May 17, 2006

Let's Talk to Iran--A Growing Chorus!

People might disagree on whether direct bilaterals are better, or the U.S. tacking onto the Euro-3 multilaterals, or some combination thereto, but more and more seasoned foreign policy experts are calling for some form of direct dialogue between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States. Let's review the bidding, in no particular order:

Henry Kissinger:

...on a matter so directly involving its security, the United States should not negotiate through proxies, however closely allied. If America is prepared to negotiate with North Korea over proliferation in the six-party forum, and with Iran in Baghdad over Iraqi security, it must be possible to devise a multilateral venue for nuclear talks with Tehran that would permit the United States to participate -- especially in light of what is at stake.

Richard Lugar: Direct talks would be "useful"

Richard Armitage: "It merits talking to the Iranians about the full range of our relationship ... everything from energy to terrorism to weapons to Iraq...We can be diplomatically astute enough to do it without giving anything away.”

Richard Haass:

Given these potential high costs, Washington should be searching harder for a diplomatic alternative, one that entail direct US talks with Iran beyond the narrow dialogue announced on Iraq. Iran would be allowed no—or at most, a token—uranium enrichment programme (one too small to produce a militarily significant amount of nuclear material over the next decade) coupled with the most intrusive inspections. In return, Iran would receive a range of economic benefits, security guarantees and political dialogue. If Iran refused, the United Nations Security Council would ban investment in Iran’s oil and gas sector.

Dennis Ross:

Why not have the president go to his British, French and German counterparts and say: We will join you at the table with the Iranians, but first let us agree on an extensive set of meaningful -- not marginal -- economic and political sanctions that we will impose if the negotiations fail. Any such agreement would also need to entail an understanding of what would constitute failure in the talks and the trigger for the sanctions. The Europeans have always wanted the Americans at the table. Agreeing on the sanctions in advance would be the price for getting us there.

Chuck Hagel:

As we consider the regional context of stability and security in Iraq, there is another issue that we must deal with—a relationship between the United States and Iran. The fact that our two governments cannot—or will not—sit down to exchange views must end. Iran is a regional power; it has major influence in Iraq and throughout the Gulf region. Its support of terrorist organizations and the threat it poses to Israel is all the more reason that the U.S. must engage Iran. Any lasting solution to Iran’s nuclear weapons program will also require the United States’ direct discussions with Iran. The United States is capable of engaging Iran in direct dialogue without sacrificing any of its interests or objectives. As a start, we should have direct discussions with Iran on the margins of any regional security conference on Iraq, as we did with Iran in the case of Afghanistan.

Then there is this excellent CFR 2004 Task Force Report on Iran that recommends a "direct dialogue" between Iran and the United States. Signatories include Robert Gates (Bush 41's DCI), Frank Carlucci (Reagan's Secretary of Defense, who agrees with the "main thrust" of the study, but in a reservation to the report expresses some reticence about the prospects for dialogue, at least back in '04), and Louis Perlmutter, a MD at Lazard.

Kissinger. Lugar. Hagel. Haass. Armitage. These are heavyweights. Republican heavyweights. Yeah folks, that's right, with the possible exception of Dennis Ross, everyone listed above is a Republican. All these people calling for direct engagement with Iran are not, you know, limp-wristed, America-hating, defeatist Democrats, but solid red-staters, God-loving GOP'ers, people who'd get along just swell with Hugh Hewitt even (my list, of course, would double and triple in size if I added the Madeline Albrights and Sandy Bergers and so on, indeed, we'd almost have an emerging bipartisan consensus on talking directly to Iran)! Now, I'm not going to name names and get all mean over here, but I've seen a lot of people poo-pooing engagement with Iran whose collective foreign policy experience isn't worth a warm bucket of spit as compared to the people above. They'd be blown to the proverbial smithereens (and then some)--going mano to mano with this gang debating Iran policy--especially post the Iraq imbroglio. Just saying.

Closing thoughts, from Dick Armitage:

It appears that the Administration thinks that dialogue equates with weakness, that we've called these regimes 'evil'--either Iran or North Korea--and therefore we won't talk to them. Some people say talking would legitimize the regimes. But we're not trying to change the regimes, and they're already legitimized in the eyes of the international community. So we ought to have enough confidence in our ability as diplomats to go eye to eye with people--even though we disagree in the strongest possible way--and come away without losing anything.

Indeed. And, even should military force be ultimately required, it bears keeping in mind George Perkovich of Carnegie's words: "it's (the U.S) going to need a lot of friends in the aftermath. And if you haven't tried diplomacy in a serious way, nobody's going to stand with you. It's going to be worse than Iraq." Trying diplomacy in a "serious way", of course, means us speaking directly to the Iranians, not just playing tag-along with the Euro-3. More and more Republicans, those who are reality-based at least, are getting this. More will soon too, I predict. Even, per chance, senior players in the Administration (ed.note: scroll to bottom of post)!

P.S.How about John McCain, you ask? He's almost there (link), but always the hard-to-pigeonhole 'maverick'!:

SCHIEFFER: All right. Well, let's talk a little bit about another problem, and that is Iran. The administration is telling them `We will not tolerate the building of a nuclear weapon.' They're talking about diplomacy, and yet so far we have declined to meet with them. The--what's wrong with direct talks with Iran about this?

Sen. McCAIN: Well, I think it's an option that you probably have to consider, and it's a tough decision, because here's a country whose rhetoric daily continues to be the most insulting to the United States and to democracy and freedom, constant threats about the extinction of their neighbor. The president has stated clearly he will explore every diplomatic option. But I think that there has to be some kind of glimmer of hope or optimism before we sit down and give them that kind of legitimacy.

P.P.S. Commenters are welcome to add in comments below prominent Republicans calling for U.S. talks with Iran that I've omitted in my first cut, and I can update the list as able.

Posted by Gregory at May 17, 2006 02:45 AM | TrackBack (1)

I notice you don't quote any Iranian foreign policy experts in your list.

Here ya go:

"Do you think you are dealing with a 4-year-old child to whom you can give walnuts and chocolates and get gold from him?" Ahmadinejad told thousands of people in central Iran.

So, while Western experts debate whether we should offer walnuts and chocolate as a group or individually, and whether those chocalates shall be European, or European and American chocolates, the Iranians seem not to be interested in free light water reactors. (I wonder why?)

My point is that of course diplomacy must be tried, but as in poker, you can't be sure your strategy will work until you see the players lay down their cards. Direct talks will be better vs. keep us out of talks to add leverage...WHO KNOWS?

All I can say is that if your incentives are not attractive to the other side better negotiation tactics won't help you.

The one thing I would suggest would be a maximum effort to educate the Iranian people what we would want for an agreement...and keep that to a basic set of demands and offers.

Posted by: Aaron at May 17, 2006 08:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"So we ought to have enough confidence in our ability as diplomats to go eye to eye with people--even though we disagree in the strongest possible way--and come away without losing anything."

Hell yah! That worked well for the North Korean deal - we came away without losing anything, right?

Posted by: Aaron at May 17, 2006 08:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Mr. Ross, though he may be the token non-Republican, has at least thought about the idea of how to involve the U.S. in talks without undercutting the past three years of talks by the EU 3.

Time is not on our side. If an American entry into negotiations has the effect of resetting them, thus postponing any demands the EU 3 have made, then it is ipso facto undesirable.

Posted by: sammler at May 17, 2006 10:34 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It really does depend on the goal. I saw Krauthammer on the tube the other day, and he was perfectly clear: the only goal is regime change, and all efforts up to now (EU3, etc) have had as their purpose the eventual legitimization of our use of force to change the regime.

In that world, everything is going according to plan. Direct talks could well ruin the progress that's been made. The point of the EU3 track, from this perspective, has been its failure.

