Dan Drezner Owes Me $5 Bucks
The Leveretts (Flynt and Hillary Mann) have a NyTimes op-ed out on the Iranian situation in light of the revelation of the new nuclear site.
Dan Drezner it’s fair to say, he no likey the op-ed. His broadside against Team Leverett here.
I’ll start with Drezner’s critique.
You know how so many in the blogosphere bitch and moan about the ability of neoconservatives to get their policy proposals published even after screwing up on Iraq?
I’m kind of curious how these people feel about Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett’s op-ed in the New York Times today about Iran. I mean, this is a scant few months after they served as apologists for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after the controversial June election. I guess the Leveretts know Gwen Pollard well.
The apologia for Ahmadinejad was indeed odious (and more importantly wrong). So no defense of the indefensible on that point. The Leveretts don’t help their own case by referring to the recent events in Iran as “hardly a cataclysmic event.” And accuse, falsely, the Obama administration of trying to use the elections to topple the Iranian regime (to which Drezner correctly gives a WTF?).
The brunt of Drezner’s claim is that they have taken this Ahmadi-apologetic stance to new highs (or lows I suppose) in regards to the upcoming talks with Iran. But then he goes on to say the article makes “no f***ing sense whatsoever.” Which while colorful is not true. In the process Drezner I think misses some really insightful thinking on this subject.
The Leverett article makes a great deal of sense IF one has a different frame of mind about who runs the shows in Iran than Drezner does.
Here’s a ‘graf from the Leverett piece that Dan quotes:
American officials tend to play down Iranian concerns about American intentions, citing public messages from President Obama to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, as proof of the administration’s diplomatic seriousness. But Tehran saw these messages as attempts to circumvent Iran’s president — another iteration, in a pattern dating from Ronald Reagan’s Iran-Contra scandal, of American administrations trying to create channels to Iranian “moderates” rather than dealing with the Islamic Republic as a system.
Wow again. See, I would view these exchanges with Khamenei as attempts to talk to the person with actual control over Iran’s nuclear program, as opposed to the guy who rants on and on about how the Holocaust was just a big myth. Indeed, the Obama administration is “dealing with the Islamic Republic as a system” — and they are trying to talk to the people with genuine foreign policy power. The Leveretts, on the other hand, seem to be convinced that the only way to talk with Iran is through Ahmadinejad.
Now this notion that Khamenei is the man in charge was correct for a long time, but it is unclear that it is any longer the case. Since the (fraudulent) election, Khamenei may no longer be in power. The real power very likely now lies with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) whom Ahmadinejad is the mouthpiece for. At the very least if Supreme Leader (perhaps now ironically written) Khamenei is not a puppet then he has certainly hitched his political wagon completely to Ahmadinejad. He gave up any shred of neutrality/legitimacy he had remaining by so quickly pronouncing Mahmoud the winner of the Presidential election.
So the Leveretts’ contacts with Ahmadinejad–apologetic mouthpieces or not–are very likely giving us access to the actual thinking of the regime. Again can’t know that for sure, but it’s very probable (and certainly makes some f’in sense at the very least). If Ahmadinejad is the mouthpiece for the IRGC and the Leveretts are the mouthpiece for Ahmadinejad then you get the drift….(Socrates is mortal and it may actually help to listen to this point of view when deciding on a course of action).
What the Leveretts are ultimately arguing is that sanctions against Iran will not work. If you read Dan’s piece he’s more open to the idea that they will. I’m probably more in the Leverett camp on this one. The Leveretts are also correct that this upcoming meeting with Iran will not involve an actual diplomatic offer but rather an ultimatum. The ‘offer’ such as it is, is entirely based on the principle of “we’re in charge, if you follow our rules and play nice, then you’ll get some goodies.” We’ll see, but I have a hard time imagining that will work, new nuclear site revealed or no.
Meaning I think at this point continuing down the sanctions route (which I believe has little to no chance to succeed) will inevitably lead to one of two outcomes: war or a nuclear armed Iran. For a long time, I’ve thought the second option the likely one, but my fear is that by ratcheting up on the sanction and Axis of Evil path oh this last decade, and all the declarations about never being able to live with a nuclear-armed Iran is tipping the balance towards the first option.
The Leverett alternative–which Flynt wrote about years ago–was a comprehensive deal a la Nixon goes to China.
To my mind, this is the central ‘graf in the Leverett op-ed, one which suggests that the US has, whatever its outreach to Khamenei (and the Iranian people generally) not really dealt with the Iranian system’s interests:
Absent some agreement with Washington on its long-term goals, Iran’s national security strategy will continue emphasizing “asymmetric” defense against perceived American encirclement. Over several years, officials in both the reformist government of Mohammad Khatami and the conservative Ahmadinejad administration have told us that this defensive strategy includes cultivating ties to political forces and militias in other states in the region, developing Iran’s missile capacity (as underscored by this weekend’s tests of medium-range missiles), and pushing the limits of Tehran’s nonproliferation obligations to the point where it would be seen as having the ability and ingredients to make fission weapons. It seems hardly a coincidence that Iran is accused of having started the Qum lab in 2005 — precisely when Tehran had concluded that suspending enrichment had failed to diminish American hostility.
You can read this as an apologia/defense of terrorism and Iranian totalitarianism or you could read it (as I do) as fundamentally correct in its analytic assessment regardless of one’s like/dislike of the regime. And from that point of view, from the point of view of those in power wanting to stay in power then their approach has tactically (and I would argue strategically) been quite shrewd. That’s admittedly a more cold-blooded political calculation but there it is. It has come at the cost of economic hardship and sanctions–which absent its crushing dissent and oppression of its own people–nearly toppled the regime. But my guess at this point is that they are more heavily embedded/locked into power than they were before.
Both reformist and hardliner camps have the same basic attitude towards current US policy (which is perceived by both parties as encirclement and seeking regime change). That someone like Mousavi wanted Ahmadinejad to shut his mouth concerning his appalling views on the Holocaust doesn’t change this fundamental calculus however.
Attacks on Iran will certainly continue the shelf life of this otherwise dying regime. It will rally the populace behind the administration. Whether would or not is not clear. But sanctions would have to come from everyone–including China and Russia. And I have a hard time imagining China, who gets its oil from Iran, wanting to risk its entire economic, political, and social future, on some US promises of a better world future without the current Iranian leadership.
In that light listen to Bob Baer on Hardball (basically ignore Michael Rubin) about the possibility of an Israeli attack on Iran. [Ed: For some reason I can’t get the video to embed properly sorry].
Baer says the Iranian asymmetrical options are ones that the Israelis and the US (and the world) are not really prepared for and would be seriously destructive. They can close off the Straits of Hormuz, have proxies attack Israel (Hezbollah and Hamas), attack US soldiers next door in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s an ugly scenario.
The Leverett counter-proposal may ultimately be wrong. It may be, as even Bob Baer thinks, that a nuclear armed Iran is an existential threat to Israel. But it does make sense. Drezner, where’s my money man?