NYTimes Floats the Case for Attacking Iran

There are so many substantive reasons why Thursday’s op-ed in the New York Times by Alan Kuperman was just awful that one hardly knows where to begin. Fortunately, Marc Lynch and Helena Cobban, among others, have covered most of the ground (except, for example, the environmental and health impacts of an attack on the Bushehr facility, as noted by a recent study by Anthony Cordesman and Abdullah Toukan).

To me, a key question, one that should be addressed to the Public Editor at the Times, is why the newspaper, which has opposed military action against Iran, is devoting such an unusually large amount of space (1500 words) to this argument by this particular author at this time. I would certainly expect something like this on the editorial pages of the Wall Street Journal (which runs John Bolton’s fulminations against Iran on a regular basis) or in the Washington Post (which prefers Gen. Chuck Wald, and former Sens. Chuck Robb and Dan Coats), albeit not at such length.

Kuperman, who served at one time as Sen. Chuck Schumer’s Legislative Director, has recently focused his work almost exclusively on the issue of humanitarian intervention. Among his many scholarly publications, one can discern no discernible expertise on Iran or on the Gulf region in general. (He did publish a letter to the Washington Post in February, 2007, in which he also argued that there was no reason to expect Iran’s reaction to a strike against its nuclear facilities would be any more hard to handle than Iraq’s reaction to the 1981 Israeli attack on the Osirak reactor or to the 1998 U.S. air strikes against military targets in Operation Desert Fox.) The Times notes that he directs the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Program at the Robert S. Strauss Center for International Security and Law at the University of Texas at Austin (where he was given tenure last year), there doesn’t seem to be much of content to that program, at least judging by the Center’s website and the lack of one for his program. (He also coordinates the Center’s International Security Film Series.) He is currently a fellow at the Wilson Center where his project is to complete a book on “the moral hazard of humanitarian intervention.”

It’s no secret that there has been a major campaign by AIPAC and other groups associated with the so-called “Israel Lobby” to ramp up pressure on Iran, but the focus of the mainstream debate until now has been on the desirability and effectiveness of unilateral and multilateral economic sanctions. All of a sudden, the Times accepts a 1,500-word piece that argues for a U.S. military attack “the sooner ….the better” by someone who has some expertise on nuclear proliferation but none at all on Iran and the Gulf. How does that happen?

UPDATE: The NYT op-ed by Kuperman seems increasingly bizarre given Kuperman’s opposition to a pre-emptive attack on Iraq which he wrote for USA Today Nov 12, 2002. It begs the question of what made him change his views about pre-emptive attacks. It follows

Pre-emption: Should USA punch first? No

By Alan J. Kuperman


Imagine: National security officials tell the president that our adversary possesses rudimentary weapons of mass destruction and is fast developing more sophisticated ones. The enemy already has used military force to occupy neighboring countries. Moreover, he has ruthlessly killed millions of his own people to wipe out domestic opposition.

Hawkish advisers say the only way to stop him from becoming an even greater threat is to attack now — preventively.

I hate to ruin the suspense, but the outcome is already known. The case does not involve Saddam Hussein or George W. Bush. Rather, the adversary was the Soviet Union of the late 1940s. The dictator was Josef Stalin, who occupied Eastern Europe, perpetrated massive purges and ethnic cleansing and was on the verge of adding nuclear weapons. The president contemplating a first strike was Harry Truman.

Fortunately, by rejecting that option, Truman averted World War III. Instead, the USA pursued containment and deterrence policies that protected us until the Soviet’s flawed government imploded.

Perhaps a preventive attack could have averted the Cold War. But the costs would have been so high and the prospects so uncertain that almost no one would advocate such a policy, in retrospect.

President Bush needs to explain what is so different this time around. Last week, after the United Nations ordered a new inspection regime for Iraq, he declared, “If Iraq fails to fully comply, the United States and other nations will disarm Saddam Hussein” by force.

