May 08, 2005

Laura's Iran Musings

Laura Rozen has a post up on the state of our Iran policy well worth your time. I don't agree with all her points, but it is hard to disagree with her general concern that our Iran policy is not achieving great results just now. Putting the quite farsical Beltway blame game to the side (would Kerry have done better? Did Bush's Iraq war ruin the prospects for an effective Iran strategy? [ed. note: No, and no, B.D. would answer) commenters are invited to chime in regarding what they would recommend on Iran policy. Pollack/Takeyh style incentives? Direct bilateral negotiations? Immediate move to sanctions and such? More vigorous saber-rattling? Ledeen-style fanning of more muscular counter-revolutionary sentiment? What to do? As with North Korea, one can't help feeling our policy is drifting and ineffective of late. We seem to have sub-contracted Iran policy (to the Euro troika) and N. Korea policy (to China, in the main) in the hope that Teheran or Pyongyang will see reason via messages from our proxies. But I'm not persuaded either will; and I'm not quite sure what our back-up plans are...

Posted by Gregory at May 8, 2005 12:56 AM | TrackBack (71)
Comments

I can't help but wondering if it isn't time for a "Nixon to China" moment vis a vis Iran (i.e. "Bush to Iran"). Bush, like Nixon, has the impeccable hard-line credentials to provide cover for a thaw in our relations with Iran.

Bush could present the Iranians a choice between a big carrot or a big stick.

It seems to me that, should we be seriously committed to the idea of imposing tough penalties on Iran should they continue down the path of nuclear weapons development, then our best option would be to impose a naval blockade preventing their seaborne oil shipments from getting to market. Bush could advertise this penalty in advance as the consequence Iran will have to bear should they fail to renounce WMD development soon.

Perhaps one might object that the global economy will also suffer as a result of an oil blockade. In the short term, yes, but in the long term it would also encourage (indeed coerce) further conservation of energy resources as well as the development of increased oil capability on the part of other producers.

In any case, hopefully it would be such an effective threat that it would obviate any need for its actual implementation.

On the other hand, in exchange for a complete comedown on Iran's part (vis a vis nukes and the support of terrorism), Bush could offer a full restoration of diplomatic and trade relations, to be sealed with a presidential visit.

Posted by: T. Constable at May 8, 2005 03:35 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

flip 'em and turn them into our main regional ally. kill the mullahs with connectivity.

Posted by: praktike at May 8, 2005 03:53 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Farsical? Cute....

Posted by: Jonathan Lundell at May 8, 2005 06:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I agree with Rozen that Iran is dead set on producing a nuclear weapon. And for Iran, it makes sense to do so --- nukes are the most cost effective deterrent against American aggression, and Iran is confronted with an American government whose policy is directed toward the overthrow of the Iranian government and US control of Iranian oil resources. (I think that Rozen is wrong that the Bush regime has no Iran policy --- it does have a policy, it lacks the means to carry out that policy.)

At this point there is virtually nothing that would discourage Iran from continuing to pursue nukes --- Iran isn't stupid, and knows that if things settle down in Iraq that the Bush regime plans on withdrawing American troops from Baghdad via Tehran.

The one step that the US could take that might have an impact on Iran's conviction that nuclear weapons are necessary to its security is one that the Bush regime is extremely unlikely to pursue--- putting enormous pressure on Israel to get rid of its own nuclear weapons as part of an effort to make the entire mid-East a nuclear-free zone.

At this point, the smartest policy for the US would be to accept the fact that Iran is going to have the bomb in the next few years, and work toward reversing Iran's conviction that the US wants to takeover Iran like it did Iraq. Threats at this point are completely counter-productive, and carrying out those threats would result in oil prices so high that the US economy would likely suffer a complete collapse. Maybe in four years, if regime change is accomplished in the USA, Iran could be convinced to stop its development of nuclear weapons and "mothball" any programs under international supervision.