(And of course the EU3 track will fail -- the EU3 can't offer 'no forcible regime change' as part of a deal, and Iran would be pretty foolish to sign on to something that didn't have that in it.)

Posted by: CharleyCarp at May 17, 2006 11:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Are you saying that the goal of the Eu-3 and the USA is nothing less than regime change? If so, I think we could be using the negotiations to more effect than we are now, i.e. how to use them to leverage internal opinion within Iran. And if regime change is their goal they have been pretty weak indeed - from both the preparing international opinion side and also from preparing Iranian opinion.

I would say that if Iran gave the EU-3 and the USA a Qaddafi deal or even a 1994 Nork deal, we would take it in a heartbeat. Thus, I don't think the negotiations are just for show (except on the Iranian side.)

I wouldn't mind seeing a comprehensive list of the Iranian offers to date on how to solve the problem...just to see if they have been consistently improving their offers (which is what you see in non-brinksmanship negotiations.)

Posted by: Aaron at May 17, 2006 01:32 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think there is a faction on the US side that views the primary purpose of the EU3 process as convincing the EU3, and this similarly inclined, that diplomacy and multilateralism have been tried and exhausted. The defining characteristic of this faction is that they think it is the nature of the regime, not the quality of its armaments, that presents the danger. People in that faction would not take any deal Iran can put on the table, because they want to cause a violent overthrow.

I'm not in, or sympathetic to this faction at all, mind you. But I don't think it can be ignored, nor can the alliance of that faction with the political folks, who point out that tough talk against Iran might be pretty helpful in November 2006. Or even airstrikes.

The logic of choosing to focus on nature of regime, not strength of armament, isn't completely looney: we're not afraid of France or Israel, after all. The problem, of course, is that only a complete idiot would postulate an Iran that has an alliance with US interests as reliable as France or Israel, over any significant length of time. The similar thesis of a pro-Israel, anti-jihadist democratic Iraq has surely been nearly conclusively disproven. Sure it's possible that a reasonably stable reasonably democratic (think Pakistan) Iraq will eventually emerge from the chaos. It will be no friendlier to Israel than Pakistan, and no less a haven for jihadists against the West. In terms of the US struggle against jihadis, I think we'll have ended up with a much less favorable status quo than even represented by Saddam's riegn of brutality. (Israel will have a modest improvement, Iran will prove the biggest winner of all, by far).

To come back to your point, I certainly don't know what kind of offers Iran has made to the EU3. I am certain, though, that unless and until they get a US promise not to engage in or support violent overthrow of the government, they will never give up the option of developing a nuclear weapon. I don't believe that the current US Administration is emotionally capable of making this promise. That's not to say, though, that significant progress can't be made on a number of bilateral issues from opening discussions.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at May 17, 2006 02:23 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink
Hell yah! That worked well for the North Korean deal - we came away without losing anything, right?

Chastening thought. When I think of the steaming radioactive ruin where Tokyo used to be I - what? That never happened? What are you trying to tell me????

Posted by: Jim Henley at May 17, 2006 02:53 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I would say that if Iran gave the EU-3 and the USA a Qaddafi deal or even a 1994 Nork deal, we would take it in a heartbeat. Thus, I don't think the negotiations are just for show (except on the Iranian side.)

Perhaps Iran doesn't trust the US. Perhaps they regard any inspections as just a ruse to dismantle any Iranian defenses while continuing war planning.

And given the lies and deceptions that accompanied the run up to the war in Iraq, they may be right not to do so.

Posted by: Mike m at May 17, 2006 04:43 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There needs to be direct talks, but preferably not in public. They may be going on now for all we know. At the very least, we need to sit down with Iran and make sure we understand eachother. The Iranian problem has no easy answers, but I, for one, having spent years in the region, believe we have no choice but to talk directly with the Iranians. And I say "talk" because that is different from negotiation. Initially, our purpose would not be to come to an agreement, but to have each side express its issues and concerns. Based on that, negotiation toward a specific end may or may not be possible, but it's important to try.

I don't see any problem with regime guarantees. It's up to the Iranian people to overthrow the regime, not us. I don't think such guarantees will mean much to the Iranians though - it's not like we've actively tried to topple their governement or have seriously considered invasion for regime change. They know they are relatively safe and will likely view offers of regime security as insignificant. What they need to be made to understand, however, is the developing nuclear weapons will decrease their security and make it more likely that we'll be forced to take them out.

Finally, I agree we need to get our ducks in a row with the EU-3 and the UNSC permanent members to agree ahead of time what will trigger sanctions and what those sanctions will be. The UN is a lot like parenting - Children easily exploit parents to their own ends when those parents fail to coordinate their actions and present a united front. The same is true in the UN - Iraq excelled at playing one "parent" off the other (and the bribery helped as well) and we were unable to agree on how to "discipline" Iraq. It's obvious Iran is using similar tactics to delay and prevent any agreement or action against them. Threats of UNSC sanctions are pretty meaningless until we can determine what evidence the Russians and Chinese need to go along, or at least abstain, from sanctions.

Posted by: Andy at May 17, 2006 06:11 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

re Dennis Ross' comments to establish ground rules with the EU and then engage Iran:
1) Why does Ross have any credibility on this issue? He certainly didn't accomplish much, if anything in the many years he was SMEC.
2) We have "agreed" on things with the EU many times, no aid to the Palestinians until they renounce terrorism and recognize Israel being the most recent example, only to have the EU undermine us in the most self-serving ways. Why should we think they will be trustworthy partners on this? Their commercial ties with Iran alone are enough to give them incentive to cave on any "sanctions" we would agree to.


Posted by: Delilah at May 17, 2006 07:06 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Ya, it is a good point that the commercial interests get very much in the way. That was why Sharon defied the US and kept selling weapons to Iran, as I understand, because of the commercial interests in keeping the money flowing back to Israel from the weapons flowing to Iran.

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

Appeasement breeds war: Albert Einstein defined insanity as "doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
As I demonstrate on my site, this is what the West has been doing and these experts continue to encourage so doing. The consequences can be seen in Venezuella.

Posted by: Judith Apter klinghoffer at May 17, 2006 08:15 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As I demonstrate on my site, this is what the West has been doing and these experts continue to encourage so doing. The consequences can be seen in Venezuella.

What consequences?

Posted by: Guy at May 17, 2006 09:09 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yeah, what consequences? And why do people seem to believe that talks=appeasement?

Posted by: Andy at May 17, 2006 09:25 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Negotiate what?

Let's concede that the negotiations undertaken so far have been exceedingly fruitful. ... Not for changing Iran's position, mind you, but for reminding the more shrill amongst Monday morning quarterbacks that negotiations don't necessarily always work.

The reason to negotiate is to make unequivocally clear to all parties in this instance that if negotiations fail, consequences will follow.

Now that that has been made clear, tell us again what else is to be negotiated?

Posted by: sbw at May 18, 2006 01:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You negotiate in good faith, and you offer real incentives. Trade, for example - wasn't trade one of the issues we were making headway on, before Bush decided to crank up the rhetoric? Security guarantees: "We won't order military strikes if you verifiably abide by the terms of the agreement."

Christ, negotiate anything, anything at all, just to keep the jaw-jaw going until we're rid of the maleficent incompetents currently occupying the WH and get someone in there who isn't already known far and wide as a lying tool whose word isn't worth the air it took to utter.

Posted by: CaseyL at May 18, 2006 02:47 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

According to Yahoo News, the USA is already working with EU-3 and China and Russia to come up with a package...and of course since these countries have vetos this makes a lot of sense - essentially what Dennis Ross was advocating.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the session was postponed because "we're trying to put together a package that would include incentives on one side and penalties."

