Thursday, July 17, 2008

Super Sized

Yes, no, may be! Here we go again. Humanist diplomacy is back at work and, if the current signs are correct, quite a few simpletons are tempted to fall for it again.

The while show, of course, is about the Islamic Republic’s dispute with the United Nations over the nuclear issue. The Un Security Council has passed a series of resolutions demanding that the Islamic Republic take a number of specific actions or face economic and diplomatic sanctions. In time, the process could lead to the adoption of a resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN Charter, opening the way for military action against the Khomeinist regime.

To prevent war one of two things must happen. The first is full compliance by Tehran with the UN resolutions already passed. Such a move would stop the clock of war from ticking, setting in motion the clock of negotiations. The other thing that could stop war is for the UN to surrender to the Khomeinists by withdrawing its demand for specific action on the part of Iran.

Both options have a number of supporters and opponents on both sides.

On the UN sides, some powers such as Russia and China, both of whom voted for the Security Council resolutions, would be prepared to eat quite a bit of humble pie to avoid military conflict. Their stance is not entirely prompted by their love of peace. They know that military conflict could lead to regime change in Tehran, and that a future regime might restore Iran’s close ties with the US.

If that happens, Russia and China, now major influences in Tehran, could end up like bridesmaids holding silly bouquets. In contrast, the United States, and possibly the new French administration under President Nicolas Sarkozy, appears determined to force Tehran to comply even at the risk of war.

Washington and Paris are convinced that, without bringing Iran on board, the Middle East cannot develop a new architecture of security. Iran is the biggest piece in a jigsaw puzzle that cannot be solved unless it finds its proper place.

On the Iranian side, some of the factions opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s radical posture also wish to reach an accommodation with the UN. These factions know that if Ahamdinejad wins his battle against the UN he would achieve almost cult status within the Khomeinist sect.

That, in turn, would assure Ahmadinejad of victory in next year’s presidential election. His opponents would have to wait four more years to make a bid for power, by which time many of their leading figures would be too old or too discredited by corruption charges to bring against them to mount a serious challenge.

If Ahmadinejad wins there will be no room for “half pregnant” Khomeinists, those who talk like revolutionaries but live luxury lives, including prolonged sojourns in Europe and North America. Ahmadinejad's victory could mobilize the still considerable energies of the Khomeinist sect for a project of world conquest which might look fantastic to outsiders but holds strong appeal to those convinced that the “Hidden Imam” is about to reappear.

It is precisely that prospect that prompts Ahmadinejad and his radical revolutionary base to continue defying the UN in the belief that steadfastness will be rewarded with victory.

All these divisions and conflicts of ideology and interest on both sides have created a tangled web that cannot be easily disentangled.

If the UN were to cave in and hand Ahmadinejad a clear victory, whatever is left of the so-called “international authority” will evaporate, at least for the foreseeable future. If, on the other hand, Ahmadinejad were to be pushed aside so that the Islamic Republic could surrender, the countdown for the Khomeinist movement’s domination of Iranian politics would begin in earnest.

In other words, this is no longer about uranium enrichment or even the Iranian nuclear program as a whole. Right now eight countries enrich uranium and at least 20 others have the scientific and industrial means needed to do so without provoking an international crisis with the threat of war at its end. Also at least eight countries have nuclear weapons while a further 15 have the scientific and industrial means needed to make the bomb. Again, none of that generates any crisis or the risk of war.

The Iranian case is different because the regime in place in Tehran does not look like its neighbors. Indeed, it does not look like any of the 192 other regimes that together make the United Nations. The real question, therefore, is whether or not the Islamic republic is prepared, or indeed capable, of becoming like everyone else or, as Ahmadinejad apparently believes, is in a position make everyone else like itself.

A safe bet is that the dispute over uranium enrichment will not be solved until one of two things happens. First, Iran decides to try a major change of its domestic and foreign strategies, thus emptying the nuclear issue of its symbolic charge. Secondly, a new US administration under President Barack Obama decides that a nuclear-armed revolutionary Iran is no immediate, or even mid-term threat to the United States.

