Thursday, February 08, 2007

Yet More on Iran

The subject of Iran has led to some interesting discussions in the comments section of TWR, and to continue the conversation let me submit my colleague Ray Takeyh's (with Vali Nasr) thoughts that appeared in the Washington Post today:

As Iran crosses successive nuclear demarcations and mischievously intervenes in Iraq, the question of how to address the Islamic republic is once more preoccupying Washington. Economic sanctions, international ostracism, military strikes and even support for hopeless exiles are all contemplated with vigor and seriousness. One option, however, is rarely assessed: engagement as a means of achieving a more pluralistic and responsible government in Tehran.

It seems to draw on points made in other fora by Ian Bremmer, about how engagement and breaking down isolation tend to weaken rather than strengthen negative regimes.

Then there's the book J-Curve.

The US has already been moving in that direction with the other spoke in the Axis of Evil, North Korea, and it seems hard to see how it can get anything done in Iran otherwise, short of a military strike on Natanz. And see how that will help it disengage from Iraq while minimizing fallout.

I only hope the US won't have to engage Iran with its leverage further diminished by the outcome of the surge/augmentation in Iraq.
jun, north korea is "different" because it doesn't threaten israel or america's oil supply. and nobody expects jesus to come back if there's a great conflict in east asia. there is a major streak of irrationality characterizing us policy in the middle east.
I've been following the discussion on Iran for the last three posts, and there does seem to be some major gaps. Is the Iranian desire for nuclear weapons an outgrowth of the U.S. presence in the region which would disappear (and also the basis for most conflicts) if the U.S. simply withdraws. The other is that a U.S. withdrawal would accelerate all of Iran's negative tendencies and that the U.S. has to stay engaged in the region. Without even having a common basis to understand what's going on it is no surprise we are having such disconnects in our discussions.
I've been following the discussion on Iran for the last three posts, and there does seem to be some major gaps. Is the Iranian desire for nuclear weapons an outgrowth of the U.S. presence in the region which would disappear (and also the basis for most conflicts) if the U.S. simply withdraws. The other is that a U.S. withdrawal would accelerate all of Iran's negative tendencies and that the U.S. has to stay engaged in the region. Without even having a common basis to understand what's going on it is no surprise we are having such disconnects in our discussions.
I take very very strong exception to Nasr & Takeyh' statement: "....would eventually yield a responsible and representative regime. "

In what manner Iran is not a representative & responsible government? It is more representative than almost all Muslim states - not to mention China or Vietnam with whom US does not have mjor problems. And compared to which state did Iran act irresponsibly? Did US and EU states act responsibly when they attacked a sovereign state that was not seeking a war with them in support of (Muslim) terrorists? Was France acting responsibly when she aided and later protected the Hutus murderers of Rwanda? Is Israel policy of escalation to no-where an example of responsible behavior?

Emphatically no - at least in the opinion of this writer. Who are Nasr and Takyeh to judge Iran when their own country has a history of irresponsible bahavior that has wrecked other states - Physican, heal thyself!

Other than that which really tickd me off, I am in agreement with the writers perscriptions regarding abandonment of containment, sanctions, etc. Their approach is similar to the ideas of Perkovich who articulated them back in teh Spring of 2005.

I personaly do not believe US is going to pursue such policies though. It requires a dispassionate view of the world and a break with Nixon's advise which suggested only tactical engagement with Iran.

The experience of Iran-Iraq War has to be understood - that war broke many thngs in the Middle East and inside the Iranians' collective psyche. There is absolutely no-chance of Iran abandoning her enrichment program - you can bomb her as much as you can.

You have to accept iran the way she is or leave her alone.
Anonymous 6:30 PM

I believe Iran is serious about getting 20000 MW of power generated by nuclear reactors.

During the India-US Nuclear Treaty negotiations Indians tried to get a US commitment to supply their (future) reactors with fuel "in perpetuity". US declined since the supply of nuclear fuel is considered a sovereign right.

Thus Iran cannot agree to abandoning her enrichment program in the absence of any international instruments that guarantees supply of nuclear fuel.

And I do not believe we will see any such instrument any time soon.

So, just from the stand-point of fuel supply security there will have to be the possibility of enrichment on Iranian soil; regardless of US's presence in ME.