Prior to the arrival of Bush and his PNAC buddies, Iran was well on its way toward democracy. Although the ayatollah's maintained control, it was increasingly obvious that the Iranian people were dissatisfied with complete clerical rule, and it is highly likely that Iran would have successfully transitioned to democratic rule based on the principles of Islamic law in a few years time. US saber-rattling and threats have pretty much put the pro-democracy movement in hibernation, and its going to take years to bring Iran back to the same point it was at in 2002. But because that is clearly an achievable goal, US policy should focus on that goal, and how to achieve it.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 8, 2005 08:13 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Prior to the arrival of Bush and his PNAC buddies, Iran was well on its way toward democracy.

Um, sure, whatever you say. Just as long as it is acknowledged that the desire to excoriate Bush is matched only by the ignorance of Iranian domestic concerns and nuclear ambitions.

As for Iranian nuclear policy "making sense," it may be a bit too early for such a bold assessment to be made. But given the eloquent delusions running so rampant, I wouldn't want to bet on it.

(Though to be fair, I suppose it would be necessary to define just what "making sense" means in this context.)

Posted by: Barry Meislin at May 8, 2005 09:24 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Um, sure, whatever you say.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/in_depth/middle_east/2000/iran_elections/iran_election_news/627344.stm

for starters....

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 8, 2005 09:41 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PL:
Everyone knows Iran held elections in 2000 but linking an article from 5 years ago does not demonstrate that they were or would be on their way toward democracy if not for the Bush administration. In Iran, the candidates for office still need to be approved by the clerics, the government still considers dissent a crime, the press is not free, and the government does still does not recognize the right of Israel (until recently, the only other democracy in the region) to exist. All of these facts disqualify Iran as a democracy and *none* of them are the fault of the U.S.

The biggest problems with democracy in Iran right now are demonstrated by the fact that even the people there aren't buying the idea that their government is reforming or has any intention of doing so. Blogged here:

http://citizenz.blogharbor.com/blog/_archives/2005/4/26/622523.html

As for a Nixon-to-China moment, I think that's premature, coming from the U.S. But a Rafsanjani-to-Tel Aviv moment? That would change things.

Posted by: Citizen Z at May 8, 2005 11:59 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for what the U.S. should do? I don't know. But I believe there is only one thing that will deter Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. The regime in Iran must believe they will have a war on their hands - and that they will lose that war - the moment word gets out that they have or are close to having the bomb. Unfortunately, I don't see the U.S. or our allies convincing them of this, as I'm not sure any of us is prepared to prosecute that war. So, unless we (or, more likely, Israel) are able to destroy Iran's research and/or production capabilities before the fact, I think Iran's nuclear future is inevitable.

Posted by: Citizen Z at May 8, 2005 12:29 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Everyone knows Iran held elections in 2000 but linking an article from 5 years ago does not demonstrate that they were or would be on their way toward democracy if not for the Bush administration. In Iran, the candidates for office still need to be approved by the clerics, the government still considers dissent a crime, the press is not free, and the government does still does not recognize the right of Israel (until recently, the only other democracy in the region) to exist. All of these facts disqualify Iran as a democracy and *none* of them are the fault of the U.S.

I suggest that you first go back and read the full series of articles found linked to the one I cited --- in 2000 dissent was permitted, and there was a thriving and open opposition press.

(and please get real. Recognition of Israel is in no way a prerequisite for, or even a sign of, democracy. South Africa under apartheid recognized Israel.... And if the Bush regime is going to celebrate "bringing democracy to the middle east, based on your definition --- no restrictions on candidates, a free press, etc. --- it hasn't done so in Iraq by any means. )

Governments that feel threatened from outside crack down on dissent, and societies that feel threatened from outside tolerate/approve of supression of democratic rights. Don't forget that the Iranian people (and the Iranian government) were extremely vocal in their condemnation of 9-11, and that over 60,000 Iranians participated in a moment of silence for the victims of 9-11 at a soccer match. But since the infamous "axis of evil" speech, the clerics have been coming down hard on dissenters, and the banning of candidates and press supression that you referred to occurred in conjunction with the 2004 elections, not those in 2000.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 8, 2005 01:35 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The regime in Iran must believe they will have a war on their hands - and that they will lose that war - the moment word gets out that they have or are close to having the bomb.

