Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Does Anne Applebaum Own a Map?

Seriously, Anne Applebaum posits the following:
The defining moment of [Barack Obama's] presidency may well come at 2 a.m. some day when he picks up the phone and is told that the Israeli prime minister is on the line: Israel has just carried out a raid on Iranian nuclear sites. What then?
Well, if his next move isn't to fire a whole lot of people who didn't wake him up sooner, I'm not sure what it would be. Seriously, is Applebaum picturing a Middle East with a vastly different geographic layout than the one she might find if she looked at a map, and also imagining an alternative history where the U.S. has no military presence in the Middle East or Persian Gulf?

Does Applebaum imagine that the Israeli bombers would get permission from Turkey to fly through its airspace for the bombing run, without the U.S. learning of the plan? Does she imagine fighter jets trying to fly to the north of Turkey, over the Black Sea, without the Russians noticing and with the permission of... say, Greece, Bulgaria, Russia, Georgia and Azerbaijan... again securing the consent of those nations and without the U.S. finding out? Does she imagine that they'll fly over Jordan or Saudi Arabia, without the consent of those nations, then through Iraq, without the massive U.S. military force in Iraq looking up in the sky and saying, "Hey, those aren't our jets!" I can almost picture the pillow talk at the Applebaum mansion.
"Radoslaw, honey, is it realistic that Israel could bomb multiple targets in Iran, with the President not being able to do anything about it and not finding out until after the fact?"

"Anne, sweetie, that would be impossible - a neocon fantasy."

"I'm going to run with it anyway. Good thing that I write for the Washington Post editorial page."
Also, while I acknowledge that it's fun to imagine that every crisis in the world happens at 2:00 AM, Eastern Standard Time, you would think that by now Applebaum would be cognizant of the fact that the world has more than one time zone. Operation Opera, Israel's 1981 attack on Iraq's nuclear facility, was launched at 8:55 AM EST, allowing President Reagan ample time to finish his breakfast and coffee before getting "the call".

No, the tough decision for the President would be to determine what U.S. fighter jets, scrambled to intercept Israel's bombers, should do.

It's fair to note that Applebaum isn't entirely ignorant of the 1981 raid, noting that Israel "had no qualms about sending eight jets to take out Saddam Hussein's nuclear reactor in Iraq in 1981". That, for what amounted to an unobstructed raid on a single, highly visible facility. How many fighter jets does she imagine Israel will deploy to strike only the most significant Iranian targets (that we know about) to bring about a significant setback in Iran's nuclear ambitions?

Good grief, if it were as simple as taking out a single, effectively undefended site in pre-war Iraq or Syria, with the worst consequence being a public lecture, it would be done already. Instead, again, take a look at that map. To Iran's immediate east, one country in which we're at war. To Iran's immediate west, another country with which we're at war. Applebaum is not so clueless that she doesn't hint at the consequence to the U.S. of an Israeli attack.
If that ever happened, then the 2 a.m. phone call would be followed by retaliation, some of which would be directed at us, our troops in Iraq, our ships at sea. I don't want this to happen - but I do want us to be prepared if it does.
So... she wants the U.S. fighter jets, scrambled in response to Israel's massive bombing run - probably half or more of Israel's air force overflying a NATO country or U.S.-controlled airspace without permission - to shoot down Israel's bombers? Or is she calling for a resigned acceptance - "If Israel sends 80 or more fighters and bombers across U.S.-controlled airspace, we have to let them through, even though it will severely undermine all of our diplomatic and military actions in the region, so let's plan for the post-attack world in which Iran is arming insurgent groups in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, is turning a blind eye to cross-border raids that severely strain or break the supply lines we use to support our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the possibility of other retaliation against U.S. targets around the world and the likelihood of having to invade Iran." No, what Applebaum appears to want is for the U.S. to first permit the attack and then to follow up by invading Iran.
But I do hope that this administration is ready, militarily and psychologically, not for a war of choice but for an unwanted war of necessity.
It's fair to ask, if Applebaum imagines that the invasion of Iran, which would be ruinous for our current war efforts and for the U.S. economy, is an inevitable consequence of what she admits will be a hit-or-miss Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear sites, what world does she live in where Israel's attack could be regarded as sane?

Meanwhile, a few column inches to the left, Richard Cohen ponders his navel lint and asks, "Is Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad crazy like Adolf Hitler, or is he crazy like, of all people, Richard Nixon?" Typical of people who are either ignorant of Iran or who are dishonest about Iran, Cohen implies that Ahmadinejad somehow has his finger on a nuclear trigger - never mind that Iran does not yet have nuclear weapons or that Ahmadinejad has no control over the military. Since we're talking about Richard Cohen, I'm going to assume ignorance.

