Sunday, April 23, 2006

More on Iran

Two recent articles on Iran. The first is called "Three Reasons Not To Bomb Iran -- Yet," by Edward Luttwak in Commentary.

The other is called "Are We Really Going to Nuke Iran?" by Fred Kaplan in Slate.

Luttwak's thesis is that Iran is still at least several years away from acquiring the bomb and that Ahmadinejad and the mullahs actually want America to attack Iran, as a way of rallying the population around the mullahs (as happened with Hussein attacked Iran in 1980) and consolidating their increasingly shaky control thereby.

Kaplan argues for three possible reasons that the Bush administration could be considering using tactical nukes to prevent Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons (as reported by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker): (i) the "Madman Theory," in which Bush aims to intimidate either the mullahs or recalcitrant European allies or both, by convincing them that if they don't capitulate he will do something crazy (that is, nuke Iran); (ii) factional infighting, in which insiders who oppose using nukes on Iran hope to stop such a course through leaks; and (iii) the "Three Options" gambit, where the administration massages the terms of the debate to create the appearance of three options -- surrender, nuclear war, and a limited air strike -- the last of which will seem a relief by comparison with the other two.

I don't believe the west should accept a nuclear Iran. But whether a nuclear Iran is acceptable to the west, including if so, why; if not, why not; and if not, how and when should the US act, have been well-hashed out elsewhere, including the articles cited above. I want to focus on some related, but distinct points, by posting a few questions here.

1. If Iran really were on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons capability, which is more likely: (i) Ahmadinejad would advertise the fact through repeated public statements, while also calling for Israel's destruction, denying the Holocaust, and suggesting that Iran could cripple the west by blockading the Straits of Hormuz; (ii) Iran would keep quiet about its progress so as not to risk an American or Israeli attack that could set back Iran's nuclear quest.

2. What does Iran have to gain from an American (or Israeli) air strike?

Now, a look at the domestic political landscape:

Current polls put the president's approval ratings in the 33% range. Approval of the Republican-controlled Congress and Senate is the twenties. Bush is sufficiently concerned about Republican prospects in the November midterm election that he's released Karl Rove from various White House duties to concentrate on the election. So the next question becomes:

3. What does the Bush administration have to gain from an American (or Israeli) air strike? Would a pre-election attack on Iran help Republicans, or hurt them? Has the administration considered the political implications of an attack on Iran (okay, that one was rhetorical)? What were their conclusions?

And finally:

4. If both the mullahs and the Bush administration believe they'll gain politically from an American attack on Iran, how likely is it that the attack will happen?


Mindy Tarquini said...

I'll take number 4 for $1,000, Barry. If both sides think they'll benefit from an American attack, why wouldn't they encourage one?

On number 3, it's an oldie, but a goodie that war tends to make people not switch horses in midstream. Fear and patriotism mix until it seems detrimental to the troops to vote in the opposition right when the president needs our support most. And nobody wants to think that his/her vote is the reason somebody's son or daughter is killed over there. Result: Paralysis

On number 2, Iran gains public sympathy and America public humiliation when the troops roll through and no WMD's are found.

On number 1, advertising the fact and making threatening noises doesn't make sense. Unless they already have them and are looking for excuse to use them.

Several decades ago, didn't the Israelis take out an Iranian Nuclear power plant before it went online?

Off to take an aspirin.

Olen Steinhauer said...

I know I'm often confused by these international issues, which is why I visit places like yours, Barry. But living outside the States, I often wonder why Western powers take it as their right to decide who can/can't become nuclear powers. Israel is a nuclear power, despite US resistance, and the countries surrounding it can't be too comfortable with that.

Don't get me wrong--I don't want a nuclear Iran either. But I wonder what the US, from a Middle Eastern perspective (because this perspective must be considered if there's any hope for our future foreign policy), can rightfully (that is, "morally") do about it.

Ahmadinejad's invective strikes me as a lot of political posturing in order to gain backdoor concessions from the West, and to simultaneously strengthen the support of the radical members of his country...though I may be giving him too much credit on this.

As for how long it'll take for them to develop actual nuclear weapons, I wouldn't give to much credence to Luttwak's "several years" thesis. That's what we heard when we were talking about when they'd be able to produce the uranium, and it seemed to happen a week later.

