Saturday, May 25, 2013
America's grand retreat
Last month, I highlighted a new Washington report headlined by
This week, the Center for a New American Security, a think tank closely affiliated with the Obama administration, made it clear which way the Washington winds are blowing. Its new study, "The Challenges of Containing a Nuclear-Armed Iran," was primarily authored by former Obama administration Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for the Middle East Professor Colin H. Kahl. He outlines "a comprehensive framework to manage and mitigate the consequences of a nuclear-armed Iran." In other words, stopping the Iranian nuclear effort is already a passé discussion.
Last month, an Atlantic Council task force (which Chuck Hagel co-chaired until he was appointed defense secretary), similarly released a report that called for Washington to "lessen the chances for war through reinvigorated diplomacy that offers Iran a realistic and face-saving way out of the nuclear standoff." That's diplomatic-speak for a containment strategy.
The Carnegie Endowment for International has thrown its hat into the containment camp too, warning that "economic pressure or military force cannot 'end' Iran's nuclear program. … The only sustainable solution for assuring that Iran's nuclear program remains purely peaceful is a mutually agreeable diplomatic solution."
To top it all off, the Defense Department-allied Rand Corporation concluded this week that a nuclear-armed Iran would not pose a fundamental threat to the United States and its regional allies. In "Iran After the Bomb: How Would a Nuclear-Armed Tehran Behave? Rand's experts assert that the acquisition by Tehran of nuclear weapons would above all be intended to deter an attack by hostile powers, presumably including Israel and the United States, rather than for aggressive purposes. "An Iran with nukes will still be a declining power," they say. "Iran does not have territorial ambitions and does not seek to invade, conquer, or occupy other nations."
Similarly, Paul Pillar, a veteran CIA analyst who served as national intelligence officer for the Middle East and South Asia from 2000 to 2005, has published a lengthy essay in The Washington Monthly entitled "We Can Live With a Nuclear Iran: Fears of a Bomb in Tehran's Hands Are Overhyped, and a War to Prevent It Would Be a Disaster."
Kenneth Pollack, a former CIA analyst at the Brookings Institution (which is very close to the Obama administration), is about to publish a new book, "Unthinkable: Iran, the Bomb, and American Strategy," in which he too argues for a containment strategy of Iran's incipient nuclear weapon.
And finally, the leading realist theorist of the past century, Professor Kenneth N. Waltz of Columbia University's Saltzman Institute of War and Peace Studies (who died last week), actually argued in his last published article that Iran should get the bomb! It would create "a more durable balance of military power in the Middle East," he wrote in the establishment journal Foreign Affairs.
It's important to understand that Pickering, Pillar, Pollack, Kahl and Waltz faithfully represent the views of large segments of the academic, diplomatic and defense establishments in Washington and New York, who don't see Iran as an oversized threat to America. They view Iran as a rational actor, and are seeking a "Nixonian moment," in which Washington would seek strategic accommodation with Tehran, as it did with Beijing.
One of the only front-ranking Washington policy wonks who has argued that Tehran's nuclear program should be bombed is Professor Steven David of Johns Hopkins University (who is on the academic advisory board of the Israeli Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies). In a powerful essay in this month's issue of The American Interest, he argues that "any noncasual examination of the mullahs' writings and sermonizing about Israel and Jews reveals unalloyed anti-Semitism of a very familiar, proto-genocidal type. … Even with all its horrendous implications, a military solution is preferable to a nuclear-armed Iran whose leaders are likely one day to find themselves with nothing to lose, and everything to destroy." Another is former Pentagon adviser Matthew Kroenig, who has written that a U.S. strike on Iran "is the least bad option."
For the moment, and at least on record, the administration is sticking by its "dual track approach of rigorous sanctions and serious negotiations." Hagel (who was once a member of the Iran Project and Atlantic Council task forces) reassured The Washington Institute two weeks ago that "President Obama has made clear that our policy is to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, and he has taken no option off the table to ensure that outcome."
But the softer signals and acquiescent music coming from Washington are increasingly hard to miss. The grand climb-down from confronting Iran is on its way.