Archive for the ‘Iran’ Category
Peter Beinart tells us in the Atlantic why attacking ISIS is not a good idea. His recommendation carries more weight in view of his enthusiastic support for the Iraq War. Take a look at this Atlantic article from July 2015 that Beinart wrote:
I have a fantasy. It’s that every politician and pundit who goes on TV to discuss the Iran deal is asked this question first: “Did you support the Iraq War, and how has that experience informed your position?”
For me, it would be a painful question. I supported the Iraq War enthusiastically. I supported it because my formative foreign-policy experiences had been the Gulf War and the wars in Bosnia and Kosovo, all of which led me to exaggerate the efficacy of military force and downplay its risks. As Iraq spiraled into disaster, I felt intellectually unmoored. When my sister-in-law was deployed there for a year, leaving her young daughter behind, I was consumed with guilt that I had contributed to their hardship. To this day, when I walk down the street and see a homeless veteran, I feel nauseous. I give some money and a word of thanks, and think about offering an apology. But I don’t, because there’s no apology big enough. The best I can do is learn from my mistake. These days, that meanssupporting the diplomatic deal with Iran.
In his current article in the Atlantic, Beinart writes:
or close to a decade, the trauma of the Iraq War left Americans wary of launching new wars in the Middle East. That caution is largely gone. Most of the leading presidential candidates demand that the United States escalate its air war in Iraq and Syria, send additional Special Forces, or enforce a buffer zone, which the head of Central Command, General Lloyd Austin, has said would require deploying U.S. ground troops. Most Americans now favor doing just that.
The primary justification for this new hawkishness is stopping the Islamic State, or isis, from striking the United States. Which is ironic, because at least in the short term, America’s intervention will likely spark more terrorism against the United States, thus fueling demands for yet greater military action. After a period of relative restraint, the United States is heading back into the terror trap.
To understand how this trap works, it’s worth remembering that during the Cold War, the United States had relatively few troops in the Arab and Muslim world. When Ronald Reagan was elected president, Central Command, which oversees U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Central Asia, did not even exist. All of this changed in 1990, when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, and President George H. W. Bush dispatched 700,000 troops to expel him and defend Saudi Arabia. After the war was won, thousands stayed to deter Saddam, and to enforce no-fly zones over Iraq.
Before the Gulf War, the Saudi native Osama bin Laden and his associates had focused on supporting the mujahideen, who were fighting to repel the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. But after the U.S.S.R.’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, al-Qaeda turned its attention to the United States, and in particular to America’s military presence in Saudi Arabia. In 1992, al-Qaeda issued a fatwa calling for attacks on American troops in the Middle East. After the United States intervened in Somalia later that year, Somali rebels allegedly trained by al-Qaeda shot down two Black Hawk helicopters. In 1995, al-Qaeda operatives took credit for bombing a joint U.S.-Saudi military facility in Riyadh. And in 1996, a truck bomb devastated a building housing U.S. Air Force personnel in the Saudi city of Dhahran. (Although Saudi Hezbollah carried out the attack, the 9/11 Commission noted “signs that al-Qaeda played some role.”) That same year, another al-Qaeda fatwa declared, “The latest and the greatest of these [Western] aggressions … is the occupation of the land of the two Holy Places”: Saudi Arabia. On August 7, 1998, the eighth anniversary of the beginning of that “occupation,” al-Qaeda bombed America’s embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.
The fact that al-Qaeda justified its attacks as a response to American “occupation” makes them no less reprehensible, of course. And al-Qaeda might well have struck American targets even had the U.S. not stationed troops on Saudi soil. After all, as a global superpower, the United States was involved militarily all across the world in ways al-Qaeda interpreted as oppressive to Muslims.
Still, it’s no coincidence that bin Laden and company shifted their focus away from the U.S.S.R. after Soviet troops left Afghanistan and toward the United States after American troops entered Saudi Arabia. Key advisers to George W. Bush recognized this. After U.S. forces overthrew Saddam in 2003, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz said one of the benefits “that has gone by almost unnoticed—but it’s huge—is that by complete mutual agreement between the U.S. and the Saudi government we can now remove almost all of our forces from Saudi Arabia.” The United States, he reasoned, had thus eliminated “a huge recruiting device for al-Qaeda.”
