Tuesday, March 17, 2015

What Do Republicans Want in Iran?

So, Republicans continue their attempts to torpedo negotiations with Iran.   So, it is fair to ask, what do the Republicans think our policy should be.  As I have said before, I believe that many right wingers are opposed to all diplomacy on principle, on the general grounds that (in the words of Cheney) "We don't negotiate with evil.  We defeat it."  So, if you rule out any sort of negotiations, the only real alternatives that leaves are war and complete disengagement.

Republicans (and Netanyahu) claim that disengagement will be successful. Underlying this claim is the belief that the Iranian government is on the verge of collapse, and that if we just continue sanctions a little longer or make them a little harsher, the government will either agree to all our demands or fall and be replaced by one more to our liking.  Well, to repeat myself, wishful thinking is a very poor policy.  Refusing to negotiate any sort of a deal to restrict a hostile government's nuclear program and hoping that it would fall before achieving nuclear weapons didn't work in North Korea.  There is no reason to think it would work any better in Iran. Mitt Romney points out that North Korea cheated on a whole series of nuclear deals 1985 to 2002, with the implication that refusal to make a deal would have been a better alternative.  What he neglects to mention is that over those 17 years, North Korea did not, in fact, develop any nuclear weapons, and that a mere four years after GW Bush decided no more deals, it did develop nuclear weapons.  Not exactly much of an ad for disengagement.

Then again, many Republicans seem to acknowledge as much and openly root for war (or, to use Mitt Romney's euphemism, a "kinetic alternative.")  In fact, the drumbeat for war seems to escalate the nearer we get to the deadline for a deal.  Presumably Republicans know they won't be getting their war with Iran very soon.  So what are they up to?  I see several possibilities.

The drumbeat for war is not serious, just a further attempt to sabotage negotiations.  Republicans probably know that they are not going to get a war with Iran in the immediate future. They are simply trying to drum up support for one in order to forestall any kind of deal.  My own guess is that this is about half true.  Republicans are obviously dead set against any sort of negotiated deal with Iran.  But their enthusiasm for war -- any war -- is not confined to this one case.  This simply seems to be their war de juer.

Republicans haven't had a war in a long time and are feeling withdrawal symptoms.  Of course, it is not altogether true that we haven't had any wars lately.  President Obama, after all, has launched several bombing or drone campaigns and a surge in Afghanistan.  But from a true hawk standpoint those don't count.  It has been over ten years since we actually invaded a new country with ground forces and, as Michael Ledeen famously said, “Every ten years or so, the United States needs to pick up some small crappy little country and throw it against the wall, just to show the world we mean business.”  The US hasn't actually invaded anyone in over ten years, and some Republicans are starting to get sweaty and feel their hands shake.  If they don't get a war soon, they could go into serious withdrawal.  What other explanation could there possibly be for all the prospective Republican candidates for President denouncing Obama for passing up at least three opportunities to start a war (against ISIS, Iran, and Russia over Ukraine).  Then again, none of them have been so foolish as to promise that if elected, they would start all three wars, or that they will start a war any time the opportunity presents itself. Which suggests maybe they have something else in mind.

Republicans want a war, but want it to take place under Obama so they won't be blamed if it goes badly.  Yes, I am being cynical here, but I don't ever recall an opposition party pushing so hard to get the President to wage war somewhere.  Republicans must at least vaguely remember that last time we committed a large ground force to an overseas war, it didn't go so well. Hence pushing Obama into a war is the perfect "heads I win, tails you lose."  If the war goes well, this will be perfect grounds to call for even more wars.  If, on the other hand, it goes badly, Obama will take the blame and Republicans will get off scot-free.

Any war will do, so long as it enhances our "credibility."  If you are suffering acute war withdrawal, any war will do, so long as you get your "fix."  But this is not (to put it mildly) a good argument for war (any war will do).  Trying to present a more rational argument, the one usually (and no doubt sincerely) offered is that it doesn't really matter what war we fight, it will show the world that we mean business and everyone else will be intimidated into compliance.  This is part and parcel of the general neocon outlook that assumes that US power is infinite, and that the only constraints on it are lack of will power (a/k/a the Green Lantern Theory).  In the real world, however, US power is finite.  Concentrating your forces on the first war that pops up, far from enhancing your credibility, may convince some other countries that you are too busy fighting some other war to pay much attention to them.

The classic case of this is (once again) in North Korea.  Just as GW Bush was preparing to invade Iraq, the North Koreans began engaging in the most obnoxious and provocative behavior possible, loudly and aggressively withdrawing from the Non-Proliferation Treaty, expelling the inspectors, and unsealing their plutonium reactor.  They did everything short of shouting, "Hey, dummies, we're about to build a nuclear bomb!  What are you going to do about it?"  This seemed like sheer madness to many at the time.  GWB was on the march.  Did the North Koreans want him to march against them?  In fact, their actions were perfectly rational.  The North Koreans calculated that just as the US was gearing up for war against Iraq would be the safest possible time to engage in its provocations.  They reasoned that our forces and attention would be so focused on invading Iraq that their provocations would not be met with a military response.  And they were right.  Their mistake was assuming that we were unable to go to war, we would have no choice but to negotiate.  Instead, the Bush Administration considered it better to allow North Korea to develop nuclear weapons than tormake any sort of deal that might stop them.  And that continues to be the attitude of many Republicans toward Iran today.

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