Tag: Iran (page 1 of 6)

Tuesday Linkage

Editor’s note: this post previously appeared on my personal blog. I’ve been doing links posts on Tuesdays over there for a while now, so I guess I might as well start cross-listing them.

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Belated Thanksgiving Linkage – Iran Nuclear Deal Edition

This was a momentous week with the announcement of an interim deal on Iran’s nuclear program. There were some critics to be sure of this effort, but I for one am hopeful that the six month effort to halt or at least pause some aspects of Iran’s nuclear program will eventually lead to a permanent reduction of tensions between Iran and the West.

It’s obviously too soon to say but as we give thanks this holiday season for our families and friends, we can only hope that the diplomatic overtures will ultimately bear fruit. With the past decade plus having yielded relentless military campaigns (some of them necessary but wars without seeming end nonetheless), we can only wish for pragmatic leaders to seize moments of opportunity to avoid yet another war. I know some people don’t see it that way, so here’s a set of links describing the deal, providing some links and commentary from critics, and some links to defenders of the agreement. Continue reading

Avoiding the Joint Security Trap (and Countering Conventional Wisdom)

Obama-Cameron

The diplomatic dustup over Syria brought Russia in from the cold but simultaneously froze any notion that western allies were getting their strategic act together. Nonetheless, although the mistakes in the U.S. and UK’s approach to building support at home and abroad for an intervention in Syria confused leaders and citizens alike, these mistakes should not be interpreted as an abrupt turn-around in their and their allies’ strategic thinking.

In fact the Europeans, even under a prolonged condition of austerity, are making progress filling in the capability gaps made clear in the course of the Libyan operation. Recent history has demonstrated that arguing the U.S. should keep its security blanket in place despite the end of the Cold War—out of fear that Europeans would not increase their own defense capabilities in kind—was mistaken. Still, austerity has prevented sufficient progress to avoid the joint security trap.

Were the Arab Awakening to go awry and were an al-Qaeda affiliate to begin setting up training camps and operating somewhere such as Yemen, the U.S. or possibly NATO would no doubt heed the call once more to deal with the threat.  But any future crisis in Europe’s direct neighborhood, somewhere like Tunisia, will require Europe to take the lead as the U.S. is likely to take a pass.  It is therefore in the joint interests of the U.S. and Europe not to reduce their mutual security at this critical juncture.

However Europe has yet to develop its own integrated, deployable, expeditionary military capability; instead a number of European allies à la the U.S. have been slashing their defense budgets under austerity.  But akin to the classic prisoner’s dilemma, if the U.S. and European allies do not coordinate their cuts and agree to begin “combining” what is left, both will become worse off and experience a mutual loss of security in lieu of cooperating.  In fact, at this juncture western allies are actually on the verge of becoming ensnared in the joint security trap. Continue reading

Desecuritization and Iran

nuclear_donald_duckIt is shocking how little attention Iran’s recent efforts to satisfy the international community’s demands on nuclear question have received in the news media and academic discourse.  As I write this, there are 1182 related news stories on news.google.com related to Rob Ford’s struggles with the crack cocaine and only 85 related to Iran’s nuclear weapons program.

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What if Iran Did Get the Bomb?

Casual observation suggests that the two most common answers to the question above are: 1) there’s a very good chance that they’d start a nuclear war with Israel; and 2) there’s no real reason to think any other state would be impacted in any significant way. I find both unpersuasive for reasons I’ll discuss below.

nukeiran

Before I do, though, let me get something out of the way—in this post, I will argue neither for nor against the use of force to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. To answer questions of what should be done, one must not only draw upon some set of beliefs about the likely consequences of the available options, but one’s value judgments about the outcomes and the costs likely to be incurred along the way to producing them. I’m willing to try to persuade you to change your views about the likely consequences of certain outcomes, but I’m going to keep my value judgments to myself.

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Syria: Intervening Not Now But Later

Syria2 A full-scale US military intervention in Syria is off the table, as is a no-fly zone. The US decision to provide arms to Syrian opposition forces is nonetheless intended to shift the military initiative away from Assad regime. But the opposition is splintered, which has allowed the Hezbollah-backed government forces to level the playing field. Although the outcome remains unclear, it may be time for Western governments to begin serious planning for potential post-conflict stabilization operations.

At this stage it appears the Assad regime has the momentum, aided in particular by Hezbollah but also Iran and Russia.  US and European efforts to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition have been slow to take shape, which in combination with regime gains on the ground have fed the new conventional wisdom that Assad is on course to hold on to power.

