Archive for the 'Iran' Category



A Middle East Foreign Policy for the 21st Century

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 9 months ago

After watching the third and final presidential debate on Monday night, I was disturbed to hear the two candidates talk about foreign policy with such lack of focus or context.   Admittedly, Obama was intent on baiting Romney into a game-changing gaffe and Romney was intent on not committing any, such error.   Presidential debates, ironically enough, are the last place to hear what a candidate actually thinks about any particular subject.

Both candidates, for example, endorsed the comic notion that the Afghan Army will be able to take over the fight against the Taliban by 2014 as the precursor to an American retreat.  Both candidates vowed that Iran will not be allowed to field a nuclear weapon (Romney actually drew the line at “nuclear capability” which is better), but neither one mentioned that the deeper problem with Iran is its current, Islamist government and not their pursuit of nuclear weapons per se.    So, for instance, Romney seemed to accept the continuation of the Iranian Regime so long as it did not have nukes.

Reflecting on this event further I am reminded of  a post by Walter Russel Mead which is an excellent springboard, summarizing all that is wrong with the current American approach to the Middle East:

The anti-American riots that have been rocking the Muslim world since 9/11 have shaken the establishment out of its complacency. Increasingly, even those who sympathize with the basic elements of the administration’s Middle East policy are connecting the dots. What they are seeing isn’t pretty. It’s not just that the US remains widely disliked and distrusted in the region. It’s not just that the radicals and the jihadis have demonstrated more political sophistication and a greater ability to organize and strike than expected and that the struggle against radical terror looks longer lasting and more dangerous than thought; it’s that the strategic underpinnings of the administration’s Middle East policy seem to be falling apart. A series of crises is sweeping through the region, and the US does not—at least not yet—seem to have a clue what to do.

***

The Israeli-Palestinian problem, for example, cannot be settled quickly; the consequence of the region’s lack of democratic traditions and liberal institutions cannot be overcome in four or eight years; the underdevelopment and mass unemployment afflicting so many countries has no known cure; the ethnic and sectarian hatreds that poison the region will not soon be tamed; the deep sense of grievance and injustice that shapes the attitudes of so many toward the Christian or post-Christian West will not soon fade away; the radical and terror groups now roaming the region cannot be easily stopped or mollified; the resource curse will continue to corrupt and poison large parts of the region; the resurgence of Islam, even in less radical forms, inevitably heightens a sense of confrontation with the US and its western allies; and Iran’s ambitions are hard to tame and impossible to accept.

Mr. Mead challenged both Obama and Mitt Romney to articulate a policy or at least initiatives that might address these problems.  Neither has done so.

At the risk of being what Mr. Mead terms “an armchair strategist” offering simple solutions, I believe that the U.S. needs to fundamentally reconsider its approach to foreign policy and the methods and tools used to pursue that policy.

First, it is not enough, unfortunately, for the United States to be in favor of “democracy” or “freedom” for those around the world.  These terms are simply too amorphous and chameleon to be useful in building a coherent foreign policy.   Instead, the U.S. should be an ardent advocate for the foundations of civil society:  respect for individual rights;  free exercise of religion; freedom of speech; respect for the rule of law rather than resort to rioting and violence; the orderly transition of political power free from intimidation.   This is a sampling of the bedrock, Anglo-American traditions that are prerequisites  for a democratic republic.    As Mark Levin argues in his latest book, Ameritopia, you cannot hope to have a real democracy without the foundations of a civil society.

The Middle East is bereft of genuine democracies (with the notable exception of Israel) because it is bereft of the foundational traditions of a civil society.   That is why it was unforgivably foolish of George W. Bush to insist on the hasty installation of a “democracy” in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Neither of these societies had the foundations needed for democracy to take root.   Yes, Iraq and Afghanistan may have the outer trappings of democracy with parliaments and elections, but form is not substance.  Iraq is headed back towards civil war as the ethnic and sectarian factions escalate violence against one another.   Afghanistan is a cardboard cut-out of democracy propped up with billions of dollars of U.S. aid and military assistance.   Once the props are removed in 2014 (or sooner), the facade will collapse.

So then, it is a tragic and self-defeating mistake for the U.S. to blindly push for elections.   In Gaza, for example, such elections mean nothing.    They mean less than nothing since they serve to legitimate blood-thirsty ideologues, putting the U.S. in the untenable position of undermining what we previously declared to be a “freely elected” government.    No matter that said government throws its political opponents off of rooftops.

Rather, the U.S. must be very specific, unapologetic and insistent about the type of democracy and “freedom” we are talking about– an Anglo-American civil society that can support the pressures of representative government and tolerate religious diversity and dissenting opinions.

Furthermore, the U.S. must take a hard look at the nations as they are and not how we wish them to be.   It took hundreds of years for civil traditions to develop in the West.   It may take much longer in the Middle East, burdened as it is with Islamic notions of subjugation, subservience and nihilism.

As an example of this, consider this piece by Robert Kagan in The Washington Post.   Kagan argues in favor of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt mainly because it was “democratically” elected:

The Obama administration has not been wrong to reach out to the popularly elected government in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood won that election, and no one doubts that it did so fairly. We either support democracy or we don’t. But the administration has not been forthright enough in making clear, publicly as well as privately, what it expects of that government.  (Emphasis added)

First, it is not beyond dispute that the Muslim Brotherhood won the election “fairly” when it is essentially the only, organized political party in the country.   There is evidence that a sizable number of Egyptians do not support the Muslim Brotherhood but no, unified opposition party could be organized in the relatively short time allowed before the vote.    In any event, to say that an Islamist party received the most number of votes in an election does not lead ineluctably to the conclusion that it is a “democracy” that we are obligated to support.   In fact, Kagan goes on to point out that the U.S. must make it clear what a “democracy” entails:

Out of fear of making the United States the issue in Egyptian politics, the Obama administration, like past administrations, has been too reticent about stating clearly the expectations that we and the democratic world have for Egyptian democracy: a sound constitution that protects the rights of all individuals, an open press, a free and vital opposition, an independent judiciary and a thriving civil society. President Obama owes it to the Egyptian people to stand up for these principles. Congress needs to support democracy in Egypt by providing aid that ensures it advances those principles and, therefore, U.S. interests.

