Update on Iran War Rollout
At UPI's "Outside View" feature, David Isenberg of the British American Security Information Council and the Cato Institute provides a summary of the campaign for war with Iran so far. He missed the Newsweek article by AEI fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht about why war is inevitable, the Washington Post's shameless reprise yesterday of its 2003 attack on Mohamed El-Baradei of the IAEA, the Anti-Defamation League's opening of its No Nuclear Iran campaign, and William Kristol's call for attacks on "Terrorist Training Camps" in Iran.
Update: The New Yorker used to have a capsule review of Night at the Opera which said, "The Marx Brothers do to Il Trovatore what ought to be done to Il Trovatore." See Salon, where Glenn Greewald does to Fred Hiatt and Michael Ledeen what ought to be done to Fred Hiatt and Michael Ledeen.
Update II: Interviewed by Spencer Ackerman of TPMMuckraker, Reuel Marc Gerecht of AEI good naturedly denies that he or AEI received any instructions from the Office of the Vice President to beat the drums for war with Iran. He even says something nice about me. Let's hope that he is right and my source is mistaken. For the record: I did not accuse "hardliners in Dick Cheney's office of giving right-leaning think tanks in Washington 'instructions' to start a drumbeat for war with Iran," as Ackerman writes. I passed on a credible report to that effect, explicitly saying I could not verify it, in order to draw attention to something I consider very dangerous. Let's see if empirical evidence confirms or disconfirms the hypothesis.
Posted by Barnett R. Rubin at 10:07 AM 3 comments
Labels: American Enterprise Institute, Iran, US Iran policy, Washington Post
Wednesday, September 5, 2007
Theses on Policy toward Iran
As I and many others have noted, there are increasing signs that the administration has decided or has nearly decided to launch an air and sea attack on Iran, which will include but not be limited to all installations connected to the country’s nuclear program. All military equipment is in place for such an attack (three carrier battle groups in the Persian Gulf). As I wrote in a recent blog, there are credible reports of a concerted campaign to build public support for such an attack. The aim is said to be to get support in polls up to about 35-40%, but the most important goal is to intimidate the Democrats in Congress, in particular through AIPAC and allied groups, so that they will not use either the power of the purse or Congress’ war powers to impede the attack. The administration is counting on Democrats saying they don’t want to “tie the president’s hands” as he deals with this mortal threat to the U.S. and Israel. The Anti-Defamation League announced today a campaign with the theme "No Nuclear Iran."
Under the Cheney-Addington interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, there is no need for any Congressional consent to such an action by the President. In any case, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force of September 18, 2001, suffices, as it authorizes the use of such force against any terrorists or states harboring terrorists. There is no requirement that the President certify or Congress approve any such designation. The argument would be strengthened, however, if the administration formally designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (Sepah-e Pasdaran) or its elite unit, the Qods (Jerusalem) Force, as a terrorist organization, a proposal that has been floated in the press. In that case the Iranian state would be officially designated as harboring terrorists.
The rationale for such an act of war is likely to be that it is necessary to prevent a terrorist state from acquiring nuclear weapons. Any hint of Iranian compliance with international demands would interfere with the campaign. Hence part of the PR campaign that has started for the war will consist of attacks on Mohamed El-Baradei and the IAEA, as in 2002-2003 over Iraq, when, of course, the IAEA was proved right and its critics wrong. Such at attack, presumably authored by Fred Hiatt, commenced on the editorial page of the Washington Post today. For some reason, the Post editorial does not mention its similar editorial from January 28, 2003, where it made identical false charges against El-Baradei.
The Bush-Cheney policy on Iran is unlikely to have any outcome but war, not because of the threat of the use of force, but because of its objective: regime change. The President and Vice-President have never echoed the disavowals of this goal by other officials. Their supporters at AEI, the Weekly Standard, and elsewhere, make it clear that the goal of the policy is destroying the regime of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Even if this were not true, the government (and not only the government) of Iran believes it is true. In repeated discussions on several continents over the past five years, Iranian officials have told me that the main obstacle to improvement in U.S.-Iran relations is the agenda of regime change – not Israel, not Iraq, nothing else. No amount of pressure or threats will force the Iranian government to negotiate its own destruction. Therefore as long as regime change is the goal, or appears to be the goal, Iran has no credible incentives to comply with any demands. Threats are useless. Sanctions are useless. In any case, sanctions will strengthen and enrich the regime, as they almost always do.