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Friday Anti-Nerd Blogging: Matthew Kroenig Meme

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Monday Linkage

Photo by Hamed Saber

Mornin’ ducks… In anticipation of the P5+1 talks in Kazakhstan this week, let’s start the week  in…

Iran

  • Yousaf Butt, a nuclear physicist, urges the West to make Iran a serious offer.  But Patrick Clawson argues that the Islamic Republic is just too dysfunctional to cut a nuclear deal.  Farhang Jahanpour at Juan Cole’s Informed Comment blog argues that talks with Iran might just work this time.  Whose argument should we believe?
  • In other news… For the first time since Iran and the US cooperated in overthrowing the Taliban, they have joined forces again to save … wrestling.  Wait … does this mean the Iron Sheik is coming out of retirement?!?  Hulkster, are you hearin’ this? Oh, wait it’s not the kind of wrestling where the Americans always win in the end… it’s the other kind.
  • There’s another area where Iran clobbers the US: Iran is apparently much better than the US at providing maternity leave.  But to be fair, almost everyone in the world is better than the US on this indicator (Notably, Iran also has obligatory two-week paternity leave).  Now on the issue of abortion rights in Iran it’s a rather different story… (h/t Robin Dougherty)

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On the “Reality of Nations”

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he will be a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia

Are some nations more real than others? Does it matter? Wednesday on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,” Joe Klein was a guest, discussing the current showdown over Iran’s nuclear program. Klein is a smart and reasonable man, and most of what he said made sense. But he made a few almost throw-away comments about ‘real’ versus ‘fake’ nations thatóin my mind at leastówere a bit disturbing.

The segment is available here, and the two comments are 8:35 and 9:40 (counting down on the MSNBC video player). In explaining why we shouldn’t attack Iran over its nuclear weapons, he said it is a ‘real’ country unlike many others in the region, with a strong sense of identity and history. When the conversation turned to Pakistan, he contrasted it with the real-ness of Iran in explaining why its possession of nuclear weapons is more concerning than Iran’s.

Again, I don’t necessarily disagree. The people of Iran are not rabid America-haters, and its leadersówhile ideologically-drivenóare not crazy. Moreover, Iran has a long and proud history, going back to the Persian Empire. Likewise, Pakistan has had a difficult history due to its multiethnic composition and often-poor leadership, as I’ve noted before. What got me was the real-versus-fake distinction. To be fair, he meant that Iran existed as a political entity before the modern era, while Pakistan was formed through post-colonial demarcation and the efforts of political figures like Muhammad Ali Jinnah after World War II. But the extension of this argument is that countries with a pre-modern existence will likely be more stable and friendly to the United States, while those of more recent genesis will not.

Whether or not Klein meant it, he interjected himself into a long-running debate over the origin of nations. The classic view of nations as eternally-existing entities is, while prevalent in popular discussions, not in line with contemporary scholarship. Gellner, Anderson, Kedourie and others demonstrated how nations emerged from various processes of modernity, such as industrialization, the spread of vernacular languages or political manipulation by elites. In Gellner’s words, many nations do not have a navel; they emerged fully-formed from modernity, not pre-modern social groups. Of course, many disagree with this, most prominently Anthony Smith, who argues that pre-modern ‘ethnies’ set the stage for modern nationalism. But both sides agree that whether a contemporary nation arose from pre-modern social groups or the disruptive processes of modernity, once established none are any more ‘real’ than others; nations are based on the intersubjective beliefs of their members, not objective characteristics like land or genetics.

Just to recap: Klein’s implication was that some nations are ‘real’ by virtue of pre-modern existence, and others are not as they emerged more recently. The latter group is more likely to experience instability and violence. In discussion of political reform in the Middle East, or plans to resolve the post-invasion chaos of Iraq, the supposed ‘fake-ness’ of countries in the region factored into assessments of what will happen and what to do about conflicts there. If the countries are ‘fake,’ then can a stable political system ever arise? Should we just help create new countries that are somehow less ‘fake?’ It’s actually an interesting corollary of the ‘ancient hatreds’ argument; some groups have been fighting for thousands of years, and try as we might to resolve their conflicts with shiny democratic institutions, there’s nothing we can do. In this case, the argument is: if some nations were never meant to be, then we can never really expect them to develop into stable democracies.

Now, again, to be fair, Klein made these comments on a morning show. He’s a smart guy, but was giving a blurb on TV, not an academic lecture. And as an academic, I admit I share academia’s often-irrational irritation with pundits who simplify scholarly debates. But Klein’s attitude, which I’m sure is shared by others in the punditocracy and policy community, is potentially dangerous. Multi-ethnic states born of modernity can work out well, like the United States. States with ancient histories can be disruptive internationally, like Iran. And the fact that Pakistan is less than a hundred years old doesn’t mean ‘real’ Pakistanis don’t exist.

I guess it’s a little much to expect pundits to peruse Imagined Communities before appearing on the morning talk shows, but it would be nice.

On the "Reality of Nations"

This is a guest post by Peter S. Henne. Peter is a doctoral candidate at Georgetown University. He formerly worked as a national security consultant. His research focuses on terrorism and religious conflict; he has also written on the role of faith in US foreign policy. During 2012-2013 he will be a fellow at the Miller Center at the University of Virginia

Are some nations more real than others? Does it matter? Wednesday on MSNBC’s ‘Morning Joe,” Joe Klein was a guest, discussing the current showdown over Iran’s nuclear program. Klein is a smart and reasonable man, and most of what he said made sense. But he made a few almost throw-away comments about ‘real’ versus ‘fake’ nations thatóin my mind at leastówere a bit disturbing.

The segment is available here, and the two comments are 8:35 and 9:40 (counting down on the MSNBC video player). In explaining why we shouldn’t attack Iran over its nuclear weapons, he said it is a ‘real’ country unlike many others in the region, with a strong sense of identity and history. When the conversation turned to Pakistan, he contrasted it with the real-ness of Iran in explaining why its possession of nuclear weapons is more concerning than Iran’s.