I would differ with Kagan to the extent that U.S. aid money is provided directly and up front to an Egyptian government that is showing every indication that it intends to implement its Islamist beliefs.  Egyptians must see that voting in an Islamist government will have certain and severe consequences.   In any event, the United States cannot be in the business of funding our enemies and, regardless of Kagan’s view that the Muslim Brotherhood is not clearly against us, a weak or failing Islamist regime in Egypt is better than one that is buying up the latest weapons systems (e.g., German submarines for example) with U.S. tax dollars.   Kagan and those like him are desperate to see a civil society where none exists and, so, are easily taken in by democratic happy talk that Egyptian President Morsi (and other Islamists in the region) are all too adept at feeding to willing dupes.

The second, radical change to U.S. foreign policy must be to view everything in terms of U.S. national interests and the tactics and lines of effort that best advance those interests.

For example, for the better part of four years, the Obama Administration has confused the agenda of the United Nations with that of the United States of America.   While it would be hoped that the international body that the U.S. founded at the end of World War II and funds disproportionately would be at least sympathetic to U.S. national interests, this is decidedly not the case.  The U.N. has largely been subverted and overrun by authoritarian member states with interests that directly conflict with those of the U.S.   In an ideal world, the U.S. would explicitly repudiate the U.N., evict it from its expensive quarters in Manhattan and rent out the space to a new organization made up of democratic U.S. allies.   Alas, the best we can hope for is to limit the damage of the U.N. by ignoring it, working around it and forging coalitions of allies to negate the U.N.’s malign influence in the world.

In the Middle East and around the globe, the U.S. needs to re-evaluate its position in the light of our national interest.  We must, for example, reconsider our relationship with Saudi Arabia in light of their unrelenting funding of Salafist and Wahhabist ideologies directly hostile to the U.S. and the West in general.   We cannot elevate the Saudis to the high status of ally or even “friend” when they are bankrolling our enemies.   This need not mean open conflict with them, but it surely must mean a reduction in relations.  (The fact that the U.S. is set to soon surpass the Saudis as the world’s largest oil producer should translate into tangible, state leverage).

Syria is another example where the U.S. must evaluate the opportunities and risks for involvement based primarily upon national interest rather than the threat of a “humanitarian crisis” or “instability.”  Even a Syria riven by civil war and instability will stalemate Iran’s ability to fund and support Hezbollah and bring greater opportunities for U.S. influence in the region as a whole.   The U.S. has been at war with Iran since 1979 and rarely have we had an opportunity to deal the regime in Tehran such a critical blow as exists in Syria.

Throughout the Middle East U.S. policy is plagued by a lack of a driving force.  The U.S. intervened in Libya under the pretext of potential civilian casualties but recoils from Syria with actual casualties.    The U.S. dithers over supporting former President Mubarak in Egypt while supporting the  no-less tyrannical Saudi royal family.   The U.S. spends tens of billions of dollars on a corrupt government in Kabul but argues whether to pull funding from Israel if it does not halt new housing settlements or show enough “flexibility” on Arab demands for land.   It is high time to clarify who our friends and enemies are and why.  Israel is not merely a kindred democracy, for example.   They are a vital ally because they directly serve U.S. interests in the region as a bulwark against Islamists.  There is, perhaps, no greater return on U.S. investments than Israel given the plethora of hostile, Islamist states in the region.   But here again, the U.S. policy is to adopt the hectoring, self-righteous tone of the international community, treating Israel and the Palestinians on equal terms for no good reason.

It is my hope that Mitt Romney wins the election and does so in convincing fashion.   The next four years could be pivotal as a showdown with Iran cannot be delayed beyond the next term in office.  War is everywhere in the Middle East and the next President will need to have a clear-eyed view of what America’s interests are and how to achieve them.   The last 11 years have certainly taught us that “nation building” and “elections” are not effective tools of American power.   May President Romney absorb the lessons and chart a better course in 2013.

If they only had a weapon …

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 9 months ago

I’m listening to Joe Biden debate Paul Ryan, and my jaw dropped, even though I expected the random thinker to spew nonsense.  Even I was shocked at the randomness.

His assertion that they (Iran) can enrich the Uranium (HEU [or other fissile material] is greater than 90%, and I won’t say any more because of my familiarity with MOX) but don’t have a weapon to put it into.  He repeated this assertion, again and again and again.

That’s sort of like asserting that a vandal making a Molotov Cocktail may have the accelerant and fuel, but damn it, they don’t have a bottle or rag!

My mouth just dropped open.  I am almost without words.  Seriously.

So the Iranians build a housing and a well-timed trigger that shoots the pieces of HEU at each other to achieve Keff >> 1.

Eh … perhaps a month or two.  You can stop listening to the blow hard now.  The longer you listen the stupider you get.  Joe the mouth is making hay of the Iranians: “If they only had a bomb.”  I wonder what would happen to Joe “If he only had a brain.”

UPDATE #1: I’m reminded by a friend.  Proverbs 29:9 – “When a wise man has a controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest.”  I guess we got both from Biden.

UPDATE #2: From Rich Lowry

From a friend who follows these things closely:

“The worst part of the debate and the part that I wish Ryan had been able to counter was when Biden started in on the “They don’t have a bomb to put (the fissile material ) into.

