February 28, 2005

Iran Policy Watch

Steven Weisman writing in the Times:

The Bush administration is considering a proposal by Britain, France and Germany to offer Iran trade benefits, commercial aircraft and aircraft spare parts in return for dismantling what is suspected of being a nuclear weapons program, European and American officials said Sunday...

...When President Bush was in Europe last week, he listened to specific proposals for economic incentives for Iran from Prime Minister Tony Blair of Britain, President Jacques Chirac of France and Chancellor Gerhard Schröder of Germany.

The specifics of the incentives were not disclosed at the time, but Mr. Bush and his aides did say he would consider the proposals when he returned to Washington.

A senior administration official said Sunday that the specific European proposals for trade benefits, spare parts and aircraft were discussed among cabinet members on Friday but that no decision had been made on whether to give the Europeans approval to make the offer to Iran...

...A European official said, however, that Mr. Bush told his European counterparts last week that if he joined in the negotiations with Iran, it would cause a political furor in the United States and signal prematurely that Washington was prepared to recognize the legitimacy of the Iran government.

As an alternative, the European and American officials said that Britain, France and Germany wanted American permission to discuss Iran's possible accession to the World Trade Organization - which would confer trade benefits to Iran but also impose requirements to open Iran's economy - and also to discuss aircraft sales.

"What we need to do is put together elements of economic incentives for Iran," said a European official, asking not to be identified because the discussions were confidential. "For that we need an agreement with the United States because this cannot be done against the will of the United States."

He added, "A green light from the United States would add a lot of leverage to our capacity to negotiate with the Iranians."

But a senior administration official said only that Mr. Bush would agree to consider the proposal.

This one will be a really tough call for Bush's foreign policy team. The fear, of course, is Iran getting WTO accession and various Airbuses and the like (ie, all the very sizable carrots)--but nevertheless surreptitiously continuing her nuclear weapons program. A win win for the Iranians. Still, significant monitoring mechanisms will be a part of all these arrangements. So, and as B.D. has repeatedly predicted, it appears Bush really is striving to pursue a diplomatic route in concert with the Europeans on Iran. There will be some griping from his right if he goes down this road, as he reportedly pointed out to some of his European counterparts (though it appears the Europeans were hoping for actual American participation in talks, which Bush rightly rebuffed, and which would be much more controversial than what is now contemplated). Bottom line: it appears that the policy debate in Washington is swinging more towards the Pollack/Takeyh school rather than that of more interventionist minded folk like, say, Michael Ledeen. And, at least at this juncture, I think that's the right call. Just don't expect a Sy Hersh piece in the New Yorker about it...we're gonna attack Iran, remember?

UPDATE: Michael Leeden complains in comments that I describe him as being part of an interventionist school when it comes to Iran policy. How dare I insinuate that Mr. Leeden may be minded to pursue military action in Iran? And, to boot, I'm ostensibly excommunicated from the AEI club as a rank "realist" by Leeden. Hasn't Michael espied some neo-con idealism admist all the realpolitik over here? I'm hurt to be so ingloriously left out in the cold...Seriously, though, I'm not in the business of misprepresenting people and respect Michael's passion on the Iran issue. It's true that Michael hasn't called for military action per se against the Mullahs (at least to my knowledge, and I'm not going to spend a lot of time combing through archives playin' gotcha)--but rather he supports a democratic revolution there. But excuse me if I get a bit confused when I read stuff like this:

Had we seen the war for what it was, we would not have started with Iraq, but with Iran, the mother of modern Islamic terrorism, the creator of Hezbollah, the ally of al Qaeda, the sponsor of Zarqawi, the longtime sponsor of Fatah, and the backbone of Hamas. So clear was Iran's major role in the terror universe that the Department of State, along with the CIA one of the most conflict-averse agencies of the American government, branded the Islamic Republic the world's number one terror sponsor. As it still does.

But yes, Michael is probably right that his overall Iran oeuvre sounds more like this focus on spearheading political change:

I think that Mr. Will got it wrong because he assumes that regime change implies military conquest. But we don't need armies of fighting American men and women to liberate Tehran; the foot soldiers are Iranians, and they are already on the ground, awaiting good leadership with a clear battle plan. The war against the Iranian terror masters will be political, not military. The weapons that will end the dreadful tyranny--so well described by Mr. Will and Mrs. Nafisi--are ideas and passions, not missiles and bullets. To our great shame, we have failed to support the Iranians' battle against their hated regime, but that is a failure of will, not a failure of means.