"I don't think there is a full agreement on exactly what would cormpise the package," he said. "This is complex, multilateral diplomacy. It takes a little bit of time."

China and Russia have opposed bringing Iran's case to a vote in the
U.N. Security Council, where the United States, Britain and France have pressed for sanctions.

So, we are negotiating as a team as of right now, and Iran knows this as long as they can read the internets over there...

Now, let's see what Iran has to say:
"Do you think you are dealing with a 4-year-old child to whom you can give some walnuts and chocolates and get gold from him?" President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asked derisively.

But Ahmadinejad heaped scorn on the offer in the nationally televised speech Wednesday.

"They say they want to offer us incentives," he said. "We tell them: keep the incentives as a gift for yourself. We have no hope of anything good from you."

His defiance was met with shouts of, "We love you Ahmadinejad!" from the crowd.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi joined the president in the counterattack, mockingly offering the Europeans trade concessions if the EU dropped its opposition to the nuclear program.

"We are prepared to offer economic incentives to Europe in return for recognizing our right (to enrich uranium)," state radio quoted him as saying.

On Wednesday, Ahmadinejad underlined Iran's determination to continue enrichment and scolded the Europeans for what he viewed as doing the dirty work of the Americans.

"We recommend that you not sacrifice your interests for the sake of others," he said.

Ahmadinejad also reissued his threat to pull out of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

"Don't force governments and nations to renounce their membership in the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty," he said asserting that Iran had the right to a civilian nuclear power program.

Sounds like they are looking for an excuse to get out of their treaty obligations and are not responding well to economic incentives offered by the EU-3.

BTW, for the people who are whining about Bush ratcheting up the rhetoric, keep in mind Iran has called the USA the Great Satan for many many years and has attacked our embassy and armed forces. Sorry, but Iran is not a child and could make some steps herself to relieve the tension. It takes two to Tango.

Posted by: Aaron at May 18, 2006 03:29 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

BTW, for the people who are whining about Bush ratcheting up the rhetoric, keep in mind Iran has called the USA the Great Satan for many many years and has attacked our embassy and armed forces. Sorry, but Iran is not a child and could make some steps herself to relieve the tension. It takes two to Tango.

And the US instituted a coup in Iran, overthrowing a democratic government. The US also shot down an civilian Iranian passenger craft and aided its enemy in a brutal war.

But recently, Iran did help the US in stabilizing Afghanistan. There was every reason to believe that as recently as 2002, the tension could have been reduced, although Iran's nuclear program would have remained a huge irritant anyway.

Then Bush came along with his axis of evil speech, and invasion of Iraq, based on lies and exaggerations. And the neocons like Michael Ledeen were frothing at the mouth to invade Iran.

So its true that recently Iran has been unco-operative and unhelpful, and the US has tried to negotiate, but a great deal of the recent tension can indeed be tied to the US's rhetoric post 911. Perhaps the nuclear program would have lead to this situation anyway, but given the record of mendacity of the US wrt the invasion of Iraq, Iran has reasonable grounds for concluding that the US cannot be trusted in any assertion it makes.

Posted by: Mike m at May 18, 2006 03:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

And ahead of them all...a Democrat, Wes Clark. Ignored by party and media, as usual.

Posted by: Gloria at May 18, 2006 04:11 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

There are many types of negotiations. One format, which is urged often above is the carrot and stick variety. It ties threats of punishment with offers of benefits and pressures the opposite party to chose between the two. In this context however, relationship centric negotiations make a great deal more sense. By relationship centric I mean negotiations, perhaps even discussions that are oriented toward building confidences to displace preexisting distrust and even hatred. After carefully considering the emanations from Iran’s President, I have come to the conclusion that he is attempting to make up for his lack of political skills with bluster and bluff. Threatening Israel from Indonesia makes no sense at all. No, I don’t know the exact parameters of the bluff and bluster and where the reality line exists. However, if the commentators are correct, there are other factions within the leadership that are uneasy about his threats and blusters. That suggests that we are not addressing a monolithic hostility represented by his bluster, but rather a situation where if the right incentives were to be developed, other influences within the government would force a move in a more favorable direction.

The principal clerics have vastly enriched themselves as a result of the power they enjoy. They certainly realize that Iran’s oil production capacity is deteriorating and that a great deal of the country’s oil earnings are flowing out for such necessities as gasoline and food. They also realize that Iran lacks the technology to maintain its oil fields and that the likelihood of further deterioration is very strong if not certain. They lack the technological abilities to develop their gas fields or to maintain their oil fields. The tremendous diversion of resources to the nuclear program must be hurting the capacity of the country to maintain and improve its infrastructure.

I suspect that were we talking and were we to posture our approaches not as threats, leaving that up to the Europeans, we might gradually be able to bring the more practical elements with the Iranian leadership to a perspective that this standoff is not doing them any good and that perhaps movement to a face saving middle ground would be desirable. This is not likely to occur where there is no meaningful relationship to begin with as seems the case now, or where the negotiations are not calculated to develop a more attractive relationship with time. I think the case for negotiations qua discussions is so strong that it can no longer be ignored.

As for the folks above who parrot the pap, I invite you to move past that tired rhetoric and address the substantive issues in substantive terms instead of name calling and insults. You should have learned by now that that political hate mongering doesn’t win elections and it certainly isn’t going to convince anyone here that you have a credible perspective.


Posted by: Michael Pecherer at May 18, 2006 04:20 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't think it's wrong to point out that, within the administration, whether we should talk with Iran is not the only thing that is controversial. A particularly difficult subject probably revolves around the meaning of "we."

The Defense Department will not want its options foreclosed by the State Department -- at a minimum it would want representation on any American team sent to negotiate the nuclear question (whether this is done bilaterally or as part of the existing four-party talks with the EU countries). Amb. Khalilzad will want negotiations pertinent to Iraq to be done through him. There may well be differences within the State Department as to who should be in charge of the American side of any discussions that might take place on terrorism (outside Iraq) or economic issues.

The point is that even if internal administration discussions had shifted toward opening discussions with Tehran some time ago, a public administration position might yet be some time in coming. This administration has been deeply reluctant to empower or make publicly prominent officials not already part of the President's inner circle, and most of those with the President's confidence have their hands full already. Between that consideration and the need to sort out interdepartmental rivalries, even administration agreement with the Republican worthies Greg quotes above may not mean this train is ready to leave the station.

Posted by: Zathras at May 18, 2006 04:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey, remember how after 9-11, all fingers pointed to the Saudis?

Except the President and his right-wing, they all pointed at the Saudi's enemies...that is so wierd, that that happened that way.

Posted by: NeoDude at May 18, 2006 05:22 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

From Sen. John McCAIN above:
"But I think that there has to be some kind of glimmer of hope or optimism before we sit down and give them that kind of legitimacy."

The war with Iraq could have been avoided if we (the Bush Administration) had been willing to talk with them. I heard the same sort of objection from a Navy officer when I said one of the saddest moments was in an interview before the war when Saddam Hussein asked Dan Rather to help arrange a "debate" between himself and George W. Bush, "We can't give Saddam that sort of legitimacy." was the Navy officer's response. Who the hell is George W. Bush or his whole Administration to talk about giving them or anyone else legitimacy?

Posted by: Meteor at May 18, 2006 09:14 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Also, maybe this escapes a lot of folks here, but the USA in taking out Saddam's army twice, capturing him, and removing any chance of serious Iraqi re-armament and irredentism, did the Iranians a huge favor. Israel is not a serious threat to Iran. Iraq was. In fact I am sympathetic that Iran would want to get the bomb while Saddam was around.

BTW, it's not that I want to attack Iran, or don't support negotiations - I just don't think they will work any better as bilateral talks or 6 party talks or what not.