The Bush administration discarded an opportunity to expand cooperation with the government of President Muhammad Khatami after the U.S. and Iran collaborated to remove the Taliban regime and establish the Government of Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan. I witnessed that cooperation as a member of the UN team at the Bonn conference. The Bush administration threw that chance away, declaring Iran a member of the Axis of Evil. It did so under President Khatami, who never denied the Holocaust or said that the Israeli regime, like the Soviet Union, was destined to disappear from the pages of time (which is what Ahmadinejad actually said, not that Israel should be wiped off the map). Therefore Iran does not believe that there is any genuine link between the extremist statements of President Ahmadinejad and U.S. policy, as the Bush administration had exactly the same policy toward the Government of President Khatami. Ahmadinejad has indeed called Israel the “bearer of Satan,” the equivalent in Persian of calling a country a member of the “axis of evil.” There is a fearful symmetry of demonization.
The advocates of war claim that the Iranian regime is a monolithic, revolutionary regime whose aim is destruction of world order and in particular the U.S. and Israel. The argument is identical to that of Cold Warriors who argued that the USSR was a monolithic revolutionary regime with exactly the same aims. Because the regime is “evil” and monolithic, negotiations are impossible (see AEI fellow Reuel Marc Gerecht’s article in the current Newsweek). Internal change or reform is also impossible. There are no Iranian moderates or realists with whom one can work for change, just as there were no moderate or reform communists in the USSR. These same people argued that everything Gorbachev did was part of a plot to trick the West and strengthen Soviet Communism. They now make the same arguments about Iran.
In part thanks to them, we are now dealing not with the Iranian Gorbachev, but with the Iranian Putin, who is rather worse than the original. Nonetheless, the Iranian power structure still includes people with a range of views, from conservative realist to reformist, with whom it is possible to engage, if an agenda of regime change did not sabotage any efforts on their part. I meet with such people regularly. Certainly the Iranian democratic opposition has made clear its opposition to forcible regime change.
There is an alternative to war, but it has to start with an end to regime change as a policy goal. There are then a number of areas, such as counter-narcotics in Afghanistan and the territorial integrity of Iraq, where the U.S. and Iran have clearly complementary interests and could start a dialogue. I will not attempt to sketch a road map here, and it will be difficult to move far as long as the current administrations are in power in both countries.
The alternative of war will have terrible effects including:
* No support for the U.S. from any country but Israel (though Saudi Arabia and other Arab states may not be too unhappy) and the demolition of whatever still remains of the U.S.’s international standing except as a warmaking power; that reputation will also quickly dissipate as this war, too, fails to achieve its objectives.
* Rapid deterioration of security in (at least) Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan; note that much of the support for Benazir Bhutto, whom the U.S. hopes will help shepherd a political transition in Pakistan, comes from Pakistani Shi’a, who will turn violently anti-American in the event of an attack on Iran; northern Afghanistan is also under the de facto control of groups supported by Iran against the Taliban; the government of Iraq in Baghdad will oppose an attack on Iran, but our new friends in Anbar province, whom President Bush visited on Labor Day and who fought Iran for Saddam Hussein, will support it and maybe even volunteer to fight.
* Gasoline prices may reach $7/gallon within a week and probably go higher rapidly, especially if Iran makes even partially successful attempts to block the Strait of Hormuz.
* Either there will be a movement of national solidarity against invasion in Iran from across the entire Iranian political spectrum, or (less likely) Iran will collapse into some kind of civil disorder, with nuclear materials littered about.
* Hizbullah and Hamas will unleash missile attacks and perhaps suicide bombings on Israel, and Israel will respond harshly in Lebanon and Gaza (at least).
* Such an attack will also have other unpredictable consequences, which I will therefore not try to predict.
What course of action do I suggest?
The immediate goal for Democratic presidential candidates and the Democrats (and sensible Republicans) in Congress should be to use the power of the legislative branch to prevent the administration from launching a war. I can think of two possible ways to do this:
* Pass an Act of Congress stating that the 2001 AUMF does not authorize a preemptive strike against Iran (or a strike in response to an alleged provocation – recall Tonkin Gulf). In this case, Congress would claim that war with Iran requires new authorization.
* Cut off funding for any war with Iran not specifically authorized by Congress in accordance with the law after September 30, when spending starts out of next year’s budget. Presumably they won’t be able to start the war by then and rely on the “support the troops” argument.
In coordination with this immediate response, responsible leaders in both parties should articulate an alternative policy toward Iran starting with the same principle as the Helsinki Accords of 1975 – no regime change. The same political groups that want war with Iran today opposed the Helsinki Accords of 1975 because they recognized the Soviet control of Eastern Europe. But these Accords were instrumental in bringing about the collapse of the USSR and rise of independent forces in Central and Eastern Europe.
Under different leaders, the U.S. could start work on such a détente today. It will take years and it cannot advance much while Bush-Cheney and Ahmadinejad are in power. But we should not let them destroy such opportunities for the future.
Posted by Barnett R. Rubin at 9:58 PM 25 comments
Labels: Iran, Israel, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, US Iran policy