There are, of course, military dimensions to this as well that others have discussed.
After reading Zakaria's, The Future of Freedom, I tend to agree that engagement is key to undermining undesirable elements in the Iranian government. While Zakaria points out that liberalism rather than democracy should be the point of reference for normative evaluation, it seems here that the people of Iran may be pushing for both liberal and democratic reforms. This may indicate that support for aggressive behavior i.e., the development of nuclear weapons, may not be in the preference of the general Iranian populace. They hopefully may see such efforts as counterproductive to their national interests. In which case, perhaps we should emphasize that acquisition of such weapons in the end would only diminish Iranian legitimacy and thus Iranian power. And thus, for Iran integration into a globilized economy and the international community are more desirable than isolation.

At the same time, isolation may seem to them more desirable than living without a nuclear deterrent. It seems fairly evident that the Iranian government has been pushing for acquisition in order to balance against not only the increasing US presence in the region, but perhaps more importantly, against Israeli nuclear power. The underlying assumption here is that Israeli nuclear dominance in the region represents an imbalance of power, which according to realist logic would necessitate a counter balance to the regional system. Ironically, Iranian acquisition of nuclear weapons could possibly turn out to be a stabilizing force in the region. And since we all seem to be taking for granted that there is nothing short of another US led war that could stop this development, perhaps we should begin searching for ways to ease the transition rather than ways to undermine the government.
Nice post ananymous 7:11pm.

Your commentary shines light on a couple of critical issues that prevent any progress in dealing with Iran while the fascists in the Bush government commandeer America.

Any negotiations or even discussions would inevitably bring into question the Bush government's "irresponsible", - not too mention reckless, deceptive, bloody, and costly machinations in Iraq particularly, - and in other parts of the ME in general. This sad fact is precisely why the fascist in the Bush government refuse even considering negotiation as an option.

Your last two lines cut to the heart of the matter. Tragically, - there is no way to uninvent nuclear weapons.

All anyone can do from this point on, is manage and hopefully curb nuclear weapons development, proliferation, and - heaven forbid - use.

Why would any nation succumb to the Bush governments dictatorial proclamations against nuclear weapons development, - when America possesses more nuclear weapons than the next ten nations, and is feverishly developing even more diabolical "brilliant" nuclear weapons technologies?

America, under the predatory fascist tyranny of the Bush government warmongers and profiteers is driving, (not diminishing) nuclear weapons proliferation.

That said, - riddle me this realists - If Iran does obtain nuclear weapons capability, - does anyone actually believe Iran would use that capability as anything more than a deterant?

Iran's government, including Khomeini, Armidamijad, and the Iranain people know full well that were Iran to attack, or even attempt to attack Israel, or any American interest, or in anyway disrupt any American interest anywhere with nukes - Tehran, and most of Iran would be reduced to glass.

Given this factbasedreality, - is it not far more prudent to attempt to manage Iran's nuclear development programs in any way possible that would prevent some "stateless" organization (that would excercise no such restraint) from obtaining either the technology or an actual nuclear weapon?

Attacking Iran at this time would uncork a pandora's box of unholy forces globally bent with religious fervor on retaliating against America, and every nation on earth that sides with America.

From my pedestrian perspective - the Bush government's juvenile belligerence, chickenhawk bluster, and woeful incompetence strengthens Iran's standing by affording the Iranian government far more power in the form of threat capabilities than actually exists.
I greatly admire the efforts of Ray Takeyh to inject some 'realism' into American arguments about Iran, and was much impressed by Vali Nasr’s warnings in his recent Senate testimony about the dangers of attempting to mobilise Sunni sectarianism against Iran. However, there are elements in their article which I find a bit puzzling.

1. Why should it be assumed that if Iran became more 'democratic' this would reduce the likelihood of its wanting nuclear weapons? Even if one leaves aside questions to do with its relationship with the United States, as other posters have pointed out, Iran faces not only the Israeli nuclear capability but a nuclear-armed Pakistan which could very easily fall into the hands of Sunni jihadists. Reliance on nuclear threats may also be a particular temptation for democratic states, because it is more difficult for them to maintain a high level of conventional military preparedness. The Russian example is perhaps of interest. The Soviet commitment to eschew 'first-use' in the early Seventies – a commitment which it is now clear was absolutely genuine, rather than the bluff many in the West thought it to be – was reversed following the disintegration of the Soviet regime.

