Friday, October 14, 2011

What to do about Iran?

Haven't we been asking this question for more than thirty years now? As Power Line says to Obama about the latest outrage, "This was an act of war, pal. Ralph Kramden radiated more more menace than you.
One of these days…."

(And while this is indeed an outrage, let's not lose sight of the fact that, whatever diplomatic law and custom has been over the millennia, diplomats have always been targets.  Remember the case of Benjamin Bathurst, a British envoy to Austria who disappeared in Perleberg in 1809.  Initial suspicions were that he had been kidnapped and murdered by French agents.  Turns out Bathurst was likely just a victim of a mugging.)

James Jay Carafano is in a similar mood to Power Line:
It’s just that talking about states that foster and fund the slaughter of innocents is much too inconvenient a truth for the administration.
The president came into office with a plan to make nice with evil regimes (which won him the Nobel Peace Prize after just months in the White House). The Obama Doctrine called for engaging with America’s enemies. Little foibles -- bankrolling terrorists, or trampling the human rights of their own citizens -- would just have to be overlooked.

To many, this seems like Jimmy Carter-redux. Our 39th president, after all, wanted to play nice. America’s enemies sized him up as a patsy. Once they thought that they really understood what kind of man was in the White House, no snub or humiliation was too small. They spent the second half of his term making Carter’s life miserable, from Iranians’ seizure of the US Embassy in Tehran to the Soviets invading Afghanistan.
Yet the only reasonable outcome of the Obama Doctrine is to make Jimmy Carter’s foreign policy look reasonably adept by comparison. Even before yesterday’s indictment, there was plenty of evidence that adversarial capitals around the world don’t take this administration seriously.

US successes against transnational terrorism, unfortunately, won’t serve as much of a deterrent. After all, the president declared in his counterterrorism strategy that he wants to start treating terrorists as if they’re criminals. So if the plot got uncovered, what’s the worst that could happen? A few low-level, cannon-fodder terrorist figures might go down.
Even a foiled plot raises Ahmadinejad’s stature -- to violate American sovereignty and pay little.
And Tehran could well have succeeded where 41 other post-9/11 plots against the United States have failed.
There is absolutely no excuse for Iran’s behavior here. But we can’t pretend that we’ve been making it harder for them to attempt such an attack.
Michael Ledeen:

So, to answer the often-asked question (how could the leaders of the Iranian regime have approved such a provocative action in this country?): they do not fear us, they do not believe that Obama is capable of doing anything that would threaten their grip on power, and they viewed the operation as both a provocation and a humiliation of him and his administration. So far, the pathetic lack of anything approaching a serious response – not even a hint of support for regime change in Tehran — combined with empty ritualistic incantations a la “nothing is off the table” suggest that their assessment is correct.
So what’s the bottom line? The same as it has been for 32 years. Iran is at war with us. We have yet to respond. Our best response is to support democratic revolution in Iran and bring down this murderous regime. The longer we dither, the more ambitious they will become, until one day some president, perhaps even this one, fearful of going down in history as a monumental coward, will take the military option from that tabletop and unleash it, thereby demonstrating the utter failure of decades of American non-policy.
Andrew McCarthy:

Regardless of how atrocious Iran’s behavior gets, the State Department for 30 years — under administration’s of both parties — has continued to tell itself, and us, that the grand bargain with the mullahs is right around the corner. We’re already seeing that dynamic at work again. Attorney General Holder asserted that the murder plot was “directed and approved by elements of the Iranian government and, specifically, senior members of the Quds Force,” and that “high-up officials in those agencies, which is an integral part of the Iranian government, were responsible for this plot.” But, as night follows day, the State Department and other administration officials are out throwing cold water on these claims with their usual tap dance: Iran is very complicated; the IRGC is like a government within a government; there are various rogue elements, so this was probably a rogue operation; just because somebody in the Iranian government may have been complicit does not mean muckety-mucks like Ahmadinejad and Ayatollah Khamenei were involved; diplo-blah, blah, blah. It looks like we will keep chasing the Holy Grail — rationalizing inaction in the face of ever-mounting provocations while we keep searching for “moderates” embedded somewhere in the regime who will somehow maneuver Iran into a new era of good relations with the Great Satan. Continued good luck with that.
McCarthy is right.  I can pick apart Obama's normally crappy policies on defense and foreign policies until the cows not only come home, but sleep, have breakfast and go out again, but he didn't start this.  Jimmy Carter did.  Yes, his policies are like Obama's but don't give me the "What would Reagan do?" garbage.  Reagan did do something about Iran: he sold them missiles.  In an attempt to get US hostages in Lebanon released, true, but he still sold them missiles.  That was the single worst, single dumbest, act of his presidency.

