A firsthand account courtesy of Good Magazine‘s website.
Former Central Commander John Abizaid, probably the military officer with the most specific knowledge of the region and its cultural and political dynamics, says war with Iran would be a disaster and that we could live with a nuclear Iran if we needed to. As Ezra Klein points out there’s been a large effort to convince people that all “serious” observers know that “all options are on the table” is the only viable strategy, but when you get down to it it turns out that almost nobody with expertise in the region or in the field of non-proliferation actually agrees with the conventional wisdom about this.
The issue, of course, is that there’s actually nothing conventional about the CW on Iran. Instead it’s a product of interest-group pressure, political cowardice, and general public ignorance. If anything, the hair-trigger posture and general atmosphere of tensions is making it harder to find a real resolution of the situation.
Watch as Richard Just expends a staggering number of words on not getting the difference between liberal opposition to criticizing Iran’s record on human rights (fine by me) and liberal opposition to freaking out at the idea of Mahmoud Ahmadenijad being physically present in the United States (not at all fine) or liberal opposition to persistent efforts by the hawkish right in the United States to wildly overstate Ahmadenijad’s role in the Iranian government (also not fine).
The bed-wetters aren’t people who criticize the Iranian government. The bed-wetters are the hysterics who seem to think that the basic acts of diplomacy are a clear and present danger to the United States. Meanwhile, despite Just’s best efforts to portray the recent outburst of Ahmedenijad-related hysteria as driven by human rights concerns, the freak-out movement wasn’t driven by human rights groups, it was driven by the warmongering elements of the press — The New York Sun and The New York Post plus the magazines and radio and television shows. The Human Rights Watch Iran page is dominated by actual human rights issues in Iran, not by random screechings about Ahmadenijad’s sightseeing schedule.
Meanwhile, one of the things you need to do in journalism is come up with novel terms for phenomena and groups of people. For example, there’s a set of people, including Just, who say they don’t think we should start a war with Iran but who only seem to comment on Iran-related issues when they want to criticize opponents of going to war with Iran. They’re against starting a war, but never raise a peep against the warmonger chorus, but do speak up to police the bounds of acceptable opposition to the warmongers. Call them the Something Somethings. But I need a better word.
Chinese Foreign Minister Yang gave a little talk yesterday on his government’s view of the climate change issue. You can find it in the midst of this longer transcript but here was what I think is the key part:
Ladies and gentlemen, as the impact of climate change is global in nature and concerns the interests of all countries, this issue can only be addressed through extensive international cooperation. Developed countries should face up to their historical responsibility and the reality of their high per capita emissions. They should follow the principle of common but differentiated responsibilities, which is embodied in the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Kyoto Protocol and take the lead in emission reduction.
They should help developing countries improve their capacity to tackle climate change and take the path of sustainable development by providing financial assistance, transferring technologies, and assisting them in capacity building and adopting to climate change.
I think that’s about what I’d say if I were China’s foreign minister.
In testimony before the House Armed Forces Committee yesterday, Army Chief of Staff Gen. George Casey said that that the Army is “out of balance” due to the war in Iraq and that it cannot respond adequately to another conflict. Casey said that the “current demand” on the military was not “sustainable“:
The current demand for our forces exceeds the sustainable supply. We are consumed with meeting the demands of the current fight and are unable to provide ready forces as rapidly as necessary for other potential contingencies.
Asked by if the military is prepared to meet an unexpected challenge, Casey responded “I am not comfortable. We could not respond as rapidly as we would like to.” Watch it:
According to “Pentagon insiders” who spoke to the Boston Globe, “Casey’s apparent alarm about the Army heightened when he returned from nearly three years of duty in Iraq.” Casey also said that “Army support systems…are straining under the pressures from six years of war.”