As for the question #3, I'd be really surprised if Republican strategists felt bombing Iran would buoy their midterm election prospects. The public (from my distance) seems weary of the Iraq fiasco, and bombing a country that, with the exception of the final letter, seems the same, just wouldn't help matters.

But like I said, I'm writing from the other side of the Atlantic, so maybe I'm misjudging this.

Keep up the good work, Barry.

Anonymous said...

Well. Hmmm...

Regarding question 1, I have a question of my own. I'm wondering if Ahmadinejad is as much of a nutball fanatic as the Western media portrays him to be, or if his non-Western thought processes are just too tough for the media to comprehend. I'm thinking of the old Dulles quote, when he was frustrated in dealing with Japanese diplomats: "Damn those Japanese! They don't behave like Christian gentlemen!" So, if Ahmadinejad really is that far out, then I'd expect him to brag about having nuclear power; I wouldn't think he'd care about the consequences, he'd just want to make his point. If he's crazy like a fox, then he may want to invite an attack as a rallying cry for anti-Western Muslim nations (which goes to question 2). In any event, I don't think it would suit his purposes to keep quiet about Iran's nuclear progress. But that's just my relatively uninformed observation.

Question 3, I don't know. It seems to me that these are unique times in American political history, and that the old rules of thumb may no longer apply. But I have no idea what that might mean. And I continue to admire Karl Rove's brilliance, as much as I dislike how he uses it, so I wouldn't be surprised if he pulled some kind of rabbit out of his hat. And I think he'd find a tactical strike against Iran to be acceptable.

Regarding question 4, I really don't like to think about it. I can only hope that those making decisions will think about more than short term political gain, and will consider the consequences of their actions.

WagerWitch said...

OK - I'm not up to speed with your information gathering - nor am I as versed in politics as you are.

That being said, I think there are some definite opinions that I have regarding nuclear weapons capabilities of differing countries.

We (The US) have Nuclear Weapons.

Does this mean that we (The US) will use them against any other country?


Should other countries have the same rights as The US?

A Resounding NO. Abso-fricken-lutely NOT.


Because most countries do not value the life of others and at a whim will decide because of a difference of religious beliefs that another country should not exist.

I believe The US has the Nuclear Weapons as a "I've got bigger guns than you, so you better not attack us" - instead of "We're going to smash you to bits if we don't like you" attitude. I do not think that The US will ever actually use the arms, except in self defense for the world... (My own opinion.)

Nuclear War - at any level - will devistate human life as we know it.

At this stage in life - Nuclear War by one country could quite possibly instigate a widespread Nuclear Attack - leaving the planet (The World) uninhabitable.

In my opinion - the planet being uninhabitable is unacceptable.

So do I want a country that devalues ANY life to have capability of Nuclear Arms?

Abso-freaking-ly NOT.

There... Now I've had my uninformed say on the matter.


Lady M

WagerWitch said...

Typo button please blogger - puhlease... sigh... no wonder editors are amazing creatures.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Olen has raised some good points. No country, no "president" or governing body has been elected to lead the New World Order. I also find it strange that people think they have the "moral authority" to determine who has what weapons.

#4. If they both believe this, an attack is a certainty.
#3. I don't believe an attack will help the Republicans.

Close your eyes if you don't want to read a potentially controversial assertion, but am I the only one that's wondered if part of the reason there haven't been futher attacks on US soil is so that the Iraq invasion is questioned? It's a smart strategy. If there were more bombings, more terrorist activities in the US, almost everyone would support this war. People would support further military action. They'd see the threat. It may be that it isn't simply that the terrorist organizations can't generate an attack against the US, but that they've chosen not to because the division serves their purposes better than any attack could. Another attack would also strengthen international support for more invasions...

#2. You said yourself, it could be much like when Iraq invaded. Sympathy and support from other Arab nations rallying around a brother, strengthening ties and allegiances. Uniting the east against the US.

#1. I think (ii) is more likely. Right now, I think it's a lot of hot air, because it's win-win for them. No attack, they continue working towards attaining nuclear weapons. An attack, and they have sympathy and support because they didn't have WOMD.

Anonymous said...

I think the best question is what will President H. Clinton do? Shiver-me-timbers. We will get our answer soon.

The rest of you go hide in your corners from G dub, he is sensless dimwitted un-American that is the worst President ever elected. God help us for 3 more years.