This probably would not have worked prior to the occupation of Iraq, because the Iranian leadership is far less motivated by the desire to maintain personal power as it is in maintaining the fundamentals of the Islamic Revolution --- and it sees the Bush regime as a profound threat to those fundamentals. The Ayatollahs would prefer jihad and martyrdom in Allah's name to capitulation to "The Great Satan".

And the Iraqi occupation demonstrates how resistance to the US could be successful --- the US would not be faced with a resistance consisting of small number of radical fundamentalist jihadis and the remnants of Saddam's Baathist regime, but with an entire nation dedicated to destroying the occupiers in the name of Allah.

(The sad irony is that this "threat of war" strategy was effective with Saddam Hussein, who was willing to do anything to retain his personal power. But it won't work with Iran, because we are dealing with leaders who see resistance to the US as a religious obligation, and who see martyrdom in jihad as the highest possible accomplishment during their time on earth.)

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 8, 2005 03:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Laura Rozen's article is way off base. There are myriad options for dealing with Iran, and the tendency to reduce them to appeasement or force is counter-productive.

Bringing Israel into the solution isn't completely unfeasable; imagine some sort of situation where Iran would formally and publically renounce its quest for nuclear weapons and its "right" to reprocess nuclear materials, and Israel would give up and dismantle its nuclear weapons, and even invite in the IAEA. The US and EU-3, perhaps NATO, could act as a guarantor of the agreement.

This would only be possible if it were announced to the world as a fait accompli (like Libya). If it broke before such a time, there would be intense domestic and international pressure on both Israel and Iran to walk away. But the benefits to both sides would be immeasurable - Israel would effectively disarm its last regional WMD threat (thus obviating the need for its own nukes), and Iran would be able to claim victory in getting rid of the Israeli threat. (There would have to be a way to assure Iran that the US posed no threat as well.) This wouldn't necessarily lead to Rafsanjani in Jerusalem, or even normalization of relations, but the possibilities would be numerous.

Ending the crisis with Iran, and ending the specter of and Israeli or US attack, would eventually undercut the Ayatollahs' power - which has revolved since on the beginning around external threats. A process of Iranian reform could thus be brought around much like in Egypt - slowly and jerkily, but with no major violence - through concerted domestic and soft international pressure.

Posted by: P.H.Chaffee at May 8, 2005 04:31 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

But the benefits to both sides would be immeasurable - Israel would effectively disarm its last regional WMD threat

note that this would require that Iran (and Israel) also get rid of its biological and chemical weapons programs.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 8, 2005 07:57 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

PL:

"Recognition of Israel is in no way a prerequisite for, or even a sign of, democracy."

But refusal to recognize Israel is a sign of beligerance toward one's democratic neighbors in the region and that is not a sign of an emerging democracy.

Iran was named in the "Axis of Evil" speech because the regime has a long history of sponsoring terrorism and this behavior continued after the 2000 elections that people were so optimistic about (myself included, by the way). In other words, the government of Iran earned its place in that speech. To complain that the president is at fault for Iran's crackdown because he told the truth about terrorism is just another tired "Blame America First" strategy. The regime is responsible for it's own actions and the people of Iran understand that. Which is why they protest against the mullahs and not the U.S. If only Americans could see the situation so clearly.

Posted by: Citizen Z at May 8, 2005 09:17 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Not much we can do to prevent Iran going nuke if they are detrmined to and the EU doesn't assist by embargoing Iran as well as us.

We aren't omniscent.

