iran's nuclear program by an unknown amount. We don't have to suffer whatever retaliation iran might manage, unless they choose to attack us even if we don't attack them. Even if they do we don't come out as the aggressor, which is good for something. Though our publicly threatening them didn't help.

It has the disadvantage that we might suffer a nuclear attack from iran. This is very very unlikely but it could happen. If we make absolutely sure iran never gets nukes then it cannot happen. If we kill all the iranians then it cannot happen. I think we're better off to take the small chance. There could be lots of negative consequences to starting a war too, especially one where we have no victory plan. If the iranians attack us we'll be a little weaker from their attack but we'll be *much* more united. Try to get us united by talking up how awful the external enemy is, and how many people will get the message? A large minority at best. "Fool me once...." Let them prove it and we'll all know.

We don't really know what's going on, and we can afford to find out. Negotiate and see how strongly they want nukes. When they get them, wait and see if they attack. We might take losses, but we'd take losses in an aggressive war too. Stay ready, put off the fight, look for ways to revive nonproliferation, and not unlikely when we do get nuked it will be somebody else doing it. Be ready for them too.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 16, 2006 06:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Let me see if I can summarize all the arguments above:

1. "Man, this Iran/nuke problem is a tough one!"

2. Conservatives: "They're determined to get the Bomb, but we can't tolerate a nuclear-equipped Iran, so we've got to act. And even though we can't reasonably invade 'em, and bombing their nuke sites would undoubtedly piss them off big-time, we just can't sit by while they build atomic bombs!"

3. Liberals and diplomacy fans: "They are NOT trying to build the Bomb. After all, they SAID they were only enriching uranium to make electricity. That settles that. And of course the Iranians are members of the Religion of Peace, so they'd never do awful things like, oh, give the Bomb to terrorists or anything."

4. The moonbat left: "What he said...And besides, the U.S. is the evil aggressor and we invaded poor Iraq to steal their oil, but Iran has never invaded anybody, and anyone who says they support terrorism is just a big ol' LIAR!"

I hate to be the one to break the news, but you're ALL about to be disappointed: Conservatives because the U.S. doesn't have the political will to invade, nor to bomb known Iranian nuke sites, so all we can do is watch as they join the Nuclear Club. But since we tolerated North Korea's entry, is this measurably worse?

Libs will initially be thrilled, because they love to see the U.S. thwarted--especially when a Republican is president. But eventually they'll be disappointed too, because within the next 20 years an Iranian-made nuke, supposedly "stolen" by parties unknown-- will incinerate a U.S. city on the East Coast. But unless they have family there, they'll soon be thrilled again because they secretly love to see the U.S. humbled, wounded, brought low. Come on, admit it-- you guys were THRILLED when you watched those two big towers collapsing because it could be seen as a black eye for Bush. And not two days after the nuke goes off you'll be claiming the GOP had advance word about the attack and deliberately did nothing to stop it. And a week after that the story line will be that the GOP actually DID the deed to win support!

But eventually Libs will be disappointed *again*, because after the nuke goes off, no American politician will have the stones to retaliate. After all, Leftists will say, you can't *absolutely, positively* PROVE that bomb was built by the Iranians. Plus, geez, even if it came from their stocks, *they* didn't bring it here. It was...was...it...it...HEY, LOOK! Isn't that they guy from "American Idol"?

Posted by: sf at May 16, 2006 07:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I've been watching this debate in this and several other places. None of us have any real power to affect events, but for what it's worth, here's my opinion:

The only viable option is to give them what they appear to want, which is a return to the Middle Ages. Bomb the place flat. Destroy any manifestation of technology later than AD1000. Yes, including hospitals and schools, and all industrial and energy facilities of any sort. Crater the highways leading to any route out of Iran, and ESPECIALLY destroy all port facilities and airports.

They want to live as the Prophet did in 700AD; let them.

The only other alternatives are sanctions (when have they ever worked, especially with fanatics?) or to wait, flap around ineffectually as most Western countries have done, accept the first smoking hole where one of our cities used to be, and then do what that will force us to do; turn Iran, and maybe the Moslem holy cities, into an unhabitable, glass-lined radioactive desert. And Russia and China will probably be in the fallout pattern. I wonder what those two countries will do then?