BTW: Barry, thats sarcasm, I know.
I need those posting guidelines

I realize Barry you did sometime in the spook house, god I hated the spooks in GW-1, but do you really believe the evil G-Dub is going to drop a nuke? Really? Talk about the 50's nuke attack sirens. I bet those cavemen Iranians could not build a pig pen, let alone a bomb. Goodness, I remember the downfall of the evil Soviet Empire, shit half ther crap could not fly. That was something to be afraid of!! Maybe G-Dub will take the word from the reliable spooks before he drops it, they were sure accurate.

ZenPupDog said...

Articles like Ted Rall: Don't Impeach Bush. Commit Him - A Maniacal Messianic Prepares to Fulfill His Destiny makes me think # 4 is the most likely scenario from the Bush Administration. We're dealing with serious nutjobs who think they'll benefit from the deaths of many thousands. The White House lied to go to its' desired war with Iraq - and I have no trust in them.
Doesn't stuff like Funeralgate bug you when we know the man Cheney accidently shot while on caged bird hunt has proof of perjury against George W. Bush? -
“ ... Harry Whittington, the current chairman of the Texas Funeral Service Commission, a position he was appointed to by then-Texas Governor George W. Bush. Whittington's board reluctantly agreed to pay $50,000 as part of the settlement to end the two year-old Funeralgate case. In February 2006, Whittington was shot in the face by Vice President Dick Cheney in an apparent hunting accident. ... ”
Sleep well - ZPD

Barry Eisler said...

Olen, you asked "why Western powers take it as their right to decide who can/can't become nuclear powers."

I don't see the issue as one of rights (Iran frequently speaks of its "right," BTW, to pursue nuclear technology, so the word is definitely in play out there). I see the issue instead as one of interests. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) aside, I think Iran has the right to pursue anything it wants. I also think other countries have the right to try to interfere with that pursuit. If you accept my approach to "rights" (and I recognize you might not), these situations become more understandable by reference to interests. Is it in Iran's interest to pursue nuclear weapons? Is it in America's interest to try to prevent Iran from going nuclear?

At the individual level, there are all sorts of things each of us has the right to do, but which probably wouldn't be in our interests. I think you can get a better fix on human behavior by focusing on interests than by focusing on rights.

Sandra, likewise for countries thinking they have moral authority. Probably all of them do, whatever they're doing (think individuals again), but in the end nations will pursue whatever they believe to be in their interests and afix whatever moral authority they deem necessary to that pursuit more after the fact.

As for Iran's surprising speed in apparently producing uranium: as far as I know, at this point we only have Ahmadinejad's word for that. Absent some independent confirmation, my sense is that this "revelation" is false and is intended to lure the west into attacking. Of course this is speculation on my part, but I base it on my sense that, if it were true, Iran would be putting the program at risk; while if it were false, there would be no program to risk, only political benefits to gain.

Rae, whether Ahmadinejad is crazy is an important question. His statements often seem crazy. Part of what Luttwak suggested in his article, and which I'm trying to develop a little more here, is that there's another interpretation for his behavior. He could be "crazy like a fox," as you say. He could be hoping to goad the US into an attack for political gain while also hoping the attack would foster the return of the hidden iman, etc. That would be a combination of rational and crazy.

To everyone who's been keeping these discussions civil and substantive, many thanks! Let's keep it up.

-- Barry

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...

I think this discussion is a good one...but I think we have the cart before the horse. At the present time the U.N. Security Council has demanded that Tehran suspend its enrichment program.

The deadline for this cease and desist is Friday.

The U.S. and Britian say that if Iran doesn't meet the deadline, they will try to get the council to make the demand compulsory, which raises the possibility of sanctions.

If Russian can argue that the International Atomic Energy Agency should take the lead for the United Nations to try and resolve these tensions then they can aviod having the sanctions issue come before the council.

On the other hand we have Russia trying to create an agreement with Iran to have the Iranian uranium enrichment program operate in Russian territory. But wonder of wonders...Iran won't even cooperate with the Kremlin now.

Anyway we look at it, I think we'll be into a new administration before this wrangling breaks down far enough for the U.S. to take a military stance.

Anonymous said...