Again, I don’t necessarily disagree. The people of Iran are not rabid America-haters, and its leadersówhile ideologically-drivenóare not crazy. Moreover, Iran has a long and proud history, going back to the Persian Empire. Likewise, Pakistan has had a difficult history due to its multiethnic composition and often-poor leadership, as I’ve noted before. What got me was the real-versus-fake distinction. To be fair, he meant that Iran existed as a political entity before the modern era, while Pakistan was formed through post-colonial demarcation and the efforts of political figures like Muhammad Ali Jinnah after World War II. But the extension of this argument is that countries with a pre-modern existence will likely be more stable and friendly to the United States, while those of more recent genesis will not.

Whether or not Klein meant it, he interjected himself into a long-running debate over the origin of nations. The classic view of nations as eternally-existing entities is, while prevalent in popular discussions, not in line with contemporary scholarship. Gellner, Anderson, Kedourie and others demonstrated how nations emerged from various processes of modernity, such as industrialization, the spread of vernacular languages or political manipulation by elites. In Gellner’s words, many nations do not have a navel; they emerged fully-formed from modernity, not pre-modern social groups. Of course, many disagree with this, most prominently Anthony Smith, who argues that pre-modern ‘ethnies’ set the stage for modern nationalism. But both sides agree that whether a contemporary nation arose from pre-modern social groups or the disruptive processes of modernity, once established none are any more ‘real’ than others; nations are based on the intersubjective beliefs of their members, not objective characteristics like land or genetics.

Just to recap: Klein’s implication was that some nations are ‘real’ by virtue of pre-modern existence, and others are not as they emerged more recently. The latter group is more likely to experience instability and violence. In discussion of political reform in the Middle East, or plans to resolve the post-invasion chaos of Iraq, the supposed ‘fake-ness’ of countries in the region factored into assessments of what will happen and what to do about conflicts there. If the countries are ‘fake,’ then can a stable political system ever arise? Should we just help create new countries that are somehow less ‘fake?’ It’s actually an interesting corollary of the ‘ancient hatreds’ argument; some groups have been fighting for thousands of years, and try as we might to resolve their conflicts with shiny democratic institutions, there’s nothing we can do. In this case, the argument is: if some nations were never meant to be, then we can never really expect them to develop into stable democracies.

Now, again, to be fair, Klein made these comments on a morning show. He’s a smart guy, but was giving a blurb on TV, not an academic lecture. And as an academic, I admit I share academia’s often-irrational irritation with pundits who simplify scholarly debates. But Klein’s attitude, which I’m sure is shared by others in the punditocracy and policy community, is potentially dangerous. Multi-ethnic states born of modernity can work out well, like the United States. States with ancient histories can be disruptive internationally, like Iran. And the fact that Pakistan is less than a hundred years old doesn’t mean ‘real’ Pakistanis don’t exist.

I guess it’s a little much to expect pundits to peruse Imagined Communities before appearing on the morning talk shows, but it would be nice.

The Triumph of Liberal Internationalism?

Robert Golan-Viella reflects on a tectonic shift in partisan foreign-policy debate, i.e., the fact that the Democrats have the upper hand. He chalks this up to campaign politics: the key to a Republican victory runs through the economy. I agree that there are “strong critiques” of Obama foreign policy and that “leading Republicans aren’t making them.” But I don’t think this is “politically smart,” insofar as leading Republicans are making attacks on Obama foreign policy–just not very good ones.

As Blake Hounshell noted on twitter of the latest broadside from the Romney campaign:

I expect that I will return to this theme on a number of future occasions, but I should note that this is something quite similar to what’s been happening on the domestic politics front.

While there’s plenty of room to eviscerate Obama, the Republicans have painted themselves into an ideological corner from which they’re forced to make a lot of deeply questionable claims. This is what happens when you’ve convinced your base that the label “socialist” is broad enough to include a center-right President whose major domestic initiatives – national Romneycare, a tax-cut and infrastructure oriented stimulus, a cap-and-trade approach to reducing carbon emissions — were mainstream Republican positions only four years ago.

Indeed, the fact is that Obama foreign policy doesn’t look that much different from what Bush was doing in the later part of his second term. Sure, the Obama Administration cancelled an inferior BMD program and replaced it with a better one (props to Sean Kay for that phrasing). But on Iraq and Afghanistan Obama largely followed the path developed toward the end of the Bush administration. Even its position on Iran is evolutionary rather than revolutionary. Obama’s more explicit offer to engage with Iran  highlighted Teheran’s intransigence; to the extent that it “worked,” it did so by generating greater international support for tougher sanctions — it convinced other countries to get behind preexisting US policy. Even the “Israel” issue is often more about style than substance (cf. Erik Voeten on the status of Jerusalem).
In that sense, it isn’t surprising that Russia has become a focal point. The “reset” policy really was a break from Bush foreign policy. On the one hand, though, that “break” has worked to secure Bush administration objectives, such as expanded transit routes to Afghanistan via Russian territory. On the other hand, we can imagine that McCain administration might have been much more aggressive on Georgia and not have pursued New START. I can see a case for recalibration of the US policy toward Tbilisi, but August 2008 pretty much revealed the limitations of full-throttle support for Georgia.
Nuclear-weapons policy, however, provides an opening for real attack on the Obama Administration. But once again, we’re not getting substantive criticism about nuclear doctrine but rather blog-serious level discourse about selling out US interests to Moscow on BMD and the aggregate size of the US nuclear arsenal. Recall that US-Russians relations have deteriorated lately precisely because Washington won’t capitulate to Moscow on matters such as Syria policy or EPAA.

