Tuesday, February 27, 2007

No Excuses

From National Interest online.

I am tired of hearing the excuse, “If I had known then what I know now” in relation to one’s position on the Iraq war. Let’s be honest. The translation seems to be: I thought I was voting for what Russian Interior Minister Plehve recommended to Tsar Nicholas II in pursuing hostilities with Japan: a “short, victorious war”—a cakewalk, a liberation—not for a long hard slog.

There is no excuse. The body of knowledge about Iraq’s WMD program is essentially what it was back then when the vote took place. We knew what the risks of an occupation of Iraq would bring. The 2002 vote was a judgment call about whether or not Saddam Hussein could be trusted to remain in power without endangering the national security of the United States.

Let me say I am not looking for apologies or admissions of “wrongdoing.” Nor am I suggesting that people cannot change their minds. In fact, I care less about how one voted on the Iraq war and much more why—what was the strategic thinking underpinning that decision? Was a vote cast out of deep held conviction and a careful assessment of the situation? And don’t keep talking about intelligence. Most decisions are made on the basis of imperfect intelligence, fragments of information and lines of speculation. It is very rare that one is going to have 100 percent perfect intelligence in hand. And so leaders have to be prepared to exercise judgment. And I would hate to believe that many of those who supported the war did so because it was safer to be “with the majority”—to go with the flow—just as I have a problem with those who voted against the war because of an instinctive, reflexive dislike about the use of American power.

So, no more shouted taunts about repudiating a vote. Instead, these are the questions we should be asking:

—On what basis did you come to the conclusion that Iraq was a looming threat to U.S. national security? Were you prepared to accept the proffered intelligence because it confirmed your predispositions about Saddam Hussein and his regime? How closely did you examine what was presented to you?

—How did you “rank” the threat posed by Iraq against what was already known about the progress being made by North Korea and Iran?

—Did you feel that dealing with Iraq would be “easier” than tackling North Korea or Iran, and did you believe that there would be a de-proliferation “demonstration effect” as a result? And can you explain the basis for your reasoning?

What all of this navel gazing at the 1998 and 2002 votes on Iraq—and let’s not forget the 2002 vote could not have taken place without the 1998 assessment about Iraq, passed by a broad bipartisan majority and signed into law by President Clinton—is not doing is helping us to understand how and why those who would be President after 2008 determine the difference between annoyances and irritants and true pending dangers to national security. Or how they plan to manage threats. Or their understanding about the limits of military power to bring about political solutions.

I want to know lessons learned. Based on what you know now about Iran, what is your recommended course of action? Don’t tell me how you would have voted differently in 2002. Tell me today how you assess the security challenges we face. That seems to be a much more productive conversation.

Monday, February 26, 2007

No Concert for Democracies

Paul Saunders and I discuss in the forthcoming issue of the International Herald Tribune why "Even Democracies Don't See Eye to Eye".

We note:

No one would expect Finland, Australia and Botswana to have identical foreign policies simply because each enjoys a representative form of government. Shared values have not enabled European states to create a unified foreign policy, even in dealing with undemocratic countries like Russia.


There is no question of the benefits when democracies work together.

But shared values cannot substitute for common interests — neither can they ensure that a government will blindly follow Washington.

Being a leader among democracies requires a sense not only of common values and interests, but an appreciation of differences, including differing priorities even to shared goals. Without this, and without the ability to successfully manage those differences instead of dismissing them as the result of illegitimate or uninformed policies, the United States could become a very lonely superpower.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

U.S. and Israel

The Nixon Center hosted a luncheon discussion today on the U.S.-Israel relationship (with Dov Zakheim, Robert Satloff, Geoff Kemp and Shibley Telhami). Quite an interesting affair. Since there will be a report up at National Interest online. I won't summarize, but several points that struck me in the discussion.