So I went back and actually read the Luttwak and Kaplan articles, and several things struck me. First, though, regarding Olen's and Barry's comments about the 'rights' of nations to do various things: I agree with Barry’s “approach to rights”; and I think Olen’s comment goes to the concept of Manifest Destiny. I know that when it’s taught in American History classes, Manifest Destiny refers to the annexation of the US western territories in the 19th century. But I think it’s been an underlying premise for much of our foreign policy since then. I also think that since we’ve nominated ourselves as Leaders and Protectors of the Planet (or at least the parts of it that have groovy natural resources we want), then we have to assign to ourselves the responsibility to keep some sort of global order. The arguments start when we have to decide what sort of order (i.e. form of government, level of human rights abuse, etc.) we want, will tolerate, and are willing (i.e. will commit the lives of American troops) to keep / enforce / protect.

Regarding the Kaplan article: it was interesting, but it appeared to me to be based on a lot of supposition and not so many hard facts. Lots of leaked quotes from here and there, and lots of reliance on the Seymour Hersh article, which also contained lots of leaks and supposition. Someone here, (Slugg maybe?) stated that the Pentagon is always in the process of developing war plans in order to be ready to respond to fluid, ever changing global situations. We have nuclear power; I can’t imagine that it wouldn’t be part of ongoing under-development war plans. We have to consider every option, no matter how ultimately unpalatable it may be.

Regarding the Luttwak article: also interesting, very scholarly, and very logical. And that was my problem with it. It felt like he was trying to apply logic to a situation that’s fraught with illogic. Yes, Iran has historically been our ally, and should be again. But Luttwak keeps talking about the ‘degeneration of the current regime’ as if it’s already been overthrown; he keeps talking about planning for our relationship with a kinder, gentler Iran, when we simply cannot predict what's going to happen. Our predictions about that part of the world don't seem to have been very accurate.

Barry mentioned my 'crazy like a fox' comment: Ahmadinejad may be a fanatic, or he may be executing a carefully considered strategy. Although it'll be interesting (if we ever have the opportunity) to know the thought processes behind his actions, I'm not sure his motivation matters. He poses a very real threat, with or without nuclear power, that leaves our Administration in an extremely difficult position.

Luttwak said: “As of now, in early 2006, with American and allied ground and air forces deployed on both sides of Iran in Afghanistan and Iraq, with powerful U.S. naval forces at sea to its south, with their own armed forces in shambles and no nuclear weapons, the rulers of Iran are openly financing, arming, training, and inciting anti-American terrorist organizations and militias at large……No premature and therefore unnecessary attack is warranted while there is still time to wait in assured safety for a better solution. But also and equally, Iran under its present rulers cannot be allowed finally to acquire nuclear weapons—for these would not guarantee stability by mutual deterrence but would instead threaten us with uncontrollable perils.” First, what ‘assured safety’? But leaving that aside, the missing word is nuclear, as in “unnecessary nuclear attack”. I think Luttwak may be inferring that we need to remove Ahmadinejad, but without nukes.

And that’s why Bush is in such a tough spot. Saddam might have been more benign than is Ahmadinejad, and we’re a country that’s weary of war. So what does Bush do? Throw out the Rumsfeld strategy and try something new? Use nukes? Cross his fingers that nothing really awful happens? And how does he layer in the Republican election strategy? It looks to me like Bush’s choice is to be either a politician or a statesman. I’m not sure that he’ll have the option to do both.

OK, all this thinking has worn me out – and probably bored you to tears. Time for a beer ;-)

Anonymous said...

That's it. I'm putting you on my blogroll.

Excellent questions for a topic that gets seriously underrepresented here in Germany.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to you, Barry - for having the courage to initiate this type of blog. It's refreshing and commendable to see an author put his real social heart and soul out there and not be worried about what his fans might think-or, gasp-affect book sales.

Olen Steinhauer said...

Yes, Barry, I do tend toward your definition of "rights", and never personally assign the word "moral" to governments, but I'm thinking more of how Middle Eastern populations look at it. How does the US curb Iran while not further destabilizing our position in the M.E.? I think that what's hard for me to swallow is that "pre-emptive" action has become accepted in the US. The average citizen no longers asks, as he once did, if this kind of thing is legal internationally.

In answer to Lady M's contention that others shouldn't have nuclear weapons, but the US should, "Because most countries do not value the life of others and at a whim will decide because of a difference of religious beliefs that another country should not exist."...