Bush defends his new first-strike policy as a response to the threat that some terrorists aim to attack us with weapons of mass destruction. In this regard, however, Bush’s policy is neither controversial nor novel. When confronting terrorists who cannot be deterred or appeased, and who seek to inflict death and destruction, there is no alternative to pre-emption. Bill Clinton acknowledged this when he pre-emptively tried to assassinate Osama bin Laden and his inner circle in August 1998.

What is new and reckless in the Bush policy is applying this doctrine not only to global terrorists but to a state that has no record of materially supporting them, on the sole ground that the state seeks weapons of mass destruction.

While preventing proliferation is laudable, a first-strike strategy is likely to backfire by:

* Causing the wars it ostensibly seeks to prevent.

* Undermining efforts to prevent state-sponsored terrorists.

* Encouraging other states to launch similar first strikes, with potentially disastrous results.

* Undermining global alliances necessary to ensure U.S. interests, including non-proliferation.

A first-strike posture runs the risk of triggering the very wars it intends to avert. In the 1960s, Harvard’s Thomas Schelling warned that if both sides adopt pre-emption policies, “the reciprocal fear of surprise attack” could cause war even if neither side actually has aggressive intention.

History also teaches that “rogue” leaders can be reined in without risky invasions. In the 1980s, Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi earned a reputation much like that of Saddam today. An international strategy of sanctions, deterrence and interdiction eventually persuaded the Libyan leader to cut loose the terrorists and offer restitution.

Other states also might copy the dangerous American example. The Indian government long has considered attacking Pakistan’s small nuclear force pre-emptively, but has been dissuaded at least in part by U.S. exhortations and fear of international condemnation. Bush’s new policy would undercut both of these incentives.

History’s most fundamental lesson is that military force usually spawns opposition, not compliance. Bush imagines that by smashing Iraq the USA will coerce other aspirants to regional power to abandon their ambitions. Rome had similar visions, as has every momentary hegemony. Nearly all undermined their power by abusing it in that manner.

Even if an attack on Iraq proves a short-term success, it likely would compel other states to band together diplomatically against us. Indeed, it even could encourage some to acquire weapons of mass destruction as their best guarantee against a U.S. attack.

Unfortunately, the only thing Bush’s new pre-emption policy is likely to pre-empt is peace.

Alan Kuperman is assistant professor of international relations at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies in Bologna, Italy.

Kuperman wrote something similar in December 2001, also for USA Today, entitled “Iraq Next Target: Beware of Unintended Costs”:

Now (Robert) Kagan Pivots, Too

As predicted, Bob Kagan follows in Kristol’s wake. Afghanistan is so passé; it’s clearly time to focus on Iran. Check out the last paragraph in his column in Sunday’s Washington Post — specifically, the order in which the problems facing Obama are presented, and then the singling out of Iran:

“It is only natural that President Obama should respond to unexpected or shifting circumstances by reevaluating his approach. Events in Iran, Afghanistan or China do not occur in isolation. You cannot expect a president to escalate a war without it affecting his broader attitude toward the questions of war and peace. You cannot expect Iran’s spurning of his good-faith offer to have no effect on his broader perception of the strategy of engagement. For Obama, as for all of us, these events, these decisions and these lessons affect our broader perceptions and understandings, about the way the world works and about America’s proper role in the world. Obama’s current understanding was on display at Oslo last week. People at home and abroad should take notice.”

The neo-cons clearly see a great opportunity in Obama’s escalation in Afghanistan and the follow-up of the Nobel speech in Oslo. They’re trying hard to re-establish alliances they made with liberal interventionists in and around Bill Clinton and the Balkans in the 1990s by appealing to that “great tradition of hawkish Democrats fighting wars both hot and cold: Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman and John Kennedy, as well as that one-time Democrat, Ronald Reagan.” (Make sure you read Kristol’s and Fred Kagan’s editorial in the December 14 Weekly Standard, “Support the President.”)

