December 03, 2007
Iran's Non-Existant Nuclear Program
I've got some thoughts on the National Intelligence Estimate disproving the hype over the Iranian nuclear program over at Tapped. Short version: There is no political official in America who will now be able to claim "they didn't know" that the program was overhyped, and folks should take seriously the report's conclusion that any nuclear enrichment would be done "covertly" and thus not be vulnerable to a fly-by bombing campaign. So not only is the program's very existence unlikely, but destroying it would require that we either flattened the country or invaded it.
The Other Klein has a bit more, including the important point that this isn't just one agency's conclusion: The "high certainty" ranking means it's coming from multiple information streams. Matt and Kevin recount our many opportunities to end Iran's nuclear program through negotiations -- opportunities we didn't only miss, but actively, and hubristically, rejected.
Update: Fuck Howie Kurtz. Anyone can be wrong. The first page of the estimate explains the various probabilities attached to the various predictions, and all of them leave open a window (or a door, or a planet) of doubt. Does Kurtz have any reason to think that the NIE is wrong?
November 09, 2007
My Commenters Is Smarter Than I: Options On The Table Edition
Jason C. writes:
Another stupid thing about the "no options off the table" rhetoric is that even those who spout it don't really mean it. There are, presumably, plenty of options that are off the table.
1. Suppose Khamenei, having just seen the last episode of South Park, offers to give up its nuclear program if President Bush agrees to suck his balls. Is that option on the table?
2. What if Iran offers to give up its nuclear program if the US agrees to remove all troops from the Middle East starting tomorrow. Is that option on the table?
3. Assume that Iran doesn't believe we would really attack them over this issue. To show them we are serious, we could drop a nuclear bomb on Syria. Is that option on the table?
Etc. etc. etc. etc. There are plenty of options that are off the table. What Hillary et al. really mean is that one particular option - attacking Iran - is very much on the table (even though it's as crazy or crazier than the options listed above).
Right, which is sort of what I'm getting at in the column. "All options on the table" is a meaningless phrase. It's purpose is, in the one case, to signal a willingness to go to war while retaining plausible deniability around what you're saying, and in the second, to signal a willingness to go to war while allowing you to imply that you wouldn't. In both cases, the point is to obscure the politicians actual intent on one of the most acute foreign policy challenges of our time. Some seem content with letting them do that, either for reasons of political expediency or diplomatic theory. I don't buy the underlying diplomatic theory, and I don't think we, as voters, should be so sanguine about our candidate's blithe unwillingness to hide critical information from us.
November 08, 2007
Taking Options Off The Table
One other thing about taking the "no options off the table" argument off the table. Some will argue that the Democrats need to keep the threat of war front and center when dealing with Iran -- otherwise, they have no way to compel disarmament. I think that gets the causality exactly backwards. The less reticence we display around attacking Iran, the more nuclear weapons cease to be a prestige issue/bargaining chip, and the more they become a necessary precondition for security. We're far better off dealing with an Iran that wants a nuclear weapon, or at least the international respect and aid that comes with the capability to produce one, than dealing with an Iran whose regime feels they need a nuclear weapon in order to guarantee their survival.
October 07, 2007
It's The Nationalism, Stupid
Drill this into your head: The Iranians want the bomb not because they are Muslims, but because they are Iranians. That's why the atomic symbol is on the currency. That's why the rhetoric is about national pride. This isn't about a global caliphate, but about a nation's arrival into the pantheon of powers. And America's recipe for a deterrence is insane. We're implacably opposed to Iran's nuclear ambitions, and rather than give them the root respect they want as we try and convince them to bargain away the security and symbolism of atomic weapons, we're demanding their total submission to our preferences before we even sit down for negotiations. We have set, as the precondition for their disarmament, their humiliation. This will not disarm them.
October 02, 2007
What Does Iran Want?
Selig Harrison's explanation of what the Iranians will actually demand in order to shut down nuclear enrichment seems about right. Problematically, I highly doubt that this administration -- or the next -- will give Iran enough in the way of incentives and security guarantees to shut down their nuclear program. Indeed, I think it's almost totally unlikely that they will pressure Israel to freeze their Dimona Reactor, though that sort of concession would finally give Iran the political breathing room to back down from their weaponization plans.
At the end of the day, I don't think we're going to stop the Iranian nuclear program. We're not serious enough about doing so. The country's politicians have committed to it going away, not trading it away. But the former isn't much of an option and the latter is unlikely. So it will likely proceed apace. That's why I'm so insistent on politicians actually signaling whether or not they'd attack Iran to end their atomic pursuit -- because that will probably be the choice they face. And so I'm glad to see that Hillary Clinton is atoning for her vote in favor of Lieberman-Kyl by cosponsoring a resolution that states that any funds used to attack Iran must go through an explicit process of congressional approval. The bill, of course, is unlikely to pass, but if Democrats are willing to stand behind it, they can publicize the problem and make action by the Bush administration significantly less likely.