Ok, agreed that the US (lets hope our present administration agrees) doesn't make decisions based on religious differences. But to say that "most countries do not value the life of others", as if the US is standing on firmer moral ground---I'm not sure I buy this argument, and I know our friends in the Middle East don't. They've faced a half century of Western meddling leading to the end of many, many lives that the US didn't seem to value at all. Iran's caused no deaths in South America (that I know of), nor has it supported oppressive dictatorships throughout Africa.

I'm not dissing my own country with this, just making the point that however you see it, there's a good reason people elsewhere see it differently.

But I get Barry's overall point that we should be looking at interests, not rights or morality, because that last one in particular has nothing to do with politics.

Sandra's observation about attacks on US soil is interesting. Whether it's because of Bin Laden's tactics or the magnificent tentacles of Homeland Security, I dunno.

But I don't honestly think Ahmadinejad will lead us all the way to invasion. It all sounds so North Korea, doesn't it? The saber-rattling (whether or not uranium really has been enriched) and belligerence aimed at keeping a high profile position. An invasion might increase his support, but come on--support doesn't mean much when you're on the lam and your country's under occupation, does it?

David Terrenoire said...

Can we really restrict nuclear proliferation? If Iran wants a nuke, what can the international community do to stop them?

Sanctions? With oil going for $75 a barrel and Iraq still off line? Don't bet on it.

Lobbing a nuke into Iran would be disastrous on so many levels (uniting all of Islam, spreading fallout through China and Japan) and would just encourage other countries to go nuclear for their own safety. A military intervention would unite the Iranians against us.

Right now the only bright spot seems to be the young people who, from the reports, are leaning toward a more open, more liberal government. If we want to lose those young people, attack their country.

But in the end, if Iran wants a nuke, they will eventually get one. Pakistan, a nation with fewer resources than Iran developed one and we've allowed, for what reason I can't fathom, one of their people to become a regular Johnny Appleseed of nuclear technology.

So what are our realistic alternatives? Am I being overly pessimistic about our choices? Please, someone show me a little light in this dark room because I don't see a way out of this mess.

Maxine Clarke said...

I came here via Bonnie Calhoun's blog and I think her comments here about the UN are right on the button (I live in the UK and so lack empathy with some of the comments made here and elsewhere about the USA's right to decide on international matters. In the UK there is very little public support for our government to intervene, unlike some of the opinions expressed on behalf of the US government here and elsewhere).

I also appreciated Barry's reminder of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which is a legal document and which is why the UN, on behalf of all of us, does not want additional countries outside building nuclear weapons (whether Iran, Pakistan, Korea, Iraq, China, Venezuela or any.) I was surprised not to find a more general awareness of it among the other commenters.

The NNPT may be considered unrealistic or even a failure, but as I understand it, it is the NNPT that in international law gives the UN (not the USA! or the UK!) the right to deny countries that want to develop nuclear capabilities.

(Someone may now say "tell that to the French".)

Olen Steinhauer said...

Good point, David. I'd mentioned Israel's nuclear situation, but completely forgot about Pakistan. With that as a model, why would Iran feel less entitled? Only difference, I suppose, is we like General Musharraf's Islamic Republic more than Ahmadinejad's.

Barry Eisler said...

Okay, now we're cookin' here...

Rae, I think what Luttwak means by "assured safety" is that, for the non-nuclear moment, there's nothing Iran realistically can do to threaten our safety as a nation. As for his notion that, for the moment, a US attack is unnecessary, I think he means both nuclear and non-nuclear. He's arguing that even a conventional US attack would have huge costs for us and would strengthen the mullahs, and that we should therefore forbear until Iran is closer to nuclear acquisition.

Patrick, thanks for the kind words and for the link.

Elaine, welcome to HOTM, another writer!

Olen, great points and now I see where you're coming from when you talk about rights. I agree that one of the dangers of attacking Iran is that doing so would solidify a perception in the muslim war that this is indeed a new crusade, clash of civilizations, war on Islam, etc. And I agree that the US is deficient in its ability to see itself and its actions as others do.

Lady M, this gets to your earlier point about US nuclear intentions. Maybe you're right on the merits, maybe not, but I doubt that there are material numbers of people in any country outside the US who share your benign take on the US valuing life more than others, etc.