One lesson of this, I think, was that we didn’t need all of that “security Democrat” handwringing during the first five years after 9/11. Remember all those people who were in a tizzy about how liberals and progressives needed to come up with “new thinking” to respond to the neoconservative challenge? That all looks pretty silly now. The Obama Administration’s foreign policy fits pretty squarely within the broad liberal-internationalist tradition, albeit with, on some issues, a significant lean toward its “pragmatic realist” variant. Indeed, with a few exceptions — such as the aforementioned disaster that was US policy toward Georgia — the Bush administration basically abandoned neo-conservativism after the 2006 midterms.

That’s not to say that we won’t get another taste of neoconservative crusading bluster if Romney wins. My guess is that his impulses aren’t in that direction, but foreign-policy novices often go where their advisors take them. But I think what the record of the past two decades suggests is pretty clear: Republican and Democratic foreign-policy centrists never needed to “rethink” anything. Their ideas have acquitted themselves quite well. Neo-Reaganite foreign policy? Not so much. 

Why worry about an Iranian bomb?

With sanctions and talks – and a big stick in the background – the United States and its allies are trying to curtail Tehran’s nuclear programme. Australia is playing its part. Canberra recently blocked a shipment of industrial equipment to Iran. Australia’s Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, believes preventing a nuclear Iran is vital. Is he right?

Kenneth Waltz thinks not. The celebrated American political scientist says we should redefine the problem. The real difficulty in the Gulf is not Iran’s nuclear ambitions, he argues. It is the fact that one state in the area (Israel) has a nuclear monopoly. An Iranian bomb would be a good thing. It would create a healthy balance of power, and restore equilibrium to an anxious region. Far from being the crisis, Waltz sees an Iranian bomb as the solution.

At this stage, his argument is hypothetical. To the best of our knowledge, it is not clear that the Islamic Republic has decided to go beyond uranium enrichment and build a bomb. It is not clear that it will. Efforts to dissuade it through economic sanctions, threats of regime change or actual military action may work. Or they may be perverse, motivating Tehran to go for weaponisation.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei issued a fatwa against the making and use of nuclear weapons in 2005. Yet if Iran changes its mind, it has a doctrine of flexibility that it used during the Iran-Iraq war to justify starting a chemical weapons programme, allowing the needs of the Islamic Republic in extremis to trump Islamic law.

But if Iran keeps enriching to weapons-grade level, what then?


Waltz builds his case on a reading of diplomatic history. This is where the mischief lies. Claiming that the emergence of two nuclear states stabilises regions, he points approvingly to the example of India and Pakistan.

In doing so, he steps lightly over the history of standoffs, confrontations and escalations between those adversaries, whose mutual fears are worsened by ongoing clashes in disputed territories and the ambiguous role of armed proxies.

In the wake of 9/11, a Pakistani army general warned India that his country could launch a rapid nuclear attack, telling Alastair Campbell to remind the Indians: ‘It takes us eight seconds to get the missiles over.’ If this volatile frontier is a signpost of things to come in the Gulf, then the future is dark.

Waltz also builds his case on a rosy view of nuclear deterrence in the Cold War (1947-1989). For him, nukes have a constraining effect because of their own terrifying logic. Mutually Assured Destruction works. After all, the world has had multiple nuclear states in it since 1949, without a nuclear war.

But we have come close. In the Cold War, despite a deterrence system in a supposedly ‘stable’ bipolar contest, there were still a series of high-stakes ‘near misses’ where fear, misperception, false alarms or system errors nearly resulted in nuclear war. In 1962, the Joint Chiefs of Staff urged the Kennedy Administration to attack Cuba, not knowing that Soviet combat forces possessed nuclear-tipped missiles and were authorised to use them. A Soviet submarine commander believed the war had started, and had to be dissuaded by fellow officers not to fire a nuclear torpedo. It was bad enough with two adversaries familiar with each other. A world of more nuclear states makes it harder still. We have avoided Armaggeddon through luck, not just statecraft.

So we should be cautious about Waltz’s ahistorical faith in a stable deterrence system.

More deeply, we should not be narrowly obsessed with the issue of rationality and intentions. Waltz and others assure us that a nuclear Iran would be well behaved, that nukes have a constraining effect. Pessimists often claim the opposite. They fear that a nuclear Iran would be more dangerous than deterrable adversaries such as the Soviet Union, because the theocratic regime is mad and/or bad.

These fears are questionable. That the regime is homicidal does not necessarily make it suicidal. Its commitment to survival was clear during the Green uprisings of 2009. It barks aggressively, but its bite is underwhelming. Recall its hollow threat to block the Straits of Hormuz. It has sound defensive reasons to acquire a nuclear deterrent given its dangerous neighbourhood, encircled by enemy forces in Afghanistan, Iraq and now an Israeli airbase in Azerbaijan.