The problem was that to remove thousands of troops from Saudi Arabia, the United States sent more than 100,000 to invade and occupy Iraq. A dramatic surge in terrorist attacks against American and allied forces ensued. As Robert Pape, the director of the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago, has enumerated, the world witnessed 343 suicide attacks from 1980 to 2003, about 10 percent of them against America and its allies. From 2004 to 2010, by contrast, there were more than 2,400 such attacks worldwide, more than 90 percent of them against American and coalition forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Many of those attacks were orchestrated by al-Qaeda’s Iraqi affiliate, which in 2006 established the Islamic State of Iraq. After weakening in 2007 and 2008 (when the U.S. paid Sunni tribal leaders to fight jihadists), the Islamic State strengthened again as the Obama administration’s inattention allowed Iraq’s Shia prime minister, Nuri al-Maliki, to intensify his persecution of Sunnis. Then, after Syrians rebelled against Bashar al-Assad, the Islamic State expanded across Iraq’s western border into Syria, later renaming itself the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Significantly, when the last American troops left Iraq, in December 2011, isis did not follow them home. “In its various incarnations,” notes Daniel Byman, a counterterrorism expert who is a professor at Georgetown, the Islamic State “focused first and foremost on its immediate theater of operations.” Although isiswas happy if people inspired by its message struck Western targets, it made little effort to orchestrate such attacks. Research fellows at the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment detected only four isis-related plots in the West from January 2011 to May 2014.
But beginning in the fall of 2014, . . .
Very interesting thoughts about the Iran Deal from a couple of readers of James Fallows’s series on the matter. Worth reading.
I may have already linked to this column by James Fallows, in which a reader named Betsy marshals her arguments on why we reject the deal. (Trigger warning: Betsy’s writing is jarring in many ways, but (as Fallows points out) it is not an outlier but is typical of the mail attacking the Iran Deal.)
In a column today, Fallows includes three additional emails, these being from readers commenting on Betsy’s email. The first one is difficult: he seems enraged that Fallows quote Betsy (the writer of this email clearly has a very low opinion of Betsy), but seems unaware of Fallows’s point: that Betsy’s email was typical of those emails that opposed the deal. The other emails are more interesting.
Today’s column begins:
On Monday I mentioned again that I hope the U.S. Congress does not manage to block the Iran deal. For more on the reasons why, consider this new letter from three dozen retired U.S. flag officers arguing that the deal makes sense from a military perspective. They join the 100-plus former U.S. ambassadors, the 60-plus former senior U.S. national-security officials, the 29 physicists from America’s nuclear-weapons programs, and the five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel and three former U.S. undersecretaries of state who have all recommended the agreement. [Update: plus the head of an organization set up to oppose the deal, who after studying its terms now recommends it.]
Obviously diplomatic judgments are not simple numbers games, and experts can be wrong. But think for a moment how this deal’s prospects would look if comparably experienced and bi- or non-partisan groups kept emerging to warn against it—rather than emerging to recommend it, as they have done.
In that post on Monday I also quoted a letter from a reader named Betsy that was representative of the anti-deal mail I get round the clock. I’m about to disappear from online life for a week or so to finish writing an article for the magazine. Before I go, three letters with three perspectives on Betsy’s letter.
First, from a tech-world veteran who is now a government contractor in the D.C. area. He does not at all like the fact that I quoted this letter: . . .
James Fallows has an excellent column, specific and detailed, on why the Iran deal will pass. And he includes an analysis of Netanyahu’s speech and position, which, to be honest, are idiotic. Netanyahu used the term “no brainer,” and indeed his proposal seems to have been created without giving it any thought whatsoever: a true no-brainer.
Well worth reading.
And read as well Fallows’s account of Obama’s explanation of why we should sign the Iran deal.
Of course, the GOP has little interest in realism, so they are struggling to kill the deal (and, just as in the case of Obamacare, with absolutely nothing to replace it). James Fallows has an excellent column in the the Atlantic:
The latest set of indicators:
1. Logic. Graham Allison, who originally made his academic reputation withEssence of Decision, his study of the negotiations that averted a U.S.-Soviet nuclear catastrophe in 1962, has another installment in his series of Atlantic essays on the details and implications of the nuclear agreement with Iran. This one is called “9 Reasons to Support the Iran Deal,” and it begins by reestablishing a crucial point about the deal’s critics.
None of them, from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin “historic mistake” Netanyahu to U.S. Senator Lindsey “it’s a declaration of war on Israel” Graham, has yet risen to the challenge of offering a better real-world alternative. Better is something that would make Iran less likely to develop a nuclear weapon. Real-world is something that the Russians, Chinese, and other nations on “our” side would agree to demand from the Iranians, and that the Iranians would accept too. As the saying goes, this is the worst possible deal, except for all the alternatives.
2. A vote for. Representative Adam Schiff of California, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee and “a moderate’s moderate,” tells theAtlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg that he thinks the deal is in the best interests of both the United States and Israel, so he will support it. “At the end of the day, I could not find an alternative that would turn out in a better way than the deal,” he told Goldberg, making the essential real-world point. “The risks associated with rejection of the deal are quite a bit higher than the risks associated with going forward.”