I don't believe in "if we just got rid of Bush" or "if we just started making promises" that talks will succeed. A lot has to do with what each party really wants.

If negotiations fail I would not support military action but prefer containment with a robust and clear retaliation policy for any nuclear terrorism.

Posted by: Aaron at May 18, 2006 09:44 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"Some people say talking would legitimize the regimes. But we're not trying to change the regimes"

Your argument is undercut by the obvious falsity of this assumption.

We are working hard to undermine the theocratic leaders of Iran - I sometimes wonder if Ahmedinejad can be of more help to us than to his nominal masters on the Guardian's Council, seeing how he seems determined to prompt Bush into removing them.

No doubt all those Peshmerga and PKK running around Eastern Iran we're paying off/training/arming would be surprised by your assumption too.

Posted by: Gridlock at May 18, 2006 12:48 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

You should have learned by now that that political hate mongering doesn’t win elections and it certainly isn’t going to convince anyone here that you have a credible perspective.

It works for Republicans.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 18, 2006 01:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

As for the folks above who parrot the pap, I invite you to move past that tired rhetoric and address the substantive issues in substantive terms instead of name calling and insults.

Heal thyself. Seriously, I don't know who you mean by this. If you mean me, I think maybe something along the lines of specific substantive comments would be a good idea.

I don't believe in "if we just got rid of Bush" or "if we just started making promises" that talks will succeed. A lot has to do with what each party really wants.

I can't see why you think this is a reasonable characterization of anyone's position. Certainly not mine, inasmuch as I agree with the last sentence. Obviously, there can't be a deal unless each side gets enough of what it wants to call it a victory. I think there are enough people of real influence in the government who are committed to there being no scenario at all in which the current Iranian regime can consider a deal a victory -- and that this therefore dooms all negotiations, qua negotiations. If what we really want is forcible overthrow of the Iranian regime, there's not going to be a deal. If what they want is a verifiable (somehow) security guarantee, against violent regime change, well I've seen nothing at all that leads me to think we'd give this. For anything they have to offer.

Now there are plenty of people who do not want to believe that regime change is the preferred outcome of the US government. Fine, don't. Just don't be surprised as the discussion moves along that options inconsistent with that goal get discarded, and those seen as ways to advance it get the play. And the EU3 process up to now has been completely consistent -- the negotiators can't offer what Iran really wants, so failure is assured; while 'negotiations are a failure' is a predicate for any outside support for regime change.

Direct US involvement in negotiations disrupts this scenario, because failure is no longer assured: the US can be maneuvered into having to publicly choose regime change over non-proliferation, and forfeit support from all but its in-most core for its real goal.

Everyone Greg links knows this full well, and I think you can call this a very significant revolt.

PS yeah, the President of Iran is a jerk. I'm not saying that we should pay no attention to him, but it's worth considering that (a) the stakes are too high to play pique games and (b) the Time piece from Hassan Rohani indicates that maybe some good cop bad cop dynamic is at play. It's well wrapped up in domestic Iranian politics, of course, so it's not like we can presume to play the game skillfully.

Posted by: CharleyCarp at May 18, 2006 02:44 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink




Posted by: Frank at May 18, 2006 03:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The question is: Should we have direct diplomatic relations with a nuclear armed Iran, or not?

I say yes.

Anyone who disagrees is a fucking idiot.

Posted by: ken at May 18, 2006 04:58 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yeah Russia and China are Coverin' Iran's Ass just Like the US has been Covering Israel's ASS with it's Veto's in the UN.Israel isn't a Saint by any Means.The US and Israel are the Two biggest Problems in this World.Why has Israel been Allowed to Develope WMDs and be a Threat to Thier Nieghbours in the ME.Oh yEah the US and Israel are The "GOOD" guys Yeah Right!!!

Posted by: SUZIE at May 18, 2006 05:40 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I'm amazed that so many obviously intelligent people posting here are so unable (or profoundly unwillingly) to try to understand this controversy from the Iranians' point of view.

Do you not see how deeply insulting it is to the the Iranians and particularly their scientific community, in which they take great pride, for the West to presume to tell them what technology they may or may not develop? Have you never thought about what it would be like if the shoe were on the other foot? If the Iranians, or the Muslim countries as a group, presumed to dictate to a western country in such a way?

Ahmadinejad's 18-page letter to Bush was perhaps not in western diplomatic tradition, but it was an informative and fascinating insight into how Iranians view the United States in relation to themselves and the rest of the world. Rather than the contempt it received, it should have been viewed as an opportunity to begin a dialogue. This controversy, like all others, cannot begin to be solved until each side can first understand the problems from the other's perspective

Posted by: dasher at May 18, 2006 06:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

If you don't think the Iranian "crisis" is about regime change, consider that a week after the much touted uranium enrichment in Iran, Brazil duplicated the same feat and announced its plans to sell the technology abroad to countries like Venezuela. Hear any major US concerns over this? Brazil, unlike Iran, has not signed the Additional Protocol and therefore less is known about its nuclear program due to less intensive and more restricted IAEA inspections. Brazil has also admitted to trying to build atomic weapons in the past, where Iran has called for a nuke-free Middle East for decades and never tried to advance their nuclear program, started by the US in the Shah days, when they were fighting the Iran-Iraq war and being subjected to chemical weapons by Hussein.

The US has demanded that Iran not be allowed nuclear technology. The Iranians figure that appeasing the US on this will only bring further demands and ultimatums. (See, appeasement works on both sides.) Rather than trying to come up with ways for Iran to continue its program under even the strictest Safeguards agreements, the US demands that Iran give up its NPT treaty rights. Instead of pretending its 1938, pretend its July, 1914. Serbia’s just been handed an ultimatum by Austria-Hungary.

Ultimatums are not negotiation; they are a prelude to war.

Posted by: Northman at May 18, 2006 07:33 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Speaking of direct negotiations with the Axis of Evil...

In the latest flip-flop from President Bush, the administration is planning to reverse course on North Korea. After five-years of a failed policy that produced a nuclear-armed North Korea, Bush will give the go-ahead for direct bilateral negotiations with Pyongyang. Apparently, the President has finally decided to listen to John Kerry's advice in 2004.

For the details, see:
"Bush Flip-Flops on North Korea."

Posted by: AvengingAngel at May 18, 2006 08:19 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The North Korea turnabout is a blunt admission that the Bush administration policy as set by the hawks when they shot down Powell on the issue in February of 2001 has simply failed. It has done nothing to restrain North Korea, and has instead turned the tables against the U.S. in the six-party process. The hawks offer only rhetoric and self-righteous posturing. Has anyone even heard a coherent argument for refusing direct talks with Tehran? I've heard lots of mealy-mouthed evasions, but nothing that passes muster as a serious position. (And spare me the Ahmedinajad quotes -- anyone seriously engaged with these matters should know that Ahmedinajad does not speak for the regime any more than Khatami did)

In the course of the last week, alone, Washington has been walked back on two major foreign policy positions, viz. the push for a Chapter VII resolution on Iran, and the attempt to throttle the Palestinian Authority. Where once we could talk of U.S. leadership, we now see the U.S. playing the role of a kind of bad-cop caricature, a sort of global Krauthammer, who at the end of the day can't be taken seriously when the grownups have to sort out the mess... The Cheney-led position on North Korea has failed, and it will fail on Iran, too. Isn't it time for Bush to put the grownups back in charge? Surely he can see that he needs the likes of Haass, Armitage and Powell, Scowcroft, Baker et al now more than ever?

Posted by: Tony Karon at May 18, 2006 09:14 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Dasher has hit the nail.

Everything in the US demands are that demands. The IAEA has said that all of the product from the Iranian efforts has been accounted for, and no evidence of a weapons program has been found.