On the other hand, Israel could be forgiven for staying alert. Tehran has made death threats against it. It officially sponsored a holocaust denial conference. ‘Death to Israel’ is its populist catch cry. Do we expect a people that has been through genocide and wars of survival to dismiss such rhetoric as mere words? As a holocaust survivor once said, ‘if someone says they want to kill you, believe them.’ A nuclear Iran would frighten Tel Aviv, not to mention Riyadh and Cairo, however reasonable those fears would be. That in itself is dangerous.

The issue is not whether Iran or any state is mad or bad. The issue is that they are uncertain, insecure and lack full knowledge. The existential fears of Iran and Israel are strong. They have no strong dialogue in which to signal and communicate. All this is ripe for accident or error. It makes nuclear weapons a problem when they eyeball each other.

Even if Iran turned out to be a sober and responsible nuclear power, the danger would be considerable. A Gulf with two nuclear enemies in it could generate a witches’ brew of fear, suspicion, sabre rattling and a fresh arms race. That could take the region – and the world – to the brink.

Cross-posted at The Offshore Balancer

Kahl et al. on Iran and US Options

Colin Kahl sent me a list of recent work he’s done on the US-Iran standoff. The first is a CNAS report, Risk and Rivalry: Iran, Israel, and the Bomb (PDF). The abstract:

As Iran’s nuclear progress continues and negotiations fail to reach a breakthrough, the threat of an Israeli preventive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities grows. In Risk and Rivalry: Israel, Iran and the Bomb, authors Dr. Colin H. Kahl, Melissa G. Dalton and Matthew Irvine argue that despite the abhorrent threats by some Iranian leaders to “wipe Israel off the map,” the actual behavior of the Islamic Republic over the past three decades indicates that the regime is not suicidal and is sufficiently rational for nuclear deterrence. The report finds that a nuclear-armed Iran would be a much more dangerous adversary but that Iran is unlikely to deliberately use nuclear weapons, or transfer a nuclear device to terrorists to use, against Israel. The authors recommend that while preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons should remain an urgent priority, rushing into preventive war would risk making the threat worse and force should be seen as a last resort.

Jeffrey Goldberg has a good synopsis and there’s an article-length version in Foreign Policy.  The report and article provide good ammunition for those opposing military action but concerned about Iranian proliferation.

Primary Politics and Foreign Policy: Super Tuesday Edition

This is cross-posted from the University of Texas website.

As the March 6 Super Tuesday Republican primary looms, foreign policy issues understandably are likely to play a marginal role in the decisions of most voters. Since the middle of 2008, Gallup pollshave found that more than 60 percent of voters identified economic issues as the most important problem facing the country. In their February 2012 poll, for example, less than a half a percent of Americans identified either terrorism or conflict/war in the Middle East as their top concern.

Does that mean that foreign policy concerns are unimportant in the primary and the general election? Not exactly. With Osama Bin Laden and a number of other top-level terrorists dead, Democrats are hopeful that President Barack Obama has made foreign policy a non-issue. However, both the nature of the GOP primary and events may yet bring both foreign policy issues and a variety of “intermestic” (part international/part domestic) issues like gasoline prices to the fore.

GOP Primary Dynamics and Foreign Policy
All the Republican hopefuls are saying things about foreign policy on the campaign trail to try to appeal to the 8-10 percent of the party faithful that have turned out in the primaries thus far (even less in caucus states like Maine where less than 1 percent of the electorate turned out).  It doesn’t appear that these primary-goers are any more concerned about foreign policy than the rest of the public (the economy dominates the exit and entrance polls as the top concern), but they certainly tend to be conservative on average. In South Carolina, 68 percent of the voters self identified as very (36 percent) or somewhat conservative (32 percent). In Iowa, that combined percentage was fully 84 percent.

With a conservative leaning electorate and foreign policy concerns only weakly salient, the default position for most of the Republican candidates appears to be the old stand-by of being strong on defense. In practice, this means opposing any cuts to defense spending, supporting continued military engagement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and potentially backing a new military conflict with Iran.

Front-runner Mitt Romney has used the charged language of “appeasement” in describing the Obama administration. Governor Romney’s language seems to be emblematic of the wider GOP field’s effort to use harsh rhetoric in describing President Obama. Perhaps the candidates feel compelled to make up for the enthusiasm gapthat has emerged as Republicans survey the candidates they have before them.

Ultimately, I think this hyperbole on foreign policy will ultimately fall flat in the general election. For the first time in recent memory, the GOP enjoys a semi-serious anti-war candidate in Congressman Ron Paul. At a time when even Republican primary voters overwhelmingly are concerned about the state of the U.S. economy, it’s unclear whether pledges by the leading candidates to ratchet up defense spending and sustain expensive military engagements are popular with the party base.

Events:  A Week is A Long Time in Politics

Even if foreign policy seemingly is a secondary concern in the upcoming election, events on the world stage may change that calculation. Among the issues, the situation in Iran in particular threatens to bring foreign policy front and center.