Failure to act as soon as possible might just give the lunatics what they want, which is Apocalypse. The horsemen ride; we might just have time to strew the path with caltrops.

Posted by: Ian Campbell at May 16, 2006 11:00 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Big problems:

1. Assume that Iran could be bought off with any amount of negotiations. What if they simply want a bomb? (also, see North Korea.)

2. Europeans have already offered massive incentives and were rejected. (points to motive of Iranians - are you really right that some combination of incentives will work? I think the evidence is against you.)

3. Assume that US opening bilateral talks will help...when in fact Iran is not stupid and knows that once a European deal would be settled it would serve as an excellent confidence building measure for Washington to make a deal, too. See also Libya and Qaddadifi for an example for the Iranians...Gee, if you make good with America, then they will get off your backs. I don't think that Iran wanted a deal with America that it couldn't negotiate that through the Europeans as a secret protocol.

4. North Korean experience seems to advise the Iranians that negotiations are even sweeter AFTER you get the bomb. Why not wait until you have the bomb and then get your Euro/USA goodies for free like India did. Now, if we did not offer India the deal and everyone in world was firm, and North Korea was taken friggin out when it reneged on a deal, then Iran would be far less likely to wait and see...

If I were Iran, I would:

a. want a bomb. sorry but power is nice to have and a bomb gives me lots of power. (if I didn't want power as Iran, why would I support Hezzbollah? I doubt they offer much in trade or tech for me.)

b. string out all talks until I got the bomb, or had enough hidden facilities to make one, and then maybe do some desultory deal while keeping my bombs in any case. Why not? What are you going to do? Attack me? No. Sanction me? Already been there.

While I don't personally want a military attack on Iran after seeing how Iraq went, I would suggest negotiation won't get us very far with Iran's leaders. Better would be to announce what we want from them in a public manner so their population can see clearly what we would be willing to agree to if Iran had GOOD FAITH negotiations possible.

Last resort would be a punitive expedition, i.e., invade and destroy regime along with facilities but NO REBUILDING, NO OCCUPATION ETC. Go in and get out. This would be last, last, last, final resort and even then I'd say contain them instead like North Korea.

Posted by: Aaron at May 16, 2006 12:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If someone has a deterrant to your attack, and is building a really big deterrant called nuclear power, ignoring him only kicks the problem down the road.

'Do you have good options for Iran' is not the question.
'Will you have better options in 10 years time' if you talk is the question and you won't.

At the moment Iran is demanding time to build a nuke. What do they ask for when they get there? The deportation of every Jew in the Middle East to Ohio?

My solution is to sell the Israeli air-force a Stealth Bomber to drop Nukes and a couple of old-school submarines with enough Nukes to wipe out every capital in the Middle East. Iran can then play chicken with the country that has most to lose. And the rest of the Middle East gets a genuine incentive to make co-existance possible.


Posted by: McAristotle at May 16, 2006 01:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Libs will initially be thrilled, because they love to see the U.S. thwarted--especially when a Republican is president. But eventually they'll be disappointed too, because within the next 20 years an Iranian-made nuke, supposedly "stolen" by parties unknown-- will incinerate a U.S. city on the East Coast. But unless they have family there, they'll soon be thrilled again because they secretly love to see the U.S. humbled, wounded, brought low. Come on, admit it-- you guys were THRILLED when you watched those two big towers collapsing because it could be seen as a black eye for Bush.

I had 2 friends working in the towers. One got out, one didn't. I saw the 2nd tower collapse with my own eyes. So no, I wasn't exactly thrilled when the towers collapsed. Then again for wingnuts like yourself, the real enemy has always been liberals, and lies like the ones you are spreading above are par for the course.

Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 01:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

LH: "Well Id like to know if you really meant conscience across the board, or were only using it as a weapon against the neocons who look down on the "striped pants set".