This is why everyone is playing for time. And, in the meantime, the Islamic Republic produces more enriched uranium with which more bombs could be made.

submitted by aMiR


Findalis said...

Make no mistakes about it Ahmadinejad and the Khomeinists actually do believe that the 12 Iman (Mahdi) is going to come soon. They claim that he has been born in Gaza and his return is eminent. This is what drives them forward.

No amount of pressure, sanctions or even rewards can stop them. What it will take is military action. Regime change should have been done years ago, but we didn't do so. Now we are paying the price for it.

The day will come when Iran has a nuclear weapon (unless Little Satan destroys their factory first). If that happens, they will attack both the Great and Little Satan's to hasten the Mahdi's arrival.

Anonymous said...

The "Un Security Council"...

I like that, and the cartoon too!

Ben Sutherland said...

I don't know exactly what Amir is smoking, Courtney, but noone is invading Iran and noone is going to engage in anything like regime change. Noone with any serious power is even talking in such a way. The closest thing being realistically discussed by either Israel or the U.S. is bombing the nuclear sites. No offense to Amir, but this piece undermines his credibility, it doesnn't enhance it.

The only real question on the table that is being seriously debated is whether Israel or America will or should strike Iranian nuclear facilities, like the strikes that Americans and Israelis engaged against Iraqi nuclear facilities before deciding, again - for reasons that are not borne out by evidence - that Iraq was a nuclear threat, prompting the current war.

It is possible that Israel might strike, though Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, just delivered the message to Israeli Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and senior IDF officers, that Israel does not have the green light for such an attack and would not be supported by the U.S. were they to launch one.

Our experience, with Iraq as just one example, bears out the argument that doing so will not dissuade the Iranians to pursue nuclear capabilities, long term. To the contrary, it is likely to spur them further in their ambitions, given Israeli and/or American aggression on their soil.

Ce la vie. Foolish policy choices are not new to either Little Satan or Great Satan. Par for the course, really.

The reason for the debate, at all, is the recognition by so many people of the limited long-term utility of such a move and concerns about how to dissuade Iran's government, in the bigger picture, from pursuing nuclear weapons, at all.

Striking their facilities, as I argued above, is likely to increase their motivation to pursue new weapons, not dissuade them, I believe, unless Iran miraculously elects rational leadership in the next 2 or 3 elections, not a development I have much if any confidence in.

You can do it. It will have consequences. And, regardless of the disagreements on the short term impact, you will still have to deal with the long term and overriding priority: dissuading the Iranian regime from pursuing weapons at all.

More reasonable folks than Mr. Taheri know better both 1) the realistic fallout of any hypothetical discussion of an Iranian invasion, and 2) the real political capital/support available either in America, Israel, or the international community for such an invasion. That is why the option is not on the table. Israel is the only country where there might be some level of realistic support, were such a damned fool mission engaged, and they do not have the military power to do it alone. Nor would they likely get support from even America, nevertheless NATO members, U.N. Security Council members, or any coaltion of countries willing. Hence the realism of even their most conservative elected leaders that such a move is not even on the table. There just isn't the political support possible to make it happen.

Which is a good thing, because it would be a very serious and foolish mistake that only those who have the most naive understanding of the political situation there could possibly would think could be effective. It would not have support from the Iranian people, who, in turn would elect - assuming some kind of democratic outcome - a much more hardline regime with a much more hardened determination to challenge America, Israel, and the West by all means possible.

It would be nice to think that invasions really could solve all of our problems. Wiser people know better. That's why they are so uncommon. And hence the real and important debates about the nature of the Iraq invasion, a country where I do think there was a stronger argument for invasion - though how that should have taken place and would take place, again, in similar situtations, is something that needs much more debate and discussion to learn the lessons needed to minimize needless tragedy - since other routes were not available and as long as a population will support such an effort, the mixed bag on that matter being experienced in American casualties in Iraq today.

Vietnam also would have been a similar case. But the lack of support from the local population was, there, as well, the leading concern about the likely success and wisdom of such an action. Even in Vietnam, I believe American forces should have remained until more democratic South Vietnamese forces gained the upper hand to create a stable government. But, clearly, the lack of support from the local population was the most serious obstacle we faced to that objective.