As has been noted, the only goal of the bush administration is regime change. And that doesn't mean that we're going to let them elect whoever they choose. Neighboring Iraq is a pretty strong display of that.

I find it surprising that intelligent people, in the light of recent events;
1. believe ANYthing the bush administration says, and
2. assume that the Iranian people would welcome occupation by the US.

We can see how well that worked out in Iraq.

So, my question is: why are we discussing negotiating with Iran over this "crisis"? What we should be discussing is how to get the murderous obscene bush administration out of office, and in front of a judge.

Posted by: Tom Marshall at May 18, 2006 09:49 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

The 'rootless cosmopolitan' speaks the truth! The sad thing is, Cheney used to be an adult, a 'grownup' as Tony says. What happened? Yes, yes 9/11. But does a catastrophic attack on the American homeland mean that a sophisticated national security player with decades of Beltway experience must suddenly turn into a frequent strategic blunderer? Did it have to turn out this grimly--with Cheney's shadow national security apparatus, and Donald Rumsfeld's Pentagon--co-opting most national security decision-making on issue after issue (detainee policy, NoKo, Iraq, Middle East peace process, now Iran, and others besides), to the detriment, more often than not, of the national interest?

What a pity. What lost time. What damage left to clean up. But let's at least get started on clean-up, rather than engage in more fool-hardy adventures so as to cause a greater mess. Zelikow got Condi on the right road on NoKo, but now Condi has to urgently work on steering Iran policy in the right direction. And Cheney must put down the VDH and Krauthammer pills, and wake up, I mean, it's really high time. Yes, it's probably already too late, I know, but let us hope things can get better rather than detiorate further. Can he really not see, when he is alone with his own thoughts, that his talk of "last throes" was utter bunk, a lie, a manifest falsehood? Is there no one with courage, and old friend, Bush 41, Baker, Brent Scowcroft, someone--to shake him up and force him to confront more realistically the situation in Iraq? Indeed, a key component of staving off a massive fiasco in Iran is ensuring some of the unchastened neo-cons (some of them with little to no shame)--allied with somewhat brutish American nationalists--are forced to reckon with the continued chaos in Iraq, and won't get away with using Americans notoriously short attention span to let them get off the hook so as to move to the Next Thing, even in the face of a gaping, festering sore in Iraq that we've half-assed from Day I. We'll see, I guess, how it all turns out over the next 950 or so days. I am, ever so slightly, cautiously optimistic that sanity will prevail, with Cheney and Rumsfeld more and more taking on the trappings of spoiled, discredited goods, and Condi Rice and a smattering of outside advisors (including foreign leaders like Merkel) ever so slowly moving the Decider towards better decisions. But it's almost a coin toss, so close a call it is to make, and I've embarrassed myself too often with such predictions in the past.

Posted by: greg at May 18, 2006 10:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

This analysis gives Cheney rather a lot of credit for his tenure as Secretary of Defense in an administration that inherited Reagan's legacy and had a strong Secretary of State able to keep the Pentagon in its proper subordinate place where the making of foreign policy was concerned.

With that said, refraining from predictions sounds to me like a good idea. Cheney and Rumsfeld do not, after all, appear to have taken on the appearance of spoiled, discredited goods to President Bush, which means negotiations with Iran that they object to will most likely not happen.

Posted by: Zathras at May 19, 2006 01:09 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I am worried that we are taking Iran out of context. Many leaders in the Islamic world have put standing up to the US ahead of the welfare of their own people. Arafat, Saddam, bin Laden, al Sadr and the current regime in Iran have demonstrated it. It is a tried and true way to attain leadership in that part of the world.

I suspect (more than suspect) that is the Mullah's priority too in the nuclear standoff. I am not against talks in priniciple, but the proponents seem to be assuming that the Mullah's have the same priorities we would have. They do not. Unless they are threatened with some severe negative consequences (maybe short of war) nothing will happen.
Carrots won't do. The thrill of threatening us is much greater than a nuclear energy plant or unfettered trade.

Posted by: Steven Dzik at May 19, 2006 02:36 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

"The North Korea turnabout is a blunt admission that the Bush administration policy as set by the hawks when they shot down Powell on the issue in February of 2001 has simply failed. It has done nothing to restrain North Korea, and has instead turned the tables against the U.S. in the six-party process."

So 6-Party talks were a mistake and we should have moved 'unilaterally' - okay, sounds great with 20/20 hindsight, but in reality, Chinese pressure if it could have been delivered would have been a real coup (no pun intended) You have to play out these strategies for a while to see results. Now, I think adding the second track is designed to allow us to have leverage for the 6 party talks, not an admission of failure for 6 party talks, but an admission that China wasn't helping as much as we thought.

"The hawks offer only rhetoric and self-righteous posturing. Has anyone even heard a coherent argument for refusing direct talks with Tehran?"

Here's one of the top of my head: save the US direct negotiations for the final push or in case the EU-3 talks fail. They have not failed yet. Or do you play poker by placing all your cards face up versus other players? Not to mention direct talks puts all the onus on the USA - it's supposed to be a world-wide problem and not just ours. We aren't supposed to be cowboys but work with our allies. Biltareral talks would give the Iranians a chance to split the alliance and play EU of the USA. Jesus, there's thee or four right there!

"(And spare me the Ahmedinajad quotes -- anyone seriously engaged with these matters should know that Ahmedinajad does not speak for the regime any more than Khatami did)"

He speaks for some portions of the Iranian people and government. Also notice the foreign minister made similar comments. Now, if you can bring out OPPOSING quotes from the real leaders, then I will hang my head in neo-con shame. The fact is you don't see any mullahs standing up and saying, "This guy is wrong - we;d actually be willing to blah blah blah" and his positions seem to mirror the Iranian negotiating positions, no?

Posted by: Aaron at May 19, 2006 04:39 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Also, the goal is not regime change in Iran - it's just one of the ways that could resolve the crisis. Please note that Qaddafi is still in charge of Libya and we just normalized relations with him. If the US policymakers were 100% fixated on regime change, how could you explain this aberration?

Now, by the same token, would anyone here argue that while Clinton negotiated the 1994 Nork deal, he wouldn't have minded if the regime fell? I don't think so.

What's funny is that in the world of realpolitik circa Genghis Khan, Iran would truly be afraid of regime change and have already capitulated in fear of the US's huge military might. But in modern times, realpolitik is constrained by international laws, treaty, world opinion and such (which bring many advantages of course, but also constrain a pure threat from working as well.)

Note again, I do not support military action on Iran. I do support the current negotiations, and would even support bilateral talks as long as the UN or Europe authorized us to negotiate with their pretty-much unconditional backing. In other words no sniping from the rear. if they can't live with that, multi-party talks it is. Oh, I guess if Iran were to make a direct and serious overture, I would change my mind.

Posted by: Aaron at May 19, 2006 04:55 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

What do we lose by negotiation?

"Iran gets the Bomb!" is not a reasonable answer.

It's not a reasonable answer because we really don't know how soon Iran can "get the Bomb." Nobody's shown any reliable intel on that. We don't even know if we have any reliable intel on that; or are getting any; or are in a position to get any. The best guess is that Iran is still years away from getting functional nuclear weapons.

It's not a reasonable answer because we also don't really know what Iran would do once it got nuclear weapons. Pakistan has nuclear weapons; so does North Korea. Neither have indulged in any fantasy about wiping their enemies from the face of the Earth - and it's certainly not because they both have sane, stable, reasonable people in charge.

No, the people who are leading the charge for non-negotiations, or fake negotiations, are talking about Islamofascism and regime change. These are horrible, and stupid, reasons to start another war. Horrible because the consequences far outweight the benefits; stupid because the Bush Admin has a lousy record at positive regime change.

