Stirring Up Trouble

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Jason Zengerle on Iran:

I, like everyone in theory, want to accomplish Iran’s disarmament by peaceful means. And, although I’m not as convinced as Erza, I’m beginning to be persuaded by the case that a U.S.-led attack on Iran could have more dire consequences than a nuclear Iran. But I think it’s crazy to take the use of force off the table–and it’s unfair to accuse those who refuse to do so as warmongers, as Ezra does. Without the threat of force looming in the background, I don’t think the diplomatic approach has much of a prayer. Carrots, sticks, etc.

I fear there’s a risk of a looming consensus somewhere in this neighborhood, so it’s worth asking what the content of a preference for achieving “Iran’s disarmament” by peaceful means is, thus kicking off a long post on Iran:

Iran, of course, doesn’t actually have nuclear weapons, so presumably disarmament as such isn’t what we’re talking about here. We’re talking instead about some kind of verifiable safeguards around the Iranian nuclear program that would give the international community generally, and the United States in particular, assurance that Iran won’t build a nuclear weapon. There is, however, considerable vagueness around what this means. At least some elements of the US and Israeli governments have defined the end point they’re seeking to avoid as not an Iranian bomb, but the “point of no return”:

At a briefing with Israeli journalists following her speech, Livni told The Jerusalem Post that Iran was less than two years away from reaching the point where it could enrich uranium, what she, and others, have termed “the point of no return” where Iran would need no outside technical or material assistance to produce nuclear weapons. The point of no return, in Israel’s case, is not when Iran “gets the bomb”, but when it has reached the capability of producing one.

This amounts to a materially different demand than would a proposal that would allow Iran to demonstrate mastery of the relevant technical issues (something many countries have done) but involve assurances that no weapons are actually being produced.

Similarly, whatever it is one is trying to persuade Iran to do, there’s a difference between saying you want to persuade Iran “through diplomacy” — i.e., asking Iran to do it and making some kind of threat if they don’t do it — and saying you want to persuade Iran through a combination of threats and inducements. And if you’re willing to contemplate inducements, then which inducements? A lot of people wouldn’t be comfortable lifting sanctions on Iran even in the face of an acceptable resolution of the nuclear issue as long as Iran continued funding Hezbollah, etc., etc.

There are a lot of thorny issues in this neighborhood that aren’t totally reducible to the question of whether or not force should, in some sense, be “on the table.” To me, an Iran policy that centers around threats and unrealistic demands (“abandon your nuclear program or we’ll get foreigners to sanction you and, failing that, bomb you; also we’ll lift our existing sanctions when you become a democracy that loves Israel”) amounts to a kind of warmongering (to use an admittedly loaded term) no matter how much its coupled with protestations of preference for a diplomatic solution.

Most people, I assume, don’t actually have detailed views on all of these issues. I endorse this from Flynt Leverett , this from Barry Posen, and this from Justin Logan as my key policy planks on Iran issues. As far as the whole “seriousness” meta-debate that Ezra kicked off my main takeaway is that this is a, well, serious issue and that insofar as people are inclined to poke folks to their left in the eye over Iran they should be prepared to delve into the intricacies of it and not simply assume that one’s level of concern about the issue is directly proportional to one’s proclivity to use military force as a means of resolving it.