Tag: Iran–United States relations

Do We Want Another War?

A couple of months ago, the Obama Administration and the P5+1 negotiators worked out a temporary deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. About a week ago, the first date was set — January 20 — for Iran to begin scaling down their program.

Congress is now working on a plan to scuttle this deal. Their bill, which is apparently one vote short of being veto-proof, would impose new sanctions on Iran, effectively ending the agreement. As a result, Iran would not get rid of enriched uranium; they would not dismantle their enrichment equipment and they would be free to start up new centrifuges. Of course, they might not do those things anyway. But they will definitely not do them in the face of new sanctions.

As shaky as the Kerry deal is, I think it should be allowed to proceed. Goldberg:

For years, Iran hawks have argued that only punishing sanctions, combined with the threat of military force, would bring Tehran to the nuclear negotiating table. Finally, Iran is at the table. And for reasons that are alternately inexplicable, presumptuous and bellicose, Iran hawks have decided that now is the moment to slap additional sanctions on the Iranian regime.

The bill before the U.S. Senate, which has 59 co-sponsors at last count, will not achieve the denuclearization of Iran. It will not lead to the defunding of Hezbollah by Iran or to the withdrawal of Iranian support for Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. What it could do is move the U.S. closer to war with Iran and, crucially, make Iran appear — even to many of the U.S.’s allies — to be the victim of American intransigence, even aggression. It would be quite an achievement to allow Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terrorism, to play the role of injured party in this drama. But the Senate is poised to do just that.

I write this as someone with hawkish views about the Iranian nuclear program. Iran is ruled by despots who endorse and fund the murder of innocent people; oppress women, gays and religious minorities in the most terrible ways; and threaten to exterminate a member-state of the United Nations. Some of the “moderates” in the regime are moderate only in comparison to Holocaust-deniers. The regime in Tehran cannot be allowed to cross the nuclear threshold: Israel’s existence is at stake, as is the security of the U.S.’s Sunni Arab friends across the Middle East. The U.S.’s international standing would also be imperiled by a nuclear Iran.

But, at least in the short term, negotiations remain the best way to stop Iran from crossing the nuclear threshold. And U.S. President Barack Obama cannot be hamstrung in discussions by a group of senators who will pay no price for causing the collapse of negotiations between Iran and the P5 + 1, the five permanent members of the security council, plus Germany. “You have a large group of senators who are completely discounting the views of the administration, the actual negotiators, the rest of the P5 + 1, the intelligence community and almost every Iran analyst on earth,” said Colin Kahl, who, as a deputy assistant secretary of defense for the Middle East during Obama’s first term, was responsible for preparing all of the options that the President says are still on the table.

I am dubious that a long-term deal can be worked out or that Iran will comply with the current deal. But I do know that our position for containing Iran will be much stronger if they show themselves to be the unreasonable ones. And, even if I opposed the deal, I do not see the value in imposing new sanctions on Iran at this stage. What exactly is the goal of that? To make them … negotiate more? Is “thank you for coming to the table, here’s more sanctions” going to change things for the better?

Or is the point to push us toward a war?

I am finding Congress’ move to effectively undermine the deal to be alarming. It reflect a neocon mentality that has thoroughly infested both Right and Left; a belief that the use of force is the only acceptable outcome of a foreign policy debate. There is a large block of Congressmen — in both parties — to whom war with Iran is not the means; it’s the end. The have claimed that they wanted Iran to deal. But now that Iran is dealing, they want to scuttle the agreement. Listening to them, it sounds like their fear isn’t that the deal won’t work; their fear is that it will.

It’s not even clear that a war can stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions. They have spread their facilities out, buried others and it’s not clear that anything short of occupying a Russia-backed country twice the size of Iraq would accomplish anything. What we would probably be talking about is some bombings, followed by a long drawn-out conflict over traffic in the Gulf with likely massive spikes in oil prices as Iran uses terrorism and small military attacks to effectively bottleneck a critical fraction of the world’s oil supply.

That’s a big price to pay for some chest thumping.

Conor finds an eerie parallel to the Iraq War, reminding us that many of the same neoconservative hawks trying to scuttle the Iran deal behaved the same way in the run-up to Iraq. The neocons ignored any and all criticisms of their Iraq strategy, deriding their opponents as America-haters and naive peacenicks while portraying themselves as “the reality-based community”. Wanting to contain Iraq was a sign that you were a naive egghead who didn’t really know how the world worked. Serious adults understood that invading Iraq and occupying it was the only realistic course of action (read some of the pre-war boasts Conor links and weep at the hubris).

The American right has not undertaken a rational analysis of Iran policy and concluded that sanctions and the increased possibility of war is the most prudent course. Rather, a small faction of neoconservative ideologues believes, against all evidence, that a strike on Iran is desirable, and they’ve managed to win allies not by winning arguments on the merits but by exploiting right-wing foreign-policy heuristics. Conservatives “know” that President Obama is an Israel-hating, Kenyan anti-colonialist dove, and that liberals are naive pacifists, so there is no need to engage the critiques of Iran hawkishness on the merits. If liberals are for diplomacy in this case, it cannot be that there is a strong rational case to support such efforts. It must be because naive liberals always want to talk things out with our enemies. And these conservatives “know” that talking with Iran will do no good, not because they’ve studied the subject, but because their heuristics tell them so.

