I suppose it’s good to know for sure that the CIA orchestrated the 1953 coup in Iran, overthrowing a democratically elected government and replacing it with a corrupt but oil-providing Shah, although it’s not like anyone doubted it in the first place. There’s a reason the Iranian government can prop up the United States as an enemy. This is it. Most peoples of the world have much longer memories than Americans. That’s because we can afford short memories and they can’t.
I know you all, like myself, are celebrating Oregon’s dominating victory over St. Louis to advance to the Sweet 16 where they will no doubt crush Louisville.* So if you haven’t seen this NPR piece on Oregon forward and rebounding machine Arsalan Kazemi, I recommend it. The first Iranian born player in NCAA basketball, Kasemi played at Rice but transferred, along with several other players, due to some kind of racial discrimination that he won’t talk about. At Oregon for his senior season, he has led the Ducks to their best season since 2007 and is really just a great player to watch. Earlier this season, I saw Bill Walton call a game between Oregon and Arizona. When Kazemi stopped at the free throw line on a fast break and threw a perfect bounce pass to a teammate for a layup, I thought Walton was going to have a heart attack. Walton went on and on about Kazemi’s old-school fundamentals for like a full minute before going back to discussing Ken Kesey and the Dead shows he attended in Eugene.
* I am not putting money on this
Tonight’s exploration of American culture’s underbelly is brought to you by Roger Hallmark and The Thrasher Brothers, who I think had the most sophisticated response to Iranian Revolution imaginable.
Duss take on Helle Dale of the Heritage Foundation on the subject of bombing Iran to Freedom:
This week’s WPR column considers the rhetoric of war against Iran:
The case for attacking Iran relies overwhelmingly on the concept of uncertainty. We don’t know if the Iranians want to build a bomb, or whether they can build a bomb, or when they might be able to build a bomb. Even if they build one, the consequences will remain unpredictable, because we don’t know what they would do with a bomb, or how their neighbors would react to an Iranian bomb. The deterrent effect of an Iranian nuclear weapon might prevent us from seeking regime change or some other aggressive military option, thus creating even more uncertainty. Containment might be possible, but the costs could be high and much would remain out of U.S. control.
It’s understandable how so much uncertainty can trigger anxiety. What is less clear is how we arrived at the notion that airstrikes against the Iranian nuclear program can eliminate this uncertainty. Prospects for success of an Israeli strike remain iffy, and U.S. estimates suggest that an attack would only briefly delay Iran’s nuclear program. Indeed, it’s difficult to say what precisely would count as “success” or how the Israelis would measure the effectiveness of their attack. Tehran would certainly declare victory as soon as the last Israeli aircraft left its airspace, and the Iranians would control public assessment of the damage to their nuclear facilities. Moreover, an Israeli strike on Iran, or a joint U.S.-Israeli strike, would hardly disarm the Islamic Republic. And once started, the war would end according to Tehran’s timetable, as Israel lacks the capability, and the United States the will or interest, to conquer Iran and replace the current regime. It is not certain that the regime of economic sanctions targeting Iran would break in case of an attack, but it’s certainly possible. Similarly, it’s not certain that Russia and China would become more forthcoming with military assistance to Tehran, but that, too, is certainly possible.
Spencer has an interesting post comparing the 2002-3 Iraq debate to the current Iran debate:
The war fever of 2002-3 was stoked by a government that had made up its mind. Whatever war fever exists in 2012 exists in spite of the current government’s national security apparatus. I work out of the Pentagon these days. People here do not want war with Iran.
You can even try to caveat that case to be fair to Shane’s thesis, but it still doesn’t hold up. For instance: there’s an argument that the Clinton administration didn’t want war with Iraq, but because of its reluctance to accept that the United Nations weapons inspectors actually disarmed Iraq, it seeded the bed for the Bush administration to co-opt its warnings about Saddam to portray the invasion as bipartisan, consensus wisdom. Could President Santorum do the same thing with Obama?
Not really. The Clinton administration did not argue, as Gen. Dempsey did, that a war would be destabilizing. It enforced a no-fly zone and administered a four-day bombing campaign called Desert Fox. That, obviously, wasn’t an invasion, but it provided a rhetorical opening that the Obama team hasn’t provided. The most you can say is that Obama has repeatedly argued that a nuclear Iran is a destabilizing force that can’t be allowed; but that’s baseline political discourse.