Iran is distinguished from both of these cases by a very serious factor: it is democratic. Neither Vietnam nor Iraq would likely have become or will become liberal or democratic, by American, European, Japanese, or more liberal democratic standards with much haste, at all. Iraq will likely experience many of the same issues with hardliners attempting to coopt democratic government mechansisms for autocratic purposes for many generations, in all likelihood. Communist Vietnam will open up. But democratic governance and liberal democratic values are a long way off. They must be homegrown. They cannot be enforced by external forces. It is the nature of the beast. Liberal means freedom. Democratic means self-determining. And you can't be free and self-determining by the imposition of others. It is mutually exclusive. At best, a culture can learn to be more liberal and more democratic over time. That learning curve, which will be long - many generations - and cannot be circumvented at the end of a gun. It must be internalized. And it will take much time for illiberal and undemocratic forces to do so.

Iran is, as a function of this commitment to liberal democratic progress, far ahead of the curve of either Vietnam or Iraq. Iraq could choose a path that would take it in a more genuinely liberal and democratic path than their Persian neighbors. But, to do so they would have to commit themselves to more secular liberal and democratic governing principles than they are now committed to. There are promising signs on this front. Maliki having to choose between government as a neutral party between warring Sunni and Shia groups is an important sign of that government's maturity. If it sticks, that would put Iraq in a seriously forward position versus their neighbor to the east and would a sign of a much more genuinely liberal democratic government in that region. But that is a choice that Iraqis will have to make over successive generations to make stick.

Iranians have had more experience with elections than their Iraqi neighbors, though far from free and democratic by more liberal democratic standards (by definition). There is very little evidence that I have seen that Iranians would favor an invasion or regime change, and much evidence and reason for me to believe, from my study of internal Iranian politics, that even reformists would oppose such a move.

If there were support for invasion, which is my single most serious concern about such proposals - in Iran, in Zimbabwe, in North Korea, in Myanmar, in Cuba, or in any autocratic government around the world - I would be seriously interested in such a proposal, given that other, less deadly options were impossible.

North Korea and Myanmar would fit that criteria better, since single-party rule offers no opportunity for any level of free and fair elections. Iran's elections are far from free and fair by more ideal standards, but they are far more free and fair than these two countries, just to name two. The Economist Intelligence Unit lists 27 countries as more authoritarian than Iran's government, including such hot spots as North Korea and Myanmar, as well as Chad, Lybia, Syria, Zimbabwe, Syria, Vietnam, Congo, and Sudan.

It is true that Iran's pursuit of a nuclear weapon is particularly concerning.

The question is do you strike their nuclear facilities first, and absorb the costs that come to long-term efforts to dissuade denuclearization and the credibility of the non-proliferation regime, given the full exposure of the fact that will is the most important long-term factor in nuclearization, followed by capabilities, and as Iran pushes ahead more ambitiously with their will to have nuclear warheads, or do you work to more honestly dissuade the Iranians of their nuclear ambitions, first - and diplomacy is the most likely route, despite the denials around the failures of our current efforts by Western leaders and those unwilling to face those failures more squarely - and reserve the right to strike facilities if an untrustworthy regime like Iran gets much closer to actual nuclear weapons capability - which do not have at this point, and which, by all acounts, they are a long way off from - and looks serious about any efforts to use them.

We are a long way off from that point, which is why I agree with Obama that diplomacy is a better option, right now, while reserving the right to strike should an Iranian threat become more credible. Andrew Grotto, from ArmsControlWonk, also agrees with this analysis and argues as much in his recent piece on the matter:

That is why all the talk about regime change, which isn't really an option being discussed by anyone serious, so I think I can safely assume that this is just a more recent meme within far right circles, makes me more likely to vote for Obama than McCain, Courtney.

Because every time you argue this untenable position you remind me of Obama's major strength and McCain's major weakness in this election: Obama's stated and more genuine commitment to diplomacy as the first and most preferred tool in dealing with serious foreign policy challenges.