One is whether or not the U.S.-Israel relationship has been run through a cost-benefit analysis where the advantages and disadvantages have been processed--or whether the relationship is based on affinities and ideological sensibilities. To me if it is the latter then over time if the affinities of the two populations change the relationship changes, whereas if it is based on the first set of criteria then it is a more substantial and lasting arrangement.

Another is whether the U.S. and Israel have a true identity of interests and whether it matters or whether perceptions matter more.

Finally it is the extent to which these types of discussions--civil despite disagreements--which can take place among foreign policy experts can or cannot be translated to the larger discourse.

For Those in DC

Putin's Last Year

Nikolas Gvosdev, Editor of The National Interest, Senior Fellow in Strategic Studies at the Nixon Center

Tuesday, February 27, 12:30 - 2:00 p.m.
Location: Voesar Conference Room, 1957 E Street, NW, Suite 412
Sponsors: ESIA Institute for European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies
RSVP at ieresgwu@gwu.edu or 202.994.6

Monday, February 19, 2007

Interests, Not Values: Empirical Data

In my recent CFR.org debate, a point that I was taken to task by a number of people is the assertion that interests rather than values drive relationships between states.

Now, we have a 27-country poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes and GlobeScan for the BBC World Service.

From the press release: "The global public believes that tensions between Islam and the West arise from conflicts over political power and interests and not from differences of religion and culture, according to a BBC World Service poll across 27 countries.
While three in ten (29%) believe religious or cultural differences are the cause of tensions, a slight majority (52%) say tensions are due to conflicting interests." (Emphasis mine)

The poll can be found at www.worldpublicopinion.org

Friday, February 16, 2007

The Merkel Factor

Our colleagues from the German Council on Foreign Relations ( Jan Techau, director of the Alfred Von Oppenheim Center at the German Council on Foreign Relations, along with Alex Skiba of the Center and John Hulsman, their Scholar-in-Residence) were at the magazine today for an informal roundtable.

There will be a more substantial report at NI online but my observations.

The main conclusion: that in comparison with the Schroeder goverment, we have with Merkel a "rhetorical difference but substantive continuity." Germany is moving forward trying to define what constitutes its national interest while still holding on to its traditional role as the coordinating country among the nations of the EU as well as the coordinator of the trans-Atlantic tie.

On Russia, the point was made that Russia is a different type of partner for Germany than the United States, and while, as democracies, we may abhor the methods of the Putin government, if the results are to make Russia more stable and predictable, then that is in Germany's interests.

Europe is going through a period of strategic uncertainty because while Merkel has achieved a great deal of stability via her grand coalition the political futures of both France and the UK are now up for grabs. What may emerge in the future--Merkel, Sarkozy, Cameron--is a situation where the U.S. is faced with "skeptical allies"--not reflexively anti-American, but not automatically inclined to trust American judgment.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Once More Into the Breach

Ray Takeyh and I with our wonderfully optimistic appraisal of the situation facing the United States in the Middle East and the need for hard choices. In today's Financial Times (but also available in full courtesy of CFR.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Putin, Saudi Arabia, North Korea, Howard/Obama

A second commentary on Putin's Munich speech by James Davis is now available at TNI--to continue our discussion from yesterday.

Putin got red-carpet treatment in the Middle East--especially in the strongholds of America's Sunni allies that President Bush praised in his state of the union. My sense--even our close associates are looking for some maneuvering room vis-a-vis the United States.

Never expected to hear Graham Allison agree with John Bolton? Read his interview.

A take from "down under" on the Howard-Obama spat.

Monday, February 12, 2007

A Shot Across the Bow in Munich

Just posted this at National Interest online.

Anyone who has been engaged in the Russian-American dialogue for the last six months or so would not have been surprised by the content of President Vladimir Putin’s speech at the Munich Security Conference this past Saturday. What was different was that complaints that have been voiced privately or in public by television commentators were pronounced by the country’s president.

