Triple Bank Shot Foreign Policy Theories = Very Bad Policy: Bombing Iran Edition
And now for something completely non Philip Blond related….
A foreign policy rant. (I don’t know what Blond’s foreign policy views are anyway).
Veteran readers of mine (both of you) will recall that David Rothkopf typically drives me up the wall and ends up being a favorite whipping boy of mine. I’m trying very hard to be charitable here (it’s my Lenten discipline), but the man did write the following sentences and hit the publish button (my emphasis):
In the same vein, on Iran, the administration has tested many avenues. Based on a widely (although not universally) held view within the U.S. government that military action against the Iranians to stop their nuclear program was an undesirable option, there has been an effort to craft meaningful sanctions. This effort, while earnest and possibly producing a near term sting for some in Iran, is almost certainly likely to be a failure. Which then leaves us with containment. While some argue this will work with any rational actors in the government, the problem lies with what happens if weapons were to fall in the hands of actors like Hezbollah, Iran’s state-sponsored terrorist group or were it to trigger an arms race in the region that increased the likelihood of arms falling into the hands of a non-state actor? Containment can’t stop this threat. Multilateral talks aimed at a more effective international arms control regime are a worthy idea, but unless there is broad consensus about effective enforcement mechanisms with teeth — and there won’t be — this too will be useless. So where might this bring the Obama team?
Back to the idea of taking some kind of military action to slow the development of the Iranian nuclear program. Not a war but some meaningful strikes — ideally ones that suggest to the Iran people the danger in which the current regime is putting them. (While walking the fine line of not strengthening the regime through such action.)
How is it that one can hold a view where the US is supposed to deal with all problems in the world, have policies for every crisis, every state, every region, every issue, while being beset by enemies and rogue nations all around (including ones that sponsor terrorists) AND those states are also at the same time simply reactive to our policies and will bow in the end to our “muscular” foreign policy?
In other words, how is Iran in two paragraphs both a state-sponsor of terrorism AND a state that won’t retaliate to “meaningful strikes” on their country?
And what in the name of Allah does he mean by strikes that would suggest to the Iranian people the danger their current regime is putting them in? Presumably (I’m going out on a limb here as I can’t claim to know the mind of the Iranian people writ large in such a hypothetical situation), they would be more concerned by actual bombs falling on their country–those might “suggest” the danger they are in from (I don’t know) the country/army dropping said payloads on their faces.
I know, I know they are supposed to be “surgical” strikes on military targets, but at the end of the day strikes inevitably cause civilian casualties. e.g. People work at military facilities who are civilians.
How in the world does Rothkopf imagine the US ever sending “meaningful strikes” on Iran and the Iranian regime not taking that as a declaration of war and responding in kind? How in the world does he imagine that if the US were to drop such strikes, the Iranian regime would not retaliate by any and possibly all of the following options:
1. Shutting the Straits of Hormuz (sending oil price shocks throughout the world and possibly initiating a 2nd Global Recession)
2. Attacking US soldiers in Iraq (either through their own special ops forces and/or through proxies/mercenaries)
3. Attacking US/NATO soldiers in Afghanistan (see above)
4. Hamas and/or Hezbollah attacking Israel
5. Ramping up funding of the Shia-led Houthi Rebellion in Yemen potentially spilling over into Saudi Arabia
The US sends some bombs over and somehow that is not going to rally the country around a despicable regime, blaming the evil Great Satan? I mean one photo of a one civilian killed (especially if it’s a woman or child) and that is all you need if you are the Iranian regime.
What does Rothkopf think, the US unloads some meaningful strikes on Iran and somehow the people are going to blame their government rise up (how exactly?) and overthrow a regime that has shown no qualms with executing its own citizens and crushing dissent through paramilitary thugs and has an overwhelming military advantage?
I’ve said for a long time I think the Iranian regime already has de facto deterrence capacity and will either acquire nuclear weapons or will reach a Japan-like level where they in essence have them but don’t officially build them but could tomorrow kind of thing.
Rothkopf needs to ask and show why exactly Iran would be interested in giving nuclear weapons to Hezbollah anyway? Or why the Iranian regime would ever want to use any future weapons? Because they’re crazy? Because they’re evil? Because they’ve supported bad guys in the past? I think the Soviet Union and Maoist China would qualify on all those points and they never used nor gave away nukes. Why are these guys different exactly? Because they believe they’ll go to heaven when they die so they don’t care about earthly consequences? Why then did they spend so much time worrying about overthrowing clerics in a military coup, essentially destroying the Islamic Republic (now a Military Dictatorship I would say), in other words, spending so much of their energy on gaining and holding power in this earthly realm?
I’ll go so far as to agree that revolutionary dictatorial regimes tend to go (historically) on foreign adventurism as a way to shore up domestic support. The French Revolutionary regime comes to mind. I know the current Iranian regime would love nothing better than “meaningful strikes” on their country because it will prove their anti-American worldview and bolster them domestically. Such strikes would give them the cover they need for more adventurism in the region.
Which is not to deny the current Iranian regime’s actions in the region. Nevertheless, their actions to me–working through proxies to attack US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, align themselves with groups seen opposed to the Israelis and for the Palestinians in some sense, in other areas backing Shia resistance over Sunni domination–all point to their desire to be recognized as a, if not the, regional power. The nukes are just part of that trend. Desire for “great power”, big boy club status.
As long as the US sees the Middle East through a pro Iran or anti Iran lens, then this seems the inevitable trajectory of events. Each side playing closer and closer degrees of chicken, driving towards a possible war, the more hawkish side in each country bolstering each other in a negative zero sum game. In the meantime fighting each other through proxies and covert ops on the margins/borders.
As worrisome as it is in many regards, the Iranian regime in the near term is going to have to be dealt in and containment is going to have to rule the day until (as I think very likely if not inevitable) the regime crumbles from within under the weight of its own corruption and illegitimacy.