Views on Iran's nuclear ambitions
The recent defiant words and actions by the government of Iran on its plans to resume nuclear development are a chilling reminder that the civilized world remains in dire peril, notwithstanding the progress underway in Iraq. This is one of the rare occasions where the vain phrase "international community" actually has some concrete meaning. After some foot-dragging, Russia and China realized that a global crisis sparked by Iran would not serve their interests, and agreed to take this matter up at the U.N. Security Council. Barring some diplomatic miracle, however, collective security action cannot be counted on. That leads us to the uncomfortable question of, What should the United States do about it?
In the Daily Telegraph, John Keegan applies cold, hard Machiavellian logic, reminding us of the useful role that Saddam Hussein played in contaning Iranian expansion in the 1980s. That, of course, is why George Bush The Elder refrained from toppling the Baath regime after liberating Kuwait in 1991. It was called the strategy of "balancing," as described by former NSC official Raymond Tanter in his book Rogue Regimes: playing Iran and Iraq off against each other, tilting toward one or the other, as circumstances warranted. Because such a cynical posture rubbed American sensibilities the wrong way, however, at times during the 1980s and 1990s, the United States tried "dual containment" of both Iraq and Iran. Trying to do so for a prolonged period of time was beyond our resource capabilities, however. Keegan goes on to explain why economic sanctions would be futile, and possibly counterproductive, in this situation:
Sanctions would interfere with the Western lifestyle of Iran's educated young people. The ayatollahs, however, have little interest in supporting that lifestyle, indeed, rather the opposite, while Iran's educated youth have given heavy proofs that their national pride weighs heavier than their access to Western luxuries.
That is why, Keegan concludes, that military action must be considered as an option, if all else fails. Israel is not in a position to do to Iran what it did to Iraq in 1981, which is probably just as well. (I always like to remind those who claim that Iraq was a U.S. "ally" during the 1980s how the destruction of the Osirak nuclear reactor was widely, if tacitly, cheered by Washington.) Those who cringe at the thought of a new front opening in the war against Islamo-fascism must understand one essential fact: Much of the terrorist insurgency in Iraq is being orchestrated and funded by the mullahs in Iran. Like it or not, we are already at war with Iran.
That unpleasant fact does not automatically mean that our people or government are prepared to carry such a war forward, however. Wretchard at Belmont Club puts it well:
The ayatollah's fundamental defense lies in the well-founded belief that the United States has expended too much political capital in deposing Saddam to undertake another regime change operation in Teheran.
One could justifiably fault the Bush administration for failing to prepare the American people for the long, arduous road ahead in this conflict. The rhetoric of "Mission Accomplished" turns out to have been grossly overoptimistic.
Austin Bay weighs in on what various experts have written on this subject. Timothy Garton Ash, a leading scholar of the transition from communism in Eastern Europe, is utterly "fixated" on following the correct "process" in confronting Iran, ignoring the need for political courage and risk-taking by leaders in the West. Daniel Pipes observed the serene glee of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after bragging about how Iran would pursue its own destiny when speaking to the United Nations recently. He and other Iranian leaders are in a state of delusion that Allah has bequeathed upon them destiny for remaking world order, restoring the Caliphate via nuclear weaponry. Yikes.
Daniel Drezner respond to some of the sillier arguments made about the Iran situation by the leading leftist bloggers: Josh Marshall and Kos. (Weary from their incessant, mindless bile, I've almost stopped visiting those sites in recent months.) Moderate liberal Kevin Drum makes more sense. If the situation is as dire as John Keegan and others think it is, the time for derisive mockery of U.S. government policy will quickly end. People will start to realize that this is war. More than that, it may well become a global war.
Not all of the foolishness is on the left, however. In her analysis of what Iran is up to, Carol Devine-Molin at gopusa.com veers toward the "hysterical" view of terrorists, that they are despicable vermin that must be exterminated. This is the opposite of the "sentimental" stereotype, whereby terrorists are regarded as misguided reformers, as described by Conor Cruise O'Brien in his book Passion and Cunning: Essays on Nationalism, Terrorism, and Revolution. Both of these extreme views fail to consider the political nature of the violent tactics the terrorists use. Ms. Devine-Molin goes on to deride the "worthless apparatchiks and terrorist sympathizers at the UN," and the "European socialists." Personally, I would not waste one second defending the U.N. bureaucrats or European diplomats, but one does not accomplish things in international relations by gratuitously insulting potential allies -- even the unreliable ones. They do have their use, from time to time, and more importantly, they usually act according to their own interests, which sometimes coincide with ours. It's true! Ms. Devine-Molin is on firmer ground, however, when describing Iran's thuggish President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. He is a menace.