So, OK, 'interventionist' might not have been the best word given its military emphasis in Beltway jargon. But I keep on asking Michael, and he hasn't convincingly responded, whether major U.S. support of dissidents, students or, say, disgruntled Iranian workers-whether it might not backfire, big-time, with the wily Mullahs portraying said 'collaborators' as avaricious, quisling stooges of Zionist-Christian infidels looking to deny Iran her bomb and her independence from the infidels. Put differently, and I'm not alone in this by a long shot, I unfortunately don't think Iran is ripe for a full-blown counter-revolution just now. So Michael's constant egging-ons along the lines of 'faster, please' leave me concerned that we will sacrifice moral seriousness at the altar of doing something, anything to fight back the dreaded mullahs. Limp-wristed, pin-striped, G&T sipping status quo cheerleading? Not at all. Just a realist appraisal--tinged with some idealism for the future given Iranian demographics--of where we are right now. I simply remain unconvinced that a full-blown effort at egging on a counter-revolution in Iran is wise at this juncture. But, yes, I'll be more careful in how I label Michael Ledeen's stance on this going forward. No more references to an "interventionist" school, promise! Michael, clarification accepted?

Posted by Gregory at February 28, 2005 04:49 AM | TrackBack (14)

Well, you resurfaced with a bang, Greg. Thanks for coming back. More, please!

My question would be how the Bush administration can believe in "monitoring mechanisms" at all. They appear to have manifestly failed everywhere they have been tried. A rigorous monitoring regime is great for letting it slide and getting a warm Clintonian glow of fake accomplishment, but what evidence do we have that it is not really just unconditional surrender (by us) in disguise?

Posted by: sammler at February 28, 2005 08:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You still seem to be unaware of the news on the deal between Russia and Iran on the supply of nuclear fuel that I mentioned on your previous Iran post.

See here...........................................   ]

Posted by: DavidP at February 28, 2005 12:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Was that your dad on NPR this morning?

Posted by: Matthew Cromer at February 28, 2005 02:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It looks to me as if the Bush administration is improvising right now on Iran.

That's just an observation, not a criticism. By inclination the people who make foreign policy within the administration right now (these would be Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush and Rice in approximately that order) are inclined to think the worst of the Iranians, but have no realistic options for acting on their beliefs. They doubt the Europeans' ideas, and suspect their commitment to nonproliferation if big commercial contracts go on offer, but have nothing else to suggest right now and so are trying to make the best of Europe's diplomatic initiative.

The Iranians seem to be improvising too. They don't just face the question of whether to acquire nuclear weapons, but also the issues of who is to control them, how they will be deployed and for what purpose. In the faction ridden Iranian government it is not likely that any of these are easy questions. It seems possible that some Iranians would be glad not to have to answer them (especially since a nuclear weapons program will be expensive, and Iran has other needs); unfortunately it is also possible that some Iranian clerics place a higher priority on acquiring these weapons than on almost anything else.

We do not know right now who in Tehran will decide the issue, and it may be that no one there does either. One of the burdens of Iran's history with the outside world is that we don't seem to know a great deal about internal Iranian politics. This needs to change. Dealing with Iran's government as if it were a monolith risks on the one hand missing an opportunity to avoid having to deal with another nuclear power in southwest Asia, and on the other hand letting a grave nuclear threat develop past the point where it can easily be dealt with.

Posted by: Zathras at February 28, 2005 04:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I have written today about Pakistan's progress along the same path a generation ago, and the lessons I think it holds for Iran today.

Zathras: I hope you meant to list Rumsfeld in fourth place, not first. I cannot credit the latter idea.

The option of violence must be kept on the table, though an acceptable plan is difficult to find. Obviously we cannot tear down and rebuild Iran; but there are circumstances in which it would be in our national interest to do the first half of that job, despite the consequences.

Posted by: sammler at February 28, 2005 05:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Sammler, I said exactly what I meant. I'm not thrilled about the Pentagon's being the primary instrument of American foreign policy, but in this administration if you want decisions made and want to get them implemented, that's where you go.

Posted by: Zathras at February 28, 2005 06:20 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Could someone tell me why we're even considering rewarding Iran for trying to build nuclear weapons?

First rule of psychology: what is rewarded is repeated.

The only incentives Iran should be receiving are negative ones, i.e. "stop trying to build nukes or we destroy your economy / country."

Unless, of course, you're in favor of nuclear proliferation. In which case, the current behavior is precisely what you should be doing.

Posted by: Greg D at February 28, 2005 08:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"interventionist"? I'm getting a bid tired of this particular falsehood. Was it interventionist to support Solidarity in Poland? Or the Orange Revolution in Ukraine? Or the Lebanese today in Beirut? If so, then yes, I'm an interventionist regarding Iran. But that's not what is usually meant by "interventionist." That word is usually reserved for those who advocate military action, which, as you know very well (we have exchanged numberous emails on this, haven't we?), is not my position.

I want my government, and all other democratic governments, to support the Iranian people against the tyrannical mullahcracy. I am opposed to a military campaign. I have said this over and over again, only to be misdescribed by a person I esteem (and will continue to esteem when you correct the record, as I hope you will).

I suppose you realists would have preferred giving preferential trade goodies to the Syrians rather than having a chance for a free Lebanon, huh?