Casey is not alone in his assessment. Several current and former Bush administration officials have publicly warned for several months that current troop levels cannot be sustained past next summer due to strain:
Joint Chiefs Chairman Peter Pace: Pace “is expected to advise President Bush to reduce the U.S. force in Iraq next year by almost half” and “is likely to convey concerns by the Joint Chiefs that keeping well in excess of 100,000 troops in Iraq through 2008 will severely strain the military.” [8/24/07]
Commanding General Odierno: “We know that the surge of forces will come at least through April at the latest, April of ’08, and then we’ll have to start to reduce…we know that they will start to reduce in April of ’08 at the latest.” [8/26/07]
Army Secretary Peter Geren: “[T]he service’s top official, recently said he sees ‘no possibility’ of extending the duty tours of US troops beyond 15 months.” [8/30/07]
Former Secretary of State Colin Powell: “[T]hey probably can’t keep this up at this level past the middle of next year, I would guess. This is a tremendous burden on our troops.” [7/18/07]
Casey, who was formally the top military commander in Iraq, appears to be hoping his blunt assessment will push the Bush administration to change its military policy. In a “highly unusual move,” Casey requested the public hearing, apparently hoping to attract more attention to the issue of the depleted armed forces.
Chris Bowers draws my attention to John Edwards’ most specific statement yet, at yesterday’s debate, of his view on the question of residual forces in Iraq:
I can tell you what i would do as president. When I’m sworn into office, come January of 2009, if there are, in fact, as General Petraeus suggests, 100,000 American troops on the ground in Iraq, I will immediately draw down 40,000 to 50,000 troops; and over the course of the next several months, continue to bring our combat out of Iraq until all of our combat are, in fact, out of Iraq.
I think the problem is — and it’s what you just heard discussed — is we will maintain an embassy in Baghdad. That embassy has to be protected. We will probably have humanitarian workers in Iraq. Those humanitarian workers have to be protected. I think somewhere in the neighborhood of a brigade of troops will be necessary to accomplish that, 3,500 to 5,000 troops.
To me, this is clearly preferable to more ambitious plans involving tends of thousands of soldiers. I wonder, though, if it’s really possible. My guess is that deploying such a small force into such a chaotic country as Iraq would be too dangerous for the troops themselves. I’m not in a position to make a category statement to that effect, but I have a really hard time envisioning this as workable (think of the supply lines). The logic of the situation is that either you stay in Iraq in force, or else you give up on trying to use the US military as a tool for influencing political developments in Iraq and you leave.
The good news, however, as Ilan Goldenberg notes is that all of the major Democrats have been subtly shifting away from their previous commitment to an ill-defined and counter-productive “training” mission in Iraq.
Photo by Senior Airman Steve Czyz, US Air Force
My official position is still that Tony Blair is a very bad man who deployed his considerable political skills on behalf of an addled policy in Iraq, but watching him talk one remembers that a good deal of the bitterness stems from the fact that he’s so damned charming and, thus, was able to convince a lot of left-of-center Americans that the policy wasn’t nearly as addled as it was.
Chris Bowers has a good roundup of the vote that, embarrassingly went 76-22 for the bad guys with Hillary Clinton on the dark side. Biden and Dodd were part of the slightly odd legislative coalition against the bill. Lugar and Hagel decided to, for once, actually try to cast a useful vote and came out against it. Obama didn’t vote because he was on the campaign trail and it wasn’t close, but his office released a statement:
Senator Obama clearly recognizes the serious threat posed by Iran. However, he does not agree with the President that the best way to counter that threat is to keep large numbers of troops in Iraq, and he does not think that now is the time for saber-rattling towards Iran. In fact, he thinks that our large troop presence in Iraq has served to strengthen Iran — not weaken it. He believes that diplomacy and economic pressure, such as the divestment bill that he has proposed, is the right way to pressure the Iranian regime. Accordingly, he would have opposed the Kyl-Lieberman amendment had he been able to vote today.
The good news is that the language was substantially weakened before passage.
Unfortunately, I was only able to see the Democratic debate somewhat sporadically. I did notice, however, one fairly extended serious of answers related to Israel’s recent airstrike in Syria. This was a strange subject to be asking questions about — roughly, would Israel have the right to do something similar in Iran — given that as best I can tell neither Tim Russert nor you nor I nor any of the candidates actually know what happened.
The other things that caught my attention were John Edwards speaking eloquently about Iraq early in the debate, and Clinton pushing back against an inane ticking time-bomb scenario question.