[More votes for. Significantly, on Tuesday Democratic Senators Tim Kaine of Virginia, Bill Nelson of Florida, and Barbara Boxer of California sign on. On the WaPo’s site Greg Sargent explains why these are bellwether declarations.]
3. A potential vote against. I take this headline from Politico as a good sign for the deal’s prospects in Congress: . . .
James Fallows provides a useful framework for how we should approach the Iran deal:
A week ago I volunteered my way into an Atlantic debate on the merits of the Iran nuclear agreement. The long version of the post is here; the summary is that the administration has both specific facts and longer-term historic patterns on its side in recommending the deal.
On the factual front, I argued that opponents had not then (and have not now) met President Obama’s challenge to propose a better real-world alternative to the negotiated terms. Better means one that would make it less attractive for Iran to pursue a bomb, over a longer period of time. Real-world means not the standard “Obama should have been tougher” carping but a specific demand that the other countries on “our” side, notably including Russia and China, would have joined in insisting on, and that the Iranians would have accepted.
“What’s your better idea?” is a challenge any honest opponent must accept. If this deal fails—which means, if the U.S. Congress rejects an agreement that the U.K., France, Germany, Russia, China, and Iran have accepted—then something else will happen, and all known “somethings” involve faster Iranian progress toward a bomb.
On historical judgment, I said that for two reasons the supporters of the deal should get the benefit of the doubt. The short-term reason is that nearly everyone who in 2015 is alarmist about Iran was in 2002 alarmist about Iraq. You can find exceptions, but only a few. That doesn’t prove that today’s alarmists are wrong, but in any other realm it would count. The longer-term reason is that the history of controversial diplomatic agreements through the past century shows that those recommending “risks for peace” have more often proven right than their opponents. (Don’t believe me? Go back and consider the past examples.)
Three topics for today’s updates, with a connecting historical theme.
Correlation of Forces
In the two weeks since the deal was announced, the forces pro and con have lined up. The clear opponents include:
— Candidates for the GOP presidential nomination, including Scott Walker with his promise to revoke the deal on Day One in office (which would be difficult, unless he could convince Russia, China, etc. to reinstate sanctions), Mike Huckabee with his odious “oven” line, and the rest who oppose the deal as uniformly as they opposed Obamacare.
— Many Israelis in and out of government, from Benjamin Netanyahu to Natan Sharansky. And, using arguments like Netanyahu’s, American organizations like AIPAC, Bill Kristol’s Emergency Committee for Israel, the Zionist Organization of America (which went out of its way to endorse Huckabee’s statement), the Anti-Defamation League, and of course Sheldon Adelson.
So who do we have on the other side?
— Most of the American public, by a 54-38 margin, according to a new poll by the Democratic-affiliated Public Policy Polling. “Voters within every gender, race, and age group are in support of it, reflecting the broad based mandate for the deal,” the PPP analysis said.
— Most Jewish Americans, by a larger margin than the public in general, according to a Los Angeles Jewish Journal poll reported in the The Jerusalem Post. In this poll, American Jews supported the deal by a 49-31 margin; among the rest of the public in this study, the support was only 28-24, with a very large group undecided. According to the poll, 53 percent of Jewish Americans wanted Congress to approve the deal, versus 35 percent who wanted Congress to stop it.— Numerous Israeli analysts and former military and intelligence-service officials. For instance, various members of the IDF’s general staff; a former head of Mossad; a former head of Shin Bet; a scientist from Israel’s nuclear program; a former head of the IDF’s intelligence branch; a former deputy national-security advisor; another former IDF official; the think-tank Molad; Marc Schulman of HistoryCentral.com; and many more. Every American has seen and read the literally cartoonish fulminations of Netanyahu against the deal (see below). How about more coverage of the Israeli defense professionals making the opposite case?
— Five former U.S. ambassadors to Israel from administrations of both parties, and three former U.S. Under Secretaries of State (including Thomas Pickering, who held both jobs), who issued a public letter on Monday supporting the deal. Sample passage: “Those who advocate rejection of the JCPOA [the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s Nuclear Program, a.k.a. the deal] should assess carefully the value and feasibility of any alternative strategy. … The consequences of rejection are grave: U.S. responsibility for the collapse of the agreement; the inability to hold the P5+1 together for the essential international sanctions regime and such other action that may be required against Iran; and the real possibility that Iran will decide to build a nuclear weapon under significantly reduced or no inspections.”
— More than 100 former U.S. ambassadors, career and political alike, and from both parties, who signed a similar public letter endorsing the deal. It begins, “The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran stands as a landmark agreement in deterring the proliferation of nuclear weapons.”