Relations over Iran’s nuclear program have deteriorated such that observers are increasingly talking about whether or not Israel will launch an attack on Iran, potentially drawing in the United States.

Bipartisan legislative efforts have sought to restrict the President’s room for maneuver with respect to Iran. One piece of legislation in the Senate rejects any containment policy of a nuclear Iran, which would make it almost impossible for the U.S. not to go to war with Iran if it did in fact possess nuclear weapons. These maneuvers and others may box the president in, making conflict more likely or triggering some other effects that could upend the country’s fragile recovery.

For example, the sanctions bill that passed the Senate in late 2011 was intended to force the president to cut off any public or private institution from access to the United States if it does business with Iran’s central bank. The president was to decide by the end of February whether to impose these rules, subject to some discretion about the volume of oil in the market and whether states have reduced their oil transactions with Iran.  Just last week, the administration deferred actionpending further investigation.

With Europe to begin an embargo on Iran’s oil by July 1 and Iran saber rattling about cutting off oil supplies to other European countries, oil prices may spike.  As the U.S. economy has shown signs of recovery, the Republican candidates have pivoted to talk about rising gas prices as one of their key issues. Soaring gas prices may pose both a threat to the recovery and the president’s re-election. Newt Gingrich, in an effort to energize his faltering campaign, has pledged to restore $2.50 a gallon gas.

So, even as domestic issues loom large, the nature of the Republican primary and world events over the summer may make foreign policy a more pressing concern come fall. We’ll have to see how it all plays out.

Reading Schelling in Iran

The CFR public-relations office certainly thinks they’ve got a winner in the “attack Iran debate.” Here’s a video of the recent “live” debate between Colin and Matt on the subject.

Iran Attack: National Journal #Fail

UPDATE: Deazen has made significant corrections to the article. It still implies, I think, more than is warranted, but the egregious misrepresentations in his article are gone.

SECOND UPDATE: In case anybody thought that this was anything other than a National Journal fail, it it turns out that Matt himself was instrumental in getting Deazen to correct the story.

Yochi J. Deazen of the National Journal details a high-level fight in the Administration about whether or not to attack Iran. His evidence? The juxtaposition of Matt Kroenig’s and Colin Kahl’s pieces in Foreign Affairs

Now, however, competing essays by Matthew Kroenig and Colin Kahl, who just stepped down as the Pentagon’s top two Mideast policy officials, are offering an unusual look inside the White House deliberations about how far to go to stop Iran.


With American-Iranian tensions rising by the day, the essays in Foreign Affairs—one making the case for striking Iran and one making the case against—illustrate why the U.S. and its allies are having such a difficult time deciding how to respond to Iran’s ongoing progress toward building a nuclear bomb. The White House declined comment on the essays.

Kroenig, one of the protagonists in the debate, left the Pentagon last summer after serving as a special adviser on Iran policy to then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The title of his essay, “Time to Attack Iran,” leaves no doubt about his thinking.

For reasons that I detailed in my earlier post, this is bull$h*t.

Matt was not a “special advisor to Robert Gates.” He describes himself as having been a “special adviser in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.” He was engaged in advisory activities in International Security Affairs-Middle East, a division within OSD(P).


But Deazen’s description is ludicrous. As an IPA in ISA-ME, Matt was beneath (at least) a Director and a Principal Director, although I’m sure he had direct access to his DASD, Colin Kahl. Next in the chain of command was the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary (PDASD), followed by the Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for ISA, then the Undersecretary…. you get the picture.


To be blunt, The piece still implies that Matt was an administration official and that he “stepped down” from his position. In reality, his one-year fellowship ran out.  [T]o the extent that their is a constituency favoring military action against Iran, Matt’s views are his own—they say nothing about the state of play in the Obama Administration.

Colin Kahl responds to Matt Kroenig

Foreign Affairs has gone live with Colin Kahl’s explanation of why we shouldn’t commence bombing in five minutes. A sample:

In arguing for a six-month horizon, Kroenig also misleadingly conflates hypothetical timelines to produce weapons-grade uranium with the time actually required to construct a bomb. According to 2010 Senate testimony by James Cartwright, then vice chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, and recent statements by the former heads of Israel’s national intelligence and defense intelligence agencies, even if Iran could produce enough weapons-grade uranium for a bomb in six months, it would take it at least a year to produce a testable nuclear device and considerably longer to make a deliverable weapon. And David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security (and the source of Kroenig’s six-month estimate), recently told Agence France-Presse that there is a “low probability” that the Iranians would actually develop a bomb over the next year even if they had the capability to do so. Because there is no evidence that Iran has built additional covert enrichment plants since the Natanz and Qom sites were outed in 2002 and 2009, respectively, any near-term move by Tehran to produce weapons-grade uranium would have to rely on its declared facilities. The IAEA would thus detect such activity with sufficient time for the international community to mount a forceful response. As a result, the Iranians are unlikely to commit to building nuclear weapons until they can do so much more quickly or out of sight, which could be years off.

There’s no question in my mind that Colin gets the better of Matt in this debate, but I think a bit of background might be of interest to Duck readers.