Given the downward course in U.S.-Russia relations over the last two years, that Putin gave this speech is not so earth-shattering. What is more important, in my opinion, is the reaction of what I believe Putin’s intended audience to be—not Washington but European public opinion.

Much of the American response to the speech presumes the existence of a strong, single, integrated Euro-Atlantic security community (Senator McCain’s remarks are a case in point). But last year Charles Kupchan argued in our pages:

The Atlantic order is in the midst of a fundamental transition. The transatlantic discord that has emerged since the late 1990s marks a historical breakpoint, not a temporary aberration. The foundational principles of the Atlantic security order that emerged after World War II have been compromised. American and European interests have diverged, institutionalized cooperation can no longer be taken for granted, and a shared Western identity has attenuated.

What is interesting is the extent to which what Putin said in Munich reflects what is being said among Europeans in general.

An important litmus test for the United States—and for claims being made here in Washington that problems in the trans-Atlantic relationship can be laid solely at the doorstep of the Bush Administration—is the response in the coming days and weeks to what Putin said. Polite disagreement, vehement rejection, studied silence? Even a quick perusal of European-based chat rooms shows the main split among English-speaking Euro-netizens to be between those who agree with Putin’s assessments versus those who argue that Russia’s own less than exemplary record in foreign and domestic policies do not give Putin the moral authority to launch any critique of the actions of the United States—one is much harder pressed to find defenders of American actions.

And as public opinion goes, what impact on what governments do? And here the real test will be Iran. The Russians have concluded that the United States is prepared to act only if it can assemble some sort of coalition that can give the color of legitimacy to any actions that are taken—and that America’s key European partners will need a clear-cut resolution of the United Nations to act, in the absence of some devastating act taken by Iran. By continuing to insist on diplomatic action—and by endorsing the thesis that U.S. unilateralism is a key motivator for states to seek weapons of mass destruction (for defensive rather than offensive purposes), Putin prevents the solidification of a solid Euro-Atlantic position on Iran.

Was Putin trying to speak for a European “silent majority” on Saturday? And will what he put on the record make it more difficult for European states who populations are increasingly skeptical of U.S. intentions to cooperate with Washington’s security agenda?

Time will tell.


We'll be hosting a roundtable this coming Friday at the magazine on "The Merkel Factor" and I'll pose these questions to the visiting experts from the German Council on Foreign Relations.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Continuing the Iran Discussion

David Habakkuk posted a comment yesterday raising the question as to whether a more democratic Iran would stop the nuclear program. We will be publishing in the next issue of The National Interest an essay by Ted Galen Carpenter and Jessica Ashoosh that notes, "... there is one problem with the regime change strategy that cannot be ignored: Even if the United States brought a secular, democratic government to power, said government would not necessarily end the nuclear program.


"Iran is located in a volatile and hostile region. Iranians are still emotionally scarred by Iraq’s 1980 invasion and the long, bloody war that followed. Russia, Israel, Pakistan and India all have nuclear weapons, so regional deterrence issues probably loom large for Tehran. Those security concerns would not change significantly for a democratic government.
Moreover, the vast majority of Iranian citizens seem to favor an indigenous nuclear program, whether for solely peaceful purposes or not—whatever the consequences. According to a January 2006 poll by the Iranian Students Polling Agency, 85 percent of Iranians support the program. When told it would bring economic sanctions, 64 percent still supported the program. (After decades of American embargoes, sanctions no longer rattle the Iranian public. “The sanctions will be useless”, insists one Tehran resident. “We do not have much foreign investment now either.”) However, the poll’s most striking finding is that 56 percent of respondents supported the program in the face of a military strike. And should that strike take place, “only one in six would blame Iran’s own government” for precipitating it."

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.

Monday, February 05, 2007

What to do about Iran

From National Interest online.

Fareed Zakaria

Formulating an effective response to Iran’s nuclear challenge requires our policymakers to provide answers to three interrelated questions.

First, is the goal of the Iranian nuclear program to achieve regional hegemony in the Persian Gulf and throughout the Middle East?