August 30, 2007
Anthony Cordesman describes the avenues for Iranian-retaliation in the event of an American attack:
1) Iranian retaliation against US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan using Shahab-3 missiles armed with CBR warheads; 2) using proxy groups including...Sadr in Iraq to intensify the insurgency and escalate the attacks against US forces and Iraqi Security Forces; 3) turning the Shi’ite majority in Iraq against the US presence and demanding US forces leave; 4) attacking the US homeland with suicide bombs by proxy groups or delivering CBR weapons to al-Qa’ida to use against the US; 5) using its asymmetric capabilities to attacks US interests in the region including soft targets: e.g. embassies, commercial centers, and American citizens; 6) attacking US naval forces stationed in the Gulf with anti-ship missiles, asymmetric warfare, and mines; 7) attacking Israel with missile attacks possibly with CBR warheads; 8) retaliating against energy targets in the Gulf and temporarily shutting off the flow of oil from the Strait of Hormuz; and 9) stopping all of its oil and gas shipments to increase the price of oil, inflicting damage on the global and US economies.
One of the slightly atypical dynamics of the Iraq War is that the enemy can't really hurt us. It can hurt our ability to occupy Iraq, but unless the jihadists we're training over there decide to refocus their efforts -- which they may well do one day, in which case we'll have created them over there to fight them over here -- the majority of the damage they inflict is localized to our mission in Iraq.
Iran, by contrast, can do us a lot of damage. It's much larger and richer than Iraq, with a much more mature global presence. Additionally, it can unleash hell within Iraq, where our presence vastly enhances Iran's ability to battle us asymmetrically. Americans are used to invading and bombing countries like Bosnia and Iraq -- it's been a long time since we've struck someone who can strike back. For that reason, there's very little talk of the consequences of bombing within the media. You hear a lot about whether such an attack would be effective, but very little about the likely aftermath, and thus almost no serious discussion as to whether a military attack would be worth it. We're simply used to evaluating American military actions as if there will be no retaliatory consequences. And that's very dangerous, and in this case, very untrue.
August 08, 2007
Iran and Bombs
Front-page headline in the Times: "Iran-Supplied Bomb Is Killing More Troops in Iraq, U.S. Says." So can we believe it? Not sure. We have to wait until the article's 11th paragraph to get anything even resembling evidence, and it's followed up by doubts:
American intelligence says that its report of Iranian involvement is based on a technical analysis of exploded and captured devices, interrogations of Shiite militants, the interdiction of trucks near Iran’s border with Iraq and parallels between the use of the weapons in Iran and in southern Lebanon by Hezbollah.
Some critics of Bush administration policy, saying there is no proof that the top echelons of Iran’s government are involved, accuse the White House of exaggerating the role of Iran and Syria to divert attention from its own mistakes.
So has The New York Times seen any of this evidence? Is it compelling? And is there any evidence that these are Iranian-made in the governmental sense, rather than simply produced by Iranian splinter groups that don't much like our country? We're never told.
And who are these critics? Should we be listening to them? No one knows. They don't even get a quote.
You know, I've seen this movie before, and I didn't like it.
July 31, 2007
Meanwhile, In Iran
It's not only the US which may be on a more moderate bent. Ayatollah Ali Akbar Meshkini, chairman of the mega-powerful, 86-person, "Experts' Assembly," died yesterday. The early favorite to replace him is Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president of Iran and a generally more stable, internationalist, and, compared to Ahmadinejad, pro-Western member of the country's ruling elite. Rafsanjani, to give folks an idea, was the presidential candidate we were comfortable with last time, until he was beat out by an unexpected swell of populist support for Ahmadinejad.
Currently, Rafsanjani has the support of three-quarters of the assembly. That leaves him the heavy favorite. But relations between him and Khatami are famously fractious, and Khatami could try and block him, though it doesn't appear to be expected. In any case, the Experts' Assembly chooses the country's Supreme Leader who, unlike Ahmadinejad, actually runs Iran. If Rafsanjani were to wrest the chairmanship, it would be heartening news indeed.
The Passion of the Cheney
I'm not really sure what Brian is getting at here. The fact that there are NeoCons and Christian Rightists and atheists (are there atheists?) in the Bush administration doesn't detract from the outfit's ideological coherence in recent years. It just means they have separate spheres of influence. The Christian Right controls the social policy, while the NeoCons have, at times, governed the international sector. There are business types in there too, and they control regulatory policy. And all these groups unite around Bush because he sections the place off to give them their own personal fiefdoms.