Wow. That's rich. I've spent literally hundreds of hours documenting this Administrations's woeful detainee/interrogation policies--which have led to numerous wanton episodes of abuse/torture--not because I care deeply about the reputation of our military and nation, but b/c I was "only using it as a weapon against the neocons who looked down on the 'striped pants set'.

sorry, but this is just a total crock. i've worked directly, while going to law school at night, for some of the necons on train and equip of Bosnian Federation forces. i know some of these guys personally. the purpose of this blog isn't to beat up neo-cons for the heck of it. anyone who reads here regularly and concludes i'd spend all this time on such piddling vendettas is not being serious or fair to me.

look, i value some of LH's contributions here, and he's welcome to stick around if he's inclined. but this kind of innuendo, or (suspiciously) frequently not understanding the intent of my policy recommendations, well, I don't view it as helpful. i'll grant LH some of the syntax and writing gets a bit on the crappy/rushed/verbose side around here, so that what I say might be difficult to divine at times, but he's going to have to read me in better faith, I'd think, otherwise it's not worth his or mine busy time.

oh, and walid jumblatt, of course, isn't an unbiased source when it comes to analyzing the Lebanese man on the street's view of Hezbollah, to say the least.

Posted by: greg at May 16, 2006 01:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


North Korean experience seems to advise the Iranians that negotiations are even sweeter AFTER you get the bomb. Why not wait until you have the bomb and then get your Euro/USA goodies for free like India did. Now, if we did not offer India the deal and everyone in world was firm, and North Korea was taken friggin out when it reneged on a deal, then Iran would be far less likely to wait and see...

It took nearly 17-32 years after India developed the bomb to be offered a deal. I don't think the deal with India has much impact on the whole nuclear proliferation landscape since India is no threat to the US.


'Do you have good options for Iran' is not the question.
'Will you have better options in 10 years time' if you talk is the question and you won't.

Actually, we could. If Iraq is stablized, we have a better chance. A could lose the next election, and so on.


The only viable option is to give them what they appear to want, which is a return to the Middle Ages. Bomb the place flat. Destroy any manifestation of technology later than AD1000. Yes, including hospitals and schools, and all industrial and energy facilities of any sort. Crater the highways leading to any route out of Iran, and ESPECIALLY destroy all port facilities and airports.They want to live as the Prophet did in 700AD; let them.The only other alternatives are sanctions (when have they ever worked, especially with fanatics?) or to wait, flap around ineffectually as most Western countries have done, accept the first smoking hole where one of our cities used to be, and then do what that will force us to do; turn Iran, and maybe the Moslem holy cities, into an unhabitable, glass-lined radioactive desert.

The policy you propose is far more likely to lead to that smoking hole. And despite your conflation of "them", there is no indication that the mullahs of Iran want to go back to 700AD. In fact. most seem to be busy lining their pockets.

If you look at Iran's history under the mullahs, they have never invaded another country, and have only used WMDs when attacked. They have been deterrable in the past -- Iraq forced them to accept a cease-fire in 1989 (when Khoemini was in power). After Khobar towers terrorist attack, apparently US threats dissuaded them from making another attack till 2003 at least, when the US invaded Iraq. Furthermore, Iran is not Iraq, with just one center of power. There are multiple centers of power, with different opposition groups.

Yes, Iran's a nasty, brutish government. But, inflammatory rhetoric aside, they seem to want the bomb for the same reason Pakistan did -- which is to make them much harder to invade. And even non-belligerent India was not willing to allow inspections of all its reactors.

We lived with a nuclear Stalin and a nuclear Mao. We have a nuclear Pakistan, a country where the populace is probably more anti-US than Iran. A nuclear Iran would be highly undesireable, and we should try to prevent it. But I do not believe that it possesses anywheree near the existential threat that a nuclear USSR did, and if necessary, if the alternatives are worse, we might be able to live with a contained nuclear Iran.

Posted by: erg at May 16, 2006 01:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas: I enjoyed reading your thoughts; you clearly understand why I pose the questions I do in in the way that I do - you can't develop your negotiation strategy without understanding the alternatives to negotiation, and the point at which you will break off negotiations.

Your proposal for a sort of graduated response is thoughtful, but I disagree with you for a couple of reasons:

1. I agree that it is likely there will be more nuclear powers over the next 20 years, but I think that it is incumbent upon the existing nuclear powers with the political will - which probably means only the United States, and possibly the British - to insist (to the point of war) that the new nuclear powers exclude states that (1) do not support terror and (2) do not support (or encourage) ideologies (including religions) that seek to control the entire world. Call it an attachment to classical liberal representative government, or call it a decreased tolerance for risk of the use of nuclear weapons in ways nations habituated to the exercise of great power status would be unlikely to do, or greater concern that the weapons would fall into the hands of extremely dangerous persons.