Is it "interventionist" to suggest that, if the Europeans pull of this latest version of appeasement, they will have demonstrated to the world that there is an automatic reward for starting down the path the nuclear weapons? And it's interesting that neither the NY Times nor the WaPo today mention Bush's public statements on this question while in Europe. He said that Iran had violated its international agreements, and that it was obnoxious to suggest they should be rewarded for it.

Interventionist? Pfui. Shame on you!

Posted by: michael ledeen at February 28, 2005 09:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It would be interesting to know the sources of the Weisman article. Typically, it is unsourced; therefore representative of one school of thought seeking to leak. The return of Scowcroft perhaps?

Posted by: Valdomar Croft at March 1, 2005 12:08 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hah! Well said, Mr. Ledeen. After awhile, I started "reading" your post in Gov Schwarzenegger's voice...

"...then, You - Are - An Interventionist"


Posted by: Tommy G at March 1, 2005 04:40 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I must agree with Mr. Ledeen. He seems to be constantly portrayed as a warmonger when he has steadfastly argued for nonmilitary means. Maybe you are guilty of imprecise language and did not mean to misdescribe him. I think you should clarify your comment.

Posted by: Lance at March 1, 2005 05:33 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

lance, as you are one of my favorite commenters whose judgment i trust i've tried to make my comment clearer. hope you think it does the trick.
cheers, gd

Posted by: greg at March 1, 2005 06:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Much more better, thanks for that.

On the substantive issue: I keep wondering how long it will take before all the "realists" embrace democratic revolution as the most lethal weapon against the terror masters. The "realists" thought we were nuts when we set out to liberate the Soviet Union, and they were wrong. They scoffed at the very idea that Latin Americans could and would support democracy, rather than the "traditional " military dictatorships, and they were wrong. Philippines, Bosnia, Georgia, Ukraine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon...and in Iran we know that more than seventy per cent of the people hate the regime and wish to be free. Yet you sometimes sound as if you believed in "Iranian exceptionalism," that there's just something there that will keep the mullahs in power.

You call that realism? I call it a demonstrably failed reactionary world view. Revolutionary fervor--mine, for example--is not always utopian. Sometimes, it's the most realistic view of all. And if you put that first quote of mine in context, you will see that I have never once advocated the use of military force against the Iranian regime. I have said all along that democratic revolution would prevail, and that our most potent weapons were political, not military.

Posted by: michael ledeen at March 1, 2005 12:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

One other thing I've seen Dr. Ledeen advocate is the same kind of psychological pushing and testing, encirclement, etc. that he says is responsible for bringing down the Soviet Union. BTW, Dr. Ledeen, if you have any friends at Radio Farda, please tell them to stop outing Iranian bloggers, eh?

Posted by: praktike at March 1, 2005 02:36 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The fear, of course, is Iran getting WTO accession and various Airbuses and the like (ie, all the very sizable carrots)...

Greg, you've got it backwards. It's the EU 3, especially the Germans, who are being bribed here, not Iran. Consider who needs these contracts most. Certainly not the mullahs. Kleptocratic millionaires all, the mullahs don't need or want any carrots. They couldn't care less about their people's welfare; their goal is to maintain the absolute power and islamist purity of their state.

Germany's export sector OTOH is being crushed by the strong euro, as are France's and the UK's. In Germany's case, this means their economic growth prospects are pretty well screwed for at least another year. Germany's far more dependent on exports than either France or the UK, and Schroeder's position is desperate. He can't find domestic economic growth anywhere, certainly not with Weimar levels of unemployment, and needs to squeeze every export lever he's got.

Posted by: thibaud at March 1, 2005 05:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Praktike: I don't know what "encirclement" means for a regime that is so paranoid it is already self-encircled, but I totally agree that Farda should not, not, not, "out" bloggers, who will be seized and tortured thanks to the criminal fools who did the outing.

Re: Soviet Union, once again I can only say, read my books. I think that the Soviet Union was defeated above all by real measures--notably cutting them off from advanced technology, and by exploding the myth (Brezhnev Doctrine) of the inevitable expansion of communism by beating them on the ground (Angola, Grenada, Afghanistan)--not primarily by psychological methods. They had failed, and it was up to us to bring the real costs home by refusing to bail them out, as we had done so often in the past. The speeches by Reagan were very important, as any Soviet dissident will tell you, but they were the sort of speech that any good American should give about tyrannical enemies.

The same sort our leaders should deliver about Iran.
I wrote two books along these lines, one a few years before the fall, one a few years afterwards. If you care that much, have a look.

Posted by: michael ledeen at March 1, 2005 08:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

[Bush] said that Iran had violated its international agreements, and that it was obnoxious to suggest they should be rewarded for it. (Michael Ledeen).

He also said that the US was supporting the EU-3's negotiations.

Iran would 'be rewarded' for adhering to the NPT, not enriching uranium (taking their nuclear fuel from Russia, instead) etc.

Posted by: DavidP at March 1, 2005 09:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I think your clarification was fine. I have no idea whether you or Micheal are right here. Therefore I enjoyed each of your responses.

Posted by: Lance at March 2, 2005 06:50 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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