Read the rest of the post

Kristol Pivots from Afghanistan to Iran

Now that he and presumably his friends at the Foreign Policy Initiative got a lot of what they wanted from Obama on Afghanistan, Bill Kristol is once again pivoting westward – this time to Iran, rather than Iraq – as he did eight years ago with the infamous September 20 PNAC letter. Look for more of this to come from Kristol and the neo-cons in the coming weeks, as they re-align themselves with AIPAC and like-minded groups after their three-month campaign on behalf of Gen. McChrystal and the COINistas.

As eager as he is for war with Iran – the lead editorial in the new Weekly Standard is “A Nobel War Speech? Did Obama lay the groundwork for an eventual strike against Iran?” – Kristol doesn’t ask what may be the impact on McChrystal’s efforts of war with Iran. There’s every reason to believe, at least at this point, that the Pentagon is probably the national-security institution most adamantly opposed to an attack on Iran – be it by Israel or its own forces – precisely because it would greatly complicate Washington’s position throughout the region. But that’s not the point. Now that Obama is committed in Afghanistan, the neo-con priority moves to Iran, with urgency.

Liz Cheney and Tom Friedman Agree: Give the US Military the Nobel

One of the most notable developments surrounding the debate about the Nobel Committee’s decision to award Obama its peace prize has been the apparently spontaneous agreement by both Tom Friedman and Liz Cheney that the president should make the occasion a celebration of the U.S. military. It speaks volumes about the ideological anchorlessness of Friedman, who, according to a recent National Journal survey of Democratic and Republican insiders, is the media personality with the single greatest influence among party elites.

Here’s Cheney on “Fox News Sunday” after denouncing the Committee’s decision as a “farce.”

“But I do think he [Obama] could send a real signal here. I think what he ought to do frankly is send a mother of a fallen American soldier to accept the prize on behalf of the U.S. military and frankly to send the message to remind the Nobel committee that each one of them sleeps soundly at night because the U.S. military is the greatest peacekeeping force in the world today.”

And here’s Friedman after expressing dismay “that the most important prize in the world has been devalued in this way” in his column published Saturday, entitled “The Peace (Keepers) Prize.” Most of the column consists of “the speech I hope he will give” when he accepts the prize in Oslo Dec 10:

“Let me begin by thanking the Nobel committee for awarding me this prize, the highest award to which any statesman can aspire. As I said on the day it was announced, ‘I do not feel that I deserve to be in the company of so many of the transformative figures who’ve been honored by this prize.’ Therefore, upon reflection, I cannot accept this award on my behalf at all.

“But I will accept it on behalf of the most important peacekeepers in the world for the last century — the men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps.”

There follows a series of inspirational paragraphs about the U.S. military’s heroism and sacrifice from World War II through its rescue operations “from the mountains of Pakistan to the coasts of Indonesia” (with no mention of Vietnam whatsoever) before he concludes in a long coda:

“Members of the Nobel committee, I accept this award on behalf of all these American men and women soldiers, past and present, because I know — and I want you to know — that there is no peace without peacekeepers.

“Until the words of Isaiah are made true and lasting — and nations never again lift up swords against nations and never learn war anymore — we will need peacekeepers. Lord knows, ours are not perfect, and I have already moved to remedy inexcusable excesses we’ve perpetrated in the war on terrorism.

“But have no doubt, those are the exception. If you want to see the true essence of America, visit any U.S. military outpost in Iraq or Afghanistan. You will meet young men and women of every race and religion who work together as one, far from their families, motivated chiefly by their mission to keep the peace and expand the borders of freedom.

“So for all these reasons — and so you understand that I will never hesitate to call on American soldiers where necessary to take the field against the enemies of peace, tolerance and liberty — I accept this peace prize on behalf of the men and women of the U.S. military: the world’s most important peacekeepers.”

Note that there’s nothing in Friedman’s talk about “soft” or “smart power,” of which he is supposed to be a strong exponent. Nor even about the country’s voters who voted Obama into office. It’s all about the military, its goodness, and even its altruism.

To my mind, the agreement between Cheney and Friedman makes for a great illustration of the the similarity in worldview between the hard right — I think Liz is actually more of a neo-con in her strong feelings about Israel than her dad ever was) and liberal interventionists like Friedman. And that worldview, of course, not only implicitly extols American exceptionalism, but also — to put it bluntly — American militarism, a phenomenon to which Andrew Bacevich devoted an entire book after the Iraq invasion.

Here’s some of what Bacevich, a retired army colonel who teaches at Boston University, wrote as excerpted on Tomdispatch.com in 2005:

“[M]ainstream politicians today take as a given that American military supremacy is an unqualified good, evidence of a larger American superiority. They see this armed might as the key to creating an international order that accommodates American values. One result of that consensus over the past quarter century has been to militarize U.S. policy and to encourage tendencies suggesting that American society itself is increasingly enamored with its self-image as the military power nonpareil.

“…Since the end of the Cold War, opinion polls surveying public attitudes toward national institutions have regularly ranked the armed services first. While confidence in the executive branch, the Congress, the media, and even organized religion is diminishing, confidence in the military continues to climb. Otherwise acutely wary of having their pockets picked, Americans count on men and women in uniform to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons. Americans fearful that the rest of society may be teetering on the brink of moral collapse console themselves with the thought that the armed services remain a repository of traditional values and old fashioned virtue.

Confidence in the military has found further expression in a tendency to elevate the soldier to the status of national icon, the apotheosis of all that is great and good about contemporary America. The men and women of the armed services, gushed Newsweek in the aftermath of Operation Desert Storm, “looked like a Norman Rockwell painting come to life. They were young, confident, and hardworking, and they went about their business with poise and élan.” A writer for Rolling Stone reported after a more recent and extended immersion in military life that “the Army was not the awful thing that my [anti-military] father had imagined”; it was instead “the sort of America he always pictured when he explained… his best hopes for the country.”

Poverty and Polarization of Media Foreign-Policy Debate

A very good insight of what could be called the “Beltway Bubble” on foreign-policy thinking can be gained by a study of the September 19 National Journal’s “Insiders Poll” in which 115 Democratic and 116 Republican “insiders” ranked prominent columnists, bloggers, broadcast personalities, and other media types by their influence in “most help(ing) to shape (the insider’s) own opinion or worldview.” Each “insider” could name as many as five opinion-shapers, and, in tallying the rankings, a first-place vote was give 5 points, a second-place vote 4 points, and so on. While the website lists all of the 146 opinion-shapers rated by the poll (and is helpfully interactive), the actual magazine (p. 6 in the 9/19 edition) displays the top-ten vote-getters:

1) Thomas Friedman (335 votes divided between 230 Democratic and 105 Republican insiders);
2) David Brooks (282 votes evenly divided between 141 Dems and 141 Reps);
3) Charles Krauthammer (281 votes divided between 1 Dem and 280 Reps);
4) George Will (246 votes divided between 23 Dems and 223 Reps);
5) Paul Krugman (182 votes divided between 181 Dems and 1 Reps);
6) David Broder (165 votes divided between 106 Dems and 59 Reps);
7) E.J. Dionne (147 votes divided between 143 Dems and 4 Reps);
8) Karl Rove (126 votes divided between 1 Dem and 125 Reps)
9) Peggy Noonan (101 votes divided between 5 Dems and 96 Reps); and
10) William Kristol (91 votes) divided between 5 Dems and 86 Reps).

Of course, most of the 146 media personalities rated in the survey are concerned primarily with domestic issues, and a relative few write or talk frequently, let alone exclusively, about foreign policy. But a few general points about the rankings of those who do write about foreign policy, at least fairly regularly, stood out for me.