This is outrageous. The hard part of building a nuclear weapon is to get the fissile material, bomb designs are a dime a dozen and anyone who has access to a copy of the Progressive Magazine from the 1970s when they published a bomb design they had dug up from some documents that were found in the Los Alamos public library can build one.

The A.Q, Khan design has long been available to then including any refinements the North Koreans have made.

Making a warhead that can fit on a missile may be harder, but building a basic nuclear weapon that could be put on an airliner or a ship is easy once you have the material…”

Stepped-Up Covert Iranian Operations

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 9 months ago

From The Washington Free Beacon, there is this article on intelligence officials being angered by the Obama administration cover up of intelligence on Iranian and al Qaeda surge in Egypt and Libya.  But there is this interesting discussion up front.

Weeks before the presidential election, President Barack Obama’s administration faces mounting opposition from within the ranks of U.S. intelligence agencies over what career officers say is a “cover up” of intelligence information about terrorism in North Africa.

Intelligence held back from senior officials and the public includes numerous classified reports revealing clear Iranian support for jihadists throughout the tumultuous North Africa and Middle East region, as well as notably widespread al Qaeda penetration into Egypt and Libya in the months before the deadly Sept. 11 terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi.

“The Iranian strategy is two-fold: upping the ante for the Obama administration’s economic sanctions against Iran and perceived cyber operations against Iran’s nuclear weapons program by conducting terror attacks on soft U.S. targets and cyber attacks against U.S. financial interests,” said one official, speaking confidentially.

The Iranian effort also seeks to take the international community’s spotlight off Iran’s support for its Syrian ally.

Note to the administration, and a future Romney administration.  Are you sure that you don’t want to take my advice and reverse executive order 12333, and assassinate General Suleimani?  It would make life a lot easier.

The Final Collapse Of Obama’s Foreign Policy: A Nuclear Iran

BY Herschel Smith
1 year, 10 months ago

We’re all painfully aware of the impotence of the curent administration in the area of foreign policy.  The world simply doesn’t listen to us – or, they do, but it’s only to gauge the timing of their next move.

But this recent signal from an administration representative is about as clear a statement of withdrawn interests and intentions as one can imagine.

Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of U.S. armed forces, said he does not wish to be “complicit” in a unilateral Israeli strike on Iran.

Dempsey said Thursday that such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program,” the London Guardian reported. He added, “I don’t want to be complicit if they choose to do it.”

This statement does three things.  First, it demonstrates the administration to be liars when they have claimed that they will not allow Iran to go nuclear.  Second, it clearly shows that if Israel launches an attack on Iran, she will go it alone.  Essentially, Israel is thrown under the bus.  The additional assertion in the report that we do not know Iran’s nuclear intentions, “as intelligence did not clearly reveal them,” is code for saying that we will never know because our intelligence community will never go on record saying that Iran has designs on a nuclear weapons program.  Timing isn’t germane to this conversation according to the statement.  The context is whether we know Iran’s “intentions,” a precondition that always supplies plausible deniability and makes everything else irrelevant.

Third, and most important, it explicitly acquiesces to a nuclear Iran.  Read again:  ” … such an attack would “clearly delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program.”  This also makes everything else about intentions an irrelevant obfuscation.  The balance of the communication from Dempsey is just a smoke screen.  This administration believes that they cannot stop an Iranian nuclear program.

The signals to the Iranian Mullahs couldn’t be clearer.  Proceed apace with your nuclear weapons program, we don’t think you can be stopped anyway.  There are others within the U.S. military community who foolishly believe that the U.S. can live with a nuclear Iran, John Abizaid for one ( I suspect that there are many more).  But here, Dempsey is speaking for more than just himself.  Despite what the administration has claimed, they do not believe they can know the intentions of the Iranian program, they do not intend to assist Israel for fear of appearing complicit, and they don’t even think they can stop Iran if they tried.  Case closed.

Upon inauguration, Mitt Romney’s second duty should be the dismissal of the joint chiefs of staff, including the chairman, and replacement of them with men who have some backbone.  That includes flag officers who work for them and make excuses for green on blue violence in Afghanistan by asserting that the pressures of the Ramadan fast made them do it.

But the 50,000 foot view is one of wreck.  The Obama foreign policy has collapsed, and it is obscene and unseemly.  It’s as if I am passing by some awful, bloody crash on the highway, and want to look away but can’t.  It should shame every American to witness what our country has wrought.

“Will The U.S. Attack Iran?” Having The Wrong Conversation

BY Glen Tschirgi
1 year, 10 months ago

Last week, Lee Smith published an article in Tablet that gave three, main reasons why the United States is not going to attack Iran now nor will it attack Iran under a President Romney, notwithstanding all the talk to the contrary.

This article got quite a bit of play in the Statist Media because, it was argued, the article seemingly showed that Mitt Romney is carrying on a charade of getting tough on Iran and that any criticisms of President Obama’s current Iran policy are hollow or hypocritical.

Lee Smith advances three, main arguments for why no Republican president would openly attack Iran:  1) Domestic politics;  2) History of Iran-U.S. relations, and;  3) the disguised reliance upon nuclear deterrence.

The article makes perfect sense at a certain level.   On domestic politics, Smith is correct, but for the wrong reasons.   While Smith points to the desire to avoid destabilizing economic effects of any attack, the real bar to Republican action is entirely political.   The Democrats established a clear precedent with George W. Bush that any military action abroad, even if a broad authorization is obtained from Congress in advance, will be subjected to the worst partisan attacks and scurrilous accusations.   Democrats will mobilize every resource to demonize a Republican president who dares to use force against America’s enemies.   Use of force is an exclusive, Democrat prerogative.

On the history of dealings with Iran, Smith also scores points:

No American president has ever drawn red lines for Tehran and enforced them by showing that transgressions are swiftly and severely punished.