We stand to lose a hell of a lot more by making military action the only real policy than we do by entering into good faith, trust-but-verify negotiations.

Posted by: CaseyL at May 19, 2006 05:58 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Condi is, er, screwed. Just review the past 4-6 weeks.

If you're pursuing a "serious" diplomatic process that will require the support of both Russia and China, then how do you account for the following:

1) The insulting White House stage management during Hu's visit. Given the administration's history of disciplined events management, this was likely deliberate, and was certainly perceived as such by the Chinese.

2) Cheney's calculated insults directed against Russia, which, per the UK press reports of Lavrov going totally postal, sabotaged Condi's NY dinner with the UNSC + German foreign ministers that was supposed to be discussing a Chapter 7 resolution on Iran.

What's the game here? To this amused observer it's obvious that the administration has no coherent policy, and that the "factions" in Washington are at each other's throats. It's pretty clear that time is running out for the regime-change merchants, and they know it.

In the meantime, Iranian officials just keep on racking up the airmiles, doing the kind of shuttle diplomacy that used to be the preserve of the US. The date that looms large is, of course, June 15th when Iran formally joins the SCO.

Posted by: dan at May 19, 2006 12:03 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I don't advocate attacking iran, but I've listened to the arguments and I think I can repeat them clearly.

Here's the argument:
The basic problem is that iran will never willingly do what we want. We want them to give up all nuclear technology. (Or possibly restrict them to an expensive emasculated set of power plants arranged so we can embargo the fuel.) They will not do it no matter what. The only way to stop iranian nuclear technology is to destroy it with main force.

The longer we wait before we attack iran, the harder it will get. They're preparing defenses and also working as fast as they can to build bombs. If we wait until they get working bombs they can give us trouble when we attack them. Right now they're helpless, we can do anything we want to them and nothing will happen, it will be quick and easy and cheap. If we wait and attack after they have nukes it will be ugly and we'll probably have to kill them all. We'd hate to have to kill all the iranians. It's really a humanitarian gesture to attack them now.

If we let them get nukes, they'll nuke israel. This isn't a guess, it's a 100% ironclad guarantee. No possible doubt. The only people who say it might not happen are fools who believe stupid propaganda. Everybody who's actually studied the issue agrees -- no possible doubt. They're going to nuke israel even though they know it will get every single iranian killed. They're fanatics, they don't care whether they live or die as long as they get to kill jews. That's just the kind of people they are.

And after they nuke israel then nonproliferation is dead. Everybody will see that we can't keep them from getting nuked, so they'll get their own nukes. And then inevitably somebody will nuke us. We have to stop iran now. We have no choice, the alternative is too horrible to consider. We have to attack iran even if they already have a few nukes. We have to do absolutely whatever it takes to stop iran. Because if we don't, then we'll have to nuke them until they're all dead. Better it doesn't come to that.

It should be obviousl that these guys are fanatics. They have a crystal certainty that they are right and everybody else is wrong. There is no possible way to negotiate with them, they will settle for nothing but getting their own way entirely. We must either surrender or else do whatever it takes to stop them....

Well, I don't know. Maybe there's some third choice. I sure hope so.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 19, 2006 02:27 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Yes. If this is true, let's negotiate with Iran. We have a lot to talk about.

Posted by: sbw at May 19, 2006 03:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


I like Dennis Ross's aproach. He more explicitly and directly deals with some of the concerns I've expressed (and that others have expressed), and is interested in talking with certain goals in mind, and not talking for the sake of talking.

BTW, what do you make of the Euro offer of a light water reactor, and Ahmahdinajads slapping it down? My take is that the Euros are trying to show the Iranian public, and the muslim world, that this is about nuclear weapons, not nuclear energy, despite the official Iranian regime line.

Posted by: liberalhawk at May 19, 2006 04:39 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


Since when has Henry K been respected by the war party? It's been a loooong time. Hagel? heh, nice try.

It's like me thinking that listing Krauthammer and VDH and Ledeen will help convince you. Absolutely useless.

MAYBE, if they have something interesting to say, it could help. But Henry's just playing realpolitik again. Yawn.

The comments here belie the point. People DO NOT CARE if Iran has nukes. How does that help to convince the war party?

I don't trust that the Iranians will behave "rationally". I think that they have their own reasons and motivations for doing things that are very contrary to our interests and our definition of their interests. Suicide brigades of teenagers running into minefields to clear them, one mine per person, seems nutty to me. But they did that by the thousands in Iran-Iraq.

People here are solicitous towards Iran's point. Maybe it's a lack of clarity, but you can understand someone's position without making it seem that you agree with them. If you denigrate your own country's aims without providing an alternative or showing why the alternative is more desireable you're not going to convince internal opponents.

You all seem smart enough to know this, so why aren't you actually trying to convince me? The war party gives tactical and ideological reasons as to why they do what they do. Convince me why I should be nice to the Iranians. And do it with something more than a fetish for stability and the supremacy of the Department of State (or rather, Democrats Abroad).

Posted by: hey at May 19, 2006 04:46 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Just curious Greg

Did you ever read Lukacs "Seven Days in May"?

Posted by: liberalhawk at May 19, 2006 04:51 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink


If you are already presupposed with a religious fanaticism for war, what could any rational thinking person do to change your mind?

I mean fanatics for war are fanatics for war for a reason....because war is the end unto itself, for you. All presuppositions begin with war, for you, so reasoning out of your faith is futile.

Posted by: NeoDude at May 19, 2006 04:55 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Hey, you ask why we aren't trying to persuade the war party. Here's why I don't.

I don't trust that the war party will behave "rationally". I think that they have their own reasons and motivations for doing things that are very contrary to our interests and our definition of their interests.

I don't believe they'll listen. As soon as they hear that somebody isn't part of the echo chamber, they quit listening apart from thinking up smears and rebuttals.

The war party gives tactical and ideological reasons as to why they do what they do. Convince me why I should be nice to the Iranians.

OK, I'll lay it out, though there's a strong chance that your making the challenge shows it's pointless to argue with you.

First, about iran's aims and why they think they're right. I'm going to ignore the religion and superstition and such and look at why an iranian engineer or military officer or technocrat would go along. First off, they're going to need alternate energy pretty soon, within 20 years or so. They're selling the best of their oil first, and by the time they start running out they'll be down to the stuff that's hard to use. They can sell that stuff cheap and buy gasoline expensive. They need alternate energy. If they're going to go with nuclear power, they'll need to develop their test plants andl run them for a few years, and then build more and train more engineers and technicians, and what with one thing and another it will take them about 20 years to ramp up to the production level they'll need. So they have to start now.

OK, they have a choice between technologies that provably can't make weapons, versus technologies that could. If they go with light water reactors they have to buy the fuel, and then send it back to some other country for reprocessing. The enriched uranium fuel is relatively expensive. If the suppliers agree on sanctions for any reason, they can cut off the supply and leave iran with its electric grid down. And the shipment of nuclear waste across national lines and through "neutral" countries is an opportunity for terrorists to grab it for dirty bombs. They don't want to do all that. The obvious alternative is plutonium reactors. Run the things and it's easy and cheap to make more fuel. They can handle the entire fuel cycle inside their own country, they don't get blackmailed by their suppliers. Instead of mining uranium and selling it cheap to russia, and then buying low-enriched fuel from russia expensive and paying russia to dispose of the waste, they can do it all themselves cheap. The uranium that provides a little bit of U235 can be turned into *a whole lot* of Pu. Cheap, plentiful, no dependence on hostile foreign countries.

Also, once they have the technology that gives them lots of cheap power, they can get cheap bombs pretty easy too as a side benefit. To them this is a feature, not a bug.