2. As with the remarks by Gideon Rose to which I referred in an earlier posting, much of Nasr and Takeyh's argument hangs upon analogies with the history of Cold War 'containment'. I do not want to sound like a record stuck in a groove, but once again we see arguments from Cold War experience made in ways which simply do not reflect any awareness of the problems which have emerged about the nature of American strategy in the Truman years. In the light of what we now know, it is clear that the conventional assumption that George Kennan’s strategic concept was purely defensive is simply wrong. In fact, elements of Kennan’s strategy look rather like the current Bush Administration’s covert strategy of using Kurdish, Azeri and Baluchi groups for destabilisation operations inside Iran. Like the efforts Kennan set in motion, it seems to me that these are likely ultimately to fail as a destabilisation strategy, while encouraging worst-case assessment of likely American actions in Tehran.

There are also problems about what precisely Kennan meant by the ‘expansive tendencies’ to which he presented ‘containment’ as a response – the phrases come from the legendary X-article published in Foreign Affairs in July 1947. Close to the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of this document, there appeared a most interesting exchange of letters between Kennan and the historian John Lukacs. In the exchange, Kennan complained that after the war many of his fellow-countrymen 'jumped quickly to the primitive assumption that the Soviet aim was to overrun the remainder of Europe militarily and then to replace the governments there, including the West German one, with Communist puppet regimes.' Particularly striking is the way that Kennan developed his argument. He pointed out, not implausibly, that a successful invasion of Western Europe would have meant the creation of a united communist Germany. But this, according to Kennan, was not a reason why Stalin would have wanted to invade Western Europe, but a reason why he would have wanted not to. A united communist Germany, he argued, would have been 'the last thing Stalin would have wanted to bring about.' I cannot do justice to the subtleties of his argument here, but essentially Kennan was saying that the government of a united communist Germany would have come to dispute Stalin’s claim to leadership of world communism and that such a repudiation would have compromised Stalin's ability to maintain his legitimacy in the Soviet Union. Accordingly, Kennan asserts, Stalin preferred to use Western communist parties as pawns to sow disruption and division in the West, rather than having the pawns become queens, and as a result repudiating Stalins’s pretensions to being, as it were, the Pope of world communism.

Also striking is the fact that Kennan ended up telling Lukacs that he still sees 'no inconsistency' between the views he held in 1945 and those he put forward in later years. As a simple point of logic, either Kennan's claim that his views did not change must be misleading, or the general interpretation of the X-article cannot accurately have reflected Kennan's views at the time he wrote it. The one logical impossibility is that Kennan can be what he is commonly portrayed as being – a kind of secular saint whose probity is so self-evident that even to raise the question of his being disingenuous, or manipulative, seems somehow indecent. There is, I think, an accumulating body of evidence to suggest the X-article gave a very imperfect representation of its author’s actual views: that already by the time he drafted it Kennan had very grave doubts as to whether Stalin had ever wanted to see the German communists come to power. And if this is so, the question of what precisely Kennan meant by suggesting that ‘containment’ could precipitate fundamental change in the Soviet Union becomes puzzling.

If moreover one looks more closely at Kennan’s interpretation of Soviet policy, it is clear the argument about legitimacy is both central – and has parallels with the discussion by Nasr and Takeyh. What Kennan was producing was indeed very much an argument about an authoritarian regime which – Nasr and Takeyh suggest about the current Iranian regime – ‘has justified its monopoly of power as a means of fending off external enemies and managing an economy under international duress.’ Accordingly, within the terms of reference of Kennan’s actual analysis, it is very possible to argue that a policy of ‘containment’ based upon a misconception of the threat postponed, rather than accelerated, change in the Soviet Union, precisely because it reinforced the legitimacy of the Stalinist system – a system whose whole rationale depended upon belief in the primacy of security against external threat (real or imagined) above almost everything else.

Anyone interested to follow up some of the puzzles, and parallels, should read Kennan’s exchange with Lukacs. It costs $12.95 from Amazon, and can be read in an hour. Is it too much to ask that before drawing lessons from the Cold War, scholars and journalists in the West should rather than heaping incense on Kennan display some awareness of what he has actually said?

3. I am an ignoramus on Iran. However, the suggestion that the struggle in Iran is ‘fundamentally between the state and society’ slightly worries me. Is it really as simple as that? Is the whole of the Iranian population ‘literate and youthful’, ‘immersed in world culture’, and ‘keen to engage in the West’? If so, I must envy the Iranians this state of enlightenment, which I have to say is quite without parallel in my own country, England. I do think that there is a flavour here of the assumption common in the West in the Eighties that the views of liberal Western dissidents in Leningrad or Moscow were representative of the whole society. Is it not likely that there are all kinds of different views in Iranian society, just as there are in Britain or the United States?