My take, FWIW:
Many people would like to ignore Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for saying he wants to "wipe Israel from the map," but the ayatollahs who control him from behind the scenes give every indication of being deadly serious about using their power for precisely that objective. All this must be seen in the context of the theocratic regime's ongoing effort to turn back the domestic tide of liberal democratic reform by the technique of "defiant foreign policy," one of the main themes in my dissertation. Most academics and policy experts regard the pathologies of the contemporary Middle East as sui generis, but I remain convinced that there is a fundamental structural imbalance in the way the current global political economy operates (hint: World Bank-IMF), which practically impels Third World governments toward "irrational," extreme provocations that undermine international security whenever economic setbacks undermine their political support at home. Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is the best example of this tendency, but he is hardly alone. There are no quick solutions to dealing with regimes that pursue defiant foreign policies. The point of my research is to detect patterns across countries, and across time within individual countries, and to scrutinize international institutions that may prevent the "natural" workings of the market and the balance of power from working properly, giving rise to policy pathologies such as "diversionary war."
Meanwhile, back in Iraq
Suicide bombers continue to pound away, even as hostilities between religious extremists and the Sunni ethnic group have escalated into outright violence in some sectors in Iraq. Even though there are only scant crude petroleum deposits in the regions of Iraq where they dominate, the Sunnis have the advantage of possessing the vital refineries at the heart of the pipeline network. The biggest refinery is in the Sunni town of Bayji, north of Baghdad, and the U.S. 101st Airborne Division is currently trying to clear insurgents out of that dangerous town. See Washington Post. The war often does look like a case of the proverbial bump in the carpet popping up somewhere else whenever you push it down in one place, which lends credence to those who argue we simply don't have enough ground forces to pacify Iraq.
Perhaps more worrisome is the growing reliance on private security guards, which will presumably increase as the United States, Britain, and Italy gradually withdraw combat forces over the next year. On Nov. 17 I drew attention to the use of former military personnel from Latin America, including Peru. I learned about that from Latin news sources, but I have not seen in mentioned in the mainstream media. The PBS Frontline program recently addressed this problem of "quasi-mercenaries," which are often untrained and unaccountable, undermining the legitimacy of the new democratic government in Baghdad. The use of such guards is not necessarily fatal, as businesses in many countries such as Peru and Colombia learned to cope in this way with low-level terrorist campaigns in the 1980s, but pro-war folks do need to face up to this weak spot in the Iraq security situation.
One of the "pure realists" who opposed the liberation of Iraq as being contrary to the U.S. goal of maintaining a stable balance of power in the Persian Gulf, was Brent Scowcroft. He wrote a Washington Post op-ed piece ("Focusing on 'Success' In Iraq") that takes a step back from the harsh criticism of the war he has expressed, turning his attention to achieving the best possible outcome. Well, that's at least a sign of some progress toward consensus on the domestic front.
Cutback in National Guard
The Army announced that the number of National Guard combat brigades will be cut from 28 to 34 over the next few years, to facilitate a shift in emphasis from fighting wars to handling abrupt emergencies such as hurricanes. Plans to expand the size of the regular Army are going ahead, but the goal has been cut from 43 brigades to 42. Because the National Guard enjoys strong political support in many states, however, implementing this plan may be difficult. See Washington Post.
The war on the home front
Congressman Bob Goodlatte had a meeting last night with constitutents in Stuarts Draft, about ten miles from Staunton. A dozen or so people from the Augusta Coalition for Peace and Justice showed up to protest the war in Iraq, but Goodlatte held his ground:
To withdraw troops in a rapid fashion would be unconscionable. It would endanger U.S. citizens; it would endanger Iraqi citizens. (SOURCE: Staunton News Leader.)
It's always good to hear a politician take a strong, principled stand on a controversial issue, rather than hemming and hawing for the sake of a few extra votes. Rhonda Winfield, mother of Cpl. Jason Redifer, who was killed in Iraq one year ago, spoke out in favor of finishing the mission, while expressing hope for national unity and mutual understanding between pro-war and anti-war factions. She is a true national treasure.
UPDATE: Steve Kijak attended the Goodlatte meeting, and provides some in-depth coverage of what went on with the protesters. (via Chad Dotson) I might have gone myself, but did not become aware of the meeting until it was already underway.