2. I am not persuaded by the argument that because we have failed to stop North Korea (and before that India and Pakistan) from obtaining nuclear weapons, that we are obliged to permit similar or other, perhaps less stable, powers from obtaining them. If one thinks we may be in a situation analogous to the late 1930s, then that would be equivalent to arguing that having accepted the remilitarization of the Rhineland in 1936, and Mussolini's conquest of Ethiopia in 1935, we are obliged to accept not only Hitler's moves into Czechoslovakia and the Anschluss with Austria, but the invasion of Poland was well. The place where we differ - and here is where rational, thoughtful people can differ - I suspect is our assessment of the risks and the analogousness of the situation now to the late 1930s. - One simply needs to be explicit about where one differs, so that those differences can be expored rationally and subjected to reasoned argument. My view is that the risk of Iranian use of nukes is far greater than you seem to.

3. A more fundamental difference we have, I think, would be our reactions to the use of a single nuclear weapon against the United States (or our treaty allies). You argue for proportionate responses; in my view that would be a fundamental abrogation of the Constitutional duty of the American government. My response would to a nuclear attack, once the origin of the weapon was ascertained, would be massive retaliation. Harsh though it may be, if Iran were to use a nuclear weapn, Iran should cease to exist. Call this a variant on MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction) - with the Soviets and Chinese it worked tolerably well to deter war. The difference here is at least for now, even a nuclear Iran would have to weigh damaging the US (or its allis) against their complete destruction - the modern equivalent of a Carthegenian Peace.

4. Perhaps another difference is that because I think the response to an Iranian nuclear strike ought to be the complete destruction of Iran, I'm more willing to take the risk of greater cost now, and some retaliation now, in order to avoid the extremely high cost (more to Iran than to us, but that's another question) of obliterating Iran if things go wrong.

5. In assessing the expected values (costs) of various strategies, a game theoretic approach would assess cost and likelhood. It's an easy equation if you think the risk of Iranian use is high, and the cost is high, or if you think the risk is low and the cost is low. The harder questions are when you think the risk is high and the cost low, or when you think the risk is low, but the cost high. I have suggested we differ on both the risk and the cost.

6. Perhaps related to the assessment of cost (but perhaps not, it may simply be a predeliction), is one's personal tolerance for threats that seem low risk but of almost infinite cost. I don't think your graduated strategy adequately takes into account the effect on lowering risk in the Iranian decision matrix a strategy of assured total destruction might have, assuming they believed us.

Posted by: CatoRenasci at May 16, 2006 03:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I welcome Greg's call for negotiation.

It appears that some degree of uranium enrichment is already a point of national pride and political prestige for Iran's leaders. We may not be able to reverse that. But we may be able to negotiate inspections and guarantees that at least slow Iran's acquisition of a bomb -- which is all that a U.S. or Israeli attack could do.

If we don't want 40 (or 39) nuclear powers in a few years, then we must rethink our own commitment to nuclear weapons, as well as our support for the Israeli nuclear arsenal. Of course, even radical steps to eliminate these might not change Iran's desire to have nuclear weapons, but it could reduce its apparent legitimacy among Iranians and Muslims more broadly. By the same token, and for other reasons too, we should make a real commitment to safe renewable energy rather than nuclear power. The double standards favored by self-styled realists ultimately prove unrealistic.

Posted by: David Keppel at May 16, 2006 05:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Cato, one of the fundamentals for negotiating is that you look for points of agreement to expand on, rather than points of disagreement to pick at. This is one of the things I am not very good at, it's a moral failing of mine. I might agree 90% with somebody and scotch the deal by arguing in great detail about that last 10%.

1&2. I agree with you that precedent is not central here. Just because we appeased north korea and pakistan and india doesn't mean we have to appease anybody else. However, to the extent that we have any friends left this is likely to look like our special fight. We have no objection to nukes that are a danger to other people (like israel's nukes and australia's nukes and japan's nukes) but we are violently opposed to nukes that are a danger to us. This is not likely to get us allies, except we might develop ad hoc alliances in each case with countries that are afraid of each new nuclear power. So for example global sanctions on iran look unlikely to me because the rest of the world considers iran primarily an oil supplier, it's mostly the USA and israel that considers them a looming irrational threat. Europeans will make speeches and offer trade deals because they like the general ideal of nonproliferation. Russians and chinese will jockey for position. We are the only ones considering a war of aggression because we're afraid of what iran might do later. This might be acceptable, but I ask you to consider possible complications it may lead to.

