Thursday, April 20, 2006

Neo-Conservative Realist on Iran?

I read Reuel Marc Gerecht's "To Bomb or Not to Bomb" in the April 24th issue of The Weekly Standard with great interest. Of course, I didn't care for the use of "realist" in quotation marks as a synonym for "the do nothing" crowd. But I found it refreshing that Gerecht followed the same approach as Pat Lang and Larry Johnson did in the spring TNI in assessing the consequences of different types of action vis-a-vis Iran.

What is most useful is that Gerecht's article is much more sober in assessing risks and costs. No "going to be greeted with sweets", no "we can foment ethnic rebellion against Tehran", no "Iran can be easily turned into a democracy", no "this is over in six months." He talks about years, he talks about real challenges, he talks about having to stay focused.

I would disagree with some of his assessments--but what makes the piece useful (and in marked contrast to some of the other Iran pieces that have appeared that make it seem that Iran would be so easy to solve, if only we applied the right level of will and force), it does take into account different scenarios and potential unintended consequences.

Gerecht abandons what Harvey Sicherman in Orbis last year described as the "hustle" in foreign policy--promising decisive action at low cost--and lays out strategy--what are our objectives, what are costs, what are consequences. Significantly, I read his piece and felt that a major point is that the purpose of U.S. action should primarily be to remove the nuclear threat. If democracy can be facilitated as a side benefit, fine; encourage it, great--but the focus is on removing a threat. This article seems to be much more focused on threat management than on taking, as its starting point, grand transformation.

This is the piece that should have appeared, by the way, in 2002, prior to Iraq. Perhaps we would have a lot less disillusionment and we could be having a more realistic discussion about Iraq.

Iran is not a problem to be solved. It is a state to be managed.

Regardless of the nature of the government of the Iranian state, the best that can be achieved is a promise not to weaponize.
Nikolas, thank you for responding here to my post in the previous thread.

I understood Gerecht to be saying that Iran could be disarmed (and kept that way) at a low cost to the United States. He acknowledges some risks that would attend US military action but he discounts them as reasons not to strike.

Sometimes one has no choice about whether to go to war and this may be one of those times. And any discussion of hypothetical outcomes may not be useful. But I do think three questions at this stage deserve answers.

Is it reasonable to believe that we can wage war against Iran with the minimal effort that Gerecht believes we can? Is a war necessary, if diplomacy fails, even if the cost to the United States is higher? If so, should the American people be warned more explicitly and prepared for the prospect of war?
Perhaps we should get Gerecht and either Lang or Johnson to appear together and debate consequences.

I agree that Gerecht discounts some of the risks and thinks things can be done "cheaper"--but at least he is thinking in those terms rather than pretending these consquences don't exist.
Grecht's article, stripped of all its analytical clothing, boils down to this:

Let us bomb a country that is not seeking a war with us, that is not a threat to us, but is a prick, and kill thousands of people becuase, per chance, the resulting instability might be more beneficial to US.

Foreigners reading these type of statements are going to conclude one thing and one thing alone; "Make sure you have a significant nuclear capability to defend yourself."
but the Iraq adventure was about threat management and political opportunism, as seen through the myopic eyes of Cheney and Rumsfeld and Rove, and not about grand transformation - it just ened up that way. There's no indication anyone with any real power in the administration cared much about grand ideas - except maybe Wolfy, who I think was being played by Rumsfeld and Cheney.
I think a confrontation with Iran is practically inevitable but I certainly don't feel good about Bush being in charge when it happens - why do you think all these generals are complaining? It's not Iraq they're worried about, it's Iran.
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