Friday, October 30, 2009

While We're Talking About Insults Directed at Obama....

Robert Kagan suggests that Obama is being "played" by Iran. The thesis here appears to be that we have three tools to use with Iran: diplomacy, sanctions, and war. And although Kagan is presently directing his insults at Obama, I expect he was equally derisive of Bush's choice of diplomacy. That said, Kagan's argument is silly.

Kagan doesn't believe that diplomacy will work, or in the alternative doesn't believe that a diplomatic solution will prevent Iran from continuing to advance a nuclear weapons program. I suspect that he's correct - that Iran will continue to work to develop nuclear weapons even if slowed by a diplomatic solution. But Kagan is willfully blind to the fact that sanctions could have a more pronounced effect - even if we could convince the rest of the world to go along with them - causing Iran to cast off any pretense that its nuclear program is about peaceful energy generation and to accelerate its nuclear weapons program.

But more to the point, as Kagan concedes, Russia is part of the game. How does Kagan propose that the U.S. could effectively sanction Iran without the cooperation of a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council? Unilaterally? By trying to get other nations to voluntarily team up with us, even as goods continue to flow into Iran through nations that are not cooperating?

Meanwhile, Iran plays an important role in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and as difficult as they can be they can make important contributions to stabilizing or destabilizing our efforts in those nations. If we cast aside diplomacy and unilaterally impose what amount to toothless sanctions, we not only risk making Iran seem tough - unafraid to stand up to the U.S., and unfazed by our sanctions - but we may jeopardize our progress in two major wars.

But really, Kagan is less interested with succeeding with non-military options than he is with forcing military action. He would be profoundly disappointed with a diplomatic success, but he would be ecstatic with a failure of sanctions - a failure that would take our two non-military options off the table. We would then be left with the choice of looking weak - folding our cards and walking away - or bombing Iran. Never mind that few think that bombing Iran will succeed in eliminating its nuclear program - while again allowing it to claim to have stood up to U.S. aggression.

The question is thus much less "Is Obama being played [by Iran]" than it is whether Kagan and friends can successfully play Obama. So far, despite considerable effort, they appear to have failed. I somehow don't think that Obama's so insecure that Kagan's swipe at him will have any effect. And, despite the possibility that Iran will continue to develop nuclear weapons despite the present round of agreements, that's a good thing. (For goodness sake, if this type of attack by the likes of Kagan didn't work on Bush, why would he expect them to work on Obama?)


  1. Why, in your opinion, does he want bombs to fall on Iran? (I don't necessarily disagree with your thesis, I'm just curious about motive.)


  2. Well, he has as much as said so... That anything short of military action is "giving futility its chance".

    "The likely failure of diplomacy would not deter Bush from pursuing it, however. If and when it failed, he would be able to choose the military course, and no fair person could accuse him of not having tried to bring the world along to do what had to be done."

  3. I guess I wasn't clear, my question was, "If everyone knows dropping bombs on Iran won't stop the nuclear weapons program - why does he want us to bomb them anyway? He's the only guy who didn't get the memo or he has some other reason.


  4. I think it's a point of pride among neocons to not thing things through, and to advocate bad foreign policy.


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