if Iran is as close to nuclear capability as it is claimed, it should have a strong interest in non-proliferation. Making it difficult for a newcomer to join the nuclear club would enhance the value of its own potential membership and dissuade rivals from taking a similar path. If a major goal of sanctions against Iran is to dissuade other countries from taking the path to nuclear capability that Iran has taken, the possibility to make that case with “Iran as a partner” should be kept in mind…
This doesn’t make much sense to me; we strengthen non-proliferation institutions by not making a fuss about the Iranian nuclear program? Why would anyone ever believe a claim that went like this: “No, seriously; Iran is the LAST country that we’ll tolerate as part of the nuclear club. Nobody else gets in.” Indeed, I suspect that non-proliferation would suffer much more from toleration of and acquiesence in Iran’s nuclear program than in challenge to it, even if Iran manages to get a nuke anyway. There’s some value to both the international opprobrium that comes from violating non-proliferation rules (if Iran violates such rules by moving farther along the road to nukes), and to the added costs created by sanctions against such violation. I happen to think that the NPT has been a wildly successful international institution, and that preserving as much of its essence as possible is a worthy US security goal, and that defending the NPT through tolerating Iranian nukes makes about as much sense as fighting for non-proliferation by browbeating the Japanese into going nuclear.
That said, Salehi-Isfahani’s larger point about the effectiveness of sanctions is well taken. It’s not clear how sanctions lead to either a)regime change, or b)the end of Iran’s nuclear weapons program. Although the Iranian opposition has been surprisingly critical of the regime’s foreign policy stance, I’d still be surprised if aggressive sanctions regime didn’t produce a “rally-round-the-flag” effect. At the same time, I think that international disapproval is something that states take into account when they develop policy, and that the clear demonstration of such disapproval is sensible. Iran’s compliance with the IAEA is twitchy at best, although its announcement of the Qom facility and guarantee to allow inspections improves the situation. It’s key to note, however, that countries announce the existence of nuclear facilities and allow inspections of those facilities because they wish to remain in compliance with international law; agreements matter, and sanctions for flouting agreements also matter.
It’s hard to say how to take this long post on the Iranian ballistic missile program; there’s a lot of detail, but where evidence is not openly available conclusions are always questionable. The assertions that Iran is receiving substantial missile technology support from North Korea (not surprising), China, (not really surprising), and Russia (very mildly surprising) is probably the biggest takeaway. In any case, give it a read if you’re interested in Iran, ballistic missiles, or the proliferation of “illicit” technology.
Fabius Maximus refers to General Wald’s post as part of a “years long project to start a war with Iran.” That’s true enough, but it’s also clear that General Wald envisions the war itself as lasting, well, years:
Furthermore, while a successful bombing campaign would set back Iranian nuclear development, Iran would undoubtedly retain its nuclear knowhow. An attack would also necessitate years of continued vigilance, both to retain the ability to strike previously undiscovered sites and to ensure that Iran does not revive its nuclear program.
The point is clear; a military strike cannot “solve” the problem of Iranian nuclear weapons. Only many strikes over many years can do that…
With due respect to General Wald, anyone who argues that a nuclear weapon will grant Iran dominance over the Persian Gulf is a liar, a moron, or both. If a tiny nuclear arsenal with no second strike capability and an unreliable delivery system, in conjunction with a years’ outdated conventional military that’s a vanishingly small fraction of the size of the US military or the military organizations of the chief American regional proxies can win “dominance,” then, well, we might as well give up right now. The floor is yours, Private Hudson:
General Wald invokes the “existential” threat to Israel as a reason to attack Iran. It’s worth dwelling on that for just a moment. The existential threat to Israel isn’t so much the possibility that Iran will launch a nuke as it is that Iranian possession of nukes will make Israeli life intolerable. The slightly elevated chance of nuclear annihilation, combined with increased Iranian support for Hamas and Hezbollah, will make life in Israel sufficiently sketchy and unpleasant that Israeli Jews will begin emigrating to the United States, Russian “Jews” will stop emigrating to Israel, and the demographic balance in Israel proper (to say nothing of Mandate Palestine) will shift decisively in favor of Israeli Arabs, effectively destroying the Jewish state. This argument has been made with varying degrees of explicitness by Michael Oren and other Israeli officials. These concerns are real enough, given a particular construction of Israeli national interest. They do not, however, amount to an “existential” threat in the sense that the United States and the Soviet Union posed existential threats to one another during the Cold War. Moreover, I can’t help but think that there’s a certain absurdity in Israeli policymakers demanding what amounts to an absolute degree of security. If David Ben-Gurion had employed the same existential standard, then the state of Israel would never have been founded. Statecraft is dirty, dangerous business, and existential threats are pretty much an inevitable part of doing that business. Of course, the revolutionary generation always accepts sacrifice in the hope that its children will reap the benefits, but it’s still difficult not to conclude that the apple has fallen rather far from the tree.
