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January 17, 2006

How Much We've Learned?
Posted by Michael Signer

I'm trying to figure out how to compare the news of our internationalist, and robust, approach to Iran with the Bush Administration's (bi)polar opposite tactic in Iraq without seeming petty, catty, and snarky, so bear with me here.   I'm also going to try not to gloat, which will doubtless require an almost physical effort.

Here's what we do know. 

We currently have Russia, China, Great Britain, Germany, and France helping us work through this.  Great Britain, Germany, and France all support strong intervention of the UN's International Atomic Energy Association, with an "extraordinary" meeting set for February 2.  China and Russia are a little less enthusiastic, which is to be expected from economic partners with Iran -- but the point is they're helping out, and working with us.

This feels so much better than three years ago.  Out of those, four -- Russia, China, Germany, and France -- opposed us in the Iraq war.  In retaliation, the Bush Administration barred all four from bidding for reconstruction contracts in postwar Iraq.

What's changed? 

Maybe we've learned.  Or maybe the mania underlying the Iraq effort just isn't present in this case.  Or both.  Either way, we're going to be better off for however we approach Iran.

The argument of the less hysterical opponents of the Iraq War was that there was always something suspicious in the whole approach -- there was an intemperateness, a mania, and an insensibility running through the effort.  It was as if a red, knotty thread ran through an otherwise strong fabric.  Pull on the thread, and the whole sheet tangles.

A simply terrific, and eerily prescient, article by Josh Marshall from the July 2002 edition of the Washington Monthly puts shows the red thread in all its unsettling color:

When asked what would happen if America encountered an embittered civilian population after fighting a grisly battle for Baghdad, [Richard] Perle replied with a question: "Suppose the Iraqis are dancing in the streets after Saddam is gone?" His arguments tend to rest on abstractions and mechanistic reasoning: Saddam is bad. Ergo the Iraqis hate Saddam. Ergo they like us. That might be true. But if such arguments were chairs you would hear them creaking beneath you.

Perle's case for invading Iraq, which mirrors that of other hawks, is basically an escalating series of true or false propositions that leads inexorably toward massive military confrontation: Do you believe that Saddam Hussein is an evil tyrant who would use weapons of mass destruction against us or our allies if he got them? Check. Do you believe he is trying to acquire nuclear or biological weapons and the means to deliver them? Check. If so, doesn't it stand to reason that he will eventually succeed in getting them? Check. Aren't we then obligated to stop him? Check! Sooner, rather than later? Check!!

The trouble is that this is a syllogism--one conspicuously short on details about Iraq, geopolitics, or anything else.

To objective observers, the obsession, idealistic, neocon obsession with Iraq as the locus of evil, and a fallen Eden for a dreamy democracy was bad not so much because it provided evidence that Republicans are Evil, but rather because it simply made for poor warfighting, nationbuilding, and peacekeeping during the occupation that followed the invasion. 

The challenges in prewar Iraq and today's Iran are strikingly similar:  a belligerent, bellicose leader; suspicions of WMD ambitions; and the threat of regional instability.

What's different is that, stripped of Iraq-mania, and perhaps humbled by the inefficiencies of our approach there, the Bush Administration has the opportunity to work on Iran differently, and better.  That we are now working with Russia and China -- hardly cuddly buddies -- throws into stark relief just how bad Iraq really was, while perhaps showing promise for future multilateral cooperation that could redound to American strength.  That the UN, in all of its muddled soft/hard power leverage, at least can be fully exploited, is also good.

So, there's a constructive lesson from this as well as just a tiny bit of schadenfreude -- we can do this right this time, as long as we realize just how badly we F'ed up the last one.


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Seems we had the same support when we went to get a resolution from the Security Council.

It's easy to be supportive of a paper process, but what happens when "serious consequences" are called for...

I suppose the difference is that Condi has the power to make deals.

Concur with Keith. Didn't we have a 15-0 UNSC resolution on Iraq? And didn't they vote 15-0 for serious consequences if Iraq didn't comply? But when enforcement time arrived for the resolution--and the 15 or so others on Iraq--where were many of the other 13? I think it is way, way too soon for you to even be thinking about gloating.