Colin (who is literally “one of the smartest guys in the room”) recently stepped down as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for the Middle East in the Office of the Secretary of Defense(Policy). Matt had an International Affairs Fellowship (IAF) during the 2010-2011 academic year; Colin arranged for Matt to spend the fellowship in his office. Matt worked there part time, as I understand it, writing and assisting with analytic reports. I did a similar stint in Russia, Ukraine, and Eurasia (RUE), although I did less analytic work and more backfill. In other words, Matt was basically a high-level intern and Colin was his boss. That, of course, doesn’t invalidate Matt’s arguments–they rise and fall on their own. But it does provide some reason to put more faith in Colin’s expertise (and hands-on knowledge of) Iranian-US security dynamics than in Matt’s.

Scholarship and Advocacy: Bomb Iran Edition (UPDATED)

My colleague, Matt Kroenig, has generated a ton of buzz (and not a little vitriol) for his Foreign Affairs piece in which he advocates imminent US military action against Iran. What’s probably less well known, however, is that Matt and Mike Weintraub, a graduate student at Georgetown, have a working paper in which, as they write:

We argue that nuclear superiority, by increasing the expected costs of conflict, improves a state’s ability to deter potential adversaries. We then show that states that enjoy nuclear superiority over their opponents are less likely to be the targets of militarized challenges. Arguments that contend that a minimum deterrent posture is sufficient to deter militarized challenges do not find support in the data.

As I’ve been discussing with Matt on Facebook, I see a real tension between these findings and claims that a nuclear Iran poses such a grave danger to US national interests that Washington must, as soon as possible, launch a military strike against Iranian facilities. After all, if Matt and Mike are correct then we should expect both that the massive asymmetric nuclear advantage enjoyed by the US will deter Iran, and that Iran’s possession of a few nukes will not greatly alter its behavior.

If I am right, then Matt joins a long line of international-relations academics whose policy advocacy doesn’t entirely cohere with their scholarship. For example, a significant number of offensive realists signed letters opposing the Iraq war, even though their theories suggest that states should, and will, maximize power in the international system.

Given all this, I’m curious what other Duck readers and writers think should be the relationship between academic scholarship and policy advocacy.

Do we have an obligation to be completely consistent across both domains, or do the real differences between our political and academic roles suggest otherwise? How much “policy weight” we should give to any particular academic finding? If we are skeptical of extrapolating too much from one or more pieces of international-relations scholarship, does it matter if that scholarship is our own and we are making the policy recommendations? Does the methodology of the work matter, e.g., if the piece involves a linear regression such that we expect individual cases to be outliers? And what is the comparative “truth value” of our policy advocacy?

UPDATE: Matt weighs in below on the substantive merits. Someone also pointed to a draft of Matt’s forthcoming piece, which I think reinforces the questions I raise, insofar as it is an example of an academic paper with policy recommendations. For example:

Given that the most likely conflict scenarios between these two states would occur in the Middle East, the balance of political stakes in future confrontations would tend to favor Tehran. The brinkmanship approach adopted in this paper concurs that proliferation in Iran would disadvantage the United States by forcing it to compete with Iran in risk taking, rather than in more traditional arenas. On the other hand, the findings of this paper also suggest that the United States could fare well in future nuclear crises. As long as the United States maintains nuclear superiority over Iran, a prospect that seems highly likely for years to come, Washington will frequently be able to achieve its basic goals in nuclear confrontations with Tehran.

As we all agree, Matt’s model points to increased risk. But do such conclusions really support the notion that the United States must strike immediately or face apocalyptic consequences?

Comprehending Gingrich

Newt Gingrich

Born Newton Leroy McPherson, the man now simply known as “Newt Gingrich” has been surging in the latest opinion polls asking Republican voters to identify their preferred presidential candidate. He also recently won the endorsement of the Manchester Union Leader, which 538’s Nate Silver finds to be important in the early New Hampshire primary:

This analysis finds that The Union Leader’s endorsement has been highly statistically significant in helping to explain the voting results. Consistent with the simpler averaging method that we used before, it pegs the endorsement as having roughly an 11-percentage-point impact.

Academic readers of this blog may well know that Gingrich, as one scholar described him, is “a card-carrying member of the overeducated elite….Gingrich holds the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Modern European History from Tulane University in New Orleans.” He had a tenure-track job at West Georgia College in the 1970s, though he was denied tenure and took up politics full-time.

Today, someone put Gingrich’s dissertation on the internet. Feel free to bookmark and read later the former House Speaker’s lengthy take on “Belgian Education Policy in the Congo, 1945-1960.” Since I don’t have time in the near-term to read this tome myself, I’m dependent upon the prior work of Laura Seay, a young scholar now at Morehouse College, who actually reviewed this work in 2009:

I finally sucked it up and headed to the basement microfilm room in the library to read Gingrich’s dissertation. (When I say “read” here, I mean, of course, that I skimmed through until I found something interesting.)

Seay reports quite a bit of detail about Gingrich’s dissertation on her blog post. I won’t spoil too much of her review (read it yourself), but the take home point is relatively important:

The whole thing is kind of a glorified white man’s burden take on colonial policy that was almost certainly out of vogue in the early 1970’s.

I mention this point because I’m reminded of something ridiculous candidate Gingrich said about Barack Obama in September 2010 to National Review Online:

“What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? That is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior.”