Every time you beat the war drum, Courtney, you remind me of this very serious advantage for the Obama camp and why, despite my very serious disagreements with Obama on many issues, especially the war, he has some very attractive qualities as a President that McCain would be wise to adopt if he would like to beat the odds weighing in Obama's favor, at this point.

I hope that he does, both because it makes my choice easier, but also because I need a candidate who I can count on to both most reasonably handle this war in Iraq and future foreign policy challenges with diplomacy as the first and best option. If I cannot count on that from McCain and Obama proves himself more trustworthy to handle such challenges more reasonably and effectively, then I will take an Obama candidacy more seriously, something that the plurality of Americans are already doing at this point. I'm a bit of a more right-of-center holdout, at this point, I suppose. But the more McCain moves to the right and Obama does as well, the more Obama looks like a more reasonable centrist candidate.

And that, for good reason, is where elections are won.

I only hope it will occur for the best reasons, this election, rather than for lesser reasons, like a mistrust of the Republican Party that Americans decide they cannot find it in their hearts to overcome.

Talk later, Courtney.


Anonymous said...

"The only real question on the table that is being seriously debated is whether Israel or America will or should strike Iranian nuclear facilities..."

Actually, that's not true at all.

See, "Closing Time: Assessing the Iranian Threat to the Strait of Hormuz."

The link is here: American Power

Here's a passage:

"Iranian closure of the Strait of Hormuz tops the list of global energy security nightmares. Roughly 90 percent of all Persian Gulf oil leaves the region on tankers that must pass through this narrow waterway opposite the Iranian coast, and land pipelines do not provide sufficient alternative export routes. Extended closure of the strait would remove roughly a quarter of the world’s oil from the market, causing a supply shock of the type not seen since the glory days of OPEC....

Yet could Iran close the Strait of Hormuz? What might provoke Iran to take an action so contrary to its own economic interests? Does Iran possess the military assets needed to engage in a campaign in the strait, and what might such a campaign look like? Perhaps more important, what would the U.S. military have to do to defend the strait in the event of Iranian interference there? What would be the likely cost, length, and outcome of such efforts?"

That's more than "just" striking Iran...

Ben Sutherland said...


That article begins with this argument:

"Could Iran close international access to the Persian Gulf, in the event of American or Israeli strikes on Tehran's nuclear program, causing a potentially catastrophic decline in available world petroleum supplies?"

Meaning, the scenario your author paints is based upon the first question, which is the only one that is being seriously debated that might spark any other scenarios.

As I said, the Bush Administration has already told the Israelis that they do not have their blessing to make such an attack and that U.S. forces will not back up the Israelis should they engage in such an attack. Perhaps you are betting that either, 1) the U.S. will opt for regime change in lieu of persuading Israel to back off of any plans to attack Iranian facilities or that 2) a President McCain or Obama would be more open to the use of force on either Israeli facilities or the Iranian regime. In which case, good luck with both of those bets. I think I'll go with the Administration's word on these matters.

The question raised by your article is will America take military action should Israelis or someone else attack those facilities (if the Bush Administration is telling the Israelis to stand down, I doubt that one of his successors is likely to be more hawkish than the President on this question). That's an open question, though notice all of the qualifiers by Anthony Cordesman and Vice Adm. Lowell Jacoby, warning of a brief interruption of supplies. They don't seem to either 1) believe it will offer much of a threat or 2) favor any prolonged military engagement with the Iranians on the matter.

So even the threat of closing the Straits of Hormuz does not offer much likelihood of prolonged military engagement between the Iranians and the U.S., and certainly no evidence that anyone in any serious position of responsibility is considering an invasion or regime change. I would believe that more of Israeli officials than American officials, since they clearly experience the threat of Iranian arming itself more strongly, for all kinds of obvious reasons. But even Israeli conservatives know that it cannot sustain an invasion on its own and, at this point, it must know that neither America nor anyone else would be backing them up in such a fool's errand any time soon. Quite to the contrary, the international community would likely condemn Israel in pretty harsh terms. And that's even if responsible officials in Israel might consider such a move, which is unlikely, I think, except among far right folks not likely to have much access to real power.