Second, is the possibility of that outcome sufficient cause for the United States to act, and to strike Iran militarily, if necessary?

And finally, should it be a guiding principle of U.S. foreign policy that countries inimical to our interests should be militarily neutered? . . .

U.S. policy needs to be much more deft and able to operate on a two-track approach, rather than defining different alternatives as “either/ors.” There is no reason why Iran should not be censured for continuing its efforts to acquire a nuclear weapons capability—while at the same time holding out the possibility of Tehran’s rehabilitation as a full member of the international community. Conducting negotiations can occur even while sanctions are levied for past and current indiscretions.

Cliff Kupchan

Let’s start with defining what a “nuclear Iran” means. This would be a situation where Iran has mastered all relevant technology and has installed 1500-3000 working P-1 centrifuges underground at the Natanz enrichment facility, giving Iran the capability of being able to obtain a working nuclear bomb within a one-year window. . . .

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the vast majority of Iranian elites are committed to acquiring an indigenous nuclear capability. While Ahmadinejad, the most vocal proponent of an aggressive nuclear policy, was rebuked by the Iranian electorate in municipal council elections held on December 15, 2006—where his supporters received no more than 25 percent of seats in any major city—there is no sign of significant elite disagreement on the substance of nuclear policy.

The central challenge facing U.S. foreign policy is how to prevent Iran from going nuclear, or if that’s impossible, how to deal with a nuclear Iran. Neither the UN nor direct talks are likely to help in stopping Iran. Resolution 1737, passed on December 23, imposed mild sanctions on Iran that are unlikely to have much effect. Another resolution is possible, but Russian and Chinese opposition to harsh sanctions means the UN process is grinding to a halt. And while the United States should talk to the Iranians, let’s be realistic—Tehran and Washington are separated by major gulfs, exacerbated by President Bush’s announcement on January 10 that the United States will actively disrupt Iranian activities in Iraq. The United States would insist on a long-term suspension and would want an effective veto over Iran’s ability to resume enrichment; Iran would at best agree to a technical pause of several months and would want a major non-U.S. dominated forum to decide when it has regained the trust of the international community.

So the United States will try to isolate Iran economically. The U.S. Treasury Department has sanctioned two Iranian banks allegedly involved in illicit activities, seeking to cut off the banks’ access to dollars and dollar-based trading, and adversely affect the interests of groups affiliated with them. Washington is successfully encouraging foreign banks to follow suit, and will probably sanction more Iranian banks. The United States is applying diplomatic pressure on foreign governments, banks and companies to curtail business with Iran, with some success. Washington has especially targeted Iran’s oil sector, which accounts for 80 percent of export earnings, and has succeeded in diminishing foreign oil companies’ activity in Iran and foreign lenders’ willingness to finance new projects. In extending these efforts, Washington will likely attempt to form multilateral coalitions of the willing with G7, EU, and allied Gulf nations to jointly sanction Iran.

These efforts, however, are unlikely to induce a fundamental change of course. The reach of U.S. sanctions and pressure is significant but limited; Iran can trade in other currencies and banks and oil companies from countries that don’t support Washington or have exposure in the United States could step in. Many nations are likely to oppose U.S.-led harsh sanctions; Russia and China have strong economic interests in Iran, many members of the Non-Aligned Movement support Iran’s position, Iran has leverage as a major exporter of oil, and even major EU nations such as Germany have reservations about sanctions outside the UN. Coalitions of the willing will probably be undersubscribed.

Another option is to intimidate Tehran militarily. A second carrier battle group will arrive in the region in February 2007, Patriot missiles will be deployed in allied nations and the US will disrupt Iranian activities in Iraq. This initiative is risky; it could lead to direct US-Iranian hostilities in Iraq, or contribute to a possible Iranian-Saudi proxy war between affiliated Shi‘a and Sunni factions, and is likely to strengthen the domestic position of Iranian hard-liners.

