Discussing President Obama’s Iran policy on Fox News this morning, Bill Kristol gave the neoconservative’s answer to every foreign policy problem: military force.
Scoffing at President Obama’s continued offers of engagement, Kristol claimed that the only way to deal with Iran was to threaten war. “I wouldn’t be surprised if the Iranians do a phony feint toward negotiations to try and buy some more time,” Kristol said. “That’s what they’re buying, they’re buying time for their nuclear program to go ahead, it has been going ahead.” Kristol then prepared the ground for what he hopes is America’s next war:
KRISTOL: I think the reason the president doesn’t want to talk about the real implications of having a delusional and hateful Iranian regime in power is that the real implications is if sanctions fail, we will have to use force. And not certain that the president doesn’t actually know that. I’m open to the notion that he will end up a year from now using force against Iran, and I guess he feels there’s no point signaling that now.
I think it’s a mistake, because I think the more you put force on the table, the more you might encourage those within Iran to say ‘wait a second we’re heading towards the precipice.’ That’s not his style, he keeps to door open to negotiations, but I’ve got to say that if you look at the way this is playing out, it’s playing out toward use of force against Iran.
In regard to the utility of threats of force against Iran, the actual evidence is, unsurprisingly, precisely the opposite of what Kristol says. President George W. Bush regularly threatened Iran, but rather than strengthening moderate voices, as Kristol imagines it would, this actually strengthened those elements who believe, like Kristol himself, that moderation signals weakness. As journalist Barbara Slavin wrote in 2007, Bush’s belligerent rhetoric had the effect of “boosting Iranian hardliners who argue that the Bush administration has no interest in reconciling with Iran and that Tehran’s best course is to reach bomb capacity as soon as possible.”
Iranian dissident Akbar Ganji was adamant in a May 2010 interview that talk of a U.S. military option was harmful. “If you do not have the threat of foreign invasion and you do not use the dialog of invasion and military intervention, the society itself has a huge potential to oppose and potentially topple the theocratic system,” Ganji said, adding:
What I’m trying to get to is that jingoistic, militaristic language used by any foreign power would actually be detrimental to this natural evolution of Iranian society.
“Unfortunately, the policies of the United States have fanned the flames of Islamic fundamentalism in the Middle East, particularly during the Bush administration,” Ganji said. “The belligerent rhetoric of Bush didn’t help us [the Iranian democracy movement], it actually harmed us.”
On the other hand, Ganji praised President Obama’s engagement policy, stating that it helped create a favorable environment for the Iranian democracy movement. “Obama offered a dialog with the Iran,” Ganji said, “and this change in discourse immediately gave rise to that outpouring of sentiment against the Islamic Republic last year.” Unlike Bush’s threats of war, which only served to unite the regime against an outside threat, Obama’s engagement policy, combined with increasing sanctions pressure, has, by offering the regime a genuine choice, contributed to the worst crisis of legitimacy in the Islamic Republic’s history.
Ganji also noted, however, that continuing fear of U.S. action had caused democracy activists to censor themselves. “Since Iranians, in particular opposition groups, do not want to see a repeat of Afghanistan or Iraq in Iran,” Ganji said, “they’ve actually had to scale back their opposition to the government in order not to encourage an invasion.”
In his mania to embroil America in yet another disastrous war, Kristol will no doubt simply dismiss these views, just as he dismissed Joint Chiefs Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen’s warning against U.S. strikes on Iran as “silly.” But given Kristol’s record of being wrong on most of the key foreign policy questions of our era, it’s clear whose views should actually be dismissed.