We can spend our strength defeating our enemies-of-the-moment before they get nukes. But look at our previous enemies-of-the-moment. Cuba. Dominican Republic. Chile. Vietnam. Cambodia. Nicaragua. Panama. Iraq. North korea. Venezuela? We keep developing new enemies whether we defeat the old ones or not. If we waste too much effort stomping on our current enemies who're trying to get nukes, pretty soon our new enemies will already have nukes. We might do better to avoid making those enemies in the first place -- if we can.

3&4. Traditionally US policy called for a proportionate response to soviet aggression. Try this scenario -- the russians *accidentally* launch a limited nuclear strike. We respond with everything we have, and the russians then hit us with everything they have. Maybe drive humanity extinct over an accident. On the other hand we didn't want to simply accept their apology and lose one or more cities. So we came up with complex strategies. (We paid academics to analyse it all, and they came up with a tremendous number of academic exercises.) For any limited attack we tried to be ready to make a counterattack that would do roughly the same damage to them. So tjhey wouldn't win by it, but we wouldn't kill everybody either. Similarly we intended to use tactical nuclear weapons if the soviets invaded western europe. We didn't think we could win without them. But we woujld start out with tactical nukes in west germany, and if necessary expand to staging areas in east germany etc. We'd keep it as small as we needed to defend western europe, and only escalate beyond that when the russians did.

But soviet doctrine followed your idea. They threatened massive retaliation for any nuke, no matter how small. They said that if there was a war in europe and we used any nukes, no matter how small, they'd attack us with everything they had.

As it turned out, that particular time both strategies worked. We successfully deterred them with my strategy and they successfully deterred us with your strategy. I believe that if anybody is deterrable at all, either approach will deter them. So far we don't have an example of a nuclear nation that isn't deterrable. I believe that my approach is marginally better -- fewer nukes exploded and less global fallout is better. Also we're better off in the long run if we don't look to the rest of the world like we're crazy. But either method should work.

5&6. I don't think we have any good way to estimate the risk of iranian use of nukes. We just don't have anything reliable to go on. There are people who try to guess by reading the Koran. If you tried that with christians you'd get "turn the other cheek" which americans won't consider at all. We can guess by the way other nuclear nations have behaved. Like, china made wild statements when they were about to get nukes and toned them way way down when they actually got them. There's some value in showing the world that you're about to be a nuclear power and they can't stop you and nobody better pick on you any more. But when you actually have nukes there's a lot of value in no longer scaring the world. But it's a different culture, you can't dependably predict that people will act the way other people did.

OK, back to negotiation theory. You can try to predict what other people will do or you can try to respect their choices. When you negotiate you accept that they have free will and they'll do whatever they choose, and you ask them what they want and tell them what you want and look for a deal that's better than both BATNAs. When you're estimating your BATNA you might have to predict what they'll do without an agreement. When you negotiate you put that aside. (And you keep in mind what you'll do if they violate the agreement.)

So here's my problem: Our estimates of the risks are mostly worthless. We simply have nothing useful to go on. Should we believe wingnut interpretations of persian campaign speeches? If the soviets or the chinese had done that with us they'd have been scared into a first strike. Our estimates of risk are mostly bullshit.

And our estimates of cost are mostly worthless. Some people talk like the persians can snap their fingers and shias all over iraq will rise up and attack us. I don't know how much that's true and I doubt anybody who isn't shia really knows.

Some people talk like we can take out all the possible iranian attacks on the Gulf so easily that oil supplies won't be threatened. Some of our military tacticians might know about that or they might not, but whatever they think is classified so I don't know.

Would russia and/or china intervene? They both have strong reason to. Neither of them benefits from another mess like iraq. But what could they do besides threaten us with MAD unless we back down? Would they do that, or would they knuckle under and let us do whatever-the-hell we want? Who can say what they'd do? (Or what we'd do if they did invoke MAD.)

China has enough of our money to cause us a large temporary economic crisis. But it would cost them. If they depreciated our money their dollars would be worth much less. Would they dare? Who knows?