So the United States will probably end up facing a binary choice between deterring a nuclear Iran and taking military action.

Joel Rosenthal

Is the most effective way of dealing with Iran to simply let the clock run out on the regime? Last December's election for the municipal council and religious assembly saw reformers win heavy support. This has compounded the deep split within the Iranian body politic and increases the likelihood that Supreme Leader Khamenei and his entourage (including former President Rafsanjani) will further limit the freedom of action of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Iran is not an aspiring superpower. It has both political and economic liabilities. Politically, the standoff with the United States over Iraq and the nuclear issue and with Israel over Iran's support of Hezbollah during its war with Israel last summer continue to pose problems for Iran on the world stage. Economically, high unemployment and the reluctance of foreign investors to engage due to regional instability pose problems. Furthermore, high oil prices are causing massive problems for the non-oil economy while furnishing revenues for a government that may not be able to revitalize the economy but does possess the means to buy off much of the immediate discontent. If history is any guide, Iran will enter a major economic downturn in two to three years. . . .

Why shouldn't we be “buying time” to put the regime back on schedule for internal transformation through domestic pressures that would solve the problem without leading to war?

Gideon Rose

Iran’s attempt to acquire a nuclear weapons capability is deeply problematic. If successful, it will threaten the interests of the United States and its allies, lead to arms racing and crisis instability throughout the Middle East, and rip further holes in the already tattered global nonproliferation regime. Given the obvious risks involved, it is depressing to see how many are apparently able to take Iran’s actions in stride and in some cases even enable them. Every country concerned about terrorism, nonproliferation, and/or Middle Eastern security should be searching for ways to head off the danger.

If the problem is serious, however, it is not the world-historical crisis some alarmists claim. When the Iranian nuclear program will reach its goals is unclear, and much can happen in the interim. Tehran’s motivations appear to be at least as much defensive as they are offensive, so even if it gets the bomb the worst-case scenarios of an unprovoked Iranian nuclear strike are highly unlikely. There is little reason to think Iranian leaders are suicidal, so American and Israeli arsenals should be able to deter a nuclear exchange. And the risks of exposure and retaliation should reduce the likelihood of the regime handing off nukes to terrorists or other non-state actors.

Given all this, I think the least bad approach to the situation is containment—a coordinated effort to put pressure on Tehran and make clear that continuing down the current path means paying a steep price and risking becoming an international pariah.

Some will say that such a course runs unacceptable risks and that the only sure way to deal with the situation is to strike now before the cancer metastasizes. . . . Containment deserves more respect than it gets, since its track record has been quite good over the years in managing risks at acceptable costs. The danger Iran poses may be real, but it is far less than the dangers posed by, say, the Soviet Union or Mao’s China—and in both of those cases the United States managed to outwit, outlast, and outplay its rival. It did so by, among other things, keeping its head, rejecting suggestions to strike first against developing nuclear programs, and relying on time to reveal its own system’s strengths and its opponents’ weaknesses.

Fareed Zakaria is editor of Newsweek International and host of the public-television show Foreign Exchange. Cliff Kupchan is Director, Europe and Eurasia at Eurasia Group. Joel Rosenthal is president of the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs. Gideon Rose is managing editor of Foreign Affairs.

These excerpts are taken from the Gramercy Round which will appear in the forthcoming March/April 2007 issue of The National Interest.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Chirac's "Honest Blunder"

Despite his retraction, I think French President Chirac spoke not only for himself but for many of the world's other powers when he seemed to suggest the world could live with a nuclear Iran because, in part, Tehran would be deterred by Israel.

Chirac has made the conclusion that I noted in the forthcoming issue of the magazine is the one that still remains in doubt: that the policymaker who can coutenance personal individual self-sacrifice will not make the same calculation for the nation as a whole--the basis of deterrence theory.

But it does point to the increasing difficulties the US will have in convincing other states to accept its narrative of Iran events.

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