Let's skip right past the fact that the U.S. routinely attempts to paint as "crazy" the leaders of foreign nations that it wants to depose, or would otherwise prefer to be deposed. Which is not to say that we don't occasionally encounter world leaders who exhibit signs of mental illness or megalomania. Heck - over the centuries we've elected a few. Let's ignore the fact that there are politicians in this country, right now, who attempt to make political hay out of threats to attack Iran, and that Iranians could reasonably ask, "Was that old man, standing on a stage and signing 'bomb bomb bomb Iran' crazy, or merely pretending to be crazy?" What's his conclusion to his ramble on "Iran and the crazy factor"?
I have no idea whether Ahmadinejad merely acts crazy or is crazy.
Then why the [bleep] are you writing a column on the issue, rather than leaving the subject to somebody who actually knows something about Iran?
I do know, though, that Iran seems intent on getting nuclear weapons and the missiles to deliver them. I also know that nothing the United States and its allies have done has dissuaded Ahmadinejad (or the mullahs or the Revolutionary Guard Corps) from his goal.
If you bypass Cohen's confusion about the power structure in Iran, his keen gift for stating the obvious shines through, once again. Yes, Iran is intent upon getting a nuclear weapon. Their investment in their nuclear program, and the manner in which they've spread the program out among numerous hardened sites, should clue pretty much anybody in to that fact. The most we can accomplish without going to war is to convince Iran not to have an overt nuclear weapons program - but they will continue their "nuclear energy" program and even a lawful, peaceful program will lead to a point where they're able to produce weapons grade uranium pretty much at will.

It's also obvious that two successive U.S. administrations have looked at the costs and benefits and have decided that the cost of a military intervention sufficient to stop Iran's nuclear weapons program vastly outweighs the benefit of such an attack. Cohen and Applebaum ask us to see the situation through Israeli eyes. Fair enough. But the U.S. and Israel are different countries with different goals for the region. It's easy for Cohen to sneer out an insult at those who recognize that fact:
Former national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski even suggested that if Israel tried such a thing, the United States might have to back it down with force. The Brzezinski Doctrine is refreshing in its perverse boldness: We shoot our friends to defend our enemies.
Good grief, Richard, talk to your colleague. Is Cohen so stupid that he believes the U.S. is better served by potentially being drawn into a third war in the Middle East, against a much stronger enemy than we face in either Iraq or Afghanistan, with the likely consequence being that a decade of military and diplomatic efforts in the Middle East are wasted, than by making it clear to Israel that it won't permit an attack that could bring about that consequence? Because the only significant distinction between what Brzezinski suggests and what Applebaum concludes is that Brzezinski recognizes that the U.S. could prevent the Israeli attack, whereas Applebaum prefers to pretend that it could not while recognizing the parade of horribles that could easily follow the attack. Of the three, only Brzezinski addresses the reality of the situation. No, Richard, you moron: It's not about "shoot[ing] our friends to defend our enemies" - it's about forcing a friend to stand down when the consequence of its actions would be devastating to our military and diplomatic goals for the region, and potentially crippling to our economy if Applebaum is correct about the inevitability of expanding the Iraq and Afghanistan wars into Iran.
Update: Brzezinski responds to Cohen:
I hope that Richard Cohen's characterization of my opposition to Israel's use of U.S.-controlled airspace over Iraq as a policy of "we shoot our friends to defend our enemies" is a case of unintentional or exuberant distortion. What I have said repeatedly is that an Israeli attack on Iran through U.S.-controlled airspace would make the United States complicit, and the United States would then become the target of Iranian retaliation.

That is why the United States should make it clear that its airspace is not available for a unilateral Israeli attack, and that a violation of it could lead to an incident reminiscent of the attack on the USS Liberty, about which I added "it is nothing to be wished for."
Exuberance would be an odd explanation. But unintentional? If there's an error, it would be in Cohen's reading of Brzezinski as suggesting that the U.S. might have a military alternative to allowing an Israeli attack to proceed, unimpeded, leading to his taking great offense at the U.S.S. Liberty reference.

The reference to the U.S.S. Liberty is unambiguously about a possible U.S.-Israel military confrontation - given the history of that incident, I don't see that any other interpretation is possible. It's possible that Brzezinski was worrying about what the U.S. might do if Israeli fighters lock radar on U.S. jets sent to intercept their bombers - does the U.S. stand down or do things potentially escalate into shooting. But the possibility of shooting appears to be what inspires his conclusion "it is nothing to be wished for."

This part could also be applied to Applebaum:
One should not lose sight of the larger issue involved in loose advocacy of an Israeli attack on Iran that would implicate the United States in an act of war. Those advocating such an attack not only overlook the fact that such an incident might be designed to draw the United States into war with Iran but, even worse, the fact that U.S. acquiescence would mean nothing less than abdicating to Israel the decision on whether to go to war. Such an abdication is hardly in America's interest, and it is not the way that decisions involving American lives should be made.

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