It’s true that it was a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who sat by idly when Ayatollah Khomeini and the founders of the Islamic Republic stormed the U.S. embassy and held Americans hostage for 444 days. But GOP hero Ronald Reagan provided the Iranians with arms—after the Islamic Republic’s Lebanese asset, Hezbollah, killed 241 U.S. Marines in the 1983 bombing of their barracks at the Beirut airport. When the FBI said Tehran was responsible for the 1996 bombing of Khobar Towers, Bill Clinton failed to respond or even name Iran, lest it derail the “dialogue of civilizations” promised by the newly elected reform-minded president Muhammad Khatami. And the last Republican in the White House was no more proactive in countering Iran’s actual attacks on Americans: The more than 100,000 American servicemen and -women that Bush had dispatched to Iraq were targeted by the IRGC and their local allies, a fact that U.S. officials tended to obscure and did little to change when they did acknowledge it.

As to a hidden reliance on nuclear deterrence, Smith is also likely correct:

If you can kill Americans without any consequences and the Americans will in fact collaborate in covering up your malfeasance, you can certainly build a nuclear weapons facility without too much concern that the Americans are really keeping “all options on the table”; the White House is not and almost surely never will—no matter who’s calling the shots. Short of an American city suffering thousands of casualties in a nuclear attack that the Iranians boast of publicly, it is difficult to know what would compel a U.S. president to take military action against Iran.

Maybe U.S. policymakers just believe, in spite of what they say publicly, that Iran really isn’t that big a deal. Remember that even today, a number of American officials, civilian and military, cut their teeth on Cold War strategy, an era when the United States faced off against a real superpower. Washington and Moscow fought proxy wars against each other on four continents with the fear of an eventual nuclear exchange leading to mutually assured destruction looming in the background. Perhaps, if seen in this context, for American policymakers Iran just doesn’t rise to a genuine threat level.

The problem with Smith’s analysis (and many others who have been endlessly debating the pros and cons of attacking Iran to stop its nuclear weapons development) is that it fundamentally is the wrong conversation.

The focus of the debate should not be about stopping a totalitarian, Islamist regime devoted to martyrdom from getting nuclear weapons.   The focus should be on removing the Regime itself.  The Iranian people have lived long enough under the hand of an oppressive theocracy to know that the next government must be anything but that.  The Green Movement that began with the phony elections of 2009 explicitly called for a true, secular, democratic government.  The Regime immediately recognized the counter-revolutionary nature of the Greens and put it down with absolute brutality.  The Regime knows that the people of Iran want normalized relations with the U.S. and the West in general.  Any change in government is going to be a sharp repudiation of the current leadership and the mullahs.

Fortunately for the U.S. and the West, the Regime is clinging on to power on a cliff’s edge of explosive public unrest and simmering revolution.   All that is needed to effect the removal of the Regime is a little… more… time.

This plays directly into the debate over Israel’s decision whether to attack Iran.

The current debate suffers from the same mistake.   Critics endlessly point out that even if Israel could muster the nerve and assets to attack Iranian facilities any such attack would “only” delay the Iranian nuclear program, not end it.   If any attack could end Iran’s nuclear program that would certainly be preferable.   But that is, of course, highly unlikely.   Delaying the program, however, is the very point.   Delaying the program is more than a sufficient goal because it gives more time to change the leadership of Iran.

Obama has been doing everything in its power to subvert and forestall an attack by Israel against Iran’s nuclear facilities.   This is directly contrary to U.S. interests in bringing down the Iranian Regime.  An attack by Israel, even if incomplete, would undeniably set back the Iranian nuclear program by some years according to most estimates.   This additional time could be the crucial difference in allowing the U.S. to work, covertly, toward bringing down the Regime.

In the end, the U.S. must realize that it is not the possession of nuclear weapons in and of itself that should be feared.   It is the government that possesses such weapons.   Simply seeking to keep nuclear technology out of the hands of totalitarian regimes is, ultimately futile.  As North Korea demonstrated, with enough determination and sacrifice, even a poverty-stricken country can get nuclear weapons.  The goal must always be to eliminate any regime that evidences any intention to go nuclear.   It is a red line that cannot be crossed.

How and when we go about doing that is the conversation we should be having.

Does the U.S. Have A Moral Duty to Fix Afghanistan (or anywhere else)?

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 2 months ago

In an article for National Review Online, Patrick Brennan illuminates the thinking of General David McKiernan, commander of ISAF in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009.

To the extent that Brennan accurately reflects McKiernan’s thinking and, more importantly, that McKiernan is at all representative of widely-held views in the U.S. military,  it goes a long way to explaining the seeming paralysis of U.S. force projection in Afghanistan and globally.

Fundamentally, Gen. McKiernan is a true believer in what seems to be called the Pottery Barn Rule of U.S. power projection:

In my conversation with him in his Boston office, General McKiernan demonstrates a vast knowledge of the problems of Afghanistan, as well as a keen concern for the fate of the country and NATO’s mission there. “In my experience with many different operations in the military over the years, when you intervene on the ground in a country, ‘breaking the china’ in that country and changing the regional status quo, you then own the problem,” he says. The U.S. is therefore obligated, at the very least, to live up to the commitments it has made to Afghanistan’s civil and military leaders, including fulfilling the new strategic partnership by allocating sufficient funds, which will become a year-to-year concern. A military intervention such as the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 inevitably means the obliteration of a country’s existing political order, as chaotic or oppressive as that might be. Without a continuing commitment to restore some semblance of order and stability to Afghanistan, McKiernan argues, we will fail in our moral duty and abandon our strategic interests.

