Michael Ledeen — who once told me that he only supported the Iraq War because it provided momentum and pre-positioning of American military forces to then go after Iran — is not going to feel self-actualized until America unleashes a considerable portion of its arsenal against the nation and people of Iran.
I’m not a pacifist. I have to admit that there might be circumstances in which war with Iran is our last and only option — but we are far, far away from that situation.
I’m particularly worried that there are bad guys in Iran who so desperately want to consolidate their political positions inside Iran that they see a hot conflict with the U.S. and/or Israel as “helpful”. It’s also clear that Vice President Cheney as well as his followers inside the administration and his ideological following in Washington’s think tank sector want war to pump up their eroding political position.
But Ledeen, James Woolsey, Norman Podhoretz, and others want war now with Iran. They want the bombs to fly. They are obsessed with delegitimating the important diplomatic efforts of Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker, Ambassador to the United Nations Zalmay Khalilzad, and others. They despise Defense Secretary Bob Gates and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — and they are increasingly offering defamatory comments about George W. Bush himself at their small dinner parties and neocon gatherings.
Ledeen has a piece, “Talking with Iran,” that has just appeared in the Wall Street Journal that tries to savage those calling for negotiations with Iran. It’s embedded throughout with distortions, but it is an important case statement profiling neocon obsession with waging war against Iran as soon as possible.
The opening of Ledeen’s piece runs thus:
For some time now, the chattering classes have debated whether the United States should negotiate with the Islamic Republic of Iran. Both sides have endowed the very act of negotiating with near-mythic power.
The advocates suggest that “good relations” may emerge, while opponents warn it is somehow playing into the mullahs’ hands. Both seem to believe that the three recent talks in Baghdad are historically significant, since they are said to be a departure from past practice.
That claim is false. Every administration since Ayatollah Khomeini’s seizure of power in 1979 has negotiated with the Iranians. Nothing positive has ever come of it, but most every president has come to believe that a “grand bargain” with Tehran can somehow be reached, if only we negotiate well enough.
Washington diplomats have steadfastly refused to see the Iranian regime for what it is: a relentless enemy that seeks to dominate or destroy us. This blindness afflicted the first American negotiators shortly after the 1979 revolution, and has been chronic ever since, even though Iran declared war on us in that year and has waged it ever since.
Ledeen is entitled to his views, but smart respondents should remember a few things when considering how to deal with Iran.
First, remember that on the night of 9/11/2001, Tehran was the only place in the Middle East where thousands of people walked out into the streets holding candles and expressing grief and empathy for Americans who died that day. There are many in Iran who identify with America and are inspired by our country (though less so under current US political leadership).
Also, remember that former Ambassador and now RAND strategist James Dobbins successfully recruited Iran to play an important and constructive role in the Bonn Conference that was necessary to stabilize Afghanistan in 2002. Iran worked with us and did not need to. Yes, Afghanistan is coming apart at the seams now, and Iran may be playing both sides, but this is a function of America’s failing, not Iran’s designs and machinations.
Iran is a fake democracy — but there are elements of democracy and popular will being expressed through elections there. If we bomb Iran, we need to realize and accept that there is a strong chance that the public will rally toward rather than away from its current populist political leadership under President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The worst situation would be to have a perception of citizen-given legitimacy behind an extremist Iranian government now committed more than ever to the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Bombing Iran may also lead to the creation of a terrorist superhighway to the edge of Israel — a nation whose security I believe America should be worried about and committed to ‘help’ defend.
Bombing Iran may also trigger a seismic shift in global energy politics, as Flynt Leverett has written, in which China, Russia, and Iran tie up their resources, technology and development needs into a condominium of alled interests. This prospect would break the backs of Europe and Japan which are directly, tangibly dependent on Iranian oil — and could lead to the end of American primacy in the geoeconomy of oil.
I don’t believe in appeasing Iran’s worst behaviors either. But there are many, many, many other options than the “nuke them now and get it over with” calls by the likes of James Woolsey and Michael Ledeen.
Ledeen has an Iran obsession, as does Vice President Cheney. If they get what they want — not only will nightmares be unleashed in Iran, but America, Europe, the Middle East and world at large will suffer tremendously.
And lastly Israel would suffer and be plunged into a dramatically blurred security mess. Israel does matter and is an ally of ours in the region, and its best long-term hopes are to become allied, at least “in spirit”, with moderate Sunni Arab regimes in its neighborhood.
Ledeen, Woolsey, Podhoretz, Bolton and others are showing themselves to be reckless regarding Israel and its future. They are pushing a false choice between Israeli security and bombing Iran — and Israeli voices need to reach out to common sense strategists who are far better friends to Israel and to Middle East stability and security than Curtis LeMay-inspired neocons.
Much of Ledeen’s article is directed at blasting the “grand bargain” crowd advocating a re-ordering of numerous interlocking policy problems in the Middle East — and since one of the leading advocates of a “grand bargain” strategy is my New America Foundation colleague Flynt Leverett, I re-link here his important paper published by The Century Foundation, “Dealing with Tehran: Assessing US Diplomatic Options Toward Iran.”
— Steve Clemons