America's inability to see itself as others do matters a lot, I think, because it's been my experience that it's hard to succeed in most endeavors in the absence of that kind of clarity. Every time you launch an initiative, you get an unexpected response because... you're misunderstood! The one interesting exception to this rule, it occurs to me, is naked force and punishment. When you're using those tools, it doesn't matter what the other side makes of your intentions, and you don't have to care. Maybe that's part of the reason force is always such a tempting option among individuals and nations... it requires so little imagination.

Olen, I don't think it's likely that the US would try to invade and occupy Iran. First, I doubt we have the resources right now, as we're already thin on the ground in Iraq. Second, it wouldn't be necessary to satisfy the administration's aims -- destruction of or damage to nuclear facilities in Iran and political gain at home. There might be limited incursions of special forces teams (according to Hersh, there are already are), but that would be just to ensure the necessary infrastructure damage and then we'd leave. Trying to occupy the country would present no upside and only downside to for the US.

David, you've hit the nail on the head: if we're sending the mullahs 75$ for barrel of oil, at best we make all our other efforts more difficult. The #1 national security concern for the US is to develop alternatives to petroleum. That's a big topic and maybe I'll save it for another blog...

As for Iran getting a nuke eventually, I'm not sure. Eventually can be a pretty long time. Look how long Israel's attack on Osirak in 1981 (MG, that's the one you were referring to) put off Hussein. Indefinite denial isn't the goal, I think; just periodic disruption until, one hopes, better conditions emerge. Similarly, as Luttwak has pointed out, total destruction of Iran's nuclear capability wouldn't be the goal of an attack; we'd be looking instead to set them back some number of years, which, until a few years hence when something else would need to be done, would be good enough.

Maxine, your comments about the NPT make me aware that I don't know as much as I'd like to about the treaty. The topic is particularly relevant following President Bush's recent visit to India, where he promised access to nucelar technology that India, not a signatory to the NPT, is supposed not to have. Congress will take up the issue next, and maybe that will become the source of another post.

David Terrenoire said...

Barry said - "When you're using those tools [naked force and punishment], it doesn't matter what the other side makes of your intentions, and you don't have to care. Maybe that's part of the reason force is always such a tempting option among individuals and nations... it requires so little imagination."

It's true that this is an appealing option because of its perceived simplicity. It doesn't require much imagination to say, as Bush was reported saying, let's fuck Saddam.

But naked force and punishment can get very complicated real quick if we don't understand the enemy enough to know what they'll think of our intentions.

One example was the moving of Vietnamese peasants out of their ancestral homes and into "strategic hamlets," purportedly for their own safety. As Neil Sheehan writes in A Bright Shining Lie, our intentions were completely misread by the Vietnamese and we inadvertently alienated an entire population who had deep spiritual ties to their homes. People who may have been allies were made enemies by our cultural arrogance and ignorance.

So even when we use force, it's imperative that we understand how the enemy will read our intentions. If a young man in Iran believes we're knocking out Iran's nuclear capability to proect ourselves is one thing. If he sees it as an act of aggression against Islam, then we've got another, much more difficult problem.

I know this isn't exactly what you meant, Barry, but I wanted to make the point that one of the first rules of warfare is knowing the enemy, and that means knowing how they're going to read us, even if all we're going to do is bounce the rubble.

Sandra Ruttan said...

rae said: "I also think that since we’ve nominated ourselves as Leaders and Protectors of the Planet (or at least the parts of it that have groovy natural resources we want), then we have to assign to ourselves the responsibility to keep some sort of global order. The arguments start when we have to decide what sort of order (i.e. form of government, level of human rights abuse, etc.) we want, will tolerate, and are willing (i.e. will commit the lives of American troops) to keep / enforce / protect."

This disturbs me deeply. The idea that anyone asserts themselves as the self-appointed leaders and protectors of the planet is no different than being taken over by a dictatorship.

Barry said, "America's inability to see itself as others do matters a lot, I think, because it's been my experience that it's hard to succeed in most endeavors in the absence of that kind of clarity," and I wish more people would consider that.

The idea that the US has "to assign (itself) the responsibility to keep some sort of global order" and make decisions on how things will be run... this is precisely what some of these middle eastern countries are upset about - they don't want to be ruled by the US.

Neither do I.

Anonymous said...