What we don’t know is if a successful Israeli attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities would discredit the regime to the point that it would be forced out of power or if such an attack would be used to discredit the opposition, causing Iranians to close ranks behind their extremist leaders.
Generally, when bombs fall on people, they get mad at the people doing the bombing. It’s a simple enough lesson, but one that many, in their unconsidered haste to bring about the regime’s downfall, miss quite entirely. The second of Johnson’s possibilities, or a version of it at least, seems much more likely to result from a missile attack; this would only enhance the government’s hardline posture, and give needless credibility to its attempts to focus attention on outside “enemies.”
If Israeli bombing discredits the Iranian regime, it will be approximately the first time in the history of the world that such a thing has happened. The closest case would appear to be that of Slobodan Milosevic after the Kosovo War, but a much more compelling argument can be made that Milosevic fell because he gave up, rather than because he fought.
Speaking of Chiang Kai Shek, I have a short article up at Foreign Policy comparing the Chinese and (purported) Iranian nuclear weapon programs:
Even the Soviet bloc worried that the Chinese were crazy. The causes and course of the Sino-Soviet split are complex, but nuclear weapons were near the heart of the dispute. Chinese brinksmanship in the 1958 Quemoy crisis prompted the Soviets to suspend nuclear cooperation. In a ridiculously entertaining series of pamphlets issued between 1959 and 1963, China and the Soviet Union sparred over the role that nuclear weapons were to play in defense of the socialist world. The Chinese displayed on almost casual disregard for the atomic bomb, dismissing it as a “paper tiger,” and argued that peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism was a fantasy. The exasperated Soviets responded with a question: “We would like to ask the Chinese comrades who suggest building a bright future on the ruins of the old world destroyed by a thermonuclear war whether they have consulted the working class of the countries where imperialism dominates?”
I guess that I don’t read Biden’s comment in the same way that Marc Lynch:
BIDEN: Look, Israel can determine for itself — it’s a sovereign nation — what’s in their interest and what they decide to do relative to Iran and anyone else.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Whether we agree or not?
BIDEN: Whether we agree or not. They’re entitled to do that. Any sovereign nation is entitled to do that. But there is no pressure from any nation that’s going to alter our behavior as to how to proceed.
What we believe is in the national interest of the United States, which we, coincidentally, believe is also in the interest of Israel and the whole world. And so there are separate issues.
If the Netanyahu government decides to take a course of action different than the one being pursued now, that is their sovereign right to do that. That is not our choice.
I read this as Biden distancing the United States from any Israeli attack; this is to say that, if the Israelis do attack Iran, that the United States had nothing to do with it. I don’t really see it as the US giving Israel a green light; why would such a message ever been given in public? I probably wouldn’t have used the phrase “entitled” but the point seems to be to draw a distinction between Israel and the US, rather than to indicate a preferred course of action to the Israelis.
… to clarify a bit, Israel is unlikely to ask for overflight permission from anyone, Iraqi, Saudi, or American, if it wants to attack Iran. The chances of US aircraft shooting down attacking Israeli fighters as they cross Iraq is approximately zero, and the Iraqis don’t have the capability. This is to say that the Israelis do not need our permission to attack Iran, whether they’re crossing Iraqi airspace or Saudi. What I read this statement as saying is this: “What the Israelis do, they do on their own. An Israeli attack on Iran is not part of US policy.”
