These suggestions from Dennis Ross seem mostly on-point and it’s nice to see someone with impeccable Serious credentials so totally uninvested in the idea that perpetual occupation is vital to securing American interests. Ezra notes yesterday that Sandy Berger has pretty sound views as well. I think substantial swathes of the Democratic advisor class have evolved their thinking (in a good way) beyond the point where the presidential campaigns are willing to go. That said, the persistence of magical thinking like “basically lock everyone in a room together until they come to an agreement” (from the Ross article) is pretty strange.
In his Congressional testimony in September, Gen. David Petraeus announced that he would soon begin to withdraw 30,000 troops from Iraq, stating that progress due to the escalation permitted a reduction to “pre-surge” levels by next summer:
Based on all this and on the further progress we believe we can achieve over the next few months, I believe that we will be able to reduce our forces to the pre-surge level of brigade combat teams by next summer without jeopardizing the security gains that we have fought so hard to achieve.
In multiple public interviews after his testimony, Petraeus vowed to bring the 30,000 troops home by next summer. “[W]hat I showed on Capitol Hill…will take place,” he said on PBS. “Starting in mid-December and then ending in mid-July, the five Army brigade combat teams and two Marine battalions will redeploy,” he said in an interview with Fox News.
President Bush warmly embraced Petraeus’s plan. But it now appears Petraeus may backtrack from this central tenet of his congressional testimony. After undergoing a revision of the “classified campaign strategy” on Iraq, a senior Petraeus adviser reports that Petraeus is willing to leave the troops in Iraq depending on “the security situation on the ground”:
“Redeployments of U.S. brigades — even of the surge forces — are dependent on the security situation on the ground in Iraq. If General Petraeus early next year sees the security situation deteriorating, he will have the courage to go back to the president and say he needs to keep forces that he had planned to send home,” said Col. John R. Martin, senior adviser to Petraeus.
In the end, President Bush and Gen. Petraeus’s strategy has failed at its primary goal. Nevertheless, Petraeus wants to buy more time for his unsuccessful attempt to quell Iraq’s civil war.
Toward the end of a great column on Iran, Fareed Zakaria’s references the convenient truth about Iranian senior policymakers — they want improved relations with the United States, citing the story of James Dobbins, the only person who’s ever been actually sent to try to cooperate with Iran: “Dobbins says the Iranians made overtures to have better relations with the United States through him and others in 2001 and later, but got no reply. Even after the Axis of Evil speech, he recalls, they offered to cooperate in Afghanistan. Dobbins took the proposal to a principals meeting in Washington only to have it met with dead silence.” Gareth Porter has reported on Iranian overtures from as recently as 2003, and you can read Flynt Leverett on the whole history of this sort of thing.
Unfortunately, even the politicians who do favor more robust diplomacy are so concerned with making themselves sound tough that they wind up obscuring this point. The case for diplomacy, however, isn’t that Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama could use the evil eye on Ayatollah Khameini and make him back down. The case for diplomacy is that US-Iranian conflict is a negative-sum enterprise, that US-Iranian cooperation would be a positive-sum enterprise, and that recent diplomatic history suggests that important elements in Teheran recognize this reality and would welcome a diplomatic opening. Can we be sure that verifiable nuclear disarmament is a price they’d be willing to pay for normalization of relations? We cannot, but it seems likely. And if the US and Iran were settling our differences over the nuclear and regime change issues, then suddenly we’d find that we both share an interest in stabilizing Iraq and Afghanistan and checking al-Qaeda. But as long as conflict over nukes and regime change continues, neither side can afford to let the other get the upper hand in either country, probably dooming both to chaos.
Ilan Goldenberg wonders why the Joint Chiefs, CENTCOM, and the Secretary of Defense all seem to have become the sort of rabid America-haters who would dare disagree with General Petraeus.
This morning, former CIA agent Valerie Plame appeared on NBC’s Today Show and spoke about whether the Bush administration is on a path to war with Iran. She told host Meredith Vieria that she believes the administration is “capable” of again misleading the American public “into a disastrous war based on twisted intelligence.” Watch it:
Plame’s comments come one day after Vice President Cheney issued “his sternest warning to date on Iran,” stating that “the international community is prepared to impose serious consequences.” Norman Podhoretz recently met privately with the President for 45 minutes, advocating war with Iran. In a CSPAN interview earlier this month, Podhoretz stated, “I believe President Bush is going to order airstrikes [on Iran] before he leaves office.”