— More than 60 American “national-security leaders”—politicians, military officers, strategists, Republicans and Democrats—who issued their own public letter urging Congress to approve the deal. E.g., “We congratulate President Obama and all the negotiators for a landmark agreement unprecedented in its importance for preventing the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran.” Here are a few Republicans who signed this letter: former Special Trade Representative Carla Hills; former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill; former Senator Nancy Landon Kassebaum. Here are a few Democrats: former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright; former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell; former Defense Secretary William Perry. I’m resisting saying: But what do any of them know, compared with Mike Huckabee?
— Hans Blix, the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, who a dozen years ago tried to avert the disaster in Iraq. He says of the deal, “I think it is a remarkably far-reaching and detailed agreement. And I think it has a potential for stabilizing and improving the situation in the region as it gradually gets implemented.”
— A number of Iranian dissidents, who say that the deal could shift the internal balance in their country.
— An increasingly solid bloc of Democrats in Congress, being marshaled by Representatives David Price of North Carolina and Lloyd Doggett of Texas, who have been working since last year to reinforce support for the deal. “While demanding thorough scrutiny, this agreement appears to mark genuine progress for all who believe that peace will make us more secure than war with Iran,”Doggett (a longtime friend from our days in Texas) said when the deal was announced. “The bomb-Iran naysayers for whom the only good deal is a dead deal will unceasingly raise obstacles, but ultimately reason will prevail and the President’s leadership will be sustained.” It is interesting (to put it neutrally) to contrast the Price-Doggett effort, which has the support of Nancy Pelosi, with the equivocation of their Senate counterpart, leader-aspirant Chuck Schumer.
— An increasing number of journalists asking: if not this deal, exactly what? A notable example is Fareed Zakaria, who wrote: “Let’s imagine that the opponents of the nuclear agreement with Iran get their way: The U.S. Congress kills it. What is the most likely consequence? Within one year, Iran would have more than 25,000 centrifuges, its breakout time would shrink to mere weeks and the sanctions against it would crumble. How is this in the United States’ national interest? Or Israel’s? Or Saudi Arabia’s?”
I could go on, but you get the point. Judge for yourself. You can be persuaded by Netanyahu, Huckabee, Cruz, Kristol, Adelson, et al., all of whom were wrong on the last high-stakes judgment call about U.S. interests in the Middle East. Or by an overwhelming majority of the people from both parties with operating experience in America’s war-fighting and peace-making enterprises in this part of the world.
The Rut of History . . .
It’s pretty simple: Don’t like the deal? Then tell me a realistic, specific, better option. If you cannot, then you have to accept that the Iran deal is the best option possible. (The question is not whether you dislike the Iran deal. It’s whether you can offer anything that’s better. If you can’t—well, then.)
Related story: Why History Gives Obama the Benefit of the Doubt on Iran
Kevin Drum has a post that makes an excellent point:
I’ve been waiting for a while now for a plausible conservative alternative to President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, and Max Fisher informs me today that Michael Oren has stepped up and done just that in the pages of Politico. Except for one thing: the increasingly unhinged former ambassador to the US may have a plan, but it’s about a million miles from plausible.
You should read Fisher’s whole post, but I’m going to skip the long preamble and get straight to Oren’s proposal. Here it is:
Israel would have embraced an agreement that significantly rolled back the number of centrifuges and nuclear facilities in Iran and that linked any sanctions relief to demonstrable changes in its behavior. No more state support of terror, no more threatening America’s Middle Eastern allies, no more pledges to destroy the world’s only Jewish state and no more mass chants of “Death to America.” Israel would have welcomed any arrangement that monitored Iran’s ICBMs and other offensive weaponry. Such a deal, Israeli leaders across the political spectrum agree, was and remains attainable.
That would be great, of course. But not exactly plausible. Here’s Fisher:
All of these are politically impossible and, in some cases, physically impossible….Try to imagine a US negotiator actually asking for this. “The inspections procedures of uranium mines look good here, and we are satisfied with the limits on centrifuge research and development. But we require a binding commitment that no one in your political system will speak certain combinations of words about Israel anymore.” We might as well demand that Iran give us a unicorn that we can ride all the way to Candy Mountain.
….Is it really worth blowing up a historic nuclear deal — one that will substantially and verifiably limit Iran’s nuclear program, with global cooperation — over the possibility that one of the Iranian ayatollahs might not be legally forbidden from saying the wrong words?
These are poison-pill demands, and very lazy ones at that. They are not designed to be implemented, but rather to raise the political bar for any nuclear deal beyond what can be achieved.
And what about sanctions? Surely the other countries that are parties to the deal would quit in disgust if the US demands were as ridiculous as Oren suggests they should be. Indeed they would, but Oren says that if they drop out we should threaten to sanction them. Fisher: “This is indeed a specific proposal. But it is also insane. Oren is arguing that Obama should threaten to blow up the world economy, including America’s own economy, just to secure some vague improvements to the Iran deal.” . . .