At the conclusion of the article, Brennan sums up Gen. McKiernan’s thinking:

The U.S. was right to invade Afghanistan in order to exact revenge against al-Qaeda and eliminate the region’s terrorist havens. But McKiernan has seen the catastrophic side effects of that invasion, and they represent something of a geopolitical sin. With a more targeted, locally nuanced, and efficient strategy as penance, the United States can help the Afghan government construct and enforce some degree of order, General McKiernan believes. If we do not do so, we abandon our moral commitment to repair Afghanistan, and we will leave a gapingly insecure region that would remain fertile ground for international terrorism.

Pardon the gag reflex.  There is much else in the article that is deserving of comment and it is worth reading.  For example, Gen. McKiernan seems to recognize that Afghanistan is not a nation state in any true sense of the word but is, instead, a collection of different tribes, ethnicities and sects.   His takeaway from this fact, however, is to double down on the formation and training of a national army and police force that can someday, somehow hold the centrifugal differences of the country together.   As illogical as this seems, it is necessitated by the “you break it, you own it” philosophy embraced by McKiernan and others.

So this seems to me to be the fundamental debate for American foreign policy, not only for Afghanistan but for the next ten to twenty years as we face no lack of failing or failed states that become incubators for Militant Islam: what, if any, obligation does the U.S. have to another country or people when the U.S. uses military force in exercise of its national interests?

First let’s clarify some of General McKiernan’s muddled thinking.

According to his moral universe, when a nation “breaks the china” by intervening with force of arms to somehow change the status quo of another nation or region then the intervenor “own[s] the problem” and incurs a “moral duty” to “restore some semblance of order and stability…”   In the case of Afghanistan, this is nonsense.   The status quo of Afghanistan’s “political order” in September 2001 was, as the General himself describes, “chaotic” and “oppressive.”  By his own theory, then, the U.S. need only ensure that Afghanistan ends up no more chaotic or oppressive than it was pre-invasion.  The 2001 invasion alone made a vast improvement upon the existing political order by eliminating a pariah regime that gladly hosted international terrorists and imposed a cruel authoritarianism on its population.   If the U.S. had walked out of Afghanistan in January 2002, the situation in Afghanistan would have been vastly improved with the Northern Alliance in control of most of the country.

In fact, it is arguable that the U.S. only started to destroy the status quo of Afghanistan when it began meddling in its internal, political affairs with arrogant notions of 21st Century democracy and centralized government.  The problem, then, is not that the U.S. created a mess in Afghanistan by toppling the Taliban in October 2001, but that the U.S. stayed after toppling the Taliban in order to somehow save the Afghans from their own backward and stunted culture.   This was the “geopolitical sin” if Gen. McKiernan must find one.

What of General McKiernan’s larger premise, that the U.S. cannot intervene militarily without incurring a “moral commitment to repair” that nation?

This is a fundamentally flawed and mistaken view of U.S. power projection.  Originally espoused by General Colin Powell in 2002, Powell claims to have advised President Bush that any invasion of Iraq would be akin to breaking a dish and thereby taking ownership.  The so-called Pottery Barn school of  thought to which McKiernan subscribes assumes the existence of an unbroken Dish prior to U.S. involvement.  This is simply a fiction and a dangerous one at that.

Iraq was already in pieces under Saddam Hussein when the U.S. invaded in March 2003.   Once the Dictator and his police state were dismembered, the “dish” was already in infinitely better shape than its pre-invasion condition.   The U.S. would have been perfectly justified from a moral point of view in packing up and heading home at that point.   So, too, with Afghanistan: the “dish” was in far better shape after the removal of Al Qaeda bases and the Taliban than it was pre-invasion.

The Pottery Barn doctrine simply does not pertain to the exercise of U.S. military intervention at any point in U.S. history.   I cannot think of a single instance where the metaphorical dish was not already broken when the U.S. intervened.  If someone wants to argue about Nazi intervention in Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria and France, that is a different matter.   The U.S. is not an imperial power that topples healthy, functioning nation states and the application of the Pottery Barn doctrine to the U.S. may say far more about how people like Colin Powell and David McKiernan view U.S. power projection than it does about the actual world as we have it now.

American leadership needs to forcefully and decisively reject this wrong-headed notion of moral commitments to fix other nations.  It is not and has never been about moral commitments.  It is ever, only about the U.S. national interest.  That is the only way to rationally debate both the decision to intervene militarily and the decision, once intervention occurs, of how and when to leave.  This is not to say that our national interest does not align with notions of morality.  Very often it does and morality certainly forms a part of defining what the “national interest” is in the first place.   But evaluating policies, tactics and strategy from a moral viewpoint rather than the national interest leads to all kinds of fuzzy thinking and misguided efforts.   Afghanistan is, perhaps, the textbook example of these hazards.

To give but a few examples:  what is the U.S. national interest in pouring hundreds of billions of dollars into road, school, hospital and other construction in Afghanistan?  It certainly is a nice thing to do, a moral thing to do.  But how, precisely, does this make America more secure?  In a predominating culture that is so alien (indeed hostile one could say) to American values, the idea of changing that culture with billions in aid money can only be driven by a moralistic– an almost missionary– zeal that simply has no place in American foreign policy.   The national interest is solely concerned with ensuring that Afghanistan does not become a threat to American security again.   That was the only reason we invaded in 2001 (contrary to Gen. McKiernan’s idea of “revenge”).  There are many ways that this fundamental, U.S. interest could be achieved without any resort whatsoever to changing Afghan culture.

To look at another example briefly, consider Syria.

From the moralistic, Pottery Barn approach, intervening in Syria is a case of balancing the suffering of the Syrian people under the Dictator Assad with the unavoidable suffering of the people after a military intervention (whether that is invasion, air strikes, covert support for rebels, etc…).   This is why the Obama Administration and much of U.S. punditry is tied up in knots over Syria: there is no, clear way to evaluate human suffering in this manner.   (Anyone who doubts this need only look at Libya where, again, the scales of suffering seemed to tilt in favor of ousting Qaddafi only to find, now, that the increasing lawlessness and rise of Militant Islamists is beginning to make Qaddafi look rather tame by comparison).