While the right wing continues to bolster Cheney’s war-mongering, members of the intelligence community are reportedly trying to “slow down what the president, most particularly the vice president, want to do in Iran.”
Before Bush administration officials blew her cover as a covert CIA agent, Plame was involved in preventing Iran from building a nuclear weapon. She was “involved in one highly classified mission to deliver fake nuclear weapons blueprints to Tehran.”
Transcript: Read more
I’ll take the path of consistency and say that for the sake of the United States, and the sake of the Kurds, but also for Turkey’s sake as well, I hope Turkey doesn’t respond to PKK provocations with cross-border military actions that will ultimately fail to solve anything. That said, I do wonder what the apostles of “toughness” and willpower on the right will say about this. Don’t they think that the Turks must cross the border in force and show the Kurds what’s what? Won’t weakness only invite further aggression?
Meanwhile, I recognize that the Kurds are a popular cause in bien pensant Washington while maintaining the viability of the Turkish alliance in the fact of the Armenian Lobby was also a popular cause, but while I think it makes a lot of sense for US diplomats to try to mediate here, I really don’t think our troops should be stuck in the crossfire.
Fred Kaplan had an interesting article last week about ongoing discussions among current and retired military officers as to the best response for military professionals concerned that the country may be moving toward a very unwise war with Iran. The only issue I have with the piece is that it follows its military sources in faulting the conduct of the generals’ before the Iraq War. As I’ve pointed out before, all the relevant policymakers and opinion-leaders were well-aware that most (though by no means all) military officers thought the Bush administration’s Iraq policies were misguided — people just didn’t care, there’d been a widespread and successful campaign in the press to convince civilian elites that the career professionals in the military, the foreign service, and the intelligence community were bad sources of advice on policy in the greater Middle East and that we’d be better off relying on the information and analysis provided by conservative think tanks founded by dissidents from the academic and governmental consensus.
All of which is to say that when you read these kind of passages in a newspaper profile of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff’s views on the world situation, you ought to pay attention and read between the lines a bit:
[Admiral Mike Mullen] rejected the counsel of those who might urge immediate attacks inside Iran to destroy nuclear installations or to stop the flow of explosives that end up as powerful roadside bombs in Iraq or Afghanistan, killing American troops.
With America at war in two Muslim countries, he said, attacking a third Islamic nation in the region “has extraordinary challenges and risks associated with it.” The military option, he said, should be a last resort. [. . .]
“That said, that doesn’t get at the source of it,” he acknowledged. Asked whether the American military should aim at sites inside Iran if intelligence indicated that such interdiction could halt the flow of those bombs, he said “the risks could be very, very high.”
“We’re in a conflict in two countries out there right now,” he added. “We have to be incredibly thoughtful about the potential of in fact getting into a conflict with a third country in that part of the world.”
That’s as far as a person in his job can go toward saying publicly “don’t let the crazy people inside this administration start a war with Iran!” without seriously violating his constitutional role. So don’t say you weren’t warned.
Fred Hiatt & Friends, meanwhile, assure us that George W. Bush, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama all have the same “centrist and sensible” policies on Iran and it’s therefore rude and irresponsible for Obama to suggest that this is an issue voters should consider when voting. Basically, everyone should just calm down and trust the Powers That Be to handle everything properly.
I saw this movie yesterday, and wound up liking it quite a bit more than I’d expected. The acting and dialogue is all great, and they only have one clumsily expository scene despite the heavy-handed political theme. Unfortunately, one of the three plot threads the film follows is done in a confusing way for reasons that seem under-motivated, but you don’t actually start being confused by it until near the end.
Meanwhile, while making a bunch of other worthy political points in obvious ways, it also did a good job with a subtler point, namely that normal people find the idea of torturing another human being distasteful. And everyone understands that. A normal person isn’t going to have the stomach for the torturing job. So, consequently, once you adopt routine torture as a matter of policy you’re soon enough going to find that your torturers — not the Bushes and Cheneys and Yoos but the people who actually need to get their hands dirty — are going to be people inclined toward sadism. Normal people aren’t going to want to be professional torturers, and the ranks of professional torturers are going to be filled with people who like torturing. Like everything about this foul business, of course, that’s a terrible way to get accurate information.