Of course the "hysterical opponents" were also right --
that the Iraq war was a bad idea even if we got the cooperation of the world. It turns out that Iraq really isn't as secular as the liberal hawks/neocons thought, and the Shiites have closer ties to Iran than to us. This would not have changed even if China, France and Russia had signed on to this war.

It must feel great to be so wrong and still be so condescending to those who disagree with you.

Any ideas as to whether or not the Feb 2 meeting will be an opportunity for Russia, China, Great Britain, Germany, and France to shove it up our A-- because we prevented them from bidding on Iraqi reconstruction contracts?

Say the experts on the ground claim they can't tell whether iran has nukes because iran hasn't cooperated enough.

And say the UN agrees to sanctions, but definitely not to attack until we wait a few years to see how they respond to sanctions.

And then iran demonstrates they have working nukes.

What then?

It seems implausible to me that we'd agree to anything less than the UN etc agreeing to us making airstrikes.

But then, you can't be sure airstrikes are enough. It needs an occupation army and we don't have one to spare. What if the iranians were to volunteer to have an occupation army? A sort of observation army, it goes anywhere and checks on things. With an occupation army they could skip the bombing part. And say the agreement was they get to choose which nation occupies them, russia, china, india, or the USA. And if it's too unpleasant they can ask for a replacement occupation army in July and get the handover to a different occupying nation by January.

Would that be acceptable?

The argument is that iran must not get nukes, and therefore we must do airstrikes. But I suspect the nukes are no more central this time than they were for iraq. The US government is set on attacking iran, and the central issue about nukes is that if iran gets nukes it makes it much harder to attack.

The diplomatic ballet that comes first is just part of the ritual.

I can't imagine that the world will agree to a US airstrike. So I see two alternatives. One is a nominally israeli airstrike, and we say it wasn't our decision. But the better way is to get iran to attack us 12 hours before we attack, and we can point to their attack as the reason we hit back.

This latter approach was part of plan B for iraq, described in the Downing Street memo. We would have small but very strong forces prepositioned around iraq, and we would attack in response to an act of war by Saddam.

Alternatively, iran might have a military coup. We have been much much better at promoting military coups in foreign nations than at promoting democracy. Maybe we'd do what we're good at.

The US Army War College study entitled "Getting Ready for a Nuclear-ready Iran " is a chilling read and contradicts the assessments of Josh Marshall.

Iran's nuclear ambitions threaten a domino-effect in the Middle East

What should we expect when, in the next 12 to 48 months, Iran secures such a breakout option? If the United States and its allies do no more than they have already done, two things. First, many of Iran’s neighbors will do their best to follow its “peaceful” example. Egypt, Algeria, Syria, and Saudi Arabia will all claim that they too need to pursue nuclear research and development to the point of having nuclear weapons options and, as a further slap in Washington’s face (and Tel Aviv’s), will point to Iran’s “peaceful” nuclear program and Israel’s undeclared nuclear weapons arsenal to help justify their own “civil” nuclear activities. Second, an ever more nuclear-ready Iran will try to lead the revolutionary Islamic vanguard throughout the Islamic world by becoming the main support for terrorist organizations aimed against Washington’s key regional ally, Israel; America’s key energy source, Saudi Arabia; and Washington’s prospective democratic ally, Iraq.

What more should the United States and its friends do? Ultimately, nothing less than creating moderate self-government in Iraq, Iran, and other states in the region will bring lasting peace and nonproliferation. This, however, will take time. Meanwhile, the United States and its friends must do much more than they are currently to frustrate Iran’s efforts to divide the United States, Israel, and Europe from one another and from other friends in the Middle East and Asia; and to defeat Tehran’s efforts to use its nuclear capabilities to deter others from taking firm action against Iranian misbehavior.

Unfortunately, regime change seems the only option.

OK, and to the mice in the story, belling the cat seemed the only option.

What method for regime change do you recommend?

And if the only option turns out not to be available, what then?

How much we've learned?

Nothing. In what specific manner has the UN prevented Iran from being armed with nuclear weapons.

Nothing. The President of Iran claims The Holocaust was a zionist propaganda invention. The UN response, "shame, not sanctions."

Nothing. Russia is currently delaying any referral of Iran to the UN for any sort of corrective action.

Nothing has changed. Only two countries in the world might be willing to stop Iran. It gets a little boring hearing people talk about how well we've handled Iran.

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