Instead of playing these sorts of moral games, U.S. leadership should be looking at Syria from our own interests.   This clarifies things immediately.   Syria under Assad is an enemy of the U.S. and moves in lockstep with arch-enemy Iran.   This is a very, very broken dish (to use their parlance).  Toppling Assad by itself does not worsen the dish and is certainly in the U.S. national interest as it enhances our security immensely.

There is, of course, the question of what sort of government will replace Assad.   Here again the moralists and national interest part ways.   The moralists would say that the U.S. would “own” all of Syria’s problems if it intervened which means, presumably, another 10 or 20 year program of building schools, hospitals roads and civic institutions.   The national interest, at a bare minimum, however, doesn’t really care so much what comes after Assad so long as it is not worse than Assad.  We do not care, for example, if Syria falls into civil war so long as Syria cannot be the cat’s paw for Iran.   It is certainly in the national interest to back rebels that are sympathetic to U.S. values and goals, but if they are at least hostile to Iran and global jihad, that is enough.

In essence then, to the extent that U.S. policies and strategies are guided by the approach espoused by General McKiernan, we will find ourselves a vulnerable paralytic Power unable to intervene in the world where critical U.S. interests are at stake because to do so would automatically obligate us to an endless commitment of fixing the “broken dish.”   In such a world, we leave it to hostile powers all around us to shape things to their liking, one that will be little to our own.

Iran’s Asymmetric Warfare

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 3 months ago

Andrew Exum discusses how we and Hezbollah have more in common that one might think.  His entire commentary is interesting, but he summarizes with this.

In the end, Hezbollah finds itself in much the same position as the United States as it watches the clouds of war gather between Israel and Iran. Like the United States, it has reason to hope conflict can be averted. But like the United States, it is realistic about the likelihood that it will be drawn into a conflict once the first shots are fired.

To get the context for the statement above you must read his commentary.  Andrew does come down warning that Hezbollah would likely respond against Israel if war comes to Iran, but he also casts us in the same light as Hezbollah: poor, strange bedfellows – hoping against war, shaking our heads at the very idea, war weary, and being dragged kicking and screaming against our will into the larger conflict if it comes.

I don’t see Hezbollah as dependent on the electorate in Lebanon as does Andrew, nor do I see them as war-weary, hoping against hope that war doesn’t come.  They are part of Iran’s forward-deployed troops, present from the Middle East to South America.  As for Iran (and its forward deployed troops), it all comes down to whether one believes the things that the Mullahs say.

“We do not worship Iran.  We worship Allah.  For patriotism is another name for paganism.  I say let this land [Iran] burn.  I say let this land go up in smoke, provided Islam emerges triumphant in the rest of the world”

I believe that the Mullahs mean what they say.  We have discussed their behavior-controlling eschatology before.  But if Hezbollah is only one part of Iran’s forward deployed troops, there is another more secretive part.

Intelligence agencies are searching for members of a secret Iranian network of assassins under orders to attack Jewish, Israeli and Western targets in Turkey.

According to intelligence sources, the organisation behind the attack is known as Unit 400, a secret part of the al Quds Brigade, which falls under the direct command of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s Supreme Leader.

“Unit 400 of the Qods Force has been developing in the last few months a standing operating procedure for carrying out an attack in Turkey against western targets as well as Israeli and Jewish. It is our firm assessment that these procedures are in a very advanced stage, and that the intention is to act on the plans very soon,” an intelligence source told Sky News.

There is also evidence that Unit 400 has been given instructions to carry out more frequent and more daring ‘terror’ attacks around the world as a demonstration of ‘Iran’s asymmetric power’ – in the face of the growing threat of Israeli or American air strikes on its alleged nuclear weapons programme, the sources said.

[ ... ]

“Unit 400 is a top-secret “special ops” unit within the elite overseas wing of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Qods Force (IRGC-QF). It plans and carries out terror attacks on external targets, and provides material support to foreign militia groups, at the direct behest of the Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. This is in accordance with the regime’s core strategic considerations about how best to challenge perceived enemies in Israel and the west – through asymmetric warfare – and to cope with mounting international pressure over its nuclear programme,” a secret study by a foreign intelligence agency said.

Several international intelligence sources confirmed that Ali Khamenei controlled the Quds Force through his close ally Qassem Suleiman.

“He runs the whole thing – directly. [Mahmoud] Ahmedinajad [the Iranian president] makes all the noise and gets the attention but it’s the Supreme Leader who is in charge of what is going on especially when it comes to international operations,” said a senior intelligence official.

 Regular readers know all about General Suleimani.  I have recommended a targeted assassination of him, as well as covert and asymmetric warfare against Iran and fomenting an insurgency and regime change in order to avoid all out warfare.

It seems that the only one who takes our advice seriously is Iran.  They are masters of covert warfare, we … well, we are masters of vacilation and equivocation.  But remember what I said that I could pull off with 400 well-trained, motivated fighters.  Consider yourself warned, for it may soon be too late.

UPDATE: Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the attention.

Is Iran Trying to Develop Nukes? Don’t Ask U.S. Intelligence Agencies

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 4 months ago

According to a front-page story by James Risen in The New York Times, those crazy mullahs in Iran have U.S. intelligence agencies dumbfounded:

WASHINGTON — While American spy agencies have believed that the Iranians halted efforts to build a nuclear bomb back in 2003, the difficulty in assessing the government’s ambitions was evident two years ago, when what appeared to be alarming new intelligence emerged, according to current and former United States officials.

Intercepted communications of Iranian officials discussing their nuclear program raised concerns that the country’s leaders had decided to revive efforts to develop a weapon, intelligence officials said.