I should add that this is yet another case in which supposedly clear “messages” turn out to be remarkably murky.
Um, no one cares what Jose Maria Aznar thinks, but this is an especially useless effort. The comparisons between Iran and the Soviet Union are delivered with the stupidity that’s customary for the genre; it’s hard, for example, to know where to begin his claim that Western support for Soviet dissidents (a) made Soviet leaders fearful of treating them badly, and (b) eventually brought town the government itself. Whatever force “the Free World” was able to exert upon Soviet human rights was a direct result of the fact that the US and the Soviet Union had, from 1963 through the mid-1970s, established a reasonably successful record of negotiating on a variety of issues of mutual interest (e.g, nuclear testing and arms limitations, grain shipments, etc.) So far as dissidents were concerned, their treatment during this period was mild by the obviously unpleasant by historical standards — not because the government feared Johnson, Nixon or Ford (who were, it’s worth pointing out, not hollering conspicuously about Soviet dissidents) but because Soviet leadership saw little to be gained domestically from “ruthlessly [doing] away with them,” as Aznar insists they would have. After Khrushchev’s disclosures, a full revival of Stalinist brutality was probably an impossibility; whatever ill needs to be spoken of the post-Stalin era, it’s insane to claim their behavior was held in check simply out of fear of external punishment. The state viewed dissidents as enemies of the regime and suppressed them as best they could, but by the late 1970s and 1980s — when Aznar presumably believes US support for dissidents was most consequential — the Soviet leadership hardly required the aid of dissenters (or critiques by American leaders) to bring discredit to its own project.
That said, it’s hard to imagine what sort of guidance Aznar thinks his flawed history might provide for the Obama administration. This is of course a problem for anyone who’s been insisting that Obama Must Do SomethingTM, but Aznar captures the vagueness of the argument with impressive brevity:
This is no time for hesitation on the part of the West. If, as part of an attempt to reach an agreement on the Iranian nuclear program, the leaders of democratic nations turn their backs on the dissidents they will be making a terrible mistake.
President Obama has said he refuses to “meddle” in Iran’s internal affairs, but this is a poor excuse for passivity. If the international community is not able to stop, or at least set limits on, the repressive violence of the Islamic regime, the protesters will end up as so many have in the past — in exile, in prison, or in the cemetery. And with them, all hope for change will be gone.
See, I’d been under the mistaken impression that the US would be hard-pressed to find a constructive role to play with respect to the Iranian crisis. But I forgot that by simply not hesitating* and by facing the protesters squarely in solidarity**, we could actually set limits*** on the behavior of the Iranian state!
* Whatever the hell that means. ** Ibid. *** Ibid.
I had the same thought as Jason Zengerle; inviting Iranian diplomats to the July 4 embassy picnics was potentially an intelligence gathering opportunity. This appears not to be the case, however.
Also, this is the nicest thing that Ann Althouse has ever said about anyone associated with LGM. An attempt at engagement to end the longstanding rift between our two peoples? Or unwelcome interference in LGM affairs?
I don’t think it has been linked here yet — I’ve been behind on my LGM reading and posting as the last two days were a sea of meetings, but this was forwarded to me by a colleague who “does” Iran. I won’t go into too much detail, but suffice it to say that she knows Iran well. The core argument of the piece is that Rafsanjani knows precisely what he is doing in the midst of all this, and he is attempting to “outflank supreme leader Khamenei” et al.
When chatting about it before (and, admittedly, during) one of the meetings over the past two days, we both were shocked at just how ineptly Khamenei and allies have played this. Dude, game theory. Check it out. But it may be a little late, as the linked article suggests:
“To a certain degree, hardliners now find themselves caught in a cycle of doom: they must crack down on protesters if they are to have any chance of retaining power, but doing so only causes more and more clerics to align against them.”
If the linked analysis has legs, it could be interesting . . .