If the USA got the reputation as the world's largest rogue nation, a bunch of crazy people willing to risk everything to enforce our will on the world, would that be a cost or a benefit? If everybody's afraid to attack you, that looks good. If they're so afraid they smile at you while they wait for their chance at a decisive attack, that's bad. If they sceme for ways to attack you and make it look like their enemies did it, that's bad too. And how long can we stay the strongest?

We don't have any good evidence about the costs or the risks. We guess at them from our prejudices. From our life experience with americans or frenchmen or whoever we grew up with. From our fantasies about the enemy.

My prejudice is to be prepared and wait for an attack, and negotiate in the meantime in case something turns up that way. This is partly because of my experience in high school. Out of my graduating class of 120, we had 2 dead in knifefights, 2 dead playing chicken in automobiles, 3 dead run off the road by police (out of 5 in the same car) 1 sent to reform school for killing a couple of little black kids with a shotgun after they sassed him. I got in some fights but I wasn't hurt beyond a broken nose, a cracked larynx, a stamped instep and half a dozen broken ribs. Every time I figured that somebody was real dangerous and I ought to kill him before he noticed, I decided instead to just be ready, and it worked. I didn't go to reform school and I didn't get killed and I didn't even get hurt much. But for all I know maybe 3/4 of the guys who were in my situation got killed and aren't here to say it didn't work for them. So my experience is biased.

There might be big risks to not attacking. There might be even bigger risks to attacking. When we have very little to go on, I say try to keep our options open. Don't pay the big costs now, but be ready to pay what we have to when we see that we have to pay them.

We know there are big costs to attacking iran, we just don't know how big.

Don't plan just a bombing campaign because after we attack we won't know whether it worked. We don't know now how long the iranians are from having nukes. Bomb them and we won't know how much we slowed them down. If we aren't willing to live with what we have now, why would we be willing to live with that?

If we're going to plan an attack we'd better plan it as something that ends with regular inspections imposed on iran. They say no battle plan survives contact with the enemy, but if you can't even come up with a credible battle plan then it's time to look for ways to avoid battle. So if we plan a military campaign that isn't over until iran has regular nuclear inspections, that might give a minimum estimate on the cost. Huge. And the risks we avoid by attacking versus the risks we accept by attacking? Unknown.

Well, I've done it again. By concentrating on the small details where we may have some disagreement I've ignored the big areas where we're aligned. Just by agreeing that we need to make the attempt to rationally estimate costs and risks the two of us are more in agreement than most bloggers are with either of us.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 17, 2006 12:12 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It's always a pleasure to visit and find a reasonable opinion from a Republican who isn't pining for the Rapture nor ready to reach for a gun whenever there is a disagreement. It gives me hope and something to write about. Thanks.

Posted by: Dave Marco at May 17, 2006 01:18 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think surrender is the correct course of action.

Posted by: joe at May 19, 2006 10:27 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wishful thinkin' ain't fit for drinkin'. What if Ahmanidjit (or whatever) actually intends what he says? At that point, your assessment rather falls to pieces. In a year? Two years? Peace in our time, eh?
Well, I hope your right.

Posted by: Tom at May 19, 2006 06:30 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Wishful thinkin' ain't fit for drinkin'.

Fully agree. So I hope the war will be as quickly victorious as you guys fantasize.

Maybe if we don't attack we'll have war in a year or two anyway. If we do attack and we have war for that first year or two and war for the indefinite future afterward, we might not have gained much by attacking.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 19, 2006 08:04 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, what the hell makes you think that this Administration will be any more competent at negotiating than it is at warfighting -- or anything else, for that matter? We'll be lucky to return from any negotiations with our pants.

Posted by: Bruce Moomaw at May 22, 2006 08:05 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This is to anyone that is interested,if there is to be a "War with Iran" then get on with it because the more President Bush wait's Iran will be more perpared...don't you thnk and we al know that there will be an Nuclear War anyway so get it over with already...

Posted by: Kimberly McCreary at June 11, 2006 10:28 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

About Belgravia Dispatch

Gregory Djerejian, an international lawyer and business executive, comments intermittently on global politics, finance & diplomacy at this site. The views expressed herein are solely his own and do not represent those of any organization.


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