There’s an interesting counter-factual comparison to be made between the Obama administration and a notional first term Gore administration. I think there’s sufficient evidence to conclude that Al Gore was not personally interested in war with Iraq (just ask him!), but it is often argued (by Naderites and neocons, among others) that he would have been unable to resist the pressure for war that would have mounted from hawkish elements in the liberal internationalist fold and on the neocon right. We’re seeing an imperfect test of that proposition now; the cases are substantially different (Iraq, notably, lacked an “Iraq” as counter-argument), but nevertheless suggestive of how Iraq might have played out with an unenthusiastic administration.
Matt Duss takes on James Fly in this week’s installment of Foreign Entanglements:
Yeah, good luck with that. Telling that Fly can’t offer any examples of successful regime change through the air, or really very much in terms of what a target set would look like. Excerpt time, wielding James Scott in the service of whacking strategic bombing!
Theories of strategic bombing, conditioned by the belief that the fog of war can be pierced, represent the essence of high modernist thinking. They posit an essentially intelligible target population or organization, and propose a relatively programmatic series of steps for influencing and reorganizing that population. The most sophisticated theories of strategic bombing delineate the social, economic, and organizational impact of the destruction of particular targets. Destroy this police station and criminality will ensue. Destroy worker’s homes and industrial production will slow. Destroy this factory and the German economy will collapse for lack of ball bearings. Destroy this communication facility and Saddam Hussein will lose control over his military and security services. Sufficiently damage North Vietnamese industry, and Hanoi will conclude that further war is too expensive. All of these theories presuppose a social system that is both highly legible and highly susceptible to outside influence.
However, the state can only see certain things. Many social structures and human relationships are essentially invisible to the state, beyond the ability of bureaucracies to catalogue and organize. In active and passive ways, these structures resist high modernist efforts in such areas as urban planning, agricultural reform, and social revolution. Experience in the twentieth century, not just in the case of strategic bombing but across the universe of state activity, has demonstrated that states tend to have a vastly over-optimistic sense of both the legibility and malleability of social institutions. In this context, it is hardly surprising that strategic bombing campaigns have failed in particularly destructive ways. Even strategic bombing campaigns that do not depend on deep insight into a target population do demand a very sophisticated understanding of how the enemy thinks about costs and benefits. Strategic bombing campaigns fail because they cannot meet the huge informational demands for success. The campaigns run up against concrete limitations on the reach of the state, and the ability of nations to force the world into their preferred shape.
Thoughts on the recent USN rescue of Iranian fishermen:
To be sure, this version of the rescue represents public relations spin, but soft power often amounts to framing narrative for the purposes of public relations. The Iranians’ claim that Iran frees pirate hostages all the time without the same degree of fanfarerepresents an implicit acknowledgement of the success of the hostage rescue in this regard. The Iranians surely also understand that the logic of positive-sum seapower — that the entire world benefits from freedom of the seas — contrasts sharply with their own threats to close the Straits of Hormuz in the event of an expanded oil embargo and their warning to the United States not to deploy another aircraft carrier to the Persian Gulf. It can also be applied antagonistically to any Iranian attempt to follow through on those threats. Pirates are the original hostis humani generis, but states that threaten maritime freedom, especially when maritime freedom has been construed in terms of common rights and common good, can also become “enemies of humankind.”
In short, the rescue illustrates the way in which CS-21 provides an internationalist vocabulary for the pursuit of national ends. The U.S. desire to contain and confront Iran may or may not be wise, but one of the purposes of a strategic document is to provide civilian leaders with sufficiently flexible policy tools to pursue national ends. In this case, the internationalist focus of CS-21 does not constrain U.S. action, but rather reframes it in terms much more palatable to regional allies and competitors. CS-21 plays a similar role in the South China Sea, placing U.S. national ends squarely on the same side as an internationalist vision of free navigation and exploration. From the point of view of the U.S. desire to tighten the screws on Iran, the rescue could not have come at a better time.
Last night I was on Alyona, talking drones and Iran: