Itching for Confrontation with Iran

The neocons along with their allies in Congress and on the Washington Post’s op-ed page remain determined to sabotage a diplomatic rapprochement with Iran, demanding that its leaders be confronted, not engaged, as ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar notes.

By Paul R. Pillar

David Ignatius offers in his column some thoughts inspired by results of a Pew Research Center poll in which the headline item is that nearly half of Americans believe the United States “should mind its own business internationally,” a finding that the Pew people describe as “one of the highest readings of isolationist sentiment in decades.”

In commenting on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program, Ignatius notes that completion of a final agreement will require President Barack Obama to secure agreement from Congress and the public, and that it looks now that he will have a tough time securing that support. Ignatius is right insofar as there already is deal-scuppering trouble-making in Congress and likely to be more to come. But then he tries to summarize the public mood by saying, “The public doesn’t want war, but it doesn’t seem to like entangling diplomacy much, either.”

Columnist and pundit George F. Will.

Columnist and pundit George F. Will.

“Entangling diplomacy”? Hold that thought while we move down the Washington Post opinion page to the next column, the one by George Will. Will evidently is so taken by Kenneth Pollack’s new book on Iran that this is Will’s second column in the last two weeks that is based on it.

Will and Pollack are right on two very important propositions about the Iranian nuclear matter. One is that the idea of using military force to deal with it would be, for multiple reasons, a big and even disastrous mistake. The other is that if Iran ever did acquire a nuclear weapon, deterrence would work and the situation that is generally referred to as “containment” is one we can live with. I have made these same points in my own writing.

The rest of the viewpoint Will is defending involves a giving up of any possibility of reaching further agreements with an Iran whose nuclear program stays peaceful. To be fair to Pollack, and Will is fair enough to mention this, Pollack completed his book before the recent successful negotiation of an interim nuclear agreement with Tehran. But the negative fatalism that is being expressed errs in at least three ways.

One, it goes along with the erroneous tendency to assume that Iranian policymakers are chomping at the bit to make a nuclear weapon, and that they will not do so only if forced not to do so. This is a misreading of what are ever-more-clear Iranian intentions, in which not only has no decision to build a bomb been made but also the Iranian leadership sees a more normal relationship with the West, and a permanently peaceful nuclear program, as distinctly preferable to having a nuclear weapon. Will’s position involves a self-fulfilling worst-case assumption.

Second is an apparent misreading of the obstacles to a comprehensive nuclear agreement. It is true that this is very far from a done deal, but the reason is not because the terms of an agreement that would satisfy both Western and Iranian interests are not fairly clear. Rather, the main obstacle is opposition to any U.S.-Iranian agreement from hardliners, especially hardliners outside Iran.

It also is true that this opposition is formidable and is determined to keep doing whatever it can to prevent an agreement, but the opposition is beatable. It is narrow, consisting chiefly of the Israeli government, those in the United States who dance mainly to that government’s tune, and assorted neocons who welcome eternal hostility with what they regard as forces of darkness in the Middle East and, unlike Will, would even welcome a war with them.

Pushing against this opposition is a president and his administration who, to their credit, already have shown more drive and moxie on this matter than on almost any other foreign policy issue, or on most domestic issues. Moreover, the narrow opposition does not speak for the American public. This is where Ignatius errs by throwing Congress and the public into the same pot. Opinion polling that has directly addressed the issue of diplomacy to reach a nuclear agreement has shown two-to-one support by the American public for a diplomatic solution. Americans both do not want war and they do want a negotiated agreement.

Third, the position Will presents pays inadequate attention to what the negative fatalism means we would be giving up. First and most obviously, we would be giving up the prospect of a Middle East in which Iran does not have a nuclear weapon, a situation which everyone, including Will, Pollack, me, Barack Obama, most Israelis, the Saudis, and even the Iranian leadership, believes would be preferable to a Middle East in which it does have a nuke.

It also means giving up the prospect of ever getting away from the lines of hostility and conflict that have badly constrained U.S. policy in the region. This is where we get back to Ignatius’s idea of entangling diplomacy. Except that entanglement is what we have now, in which the United States is entangled in fixed lines of conflict in which it is expected to defer to the wishes of supposed allies, is barred from ever working for mutual benefit with those labeled forever as adversaries, and is sucked into the narrow agendas and conflicts of the purported allies.

Agreement with Iran on the high-profile nuclear issue would be a step toward disentangling the United States from all that, and toward greater freedom for the United States in using further diplomacy to pursue its own interests, working selectively with different states on different matters as the issues and our own interests may dictate.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

2 comments for “Itching for Confrontation with Iran

  1. elmerfudzie
    December 11, 2013 at 15:27

    Everyone’s debating about architectural details for the upper floors and roof of this house, named Iran and no one is examining the foundation. The following well known and acknowledged truths bears repeating; After WWII, it was Kermit Roosevelt, grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, who with the aid of the CIA, toppled a democratically elected leader, Mohammad Mossadegh, a man who clearly hated communists and feudalism. Had the democratic tendencies of his government been nourished by the west, the Iran of today would be in charge of an unbreakable OPEC, a country with a plutonium based economy, and of it’s domestic electricity needs generated by it. In the “neighborhood” the 1967 borders of Israel would not have been allowed to expand. Unfortunately, the revised history is quite different. Iran sits on the second largest gas supply in the world and has an almost inexhaustible source of useful oil. These facts stirred an envy and covetousness in both corporate petrochemical and military circles, spelling disaster for anyone resembling Mossadegh, to enter high office. Now theocracy rules Iran but only after a civil war and much blood spilling, ending with deposing the Shah and his ruthless internal security force, SAVAK. However theocracies belong to the ancient world and cannot hope to survive today, with or without outside military intervention. So why the incessant drum beating and thirst for war against it? because the potential for greatness prior to the Shah’s rule, remains high and the only way to keep repression in place is war and rubble using mini nukes. This crushing blow then followed by internal sabotage, instigation and insurrection. The subject of old and repeated “divide and conquer” strategies like this one, are assiduously avoided by all mega media talking heads. The bottomless envy’s and covetousness of the first worlds oligarchs will not be sated until war has come to pass. And Jesus said, the devil from the beginning, is a murderer.

  2. Bill Bodden
    December 11, 2013 at 13:36

    You can bet if there is a war with Iran or any other nation or group that offends the neocons neither they nor their kids will be in the front lines at risk of getting shot or blown up by an IED.

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