But within these fiedoms, there can still be conflict. The central division in foreign policy has been between Scowcroft-style realists and NeoCons. In the years following 9/11, the NeoCons -- led by Cheney, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz -- were ascendant. In the last few years, they have lost Paul Wolfowitz, Donald Rumsfeld, John Bolton, and a variety of lesser known, but still important, fellow travelers. These are big losses for the NeoCons. And literally every one of these positions has been filled with a realist, Rice-type of some sort. Rice passed over Bolton for Zoellick. Gates succeeded Rumsfeld. Gordon England succeeded Paul Wolfowitz. This dude you don't know succeeded some other guy you didn't know, but who mattered. Cheney's Middle East advisor just quit. And there are more.
And this has been over Cheney's objections. One of the interesting stories in Stephen Hayes book-length massage of the vice-president is that after Bush let Rumsfeld go, Cheney was angry enough to disagree publicly:
An aide fired one tough question after another at the vice president. Then: Did you agree with President Bush's decision to replace Donald Rumsfeld as secretary of defense?
"Absolutely not," Cheney replied without elaborating. His answer surprised the small group with him, but it was the answer he was determined to give if Wallace asked, even at the risk of angering his boss. But the story was a month old, and Wallace never asked the question.
To believe that America will go to war with Iran is to believe that Cheney will overcome Condoleeza Rice, Robert Gates, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just about everyone controlling the machinery of the government, and convince Bush to make a move that could very well lead to impeachment and would, at the least, imperil the project in Iraq -- to which Bush ties his legacy -- beyond anything we've yet seen. And unlike with Iraq, he will be making this argument without an available military, without public support, without an ally heading the Defense Department, without Tony Blair providing international cover, without the memories of 9/11 emboldening the president, etc. It's a far tougher road to hoe.
That doesn't mean it won't happen. Events can take over. Cheney could input the launch codes during Bush's next colonoscopy. But, for now, Cheney's power appears to be ebbing, and the odds are against an attack.
July 30, 2007
Will We Go To War With Iran?
You know, it's worth remembering that when the Bush administration wanted to invade Iraq, they spent the better part of two years pursuing a massive PR strategy to sell the deployment. Going to war is actually a relatively tough thing to do, even in a system that gives fairly significant levels of foreign policy autonomy to the executive.
But when talking about going to war with Iran, a lot of arguments rest on what I'll call the reverse-crazy theory. It's become a truism among liberals that you can't rule out any Bush administration actions based on the formerly useful analytical strategy of "doing that would be $^%&# nuts." Some folks, though, take that a bit further, and come pretty close to saying that the Bush administration will do X because X is $^%&# nuts, and so are they. But I don't buy that.
This is, rather, a deeply ideological group, with a set of fairly coherent goals, who approach the world in an almost surprisingly predictable way. And going to war with Iran would be very counterproductive to a number of those goals. The first, and in some ways most important, is that it would roll back the administration's long-term effort to arrogate more power to the executive. It's been a core part of this White House's philosophy that the post-Nixon era resulted in too much authority being devolved from the executive, and that part of their mandate was to recapture that freedom of movement, as the post-9/11 world required an absurdly powerful executive. But go to war in Iran without congressional approval, and we'll see a series of laws passed very quickly that make it almost impossible for the president to declare war on his own. That's not something they want.
Second, there's actually been a change in the Bush administration towards realism on foreign policy. Dick Cheney may still be nuts, but all reporting suggests that his power is ebbing, particularly as compared to Condoleeza Rice's influence. And Rice does not want to go to war with Iran. What she does want to do is, say, negotiate with North Korea, which the Bush administration then did, to the consternation of longtime Cheney favorites like John Bolton. Indeed, Cheney's favorites are actually leaving the White House in frustration. Bolton fled, for one, as has J.D Crouch, a hardline deputy national security advisor, and the former policy planning director at State, Stephen Krasner. And the new hires, as Steve Clemons has been ecstatically documenting, are realist-Rice types.
None of this is to say that we couldn't yet bomb Iran. But literally no foreign policy type I've spoken to -- which includes establishment folks who wouldn't be unhappy with that outcome -- thinks there's much of a chance that we will. And the actual movement within the Bush administration appears very much against the hardliners on the issue. And reporting on the opinions of the military types suggests that they too are against bombing Iran, and are probably telling Bush what a disaster it will be. The scenario in which all bets are off is one in which Cheney becomes president, as the Daily Show so ably documented a few weeks ago (mildly not safe for work). But in general, I think the situation is largely aligning itself against such crazed actions.