Neocons Worried That Sanctions Might Not Kill Enough Innocent Iranians

Wednesday’s Washington Post contains a rundown of the Obama administration’s current thinking on Iran sanctions. The bottom line: administration officials are increasingly open to sanctions, but want to find ways to target the Revolutionary Guard and other hardline elements within the regime without inflicting needless suffering on the civilian population. For that reason, the administration shows “little apparent interest in legislation racing through Congress that would punish companies that sell refined petroleum to Iran,” whose brunt would be borne by the most vulnerable segments of the populace. (”Look, we need to be honest about this,” neoconservative foreign policy guru Fred Kagan admitted this spring. “Iranians are going to die if we impose additional sanctions.”)

Even these more finely targeted sanctions appear to be more than the Iranian opposition desires. Spencer Ackerman, in his useful discussion of the Green Movement’s position on sanctions, notes that some elements of the opposition have come to view sanctions that specifically target the Revolutionary Guards in a more favorable light, but it appears that most continue to oppose sanctions in any form. (And of course, it appears that virtually no one in the Green Movement supports refined petroleum sanctions, which opposition leaders have repeatedly denounced.)

But targeted sanctions are evidently not gratuitously destructive enough to satisfy the “bomb Iran” crowd. Thus we see Commentary’s Jennifer Rubin complaining that such sanctions reflect the administration’s misguided desire to “avoid being too harsh, too effective, or inflict too much damage”. Instead of genuinely “crippling sanctions,” the weak-kneed administration “[doesn’t] want to topple the regime nor inflict much damage, just target those ‘elements’ they think are the really bad guys.”

Rubin is rather vague about fleshing out what kind of “damage” she is hoping for. This is hardly surprising, since the unpleasant truth underlying all the chest-beating talk about “crippling” sanctions is that their primary effect would be to inflict suffering upon precisely the civilians on whose behalf she claims to speak. The logic endorsed by sanctions proponents dictates that once the civilian population is sufficiently ravaged and impoverished, they will rise up in earnest and overthrow the regime. A far more likely outcome, however, is that crude sanctions like the refined petroleum bills will merely inflict gratuitous suffering on the population without harming the regime itself — as we saw in Iraq, where “crippling” sanctions killed hundreds of thousands of civilians (at the very least) without weakening Saddam Hussein’s hold on power.

Of course, the fact that she is calling for innocent civilians to be starved and immiserated does not prevent Rubin from engaging in pompous and self-congratulatory rhetoric about her great devotion to “the Iranian people, who are risking life and limb against a regime they know all to [sic] well is evil.” It would be hard to think of a better example of the profound dishonesty underlying what Glenn Greenwald has aptly called “the ‘bomb Iran’ contingent’s newfound concern for The Iranian People”.

Ben Stein Says Ron Paul Is Antisemitic for Calling US ‘Occupiers’

On Larry King, Ben Stein said that Ron Paul calling the US “occupiers” was “using the same antisemitic argument we’ve heard over and over.”

Former game show host and economist Ben Stein first came into prominence when he worked for notorious antisemite Richard Nixon.

Matching Funds Offer Met, Keep Up the Support

We give great thanks to our generous benefactor who pledged $5000 to match end-of-the-year donations. In a last rush of donations, we actually reached over $7000, giving us $12,000 to help upgrade equipment.

We hope everyone will consider an additional end-of-the-year donation to

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Thanks again.

Eric Garris, Founder and Webmaster

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”:

Santa’s Covert Operations

Another year has come and gone, and Norad has once again spent what it assures us is “practically no taxpayer dollars” tracking Santa Claus in his travels and indeed, travails.

Last year Santa was conspicuously absent from Iran, with his only stop off briefly reported and later redacted from the Norad site, replaced with a claim that he was visiting the international space station. This year he is overtly visiting Qom, Iran, likely to inspect the nation’s underground nuclear site before participating in the anti-government protests there.

And ever vigilant, he stopped once again at Guantanamo Bay, delivering gifts to detainees who have discovered they will be spending at least one more Christmas there in 2010. He didn’t stop in Thomson, Illinois, however, the new Guantanamo prison. As with President Obama, perhaps he is waiting for the FY 2010 budget to pass.

Some places just aren’t safe, even for an immortal, magical saint. Balochistan and Pakistan’s FATA were carefully avoided, likely a testament to just how much air traffic is already in the area. Yemen was also avoided, lest he be mistaken for another American cruise missile.

And even though Poland and the Czech Republic won’t be getting missile defense systems (much to the relief of their populations, which opposed making themselves targets by hosting it), they got plenty of presents. Serbia and the breakaway Republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, as usual, got the short end of the stick.

Letter to a Christian Young Man Regarding Joining the Military

Back on February 13, 2009, I wrote a “Letter to a Christian Young Man Regarding Joining the Military.” At the end of the letter I included this appeal:

If any readers are veterans, consider themselves to be Christians, agree with the sentiments expressed in this letter, and would be willing to let me append their name, branch, and rank to any future use of this letter, please contact me at The fact that you “served” and I didn’t might be what is needed to help persuade some young man (or woman) to not join the military.

I have now posted this letter on my website with the names of about 40 Christian veterans who contacted me. If you are a Christian veteran and wish to have your name added, please contact me with your name, branch, and rank and I will add your information right away.