Friday, March 17, 2006

More on The NSS--Extending the LA Times Remarks

I've gotten some feedback on my comments on the NSS that appeared in today's Los Angeles Times, where I said:

Nikolas K. Gvosdev, editor of the foreign policy journal the National Interest, said the strategy document was a "bit of a hodgepodge."

"If I'm an Iranian analyst trying to figure out the intentions of the Bush administration, the message I'm getting is awfully muddled," said Gvosdev, who is also a senior fellow at the Nixon Center, a nonpartisan foreign policy think tank. "This raises a question of mixed signals."


The feedback is that the NSS is quite clear about the threat posed by Iran and that there should be no doubt about the seriousness of U.S. intentions to deal with the Iranian nuclear program.

My extended responses:

1) Unfortunately the NSS increasingly is a political rather than strategic document. Perhaps I long for golden days that never really existed, that such documents were meant to guide strategic planning rather than appeal to different political constituencies, but I think that there is a difference between naming threats and providing a framework for action.

2) I don't see how this document assigns priorities for action and policy. It seems to set out a list of preferences without explaining much how we choose if we can't achieve them all.

3) Why would an Iranian be confused? Whether you agreed with or disliked the 2002 NSS, it had a clear and unambigious message about pre-emption. No Iraqi adviser to Saddam Hussein should have had any doubt that war was coming. With the 2006 statement, pre-emption remains in the text, but also a great deal of discusison about how ""Our strong preference and common practice is to address proliferation concerns through international diplomacy, in concert with key allies and regional partners."

So which takes precedence? Should Tehran assume the U.S. will adopt a North Korea strategy or an Iraq strategy? Add to that mixed signals being sent over the U.S.-Iran talks over Iraq--and a sense among U.S. allies and other partners that they don't have a clear sense of what the U.S. wants vis-a-vis Iraq, and the confusion grows.

Perhaps the NSS is increasingly political, but perhaps it embodies covertness as a matter of policy. We're used to other states expressing strategic ambiguity in their public statements, but why would we want to publish our unvarnished national policy for the benefit of the very antagonistic regimes we're seeking to keep guessing?

I should argue that we oughtn't keep, say, Iran guessing -- that transparency is worth pursuing as an incentive to clearer lines of communication. But we can accomplish this in face-to-face talks. The issue circles back to whether the content of the NSS actually retains policy relevance -- or if indeed its role is primarily as an oracular mask for the administration that has crafted it. Have we reached a geopolitical sequence where clear, singular statements of global policy are obsolete or counterproductive?
I certainly hope that clear statements of foreign policy are not obsolete. It is difficult to see how there can be public support for a policy at home without them. The question with Iran is whether US ambiguity reflects a willingness to go to war or conceals an absence of the will to make good on a military threat. The outcome may depend on what the Iranians perceive to be the case.
The yneed to getthis nailed down once and for all.
Raymond B
Short of the use of bugs, chem, or nukes, - there are no options for America in Iran. The Bush governments appalling mismanagement has increased Iran's wealth, security, support, and influence in the region and globally.

Bogged down in the land of the two rivers, the unchallengeable America military is not capable sustaining another prolonged occupation, and nationbuilding enterprise in another Muslim country.

Though our hypersuperior military can and does project power and lethality anywhere on earth, anytime we and place we please, - we are loosing, or may have lost the battle for hearts and minds, and tactically we are quite occupied in force protection and police actions against a resilant insurgency that is costing America dearly in blood, treasure, and credibility.

Diplomacy is the only viable option now.
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