Friday, July 24, 2015

Required reading but missing the point

Paul Bracken in The American Interest. Here's the intro:
Commentary on the agreement with Iran has focused too much on the “art of the deal” and how it was struck. The real focus should be on the long-term consequences for nuclear proliferation in the Middle East.
This is a great piece as far as it goes -- with one critical exception. I'll give you Bracken's take in this extended excerpt (emphasis mine):
The Iran agreement is one development in this long process. It’s like negotiating an end to a long war where each side gets to keep its forces intact. Here, the “war” is the American-led effort to prevent Iran’s atomic bomb. A “surrender” was never accepted by Iran, in the agreement itself or in the behavior that surrounds it. It wasn’t a strategic surrender of its bomb program in the sense that Iran has foresworn nuclear weapons. At best it was a tactical surrender of those parts of it, like old centrifuges, that leaders thought they could shed without too much political loss at home. In sum, Iran’s residual nuclear capability is largely untouched.
Ending the Vietnam War was hardly settled once the United States signed an agreement in Paris with the government of North Vietnam. The agreement didn’t terminate the war—far from it. Rather, the Paris peace accord was an important development that shaped what followed. What was critical then is what’s critical now. North Vietnam wasn’t required to stand down any of its forces. They remained in place. This gave Hanoi freedom of action to exploit the post-Paris peace agreement situation. Hanoi never agreed to abandon its long-term goal of conquering South Vietnam, and that’s exactly what they did over the next two years.
There’s a more general lesson here. Instead of focusing on what is agreed to in a document, we need to focus on the surviving capability that was central to the conflict in the first place. If that capability remains, the details over verification and implementation of any agreement are radically changed, because the side with it has the power to use its residual capability to wreck the deal, or dance around the edges to change it, alter its scope, or any of a number of other strategies.
Iran has only accepted an armistice—a tactical, temporary suspension of some aspects of its nuclear program. It retains a capability to conduct other parts of its atomic program openly. Iran’s nuclear technology system has not been reduced, let alone dismantled. The knowhow, organizational structures, staffs, and systems (for example, advanced centrifuges and missiles) remain essentially intact.
Let’s put Iran’s residual nuclear program in the Middle East context. Iran’s Sunni rivals, such as Saudi Arabia and the UAE, are organizing against it. These rivals have a lot of money, and they’ve recently crossed a major escalation threshold, using military force in Bahrain and Yemen. Even Israel has joined this coalition in a de facto way.
Nearby, a civil war in Syria has reached brutal levels of violence. Yet it goes on, putting paid to arguments that large-scale war is some kind of obsolete or improbable development. Some 300,000 people killed with all manner of outside states and subnational groups intervening for their own narrow purpose. That the result is apparent stalemate, or that many of the interventions look ill conceived, doesn’t change the fact that Iran can easily see something like this happening to them. Especially for Iran, this is an important fear; Iran suffered large-scale chemical warfare attack in its war with Iraq in the 1980s. I have yet to meet any Iranian who doesn’t believe that this was at least tacitly approved of by the United States and Israel.
Finally, U.S. military capability is not appreciably any less than it was a few years ago. The United States is trying to get out of the area in terms of its deployed forces in theater. But the whole shift to maritime and cyber power in announced American plans points to exerting military force from a distance and from off shore.
Absent some deterrent, the United States can destroy a large part of Iran’s military, opening it up to the kind of catastrophe Syria is now suffering. This really would shut down Iran’s nuclear program if it happened. The point here isn’t to make the case that the Middle East is a dangerous place. Everyone knows that. It’s to make the point that Iran’s residual nuclear program exists in this strategic environment.
Two conclusions follow from this. First, no amount of negotiating skill on the West’s part was going to alter this strategic environment. No personal relations between negotiators could reverse the strategic realities that Iran faces. That members of the two teams went to MIT and swapped gifts for their grandchildren is all very nice. But it doesn’t come close to altering Iran’s dangerous situation.
Second, even if the mullahs were to pass from the scene, Iran’s strategic situation doesn’t change. I would say that even the disestablishment of the Iranian Guards wouldn’t make a difference. The Iranian state needs something to keep the forces of chaos at bay. It has a nuclear capability because it did everything in its power to build it—in the face of an economic siege, cyber attack, targeted killing of its scientists, and the P5+1 negotiations.
Iran isn’t going to give this capability up easily; moreover, no side promise from the United States or others that they will not strong arm Iran if they do give up their nuclear effort is likely to carry much weight in Tehran.
This is the big problem that advocates of negotiations with Iran, including those who somehow draw a moral equivalency between the US and Iran, fail to understand, perhaps willfully -- and Bracken, while not advocating the deal, makes the same mistake: the issue is not Iran having nuclear weapons so much as the Iranian mullahs having nuclear weapons.

This is a huge distinction. You cannot treat the mullahcratic government the same way you would treat, say, a secular parliamentary government. This is not Austria getting nukes. The issue in the 1930s was not so much Germany getting the Wehrmacht but Hitler controlling that Wehrmacht.

The mullahs want regional hegemony based on Shari'a law arising out of Shia Islam -- and an interpretation of Islam that has an apocalyptic element to it -- that is not in the interest of the US. The mullahs have acted in furtherance of that goal, including support for Hezbo'allah, Hamas, Shi'ite rebels in Iraq who fought US troops, and others. That hegemony includes removal of Israel. This is not a rational strategic goal, but a religious goal. Remember that historically the Persians and Jews have had good relations -- it was Cyrus the Great who ended the Babylonian Captivity, after all. Iran was not in the thrall of Arab Nationalism because Iran is not Arab; it is Persian.

Note that Iran had good relations with Israel until 1979; when the mullahs took power Iran immediately became a sworn enemy of Israel intent on its destruction. Iran's strategic outlook ever since has driven largely by the interests of the mullahs, not the country as a whole.

That means Iran is not the problem; the mullahs are. To solve the problem, one must remove the mullahs from the equation.The US could have argued that Iran can have nukes, but the mullahs cannot. But in yet another testament to the stupidity of the Obama administration and his laughably-named "national security" team, Obama refused to aid the 2009 Green Revolution in its goal of the removal of the mullahs.

This agreement does nothing to advance peace in the Middle East because there can be no peace as long as the mullahs are in power. They will not allow it until they get what they want. In fact, it makes a nuclear attack by the mullahs more likely -- one to which the US would have difficulty responding.

How? All the mullahs have to do is slip a nuke to one of their terrorist proxies like Hezbo'allah. Hezbo'allah already has agents in the US. Detonate the nuke. The mullahs celebrate it but do not accept responsibility. And idiots like John Kerry and Barbara Boxer will argue that without proof beyond a reasonable doubt, the US could not retaliate in kind.

That was the threat in Iraq with Saddam Hussein, a threat the leftists never acknowledged. And that is the threat from the Iranian mullahs, a threat they still do not acknowledge.

Because they trust pieces of paper.

This is what you get when you have idiots running your foreign policy establishment, like we do now.

And ultimately we will all pay the price for the stupidity of people who should have known better but willfully refused to learn.

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