In this clip from a recently recorded episode of Bloggingheads, the New York Sun’s Eli Lake and I discuss who Iran is really backing in Iraq, what happened in Basra, and how Muqtada al-Sadr spoiled Iran’s plans to rule post-war Iraq.
[Meetings would] reinforce his [Ahamdinejad's] confidence that Iran’s dedication to acquiring nuclear weapons, supporting terrorists and destroying the State of Israel had succeeded in winning concessions from the most powerful nation on earth. And he is unlikely to abandon the dangerous ambitions that will have given him a prominent role on the world stage.[...]
An unconditional summit meeting with the next American president would confer both international legitimacy on the Iranian president and could strengthen him domestically when he is unpopular among the Iranian people.
Here’s another area where McCain reveals his ignorance of the Iranian system, and of the effects of his own self-gratifying rhetoric. While Ahmadinejad enjoys influence by virtue of his being a public figure, it is not he but Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameini, and Iran’s National Security Council, who set Iranian foreign policy.
As for “increasing the prestige” of Ahmadinejad, as Iran analysts Vali Nasr and Ray Takeyh pointed out last December, Ahmadinejad’s prestige has benefited from the bellicose rhetoric coming from American conservatives, allowing him “to suppress dissent and divert attention from domestic woes to international crises he is only too happy to fuel.”
Clearly, Ahmadinejad would like nothing better than for John McCain to continue Bush’s policy of confrontation and escalation. And McCain seems all too willing to oblige, as he hysterically calls “radical Islamic terrorism” the “transcendental challenge of the century,” carelessly casting together groups and movements with conflicting goals and ideologies and treating them as a single monolithic enemy. McCain still doesn’t seem to understand that Iran and Al Qaeda are two very different groups, representing two different threats. And McCain and Bush seem to be the last people in the world to figure out that their Iraq policies have empowered Iran’s hard-liners and weakened moderates and other U.S. allies throughout the Middle East. Yet McCain continues to persist as if these policies have worked.
The thing about something like this story of a soldier using the Koran for target practice is that it really sets into relief how audacious the goals of counterinsurgency theorists are for what U.S. military conduct could really be like. In the annals of wartime abuses, Koran-shooting is extremely stupid but also really not that bad compared to, say, massacre or pillage or torture. And it’s so obviously dumb that, clearly, the chain of command was not sending tacit “everyone shoot Korans” messages down the line. And yet it’s still really dumb and counterproductive.
Now consider that our deployment in Iraq has involved upwards of 200,000 soldiers at one time or another. I’d just be phenomenally hard to get a group of people that large together that didn’t include any people who sometimes make the occasional idiotic blunder. Indeed, it’d be hard to get a group of people that large (about the population of Reno, Nevada) together that didn’t include a few serious bad apples — murders and rapists and the like. And historically speaking, while good discipline has always been an asset in war, nobody’s won wars by having perfect discipline. But the prescriptions for successful counterinsurgency oftentimes seem to me to suggest that we really do need perfect or near-perfect discipline to succeed, and I just don’t think that’s realistic.
I’m not in 100 percent agreement with Jeffrey Goldberg’s op-ed yesterday on “Israel’s ‘America Problem’”, but I think it’s pretty darn good. Especially as he says that “what Israel needs is an American president who not only helps defend it against the existential threat posed by Iran and Islamic fundamentalism, but helps it to come to grips with the existential threat from within” — the threat posed by the West Bank settlements.
I think that gets it exactly right. A good friend doesn’t just back his buddies up in whatever they happen to be doing at the moment, a good friend helps a friend pull back from mistakes and make difficult choices and that’s what’s needed. He concludes that “this won’t happen until Aipac and the leadership of the American Jewish community allow it to happen.” Perhaps so, but if not I’d recommend J Street as an antidote.
Mike Tomasky has a good column about how Barack Obama’s changing the game in the U.S. foreign policy debate, holding his ground and fighting and it seems to be working. One thing I’ll note about this is that while it may not be true that 99 percent of life is just showing up, Obama’s been showing us that showing up is a lot of it. There’s nothing really shockingly novel about what he’s been saying, it’s just that as someone who’s genuinely untainted by the failures of the past seven years he stands up and labels attacks on him continuities with the failures of the past seven years.
It’s not that clever, but it doesn’t need to be any more clever than that. George Bush has already handed the other side a huge dump of ammunition. And now there’s a candidate who’s ready to pick it up off the floor and shoot back. Shoot back, I might add, on point without shifting targets to the economy or veterans’ benefits or whatever else.
Last week, during a speech to the Israeli parliament, President Bush said, “As Nazi tanks crossed into Poland in 1939, an American senator declared: ‘Lord, if only I could have talked to Hitler, all of this might have been avoided.’ We have an obligation to call this what it is – the false comfort of appeasement, which has been repeatedly discredited by history.”
Yesterday on NBC, Middle East correspondent Richard Engel asked Bush if his remarks were directed at Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL). Bush, however, ducked the question and refused to give a direct answer:
ENGEL: You said that negotiating with Iran is pointless, and then you went further. You said that it was appeasement. Were you referring to Senator Barack Obama?
BUSH: You know, my policies haven’t changed, but evidently the political calendar has. And when, you know, a leader of Iran says that they want to destroy Israel, you got to take those words seriously.
In fact, CNN reported last week that White House aides were “acknowledging that this was a reference to the fact that Sen. Obama and other Democrats have publicly said that it would be ok for the U.S. President to meet with leaders like the Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad.” Moreover, Bush’s press secretary Dana Perino wouldn’t deny his comments “include” Obama.
Peter Scoblic did an op-ed over the weekend making the point that yelling “appeasement!” at the slightly sign of diplomacy is a longstanding trend in post-war rightwing foreign policy thinking and it just happens to be wrong all the time. You can read more about this in Scoblic’s excellent book or, for that matter, in my book.
The crux of the matter is that while truly conservative foreign policy thought has a long history of wrongness in the United States it’s rarely genuinely held sway on the big issues. Presidents Eisenhower, Nixon, and Reagan all at key moments broke with elements of their conservative base to preserve containment, to initiate détente, to continue with the bilateral arms control process, etc., leaving run-amok rightwingery mostly to fester in third world battlefields rather than on the central point of America’s relationship with Europe, Japan, and the Soviet Union. Under Bush, though, we’ve seen it take center stage with disastrous consequences and John McCain is, if anything, more of a true believer than Bush.