But before you think I'm blaming Reagan too much for US fecklessness, let's put most of it where it belongs: on a State Department that has been utterly incompetent in this matter for three decades.

Barry Rubin lays out some possible options:

The response is fraught with peril. The immediate reaction — we’ll mobilize world opinion! — makes the administration look buffoonish. If this is true, it is an act of war by Iran, at least by elements in the Iranian government (you know, the kind of people who could one day give nuclear weapons to terrorists).

Response A: Do Nothing
Wow, can you see that in the presidential debates in 2012? An enemy chose to attack the very capital city and the Obama administration could only respond with press releases and Biden growling!

Response B: The “Sunni Strategy”
This really scares me. This administration is quite capable of saying: Iran is the enemy so what we must do is work with our good Muslim friends, you know the Muslim Brotherhood? We need to win over Hamas and Hizballah from Iran by proving we are nice to them. Oh, and we need to work closely with that wonderful Turkish government, like letting them organize the political succession in Syria!
And so on. Do not underestimate the stupidity, incompetence, and ignorance of this administration regarding the Middle East.

Response C: A United Front against Revolutionary Islamism
The U.S. government takes the lead in organizing and supporting Europe, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf monarchies, Israel, and Jordan into a cooperative alignment. Back the oppositions in Iran, Turkey, and Lebanon. Punish enemies and reward friends. Whatever shortcomings Saudi Arabia has, its leaders have been correct about the Iranian threat and their frustration with Obama’s failure to lead. The Saudis even tried to save Lebanon from Iranian-Syrian domination but gave up when Washington wouldn’t help them.

The point is not to go to war with Iran but to oppose Iranian interests and allies everywhere, including the use of covert operations. Challenge Iranian agents of influence in Lebanon and Iraq. Containment is not just about nuclear weapons for Tehran, but about the spreading influence of that regime and, more broadly, the gains being made by revolutionary Islamists throughout the region.
That also means the United States must seem like a strong and determined leader. It must have very serious credibility. And it will have to identify revolutionary Islamism as the enemy.
Look, this is the Obama administration we are talking about. I don’t think they can do it. Hopefully, the next president can do so. There better be a next president in sight because there are a lot more crises on the way.
I tend to agree, but let's give Obama a chance to respond.  Power Line has hit Obama on his weak statement, but Hot Air has news of encouraging signs that Obama is taking this very seriously.  He had better:
U.S. intel theorizes that no plot to attack America could have happened without Khamenei’s approval, so this must go straight to the top. The only alternative is that some faction within the Quds Force has gone rogue and is now independently ordering operations that could have enormous consequences for the country. (If you doubt Obama’s willingness to impose those consequences, remember that the Saudis are involved here too.) That’s not totally unthinkable — Pakistan’s ISI has the same problem — but Khamenei’s ability to flush out and discipline rogue operators within his security ranks is much greater than Kayani’s in Pakistan, I suspect. If the “rogue” theory is true and responsibility for this plot goes all the way up the chain within the IRGC, then we’re either on the verge of a military coup in Iran or the plotters are about to be quietly disappeared by Iranian agents for defying the supreme leader’s authority.
Obama might task Rice with raising the issue before the Security Council and demanding new sanctions on some Iranian institution to be named later. Iran’s central bank is a prime target but, per the Journal, that could wreak havoc on international oil markets. The money question right now isn’t what we’ll do, though, it’s what Iran might still be planning to do. [...]
Both David Ignatius and Martin Indyk reason that an act this desperate is evidence of just how weak and stressed Iran’s terror infrastructure is by all the upheaval in the region, but in that case, I’d expect them to tone things down for awhile so that they could focus on suppressing internal dissent, not come after the United States and Saudi Arabia not knowing what sort of destabilization mechanisms we might unleash in response. Yeah, yeah, I know: They’re a wounded animal and wounded animals tend to lash out. That logic badly underestimates their strategic cunning, though. And like I said yesterday, if they’re hell bent on starting a war with the U.S. or Saudi Arabia, there’s no need to go as far afield as they did. There are things they could do to American troops next door in Iraq or Afghanistan to provoke. I still don’t see the logic of any of this.
Unless, as I suggested yesterday, destabilization, in the form of tricking the US into removing Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, was the point.

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