4. If in fact things are not so simple, would not a sensible strategy towards Iran involve elements of engagement and confrontation? It is certainly plausible to suggest that mindless strategies of confrontation play into the hands of the defenders of the status quo. But we should also be careful of thinking that it is realistic to expect that the rest of the world is going to remodel itself on the basis of the United States, or that the alternative to this happening is intolerable insecurity. Traditional foreign policy has to do with creating sticks and carrots to influence the behaviour of other actors in the international system. As with Putin’s Russia so with Iran, it is in the end its external behaviour which is of concern to others: as Nicholas Gvosdev has been tried repeatedly to point out, in the case of Russia. In both cases, strategies in which a total absence of ‘carrots’ is combined with inadequate or inappropriate ‘sticks’, while wild demonisation proceeds in tandem with fantastic expectations of ‘regime change’, are simply silly. This route threatens rapidly to put an end to American pre-eminence in the international system, without replacing it by any other system of order.
Great article

I hope everybody read this article

To follow up on the above postings, the difficulties with any call for dialogue or engagement intended to promote a more democratic system in Iran as a way to influence Iranian security policy seem to me to reduce to two:

1. The first (pointed out by David Habakkuk) is the doubtful assumption that Iran's nuclear program is primarily an expression of its form of government (and is therefore amenable to changes in form) rather than an expression of security needs that would exist under any form of government.

2. The second is an assumption that dialogue is the critical variable and not the intentions of those with whom dialogue is urged. Behind this notion is the hope that Iranian intentions, if they are not the ones desired, can be changed by the US bearing witness to a stronger faith in dialogue.

The fact that Iranian society is closer to the West than Arab society could be a basis for better relations. But one could argue that, apart from the people in control, Germany in the 1930s was much closer to the democracies than Russia at the time. This greater similarity was not relevant. Nazi Germany was under the grip of an ideological apparatus whose leaders believed they had the means to revise the world order in their favor and (insofar as intentions were possible to discern) showed every sign of wanting to do so. Traditional German elites and the bulk of the German people shared this revisionism sufficiently to be carried into war.

The questions about Iran today are, first, whether the ideological apparatus that has command authority over Iran's armed forces and nuclear program can be restrained by the rest of Iranian society, and if so, second, whether an intensification or relaxation of American pressure would accomplish this restraint. The evidence to date suggests that, on the nuclear issue, the Iranian people stand with the mullahs, and that a renewed American commitment to dialogue (implicitly withdrawing the threat of force) will have no effect on the continued advance of the nuclear program. An intensification of US pressure might give the Iranian people second thoughts, but it is far from clear that a high-risk policy of brinkmanship would succeed.

The way to engage Iran in the short-run is not to stress democracy but to propose a new framework to address directly the security needs of Iran and the region. One serious question is whether the security of southwest Asia can really be managed in relative isolation from the rest of the Eurasian superspace. It might be more credible to propose a more ambitious security framework of larger scope than one limited to Iran and the Middle East. But whatever its scope, a new framework needs to refocus attention on the long-range intentions of the various parties, as concerns about these are the real determinants of the immediate concerns on all sides.

A joint sea-based strategic missile defense could be the basis for a new framework of security guarantees to all states in the Middle East. A sea-based missile defense would, of course, raise potentially intractable problems of cooperation and the United States could decline to propose a system with such potential problems. But before dismissing the idea, or some form of it, let us look at four consequences that would result from proposing a regional missile defense:

1. Iran would have to declare whether it will continue its ballistic missile program. The military usefulness of Iran's nuclear program would also become problematical. Nuclear warheads could still be delivered by means other than missiles and aircraft, but a legitimate defensive need for such warheads would be much less clear if a missile defense exists and works.

2. Since Israel would also lose its ability to launch missiles, Iran would no longer be able to claim an Israel-related defensive reason to possess a nuclear arsenal and missiles. Israel and Iran might need and merit stronger conventional guarantees of their security as a result, but Iran would implicitly accept Israel's existence by joining a missile defense and would signal non-defensive intentions toward Israel by staying out.

3. The United States would have to choose whether its real aims in the region are regime change or security for all states.

4. The rationale for a US war against Iran would be much more difficult to sustain in Congress if Iran agrees to join a missile defense.

The great need right now is for both Iran and America to clarify their long-range intentions. This will require both Iran and the United States to respond to a proposal that engages them more directly in terms of their long-range security needs.
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