If you're iranian it simply doesn't make sense not to go with breeder reactors. Why accept expensive emasculated power plants just so you can't have weapons? If somebody tried to impose that on the USA we'd utterly reject it too.

So their interests are opposed to ours. In 20 years they want to be a major regional power with lots of electricity to use in place of their almost-gone oil, and also nuclear weapons. In 20 years we want them to be an economic basket-case, with nothing to replace their oil and no chance to get nukes, a population on the verge of starvation and dependent on charity.

Our interests and their interests are opposed. Why should we let them develop nuclear power? Why not just stop them?

Consider how we'd stop them. The first step is to persuade the rest of the world to stand aside. This will not be as easy as last time. A whole lot of countries depend on iranian oil, and we're very likely to disrupt the supply. After the iraq debacle they aren't going to be real trusting that we can run our war without interfering with their oil. Would iran give big concessions to russia or china or both to protect them from us? If not, why not? Nobody in the world who isn't iranian really wants iran to get nukes. But nobody in the world who isn't american or israeli really wants the USA to get control of iran, either. We're likely to get a lot of international opposition, for whatever that means.

Our second step is to run a bombing campaign. The story is that this will be easy, cheap, and decisive. Note that we don't know how far along the iranian nuclear program is now, and we don't know how many of their secret sites we know about. If we can't stand the iranian nuclear program reaching its current state of development (and we don't know what state that is), after we bomb them how will we know how much damage we did? If iran sets off a bomb 3 years from now, did our bombing set them back 3 years when they were almost ready, or did it set them back 2 years when they were a year from a bomb, or did it not set them back at all? We won't know. So how will we know when it's time to stop bombing?

Also, they will hit back however they can. Will they give advanced weapons to anybody in iraq who'll attack us? Will they find a way to close the Gulf? Will they arrange sabotage in the USA? (There are a couple of million iranians living in the USA. Most of them came here to get away from the Shah or to get away from the Mullahs. Would any of them do sabotage or suicide bombing or whatever?) When they hit us back we will think we have no choice but to invade iran.

So our third step will be to invade iran. It took us 6 months to preposition the supplies etc to invade iraq. If the invasion is to come less than 6 months after the bombing starts, we'll need all the invasion details worked out ahead of time with the supplies already in iraqi and turkish and afghan bases. Note that we need to have this third step planned out even while we're saying the bombing will be easy, cheap and decisive. So OK, we invade iran. It might take 6 or 8 weeks before we've taken everything except the holdouts in the mountains. We'll leave those to the iranians. "No military force in history every got anything worth having by going after irregular troops in mountainous terrain."

Our fourth step will be to occupy iran. To do that we'll have to call up all the Reserves and all the National Guard and as many paper-pushers as we can get, and keep them in iran until something happens that persuades us they can come home. Call it 3 years minimum. None of this six months there, six months rest, six months retrain business. Every warm body we can get, to occupy iran for the duration. We talked about being undermanned for iraq. Iran has 3 times the population and the terrain is much less favorable. We'll need *at least* 4 times the men to hold iraq, iran, and afghanistan all at the same time.

At this point I lose track of the stragedy. What comes next? How do we win? My mind goes blank. This is the best case, on the assumption that nothing bad happens, and I get stuck here thinking how we get home, or what we do next.

There are various things that could get in our way before this, though. Like, we told Saddam if he used mustard gas or anthrax etc that we'd nuke him. What if the iranians while they're losing the conventional war, use a little mustard gas on us? Maybe we'll nuke them. Again I have trouble guessing what comes next.

What if the iranians have a few nukes? If they use them on their own land and nuke some of our advancing units, then what? Will we nuke iran?

What if the iranians have a few nukes and a short-range delivery system? Say that's 4 delliverable nukes, will they nuke our four largest permanent bases in iraq? And then we nuke them?

What if the russians and/or the chinese are right now making a secret mutual security pact with iran? And they intend to announce it just before we attack. But things go wrong and we attack a little early and they announce it just after we attack. Would we stop attacking and discuss it? Or would we go on attacking to prove they're bluffing. There are various alternatives along these lines that could lead to global thermonuclear destruction. And we're doing this -- why? Because we're afraid of what might happen when iran gets nukes....

In the very best case we're talking about spending a trillion dollars or so, and our entire land forces are unavailable for any other threat for 3 years. Think about all the other nations we need to threaten with invasion. They'll know we're bogged down, they'll do whatever-the-hell they want for 3 years.

Will north korea invade south korea? If they want to. We might or might not still have a few US troops there as a "red line" that they can't kill without getting us into it. We won't have more ground troops to help defend south korea for 3 years. (We can recruit or draft new soldiers, but they'll be needed in iran. And iraq.)

Will china invade taiwan? If they want to.

Will turkey invade kurdistan? Surely not. Unless they really want to. Do we want to fight turkey while we fight in iran, afghanistan and iraq? I guess. If that's where our bases are, we won't have much choice. But of course turkey is our NATO ally, they'd never do something like that. Not unless they believed we were an ex-superpower.

Will syria and egypt start nuclear programs while we're in iran? Brazil? Argentina? In 5 years argentina could be angling to be a strong regional power -- in our back yard. And we can't do anything about it but airstrikes plus send surplus weapons to brazil, because we're busy in iran.

Will the rest of the world pull our credit line? They might. The more expensive wars we get into, the worse a credit risk we look like. It might easily happen they wait until we're thoroughly bogged down in iran.

So I argue that the risks of starting a war of aggression are pretty high, and I see basicly no way to win such a war.

Now look at what happens if we fail to stop iran. We might as well assume they get nukes. For all I know they might not even want nukes now, but they want something that would make them easy and cheap. So they could get them pretty quick when they do want them. What then? What happens then is probably they threaten israel with nukes, and israel threatens them with nukes. Or vice versa. We have a big diplomatic crisis. The diplomats make a big deal of it all, diplomats from all over the world talk to the iranians and the israelis, and eventually we give the israelis a great big bribe not to nuke iran (which they never really intended anyway unless they were sure iran was about to nuke them), and we give a somewhat smaller bribe to iran not to nuke israel (which they never intended to do unless it looked like israel was about to nuke them).

There are a bunch of so-called experts who all agree that iran will definitely nuke israel as soon as they can, without any regard for what happens to them in return. All the experts the wingnuts respect agree with them about this. But really nobody knows what the iranians will do when they get nukes, the experts only pretend they know. There's a chance they're right by accident. So let's look at that.

Iran gets nukes. Iran nukes israel. Say, 4 cities. Israel nukes iran back, say that most of their nukes got caught in the first strike and they only have enough left to nuke 4 iranian cities. Or say somebody else does that. Then iran has their own special Katrina to deal with, assuming we don't nuke them further. Iranians will emphatically not agree that it was worth it. They will get rid of the government that approved the strike. And worldwide there will be a great big nuclear disarmament movement. It's been 60 years since there was a *small* nuclear strike on a city. Let the world see what nuclear war is like today and any nation that doesn't disarm is going to be in trouble.

Now suppose we successfully stop iran from getting nukes. Would nuclear attack on israel come from syria, or egypt, or morocco, or any of the other arab nuclear powers? When our army is tied down for 3 years, that's the signal for everybody else to get busy if they're going to build nukes. I personally think it's very unlikely that iran would nuke israel. But if they would, then wouldn't it be just as likely from a nuclear syria or a nuclear egypt or a nuclear morocco? I say we ought to encourage any israelis who want to, to come live here. For the rest it's their own lookout. This idea that the world is safer for the world jewish population if a significant minority of them is living in israel, is just plain wrong. Because Hiroshima changed everything.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 19, 2006 07:42 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Who the hell is George W. Bush or his whole Administration to talk about giving them or anyone else legitimacy?Posted by: Meteor

And who the hell are you to write such nonsense? Talk with Saddam? Were you born yesterday or the day before?