Can any of you American posters tell me whether the Russian alternative for Iranian uranium enrichment gets discussed at all?

Basically, it would involve a small department of scientists in Iran, but the large majority of uranium enrichment be done on Russian soil, so that Russia (and by extension - purportedly – the UN) can control what use it is put to.

You'd give Iran nuclear power without giving them nuclear weapons at the same time.

Anonymous said...

Barry, can you clarify point number 4 for me. Seems to me a bit odd of a comparision.

Anonymous said...

Sandra, you said you were disturbed deeply by..."The idea that anyone asserts themselves as the self-appointed leaders and protectors of the planet", and that it's "no different than being taken over by a dictatorship". In reading back over my post, I realize that I probably didn't make my point very well. What I meant to say is that, if the US claims, by its policies and behavior, to be the only remaining super power and the leader of the free world, etc. etc. then, I believe, we have a responsibility to act like leaders and statesmen, not like resource-hogs and empire-builders, or to use your word, like rulers.

Barry, I agree completely with your paragraph that begins, "America's inability to see itself as others do matters a lot, I think, because it's been my experience that it's hard to succeed in most endeavors in the absence of that kind of clarity.” It goes directly to Sandra’s comment, I think, and to David's point about the need to understand how our intentions are perceived by others (David talked about enemies, but I think our allies' perceptions are equally important).

My concern about Luttwak’s thesis, Barry, as you stated it in your original post, is that I don’t know whether we have good intelligence on how close Iran actually is to having nuclear power (I’m pretty sure a couple of people have mentioned this already). So I’m not sure that forbearance is the answer, but the idea of another invasion is equally distasteful. I guess I’m coming around to David’s point of view, and not seeing a whole lot of light at the end of this tunnel.

Barry Eisler said...

David, agreed that even when you're using naked force, you're better off understanding the way you're perceived. Maybe it's a continuum: the more you're trying to persuade, the more you need to understand how you're perceived. The closer you move to the naked force end of the continuum, the less relevant that kind of insight becomes. This is not an endorsement of the use of naked force, BTW; as you note, there are all sorts of byproducts of the use of force that you don't have when you use more positive forms of persuasion. I'm just pointing out that at least before the fact, resorting to force has an appealing (and often deceptive) seeming simplicity about it.

Sandra, you bring up an interesting topic: the proper role of the US as the world's preeminent military power. Once again, I think it's important to distinguish between reality and perception. The reality is that, IMO, America's role as global cop and arbiter is necessary and desirable (or at least when we're doing it well). If you doubt the positive aspects, imagine what would happen if America said, "The hell with it," and withdrew, for example, from Asia. My guess is that you'd get an immediate arms race and probably a nuclear Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea.

But disproportionate power naturally breeds mistrust abroad (especially in the absence of a clear enemy like the Soviet Union). And this is something I think we're having a hard time understanding here in the US.

Patrick, good question about the Russian offer. I know of it, but don't know the details.

Broker, I didn't mean for #4 to be a comparison, just a question. If it's true (and it might not be) that the current US administration and Iran's mullahs each have their own political reasons for wanting the US to attack, I would argue that n attack becomes significantly more likely than would be the case in the absence of those reasons.

David Terrenoire said...

Barry said, "But disproportionate power naturally breeds mistrust abroad (especially in the absence of a clear enemy like the Soviet Union). And this is something I think we're having a hard time understanding here in the US."

This is interesting. It's why I'm happy that Olen and others who live abroad are posting here, to give us another perspective.

This goes to another problem I hope we'll discuss here, and that's the media's failure to cover how we're seen around the world without getting defensive and waving the flag.

But we know all about Tom Cruise's new baby.

Barry Eisler said...

BTW, interesting artcle in today's Christian Science Monitor on many of the topics on this thread:

Rae, agreed, good intelligence on what Iran has and/or when they're going to get it is critical for determining how and when to proceed.

David, that's why I read The Economist -- zero coverage of celebrity births!


Anonymous said...

Barry, I don't understand why he would want us to strike Iran. Isn't that the mistake that Saddamm made by telling untruths about what he had. Had he fessed up, he most likely would still be ruling his country.

How does the Iran situation contract with that of North Korea. Why was that allowed to happen? Will we overreact in Iran to prevent a similar situation?

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...