Read the rest of this entry at Jim Lobe’s Blog:

From the People (And Sarah Palin!) Who Brought Us the Iraq War

The same neo-conservatives (and some new ones like Sarah Palin(!), plus Amb. Ryan Crocker) who created the Project for the New American Century (PNAC) 12 years ago and subsequently campaigned ceaselessly for the ouster and invasion of Iraq have just called on Pres. Obama to “fully resource” the war in Afghanistan in their new guise as the more modest sounding Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI). It’s remarkable that more liberal interventionists did not sign on to this, as the letter, according to Politico’s Ben Smith, has been circulating for some days, and PNAC had a history of reaching out to their political cousins on the liberal side of the political spectrum, as during the Iraq War when they, like some at Brookings and elsewhere, felt Rumsfeld wasn’t as committed to the war and remaking Iraq as he should have been.

The fact that this list of signatories is so ideologically narrow suggests that the neo-conservative brand is still considered toxic, even to those who agree with them on Afghanistan’s importance. There’s much else to observe and speculate about this document — such as how its focus on Afghanistan may affect FPI’s interest in promoting confrontation with Tehran over the next few months (Iran can make “winning” in Afghanistan much more difficult) — but, for now, you can just read it and note the signatories, especially Palin:
September 7, 2009

Jamie Fly – (202) 360-2802
Executive Director

President Obama Urged to Properly Resource War Effort in Afghanistan

WASHINGTON – A distinguished group of Americans active in the foreign policy debate expressed support today for the U.S. effort in Afghanistan, and called upon President Obama to continue to provide the necessary resources requested by his commanders on the ground to ensure success. In an open letter organized by the Foreign Policy Initiative (FPI), the group offered its appreciation for the president’s decision earlier this year to deploy 21,000 additional U.S. troops to the country, and urged him to continue to properly resource the war effort. Given increasing public concern about the U.S. commitment in Afghanistan, the letter also suggests that the President make it a priority to explain to the American people why it is important to remain committed to winning in Afghanistan, and why such a victory is feasible.

The letter’s signatories write: “The situation in Afghanistan is grave and deteriorating…Since the announcement of your administration’s new strategy, we have been troubled by calls for a drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan and a growing sense of defeatism about the war. With General McChrystal expected to request additional troops later this month, we urge you to continue on the path you have taken thus far and give our commanders on the ground the forces they need to implement a successful counterinsurgency strategy. There is no middle course. Incrementally committing fewer troops than required would be a grave mistake and may well lead to American defeat. We will not support half-measures that repeat the errors of the past.”

The letter’s signers so far are: Steve Biegun, Max Boot, Debra Burlingame, Eliot A. Cohen, Ryan C. Crocker, Thomas Donnelly, Eric Edelman, William S. Edgerly, Jamie M. Fly, David Frum, Abe Greenwald, John Hannah, Pete Hegseth, Margaret Hoover, Thomas Joscelyn, Frederick W. Kagan, Robert Kagan, William Kristol, Tod Lindberg, Herbert London, Clifford May, Robert C. McFarlane, Joshua Muravchik, Sarah Palin, Keith Pavlischek, Beverly Perlson, Danielle Pletka, John Podhoretz, Stephen Rademaker, Karl Rove, Jennifer Rubin, Randy Scheunemann, Gary Schmitt, Dan Senor, Marc Thiessen, Peter Wehner, Kenneth Weinstein, and Christian Whiton.

About FPI

FPI is a non-profit, non-partisan organization that seeks to promote an active U.S. foreign policy committed to robust support for democratic allies, human rights, a strong American military equipped to meet the challenges of the 21st century, and global economic competitiveness. The organization is led by Executive Director Jamie Fly. FPI was founded by Robert Kagan, William Kristol, and Dan Senor. For more information, please visit www.foreignpolicyi.org.