That, along with a stream of other information, set off an intensive review and delayed publication of the 2010 National Intelligence Estimate, a classified report reflecting the consensus of analysts from 16 agencies. But in the end, they deemed the intercepts and other evidence unpersuasive, and they stuck to their longstanding conclusion.

Unbelievable.

We have an authoritarian regime in Iran that has repeatedly attacked the United States and its allies over the last 30 years.  They have invested billions of petro dollars (at the expense of their shaky economy and massive public unrest) in order to build elaborate, underground facilities with state of the art centrifuges to enrich uranium.  They are known to have consulted with A.Q. Khan, the Pakistani nuclear scientist key to the Pakistani Bomb.  They are known to have consulted with North Korea on nuclear weapons including, according to one recent article, the testing of a uranium nuclear device in North Korea.   Their attempts to develop ballistic missiles capable of carrying nuclear payloads was recently exposed when the testing facility suffered enormous explosions.  The Regime leadership regularly threatens to obliterate Israel.

And yet the collected wisdom of U.S. intelligence agencies, according to Mr. Risen, remains unchanged from the controversial 2007 N.I.E. that concluded that Iran had stopped pursuing nuclear weapons in 2003.  They found the evidence of Iranian intentions “unpersuasive.”

How can this be?  And bear in mind that the N.I.E. believes that the Iranians have still not re-started their nuclear program.  Let that sink in.   Our intelligence agencies best information leads them to believe that the Iranians have had their nuclear weapons program on hold for almost 10 years now.

What has our intel services so stymied?

The picture emerging from Risen’s article is incredibly troublesome.   To hear Risen tell it, the U.S. lacks any meaningful human intelligence sources inside of Iran and relies, instead, upon signals intelligence– intercepted telephone calls and emails, recon photos and sensitive detection devices.   Israel, we are told, has human intelligence sources in Iran, but the U.S. agencies give them little credence, seemingly afraid of the shadows of Iraq intelligence failures.

Worse, U.S. agencies cannot seem to figure out the complex structure and hierarchy of Iranian leadership:

“In large part, that’s because their system is so confusing,” he said, which “has the effect of making it difficult to determine who speaks authoritatively on what.”

And, he added, “We’re not on the ground, and not having our people on the ground to catch nuance is a problem.”

This is a systemic failure in so many respects that it defies belief.   It almost seems like a farce at times.

Consider the apparent basis for concluding in 2007 that Iran had stopped their nuke program:

Just as in 2010, new evidence about the Iranian nuclear program delayed the National Intelligence Estimate in 2007, the last previous assessment. Current and former American officials say that a draft version of the assessment had been completed when the United States began to collect surprising intelligence suggesting that Iran had suspended its weapons program and disbanded its weapons team four years earlier.

The draft version had concluded that the Iranians were still trying to build a bomb, the same finding of a 2005 assessment. But as they scrutinized the new intelligence from several sources, including intercepted communications in which Iranian officials were heard complaining to one another about stopping the program, the American intelligence officials decided they had to change course, officials said. While enrichment activities continued, the evidence that Iran had halted its weapons program in 2003 at the direction of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was too strong to ignore, they said.

One former senior official characterized the information as very persuasive. “I had high confidence in it,” he said. “There was tremendous evidence that the program had been halted.”

Is this a joke?  “Intercepted communications in which Iranian officials were heard complaining… about stopping the program” ?  And other, apparent evidence that Khamenei directed that the program be halted?  I am obviously not a professional intelligence analyst but if all the physical evidence (enrichment, secret, underground facilities, contacts with nuclear rogue states) points to a burgeoning nuclear weapons program and there are intercepted communications saying the program has stopped, I am going to believe the physical evidence and dismiss the intercepts as so much misinformation.

Can it really be so easy to deceive U.S. intelligence?  Apparently so.

One final note.   Risen claims that Israeli intelligence mainly agrees with the U.S. assessment.   I do not buy this for one moment.   Not a single Israeli source is cited in the article (and on the whole, the article relies upon unnamed and anonymous sources).   We have hearsay from an unnamed source that Israel’s Mossad is on board with the U.S. view.   This runs so contrary to every report being published that it should not be trusted unless and until a source is named.

It is, of course, quite possible that the NYT article is a planted piece by the Obama Administration to take some of the pressure off of Obama to take any decisive action on Iran as well as further undercut any building consensus in Israel to take action on its own.   It is even possible that the intelligence agency chiefs are willing participants in an effort by the Administration to undersell and downplay the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear program.   Either way, it stinks and this moment should be marked down as yet another step in the path to a very violent and rude awakening.

Obama Mocks Romney On Iran

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 4 months ago

The Obama apparatchiks mock Romney on Iran.

The Obama campaign mocked Mitt Romney Wednesday, warning that if the Republican pacesetter cowed before talk radio top dog Rush Limbaugh, he would be easy prey for Iran’s firebrand president.

Campaign aides to President Barack Obama were clearly enjoying the spectacle of Romney’s prolonged battle for the Republican nomination, after the former Massachusetts governor failed to kill off his rivals in Super Tuesday contests.

Obama political guru David Axelrod laid into Romney for his somewhat tepid response after Limbaugh said a Georgetown University student who wanted her college health plan to pay for birth control was a “slut” and a “prostitute.”

“If you don’t have the strength to stand up to the most strident voices in your party, how are you going to stand up to (president Mahmoud) Ahmadinejad?” Axelrod asked on a conference call with reporters.

Obama on Tuesday criticized the campaign bluster of Romney and other Republican candidates on Iran, saying “this is not a game” and cautioning against casual talk of war.

Limbaugh is the undisputed champion of the fiery conservative talk radio circuit and wields outsize influence in the Republican Party thanks to his huge audience built up over years of five-day-a-week broadcasts.