Russian, which has close ties with Iran is building that nation's first nuclear power plant, and they presently oppose the sanctions that the U.N Security Council is threatening.

Moscow is frustrated by Tehran's uncooperative attitude, and they failed to reach a final agreement with Iran on the proposed uranium enrichment program in Russian territory.

They had a 'basic' agrrement in February on implementing the plan, which would allow closer international monitoring of the Iranian enrichment program...which can both produce fuel for power-generating nuclear reactors(like the one Russia is building them) or the core material for atomic bombs.

Iran is prepared for more talks on the Russian proposal...there's an envoy in Russia as we post. But the details are unresolved and need more discussion.

Iran undercut the intent of Russia's plan by insisting on continuing work at home.

In other words...they played the Russians and so far are winning!

Barry Eisler said...

JH, check out the link to the Christian Science Monitor article I mentioned above. You'll see that even in the absence of an attack, the rhetoric Ahmadinejad is goading out of the Bush administration is producing some nationalist sentiment in the Iranian population. If there's an actual attack, I think Ahmadinejad would (correctly) expect Iranians to rally around the mullahs, as they did when attacked by Hussein. It's just what people do when their countries are at war -- especially when they've been attacked. For an excellent book on the topic, check out "War is a Force that Gives Us Meaning," by Chris Hedges.

Good questions about North Korea, and I don't know the answers. Probably a combination of bad intelligence, wishful thinking by the Clinton administration, lack of (pre 9-11) domestic political consensus or international support for a strong stand, and a lack of any good military options. Seoul is within shooting distance of thousands of North Korean artillery pieces, and the South is afraid that the first thing that would happen if the US attacked the north is the destruction of Seoul.

Anonymous said...

bonnie: thanks for the insight. I still think Russia's offer could be a reasonable alternative, or better compromise. But it's an offer that I rarely hear about in Germany, and never in connection to US actions.

Wouldn't it be possible for the Bush government to try and force Iran into accepting and following that plan? At lleast Iran would get nuclear power then, and have their own people (co-)working on it. While I can understand not wanting Iran to have "the bomb", I can't agree with denying them nuclear energy, per se (though I see the interests in doing so).

Isn't US election still two years away? If so, then Bush might hope that any attack on Iran now could prove a successful venue and help counter Iraq's negative connotations – especially since the two countries's names sound alike. (and don't correct me on "countries's", I've read Strunk & White ;))

WagerWitch said...

You do have a point Barry - I am pretty biased, being flambouyantly patriotic to the US.

And while I do recognize US faults - I do also recognize that we are a "SuperPower" and more of a benign one.

Rights, Interests.

Alright. Let's go with this.

Yes - you have the right to go out and get drunk. You have the right to drive. But you DO NOT have the right to drive when you are drunk. Nor do you have the right to physically harm others, regardless of their race, sex, sexuality... etc.

Other countries that allow their individuals to be murdered because of those humanistic ideals, in my opinion have no rights - because of my opionated interests. (:P)

But, again, I'm not as politically knowledgeable as most of the people involved in this discussion and merely opinion.

I would prefer to see everyone kiss and hug and be happy. But I do realize this concept is uhmmmmmm... hippyish - and ain't gonna happen.

Bonnie S. Calhoun said...


Despite what U.S. and Russian officials have described as increasingly close positions on the Iranian nuclear program in recent years, they appear far apart heading into Friday's deadline set by the Security Council for Iran to stop enrichment.

And...LOL...I won't correct you...I've read Strunk & White also! There's still a very long UN process to get through before the US could even contemplate a strike, and we'd need partners in crime (a play on words).

I don't think Tony Blaire is in a position to commit and I'm sure no other countries want to fight a nuclear conflict.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Thanks for the clarification rae, and Barry, I appreciate your point as well. It isn't a perfect situation, and withdrawal can prompt extreme instability.

And the world will always criticize when things aren't done well. It is the balance that is necessary. It isn't that the US is proactive and aware of potential threats that bothers me, but rather the way that sometimes, the gov't seems unaware or indifferent to the way their actions look to others who are not so inclined to trust the US.

Great discussion, as always. Much to think about, without sarcasm or name-calling. I hate days like today when I'm too busy to properly read your post and all relevant articles, which is why I haven't contributed to that discussion. No need to post from a position of ignorance.

This is interesting, though.