Meanwhile, most though not all Democratic enablers of this nonsense (some Democrats just are hawks) see standing with the neoconservative ideologues as a political win, both because it aligns them with powerful AIPAC lobbyists and because it burnishes their credentials as “serious” foreign-policy thinkers, inoculating them against the caricature of naive, dovish liberals. (American politics is often about overcoming entrenched narrative disadvantages.) This anti-substantive approach to Iran is extremely reckless and potentially catastrophic. America’s legislators and its movement conservatives would realize as much if they stopped making decisions based on heuristic shortcuts about Obama, liberals, and diplomacy, and started looking at hard-headed analysis that lays out likely consequences of war with Iran. There is, in fact, no shortage of it.

In retrospect, the danger signs for our Iraq adventure were obvious. There wasn’t a lot of discussion of practical strategy; there was almost no realistic approach to the status of post-war Iraq; concerns about internecine fighting were tamped down; it was never really argued how war with Iraq would bring down Al-Qaeda. No, we were told that the Iraq war planners were serious men who were taking the problems seriously and advocating a serious course of action that would seriously turn Iraq into a democracy. They were vindicated, for a while, because the American military is the most capable fighting machine in history and was filled with people who would do their best, would pay any price, would go back into the lion’s den a dozen times to try to make it work. But here we are, trillions of dollars poorer with thousands of our best dead and tens of thousands more injured and Iraq trying to keep parts of their country from falling to Al-Qaeda. It is my opinion that the big mistakes on Iraq were made before any shots were fired. We didn’t plan for a long war and we didn’t plan for a long war because the neocons insisted that they were serious “reality-based” men who knew what they were doing and only a naive squish would question them.

The rumblings on Iran eerily remind me of the rumblings on Iraq. There is little concern with the practical effects and the potential for a much wider conflict. No, inside-the-beltway neocons are make condescending hubristic statements about how there is only one way to solve this and only one realistic approach and we should just let Israel do what they want and drag us into a massive regional conflict. When concerns are raised, they shake their heads, roll their eyes, tut-tut and make condescending statements about the naiveté of those who think we should think out a war before we start one.

We don’t need another Iraq. We don’t need the same hubristic fools who claimed that we’d turn Iraq into a peaceful Western democracy assuring us that the Iran government will fall if we attack it (governments almost never collapse as a result of outside attack; outside attacks usually rally people behind their government. If we bomb Iran, the people won’t blame the Mullahs).

Our strategy of containment has managed to keep Iran “six months away” from a nuclear weapon for 15 years. The current deal is likely to implode but it’s a small ray of hope that there is a way out of this that will not leave thousands of Iranians, American, Iraqis, Saudis and Israelis on the floor. We should allow that, however unlikely it is, to proceed.

Having Obama and Kerry leading out foreign policy is bad. But having 60 chest-thumping Senators leading it would be even worse. Let this play out.

The Iran Deal Falls Through

Over the last week, news reports emerged of a pending deal with Iran on nuclear weapons. In return for some limited sanction relief, the Iranians would have frozen their weapons program with a permanent deal to follow. It might have worked; it probably wouldn’t have. But at least the beginnings of a long-term deal were there.

I’m on record as saying a nuclear Iran is almost inevitable, no matter who is in charge. Even if the Mullahs were toppled and the most pro-Western government imaginable were put in place, Iran would still be surrounded by nuclear powers and they would continue to pursue a nuclear capability. All we can do is delay that moment. We have so far pushed that date back for a decade — Iran has been “X months away” from a nuke since the early 2000’s. This deal would have bought six more months and a “permanent” deal with some teeth might have pushed that date back another decade or more. I realize everyone thinks we should use a military strike to solve the Iran nuclear issue but Iran has learned the lessons of their neighbors and dispersed their program as much as possible. Unless you are prepared to invade and occupy a nation of 80 million people indefinitely, a military strike is a waste of time, money and lives.

The Israelis balked but the Israelis would always balk and the Israelis are actually part of the problem here since Iran has cited the expansion of West Bank settlements as one of their issues. What scotched this deal, oddly enough, was France taking a hard line and refusing to sign on. Whether this was a good or bad thing, I leave up to you. Here is the case that the proposed deal was a bad one. The case that the deal was a good one is that Iran will continue to try to enrich uranium past 20% and to get the Arak reactor online, things they would not have done with a deal.

Ordinarily, this would just be normal diplomacy. Deals fall through all the time. The only interesting part would be that we are moving toward less hostile relations with Iran (a direction we should have moved toward on 9/12 when the Iranians had a vigil for the victims of 9/11 while the Palestinians danced in the streets and the Saudis had “who us?” looks on their faces). But the Obama Administration went public with this deal in a big way before it was signed, trying to pressure all the parties into agreeing and hoping to capitalize on Syria beginning to destroy their WMD arsenal. You could almost hear Obama saying that he had headed off not one but two WMD crises (even though he really hadn’t).

Now their over-eagerness has left egg on their faces yet again. France, Israel, Iran and the gulf states are just as annoyed as if we’d actually made a deal, but no deal actually exists. Iran continues to advance their nuclear agenda and we look like fools.

Remind me again how the Obama Administration was going to be so much better that the Bush team?