Democratic leaders however like to portray the multi-millionaire king of the airwaves as the “de-facto head of the Republican Party” in the knowledge that his brand of conservatism is unpopular with some moderate voters.

Romney’s response to Limbaugh’s attack on student Sandra Fluke, for which he has apologized,” was judged too timid by liberal observers, when he said merely that he wouldn’t have used such “language.”

Now, I’m not particularly a fan of Romney.  Jonah Goldberg thinks he’s “frustratingly anodyne and undefined.”  I think he’s a cardboard cutout that waves and smiles.  But to see the Obama camp mock Romney in light of their own record with Iran is truly hilarious.

Remember?

Having sent the Iranian people a video greeting on their New Year, President Obama is now inviting them to help celebrate a quintessentially American holiday, the Fourth of July.

Last Friday, the State Department sent a cable to its embassies and consulates around the world notifying them that “they may invite representatives from the government of Iran” to their Independence Day celebrations — annual receptions that typically feature hot dogs, red-white-and-blue bunting and some perfunctory remarks about the founding fathers.

Administration officials characterized the move as another in a series of American overtures to Iran. The United States has not had relations with Iran since the American Embassy in Tehran was seized by protesters in 1979; the country’s diplomats have not been formally invited to American events since then.

“It is another way of saying we are not putting barriers in the way of communicating,” said one administration official. “It is another way of signaling that there is an opportunity that should not be wasted.”

 And then to show them what a bunch of bad asses we really are?

It was an attempt by President Obama to reach out to Iran with a classically American invitation: celebrate July 4 with hot dogs and hale fellowship at United States embassies worldwide. Now, hot-dog diplomacy is the latest casualty of the bloody clashes in Tehran.

On Wednesday, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had authorized diplomatic posts earlier this month to invite Iranians to their Independence Day parties, sent out a cable rescinding the invitations.

“Unfortunately, circumstances have changed, and participation by Iranian diplomats would not be appropriate in light of the unjust actions that the president and I have condemned,” she said. Embassies that had already invited Iranian diplomats were instructed to disinvite them.

It is not clear this will be much of a snub to the Iranians. The State Department spokesman, Ian C. Kelly, said he was not aware of a single diplomat who had R.S.V.P.’d, anywhere in the world.

David Axelrod.  Providing a circus act since, well, a long time ago.

It’s the Regime, Stupid: Missing the Point on Iranian Nuclear Weapons

BY Glen Tschirgi
2 years, 4 months ago

Here are the key, closing paragraphs of an opinion piece by GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney in The Washington Post on March 5, 2012:

As for Iran in particular, I will take every measure necessary to check the evil regime of the ayatollahs. Until Iran ceases its nuclear-bomb program, I will press for ever-tightening sanctions, acting with other countries if we can but alone if we must. I will speak out on behalf of the cause of democracy in Iran and support Iranian dissidents who are fighting for their freedom. I will make clear that America’s commitment to Israel’s security and survival is absolute. I will demonstrate our commitment to the world by making Jerusalem the destination of my first foreign trip.

Most important, I will buttress my diplomacy with a military option that will persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions. Only when they understand that at the end of that road lies not nuclear weapons but ruin will there be a real chance for a peaceful resolution.

I am not seeking to pick on Mitt Romney.  Rather, his approach to the obvious Iranian drive for nuclear weapons is emblematic of a far wider phenomenon.   As James Carville so succinctly pointed out, the 1992 presidential campaign primarily turned upon the economy and not national security (“the economy, stupid”).   It must be pointed out (repeatedly) in this context that the primary issue is not the development of nuclear weapons per se but the nature of those who would control such weapons.  In short, It’s the Regime, Stupid.

It is a fool’s errand to simply “check the evil regime” or “persuade the ayatollahs to abandon their nuclear ambitions.”   This is akin to persuading water to flow uphill.   The Iranian Regime seeks nuclear weapons because they rightly surmise that possession of such weapons provides them with the same kind of invulnerability that has allowed a succession of dictators in North Korea from being threatened by the West.   No amount of sanctions or finger-wagging or diplomacy will convince them otherwise.

We must face the fact that the nuclear genie is already out of the bottle when it comes to Iran.   They have the scientists and industrial resources right now to re-build or re-constitute their nuclear program even if the U.S. and/or Israel successfully destroyed the present facilities.   According to the German newspaper, Die Welt, the Iranians have already successfully tested a uranium nuclear device under cover in North Korea.

This is not to say that the United States should throw up its hands and accept the inevitable.   By all means, preventing the Regime from advancing further and producing multiple devices in the near future is an imperative.   But it is simply not enough.   As Jamie Fly and Gary Schmitt argue in Foreign Affairs :

The Obama administration has avoided the choice between a military operation and a nuclear Iran — relying on the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusions that Iran has not made the final decision to develop a weapon. But if history is any guide, its faith in receiving any intelligence to the contrary in a timely and unambiguous way is misplaced. Kroenig is correct then to argue that a military strike should be in the cards. But he is wrong to suggest that a limited strike is the only one that should be on the table. If strikes are chosen, it would be far better to put the regime at risk than to leave it wounded but still nuclear capable and ready to fight another day.

But even beyond this view, the real hope— the only hope, really– is that the Iranian people will reject the militant Islamist policies of the Regime and return the country to its pro-Western, democratic norm.   If an open, pro-Western government is installed in Tehran, the fears and difficulties associated with nuclear weapons dissipate.   In the end, it is already too late to keep Iran from possessing nuclear weapons if they truly want them.   We can only ensure that those possessing such weapons are at least as unlikely as India to use them for nefarious ends.   The 21st Century, in fact, will largely be about not only preventing the spread of nuclear weapons but, perhaps more than anything, about ensuring that dangerous regimes who seek them are toppled quickly and remorselessly.


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