Posted by: Terry Gain at May 19, 2006 09:02 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

It appears that one's weapons grant legitimacy, thus the acquisition of nuclear warheads.

Posted by: NeoDude at May 19, 2006 09:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

I think "direct talks" with Iran at this stage might be closing the barn door after the horse has fled. If the U.S. consents now to talks - after refusing for years - then the Iranians will reason it was because of the flood of provocative invective. What incentive do the Iranians have to deal then? The logic is pretty obvious: threats induced the U.S. to switch positions and negotiate directly. So why not threaten even more? And this - mind you - is how they behave WITHOUT a nuke.

I do, however, think these talks are ultimately a good idea. If only to give a genuine good-faith effort to resolve this problem diplomatically.

Still, I wouldn't put any store in direct negotiations, should they occur.

Posted by: Greg at May 19, 2006 10:10 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Greg, you never know how the other guy will respond. It's possible the iranians really want to talk, but we haven't been willing to talk. If so, they might use the opportunity to talk with us.

Or maybe they don't really want to talk at all. You don't know until you're willing to find out.

My guess is they won't negotiate to give up breeder reactors. So we can't get them to give in on our only concern, and when we see they won't meet our demands we'll figure negotiations have failed.

But we have nothing to lose by finding out. It needn't delay the invasion by a single hour.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 20, 2006 02:54 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Where is Powell in all this. Oh yea, he'll delcare 'reservations' after the attack while his surrogates issue doubts and warnings. This will preserve his flawless record as a moderate while at the same time serving those in love with limitless use of power. What a gig.

This list is worthless without Powell. If Powell said don't attack, the whole excercise would become almost impossible politically. Here is the deal, Powell fully supports the unlimited use of American miliatry power. Powell isn't a moderate, he just plays one on TV.

You don't believe it? Just watch. There is absolutely zero chance he will directly question a preemtive attack on Iran. The one man who could shake the whole enterprise will not. He surely knows he probably has the power to abort any attack. Will he exercise that power. No. Why not? There can be only one conclusion, he is for it. Perhaps more specificaly he is for whatever his bosses want. His bosses being as I said those wanting limitless use of military power.

I'm not so paranoid that I think some sort of overt military government takeover would or could happen in American but as thought experiement I suggest if it happened then Powell would be the perfect president.

Posted by: rapier at May 20, 2006 03:19 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Neither Victim Nor Executioner
Albert Camus
translation by Dwight Macdonald

We are asked to love or to hate such and such a country and such and such a people. But some of us feel too strongly our common humanity to make such a choice. Those who really love the Russian people, in gratitude for what they have never ceased to be - that world leaven which Tolstoy and Gorky speak of - do not wish for them success in power-politics, but rather want to spare them, after the ordeals of the past, a new and even more terrible bloodletting. So, too with the American people, and with the peoples of unhappy Europe. This is the kind of elementary truth we are liable to forget amidst the furious passions of our time.
Yes, it is fear and silence and the spiritual isolation they cause that must be fought today. And it is sociability ('le dialogue') the universal intercommunication of men that must be defended. Slavery, injustice and lies destroy this intercourse and forbid this sociability; and so we must reject them. But these evils are today the very stuff of History, so that many consider them necessary evils. It is true that we cannot 'escape History', since we are in it up to our necks. But one may propose to fight within History to preserve from History that part of man which is not its proper province. That is all I have to say here. The 'point' of this article may be summed up as follows:

Modern nations are driven by powerful forces along the roads of power and domination. I will not say that these forces should be furthered or that they should be obstructed. They hardly need our help and, for the moment, they laugh at attempts to hinder them. They will then, continue. But I will ask only this simple question: what if these forces wind up in a dead end, what if that logic of History on which so many now rely turns out to be a will o' the wisp ? What if, despite two or three world wars, despite the sacrifice of several generations and a whole system of values, our grandchildren - supposing they survive - find themselves no closer to a world society? It may well be that the survivors of such an experience will be too weak to understand their own sufferings. Since these forces are working themselves out and since it is inevitable that they continue to do so, there is no reason why some of us should not take on the job of keeping alive, through the apocalyptic historical vista that stretches before us, a modest thoughtfulness which, without pretending to solve everything, will constantly be prepared to give some human meaning to everyday life. The essential thing is that people should carefully weigh the price they must pay.

To conclude: all I ask is that, in the midst of a murderous world, we agree to reflect on murder and to make a choice.

Posted by: NeoDude at May 20, 2006 03:47 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

In my second-from-this-one post above, the claim that our bombing of iran will inevitably lead to invasion came from Tom Holsinger. He argues that once we start bombing we can't accept failure, but we can't get success by just bombing -- and the iranians will counterattack in various ways which we can't fully stop without an invasion, so one way or another we'll be stuck invading and then occupying iran. He calls it a "slippery slope to hell". He points out that iran might use biological or chemical weapons on our invading troops and that would require us to use 40 to 50 tactical nukes on them. He points out that iran probably already has a few nukes and might use them. He claims that north korea is cooperating closely with iran on nukes, and all of north korea's nukes may be used by iran. He figures that the invasion and occupation of iran will take all of our troops that aren't already in iraq, all the guard, all the reserves, and we'll have to occupy iran for 30 to 36 months, for at least 12 months we'll be in something that makes iraq look like a walk in the park.

However, Tom disagrees with the idea that these are arguments against invasion. he figures that it is unacceptable to allow a nuclear iran. He figures that iran already has around 4 nukes. And for technical reasons, if we wait until they do a nuclear test and then wait about 3 months more, they'll suddenly have several dozen more. Unless the invasion comes before then, it will be much more costly -- but still utterly necessary.

Tom is the smartest person I know of who advocates invading iran, bar none. His thoughts deserve careful attention.

Posted by: J Thomas at May 20, 2006 07:52 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

J Thomas,

Thanks for posting that link; it is interesting to read someone arguing for invading Iran, conventionally and maybe with nukes, a little more calmly than just "nuke all the ragheads".

I tried to get a grasp on his essential argument. It appears to me that he argues essentially that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, it will provoke a new nuclear arms race in the Middle East.

It is an interesting argument, but it's difficult for me to see why Syria et al. should be suddenly alarmed to find a nuclear Iran next door in a way they are not alarmed to have a nuclear Israel next door, and a little more difficult for me to see how dropping (conventional and perhaps nuclear weapons) on Iran will strengthen the likelihood of increased stability in either Egypt or Pakistan.

Posted by: frank wallace at May 31, 2006 03:52 AM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

Frank, it may not have been obvious from that particular thread, but Tom's idea is that if iran demonstrates that they can get away with having nukes then nonproliferation will be dead. Every nation that's concerned its neighbors might get nukes will get them. that includes brazil/argentina, malaysia/indonesia, chad/libya, you name it. And then with many small nuclear powers, unless the USA goes isolationist sooner or later one of them will smuggle nukes into US cities -- maybe to blame it on their local enemy, or whatever.

Syria etc might want nukes not so much because of iran as because of israel, and iran would give them the idea they could get away with it.

I think the reasoning is weak. I think nonproliferation is dead regardless, that an attack on iran might be the last gasp of the idea that we can prevent proliferation by attacking prenuclear nations one by one.

Of course I think Tom's ideas are missing something important. If i didn't think that I'd agree with him. Still, of all the arguments for attacking iran that I've seen so far, his are the best thought out.

Posted by: J Thomas at June 1, 2006 08:45 PM | Permalink to this comment Permalink

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Gregory Djerejian 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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