Now that we know about Gingrich’s early work as an historian, I ask the following questions:

What if Gingrich is so outside our comprehension, that only if you understand Belgian, pro-colonial behavior, can you begin to piece together [his actions]? What if that is the most accurate, predictive model for his behavior?

For related discussion, see this on Libya, this on Iran, and this on the latest in Afghanistan and Pakistan, etc.

India: Choosing between America and Iran

India appears to be continuing to shift its West Asia policy away from a once budding partnership with Iran, which aimed among other things to stabilize Afghanistan. It is rumored that in late March, the Indian National Security Adviser, Shiv Shanker Menon, delicately delivered a message to the Islamic Republic that India’s PM would not be making a state visit later this year (Telegraph [Kolkata] 3/10/11).

If the news reports are correct, the diplomatic maneuver comes only a few months after India abandoned the practice of paying for its crude oil imports from Iran through the Tehran based Asian Clearing Union, a central bank clearing mechanism, apparently under direct pressure from President Obama. India was so hasty in acceding to US demands that it failed to set an alternate mechanism in place or even to consult private petroleum importers. India asked Iran to find a set of banks that were not under US sanctions in order to reroute financial payments. For its part, Iran did not retaliate and continued to supply crude oil on credit to India until a new payment arrangement was agreed through branches of both countries’ state owned banks in Germany. Iran is the largest single supplier of crude oil to India (importing ~$12 billion / per year), and India still has plans to invest heavily in Iranian oil and gas fields.

India has also abstained from voting on Iran’s human rights situation in the UN Human Rights Council and it voted in 2010 in support of the IAEA censure of Iran’s alleged nuclear weapons program. The latter vote elicited a “nasty” letter from the Iranian government even though India had tried to indicate that it did not support punitive sanctions and favored dialog (PTI, 5/17/2010). The censure vote reinforced a decision in 2005 by India to support taking the issue of Iran’s nuclear enrichment program to the UN Security Council. Although India might ideally prefer to retain its friendship with Iran, India appears to be signalling a shift toward further alignment within the American orbit at the expense of its ties to Iran.

A portion of the tension between India and Iran may also relate to technical details in the proposed IPI (Iran-Pakistan-India Pipeline) project. India wanted Iran should to guarantee delivery of gas across Pakistani territory and Iran has been unresponsive (Doordarshan, 5/15/2010). However, these disputes are likely to be a consequences of India’s position at the IAEA rather a completely separate point of contention.

In addition to the fact that India’s partnership with the US has already begun to provide dividends, India’s foreign policy establishment must also weigh the value of its growing security ties with Israel as well as robust economic relations with the Persian Gulf countries relative to the value of potential future energy imports from Iran. Indian non-oil trade with the GCC countries (~$24 billion) dwarfs its non-oil trade with Iran (~$5 billion). The GCC countries also supply approximately 2/3 of India’s oil imports and are a major source of remittance income (Indian Express 8/9/2007).  Finally, as a permanent member of the IAEA Board of Governors, India has a strong interest to defend its own reputation as a responsible nuclear power in order to legitimate its own questionable entry into the nuclear armed club.

If the shift in Indian foreign policy continues, it will be tantamount to a retreat from its considerable efforts to stabilize Afghanistan (India is the 5th largest donor to Afghanistan). It is already evident that the Delaram-Zaranj road built by Indian paramilitary forces at considerable risk and cost in Western Afghanistan to reduce Afghanistan’s dependence on Pakistan has been taken over by Taliban militants. Lowering India’s profile in Afghanistan marginally harms America’s objective of stabilizing Afghanistan, particularly as India remains one of the most favored donor countries among Afghans.

American policy toward Iran, which is almost exclusively a reflection of the interests of allies in West Asia, may come at the expense of stability in South Asia. Although Iran has no interest in destabilizing its eastern neighbor, American attempts to isolate Iran diplomatically mean that an opportunity to use the stabilizing influence of a Muslim majority state which has historically had tremendous influence among Dari speaking Afghans and a strong anti-Taliban disposition are being squandered.

The US and Iran were able to work together in 2001 to help overthrow the Taliban. And despite some reports of munitions from Iran being shipped to insurgents (none of which have been successfully traced back to the Iranian government), Iran has mostly acted as a stabilizing force in Afghanistan — even allegedly supplying direct cash support to the Karzai regime. In fact, as Ambassador James Dobbins has recounted, it was the Iranians who reminded the Americans at the Bonn conference that the new Afghan constitution really ought to mention the word “democracy” at least once. And for all of the moralizing American rhetoric about women’s rights, it is also worth recalling that in the early years of the Taliban, when the US sought to cozy up to the brutal movement to secure pipeline contracts, only the Iranians championed the rights of Afghan women which were being trampled. This is not to argue that the Iranian regime’s record on democratic governance, human rights, and civil rights is without very serious problems, but it is to show that Iran is not America’s “other.”

A more balanced US foreign policy toward Iran (which would also give India greater political and diplomatic room for maneuver), despite decades of animosity and the potential for further horizontal nuclear proliferation, is most likely in the best interest of the US and most of the regional players in South and Central Asia. Iran could also contribute by climbing down from its current position on nuclear enrichment.

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