I personally don't think they are.

Posted by: Patrick at May 8, 2005 10:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Iran was named in the "Axis of Evil" speech because the regime has a long history of sponsoring terrorism.....

so does the United States. The point being that Bush condemns terrorism only when it suits his agenda---but Bush would never imagine holding Reagan and Bush I adminisration officials responsible for US sponsorship of terrorism in Latin America and Afghanistan. Nor is Bush holding Saudi Arabia or Pakistan accountable for its support of terrorism.

As with Iraq, there is no real evidence that Iran represents any kind of national security threat to the USA. The world knows this, and knows that Bush's aggressive stance toward Iran is motivated by something other than its support of Palestianian freedom fighters/terrorists.

And the world has figured out what the real agenda of the Bush administration is----control of mideast oil resources.

Posted by: p.lukasiak at May 8, 2005 11:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

P. Luksiak is dead wrong, again. Iran is dead set on producing a nuclear weapon for it's own strategic aims, namely Gulf dominance, and nothing else. They already are safe from "American Aggression" and have several means to forestall any "invasion" by the US, not the least of which are:

*Selling oil to the US freely.
*Apologizing for the US Embassy takeover, and asking for relations to be restored.
*Sharing intelligence or even better handing over the large numbers of Al-Qaeda figures known to be under house arrest in Iran.

All of these are relatively cheap and easy. Even the LAST one could be done rather quietly, with the shared interest in keeping Afghanistan relatively stable and not having millions of Afghan refugees pouring into Iran or threaten the regime's "Islamic Identity" which manifests itself in horrific barbarism. Such as stoning to death women convicted of "adultery" including girls raped as young as 13, or hanging a 16 year old girl for the same. This regime is so barbarous and horrific it's off the charts, in Saddam territory. It has also had many opportunities that were nearly cost-free (intelligence sharing helps the Iranians too) and passed those up at cost to themselves.

No, the only reason to have nukes is to threaten the US into withdrawing from the Gulf and restoring the central goal of Persian policy back to Xerxes, domination of the Gulf. Iran tried guerilla warfare with various speedboats in the Gulf in the 80's and found that it doesn't work on the Sea. Nukes are the only way to trump the US Navy in the Gulf.

Luksiak deludes himself if he thinks Iran was on it's way to democracy. The Mullahs vetted the candidate lists, and overturned elections they didn't like. Rafsanjani was stripped of any real power, and the various militias and secret police were unleashed on reformers at regular intervals. The Military is simply too divided and vulnerable to secret police (like Hitler's Army) to stand aside when reformers press. They'll roll the tanks just like the PLA did at Tienanmen. Luksiak lives in a dream world. This unfortunately is reality.

Iran's Nuclear Program is over twenty years old and required a massive investment in resources, so it hardly dates to Bush's arrival. Once again, Luksiak falls prey to "Evil McChimpy Bu$hitler ruined everything!" Bush has many faults here, but that's not one of them.

Realistically, we can remove Iran's nukes by force, or accept them. Making it clear that strategic nuclear retaliation is in the cards AUTOMATICALLY just as in the Cold War if any nuke is exploded against US interests. That Iran as a nation would simply cease to exist. This is the MAD logic which DID actually work in the Cold War. Neither ourselves nor the Soviets used nukes (or active warfare) against each other.

Each course is risky, it's hard to say which one is more risky. Removing them by force will kill possibly millions of people, all of them innocent, and earn us worldwide condemnation. It will however give great pause to any who would attack us with Nukes, and make enemies fear us. MAD defers any conflict but raises the risk that a group of successor Mullahs not understanding US forces or politics could fall victim to Al Qaeda's fantasy ideology and strike first, killing millions in a US city.

Regardless, the Europeans are a joke. They'll sell to anyone as long as the nukes are not aimed at THEM.

Posted by: Jim Rockford at May 9, 2005 09:02 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
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