In trying to break down the “Obama Should Denounce!” crowd into some subsets, I came up with the following five groups:
Obama is being quiet because he thinks that US intervention would cause the situation in Iran to deteriorate; he’s wrong about that.
Obama is being quiet because he thinks that the US can still win concessions from Iran on the nuclear program, and doesn’t want to endanger that possibility; he’s either a) wrong about the possibility of winning concessions, or b)the game isn’t worth the candle.
Obama is weak, indecisive, and objectively pro-Ahmadinejad.
Obama is pro-Ahmadinejad.
I don’t really know anything about this, but any opportunity to criticize the Obama administration is worth taking.
These groups are not mutually exclusive. Daniel “Go Ahmadinejad!” Pipes probably fits most comfortably into Group 5. Group 4 includes such luminaries of American punditry as Andy McCarthy and Victor Davis Hanson. Group 3 is a touch harder to categorize, because it overlaps a lot with #2, but I’d say it’s a view that’s broadly shared across the wingnutosphere. Group 2, I think, includes Charles Krauthammer, Paul Wolfowitz, and some of the smarter folks at the Corner. Group 1 includes, once you cut through the manifest crazy, Christopher Hitchens.
I think, thus far, that Obama has handled the situation fabulously well. I’m guessing that he believes that any US intervention will backfire, and that the US will need to talk to Iran in the future, whether or not Ahmadinejad remains President. I think he’s definitely correct about the first. I also suspect that it is going to be extremely difficult to carry out any engagement strategy with Iran going forward. If the regime survives, it will be because of the loyalty and brutality of its security forces. With that brutality on display on US televisions (if only rarely) it will be much more difficult for Obama to build any domestic support for talks. Moreover, it’s not clear that he should; knowing that the Iranian regime was repressive before these latest incidents, and acknowledging that many US allies in the region don’t even bother with the fiction of elections doesn’t change the fact that it’s an ugly bit of business. I’d rather, other things being equal, not have my President engage with Iran while the current group of thugs is in power. Finally, I do think that the repression has opened greater opportunity for what might be termed a non-interventionist coercive strategy; this is to say that more and tougher sanctions against the regime are on the table now than was the case two weeks ago.
Reading the comments here, what’s most striking is that Treacher et al. have yet to even attempt an argument explaining, in concrete terms, what more forceful rhetoric or more private dessert eating would accomplish. If I can try to piece together the causal logic:
Obama supports Iran opposition, ignores daughters, eats good American salad consisting of Kraft Mayonnaise over iceberg lettuce rather than those fancy greens and olive oils that people who never leave major urban centers assume that people outside of major urban centers have never heard of
Iranian government uses comments to paint the opposition as the cat’s paw of a hated regime; opposition distances itself from Obama’s comments.
I’m not really seeing it. In fairness, calling Iran the “Axis of Evil” did singlehandedly usher in an era of Democracy, Whiskey, and Sexy in Iran, so I’m sure similar comments from Obama would be equally effectual.
Meanwhile, the ill-named Socrates asks:
Let’s try a thought experiment..
What would you all really be saying today if it had been Booooooosh! doing this while Iran burned, instead of Obama..?
Take a few minites to think; and be intellectually honest about it…
See, this may be shocking news to people who think that Obama can make democracy appear in Iran through his silver tongue (and they call us “Obamabots”!), but Iran is not the only tyranny in the world. This blog has been in operation for quite a long time, stretching all the way back to the Bush administration. So, for example, we can consider the case of Zimbabwe. You may recall that — while Bush was in the White House! — an even worse regime than the current Iranian one engaged in even more egregious and violent election theft. If you search our archives, however, you will note that at no point did I attack Bush for clearing brush instead of spending all of his time denouncing Robert Mugabe, for the obvious reason that you’d have to be a Grade A Moron to think that anything Bush said would somehow cause fair elections to be held in Zimbabwe. The same, of course, goes for the assertion that more forceful rhetoric will somehow produce a fair election in Iran. But thanks for the question!
UPDATE BY ROB: Shorter Andy McCarthy: Barack Obama is objectively pro-mullah!