More Thoughts On Iran: In No Particular Order


My email has been overflowing today with comments and reactions about what I have written and said in a number of radio interviews about Iran. The comments on TWN and emails have been very helpful.
Some commenters despair that I’m urging some caution about Sy Hersh’s general conclusions — based on the fact that James Fallows and Juan Cole are not in sync with Hersh’s assertion that Bush is set on war with Iran. I’m not sure that it matters all that much — this difference — because it is essential that people are vigilant about inspecting and overseeing everything this White House does.
And anyone who has read this blog knows that long before most began writing about the possibility of an Iran invasion — I was doing so. I wrote that John Bolton was installed in the UN primarily to manage an expected collision in the Security Council over Iran.
I wrote that despite America getting stuck and showing serious limits in Iraq, that some around the President would not be rational calculators of costs and opportunities and would try to push on to Iran. That’s all in this blog.
My point about Hersh’s excellent and provocative piece is that when one talks to many other insiders, the stories don’t all sync. They just don’t. One of my worries is that Bush’s team is attempting to negotiate with Iran indirectly through the media — demonstrating resolve and willingness to do the unthinkable, even unleashing tactical nukes, as a way to compel Iran to stand down. Iran won’t step down in my view unless we engage in direct negotiations — which according to a former senior national security official who worked close to Bush, “Bush is loathe to do.”
Some other thoughts to keep in mind about Iran.
First of all, those intelligence-blind war planners who are advocating a hot action against Iran (particularly in the Air Force and VP Cheney’s office) need to consider what will most likely be the most damaging outcome of such a bombing action: there will be a very high probability that China and Russia will exploit America’s action against Iran as a way to generate a Russia-China-Middle East Oil Nation Block that is designed to constrain American power and choices.
Secondly, there are many options between war and appeasement. One of these involves a calculation of whether Iran will eventually acquire nukes if it really, really wants them. If one believes that despite the course of action Sy Hersh has written about that Iran will one day end up with nukes — then a pissed-off, hostile-to-America, democratically legitimate, nuclear weapons nation is the worst outcome. What are some of the better outcomes?
One is to consider figuring out how much of a nuclear program in Iran we can live with — and offer normalization of relations as one of many other integration tactics to get Iran off of a rogue track and on to a normal nation track. Japan has a nuclear power capacity that is also based on a full fuel cycle system. Perhaps we organize Iran to get that far — and then stop. Iran could be a nuclear warhead generating nation with such capacity — just like Japan could be today — but perhaps that is better than a covert weapons program. My proposal may be naive but these kinds of options need to be discussed.
I have also written on TWN in the past that Ahmadinejad is not Bush; he doesn’t have the kind of relatively unchecked executive power that Bush has acquired. It’s dangerous to portray Iran’s President as someone who has the same kinds of executive decision making authority of the U.S. President. This tendency to mirror image presidential powers here with those abroad can cause serious miscalculation. In fact, as I said on Al Franken’s show today, the first thing that happens after we drop bombs on Iran is that Ahmadinejad becomes the hero of the Middle East. Any groups that might be either distancing themselves from him in Iran — or perhaps even working to undermine him politically — are neutralized. If we bomb Iran, we empower Ahmadinejad in a way he simply is not empowered today.
I think some in the adminstration do want some semblance of a political collision with Iran. I think that they want to wreck the United Nations in the process and to further enhance the stature of neo-Jesse Helmsianism that runs through the veins of players like Vice President Cheney, John Bolton, David Addington, and others.
I think that there is a serious chance of miscalculation that could lead to a hot conflict with Iran — but I don’t see all of the pieces that need to be in place for that sort of “conscious decision” for conflict in place. I just don’t. But we could stumble into a conflict.
As one former senior level intelligence official told me recently:

We could go to war with Iran. It could happen, but the chances are still very low — because at the end of the day, that sort of action would require incredible imprudence.
Even George Bush — yes, even Bush — would probably be forced to weigh the nasty forces he would unleash against America’s future strategic interests with such imprudent action, and that I think — combined with a lot of Generals who would resign and revolt — will tip the balance against those advocating war.

Iran is pushing its nuclear agenda right now because it perceives American weakness — and that is a huge problem. It means that Iran is pushing its agenda aggressively and the U.S. President has incentives to try and “prove” he and the country are not tied down in Iraq. That is why we need negotiations, direct negotiations.
General Wesley Clark has been calling for direct negotiations since a speech he gave last year at a conference I helped organize in September. Richard Lugar and many others have joined the chorus calling for the same.
Bush does not want to negotiate directly with Iran — he wants the Europeans to do it. But America has to — and every Democratic official and every moderate Republican should be pounding on the White House to get the President out of “loathe to do it” stance.
That’s what the Sy Hersh article should be compelling national leaders, particularly Democrats, to do. That would be constructive and would give the Democrats some way to differentiate themselves in the White House-dominated marketplace on Iran.
— Steve Clemons