The Honorable Barack Obama
President of the United States
The White House
Washington, DC

Dear Mr. President:

The situation in Afghanistan is grave and deteriorating. This is in part the legacy of an under resourced war effort that has cost us and the Afghans dearly. The Taliban has retaken important parts of the country, while a flawed U.S. strategy has led American forces into secondary efforts far away from critical areas. However, we remain convinced that the fight against the Taliban is winnable, and it is in the vital national security interest of the United States to win it.

You’ve called Afghanistan an “international security challenge of the highest order, ” and stated that “the safety of people around the world is at stake.” Last month you told a convention of veterans, “Those who attacked America on 9/11 are plotting to do so again. If left unchecked, the Taliban insurgency will mean an even larger safe haven from which al Qaeda would plot to kill more Americans. So this is not only a war worth fighting. This is fundamental to the defense of our people.”

We fully agree with those sentiments. We congratulate you on the leadership you demonstrated earlier this year when you decided to deploy approximately 21,000 additional troops and several thousand civilian experts as a part of a serious counterinsurgency campaign. Your appointments of General Stanley McChrystal as top commander and David Rodriguez as second in command in Afghanistan exemplified the seriousness of purpose you spoke about during the campaign. We are heartened to see that the much needed overhaul of our military operations has begun.

Since the announcement of your administration’s new strategy, we have been troubled by calls for a drawdown of American forces in Afghanistan and a growing sense of defeatism about the war. With General McChrystal expected to request additional troops later this month, we urge you to continue on the path you have taken thus far and give our commanders on the ground the forces they need to implement a successful counterinsurgency strategy. There is no middle course. Incrementally committing fewer troops than required would be a grave mistake and may well lead to American defeat. We will not support half-measures that repeat the errors of the past.

This is, as you have said, a war that we cannot afford to lose. Failure to defeat the Taliban would likely lead to a return of al Qaeda to Afghanistan and could result in terrorist attacks on the United States or our allies. An abandonment of Afghanistan would further destabilize the region, and put neighboring Pakistan and its nuclear arsenal at risk. All our efforts to support Islamabad’s fight against the Taliban in Pakistan’s tribal regions will founder if we do not match those achievements on the other side of that country’s porous northwestern border.

As you observed during the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign, “You don’t muddle through the central front on terror and you don’t muddle through going after bin Laden. You don’t muddle through stamping out the Taliban.” We completely agree. Having “muddled through” in Afghanistan for years, this is no longer a politically, strategically, or morally sustainable approach.

Mr. President, you have put in place the military leadership and sent the initial resources required to begin bringing this war to a successful conclusion. The military leadership has devised a strategy that will reverse the errors of previous years, free Afghans from the chains of tyranny, and keep America safe. We call on you to fully resource this effort, do everything possible to minimize the risk of failure, and to devote the necessary time to explain, soberly and comprehensively, to the American people the stakes in Afghanistan, the route to success, and the cost of defeat.

With the continued bravery of our troops, and your continued full support for them and their command team, America and our allies can and will prevail in Afghanistan.


Steve Biegun
Max Boot
Debra Burlingame
Eliot A. Cohen
Ryan C. Crocker
Thomas Donnelly
Eric Edelman
William S. Edgerly
Jamie M. Fly
David Frum
Abe Greenwald
John Hannah
Pete Hegseth
Margaret Hoover
Thomas Joscelyn
Frederick W. Kagan
Robert Kagan
William Kristol
Tod Lindberg
Herbert London
Clifford May
Robert C. McFarlane
Joshua Muravchik
Sarah Palin
Keith Pavlischek
Beverly Perlson
Danielle Pletka
John Podhoretz
Stephen Rademaker
Karl Rove
Jennifer Rubin
Randy Scheunemann
Gary Schmitt
Dan Senor
Marc Thiessen
Peter Wehner
Kenneth Weinstein
Christian Whiton