Noone will be engaging in regime change in Iran. The debate is whether Iranian nuclear facilities will be struck. America does not look like it will do so, at this point, for all of its huffing and puffing. John McCain is not likely to get more hawkish on this question than the current Administration and Obama definitely will not. Not until other avenues have been expended. Israel could launch an attack. But they would be on their own, at this point.

And after that is all said and done, Americaneocon, they would still have to deal with all the scenarios that I painted above.

Striking facilities only deals with capacity. It does not deal with will. And will, in the long run, is the big determinant of how denuclearization. Striking facilities, until rogue regimes do not feel threatened by foreign forces, will generally increase their will to get weapons, not decrease it.

We need to look beyond the immediate moment. The Administration seems to be doing just that, right now. And thank goodness for their foresight.

Anonymous said...


"The question raised by your article is will America take military action should Israelis or someone else attack those facilities"...

Well, actually, that's not the question. The piece is an analysis of the strategic balance of military capabilities in the event of an Iranian move to close the Persian Gulf.

All I'm saying is that you're not correct to argue the only debate is whether the U.S. will attack.

People are looking at the next stages, after an attack, for example Benny Morris at today's NYT:

"ISRAEL will almost surely attack Iran’s nuclear sites in the next four to seven months..."

Morris does say "almost," so you're in the ballpark...

Skunkfeathers said...

The Iranians are every bit as interested in the American presidential election as anyone; President Barack Obama will feed their ends with Leftist appeasement. President John McCain will not be so accommodating.

Small wonder a lot of Middle Eastern money is finding its way into Obama's political coffers via the Internet.

Ben Sutherland said...

Are you actually reading anything, here, AN, or are you just posturing?

Whose arguing that Israel won't strike? Israel can strike all she wants to. And America and the rest of the world will let her fall on her big fat fuckin' face while she does. We'll probably help carry some of her slack, is the truth. But noone's backing up her operations openly. And like always, those who think for more than 2 seconds past the fuckin' moment will be left picking up the fuckin' pieces, as always. Just so those who only know to puss out and cave into their fears as the basis for their foreign policy don't ever have to face their own fucking failures. It almost makes me want to fucking cry, AN. Boo, fucking, hoo.

And, why looky there, AN, Israeli attacks on Iran with no American backing is almost the same thing as regime change.

Almost. But not really.

And given the reaction of those American military folks to suggestions of closing the Straits, you'd have to say that everyone is just as likely to war-war rather than jaw-jaw as the assholes who don't know any different because their mommas didn't love them enough.

In fact, Benny Morris' column demonstrates just how remarkably rational that whole ballpark of policy thinking (I use that term lightly, at this point) is in his article. He's so fucking afraid of diplomacy, running like a little fuckin' cryin' baby from the prospect of talking with a head of state - now that's a sign of strength if I've ever seen one - that he would rather his scenario of nuclear holocaust then even consider it.

Look how big and strong the big hawks are. They're so afeerd of diplomacy that they would prefer nuclear fucking holocaust to the prospect of direct discussions.

How the fuck could anyone confuse such stupid bullshit with strength I have no fucking clue.

But you know what I do know, AN. People like you played this same fucking game with Ronald Reagan when he want to talk with the Soviets. And he blew those assholes right the fuck off and talked anyway.

And that fucking wall came down.

I'm sorry that diplomacy makes you wet your bed. It pains inside to know how you need a security blanket at even the mention of a diplomatic route.

But, luckily, George Bush, John McCain and Barack Obama don't make policy based on what keeps you up at night or not. They are just ever so slightly more rational than than. Not nearly enough, that's for sure. But just enough so that I know that dumbass proposals like open warfare with Iran are not really on the table, except as some bullshit negotiating tool. A counterproductive and stupid one, to be sure. But a bluff, nonetheless.

The best case scenario you get for your hawkish fantasies, AN, is a strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. And, if that were to come, most actors will have wisened up by then. Which they clearly are doing already, including the Administration, unless you live in a fucking cave.

And, by the way, AN, was all an elaborate ruse to avoid answering the substantive scenarios post-strike? Because I haven't heard a fucking argument from you. What I've heard is a repeated assertion. So if you've got an argument, you fucking make it. And if not, learn some fucking humility.