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A Change In Perspective

Abu Aardvark pulls a trick:

There's a lot of talk these days about a possible confrontation between the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States.  Leaving aside the admittedly big question of nuclear weapons for a moment, it's pretty easy to see the reasons for concern.

The country is ever more dominated by conservatives and advocates of political religion.  There was a time in the 1990s when the country seemed to be moving in a more liberal direction, but those days are long past.  Conservatives and religious movements have spent the last few years consolidating their control over the major political institutions - the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judiciary, even the media.   Indeed, in the most recent elections, the conservatives routed their liberal counterparts.  These conservatives and their religious base express open contempt for liberals and their values.   Pretty much the only remaining opposition seems to be among university students and among some liberal newspapers, but their limited power doesn't really threaten the ruling coalition.   What's more, the country has recently been very active inside of Iraq, which threatens important national security interests.  Leading conservative figures, including some known for very close ties to senior government leaders, have openly declared their hostility and have even spoken about the need for military action.  Even relatively moderate foreign policy officials have been sounding pretty hawkish lately.

You can see why the Iranians might be worried about a country like the United States these days.

Amusing, no? Seriously, though, one of the major impediments to thinking about these questions is that it's hard to muster a great deal of sympathy for folks like the guys running Iran. Nevertheless, in order to understand what's happening, one needs to understand how things look from their perspective. It's obvious now that the US national security establishment went badly awry by failing to understand how the world looked to Saddam Hussein. In retrospect, as we see, he had some perfectly good reasons for pretending to have more in the way of WMD than he really had.

Moving toward Iran, the regime's leaders are unpleasant people, and it's certainly possible that they're hell-bent on acquiring a nuclear weapon no matter what and intend to use this weapon to greviously injure America's fundamental interests. But it's also definitely the case that the Iranian government has long had some perfectly good reasons to feel threatened by its many (Pakistan, Russia, Israel) near-nuclear neighbors which have now been joined by some very good reasons to feel threatened by the United States of America. It may be the case that this latter set of concerns is really all (along with some prestige considerations) that's driving the Iranian nuclear program. If that's the case, then a deal should be workable. But a workable deal wouldn't have the form of a cash-for-promises kind of thing. Instead, the US (and, to some extent, other allies) would need to offer Iran concessions that resolve its fundamental security concerns. With something like that on the table, were the offer to be rejected it would be reasonable to conclude that the nuclear program is not primarily defensive in nature. Last but by no means least, one must keep in mind that the consequences of military action would almost certainly be very very bad.

November 21, 2004 | Permalink

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» Iran and the bomb from Explananda
Matthew Yglesias writes: Seriously, though, one of the major impediments to thinking about these questions is that it's hard to muster a great deal of sympathy for folks like the guys running Iran. Nevertheless, in order to understand what's happening,... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 21, 2004 12:37:43 PM

» Taming Tehran from Bradford Plumer
Last week at Mother Jones, I noted (rather non-controversially) that the European deal on Iran did nothing to address why Iran wants nuclear weapons. Only direct engagement with the U.S., focusing on security concerns, would do that. Well, that and a... [Read More]

Tracked on Nov 21, 2004 3:07:12 PM

Comments

I worry that this administration sees in Iran a restistance to, yet a yearning for, democracy. The power in that country,
however, sees an encroaching hoard of Christians trying to supplant their religion and way of life, even though it goes by the misleading name of demcracy.

Posted by: Dr Hedley Lamarr | Nov 21, 2004 11:18:49 AM

There are interesting parallels between the current USA admin and those in power in Iran.
MMMM?

Posted by: dilbert dogbert | Nov 21, 2004 11:28:35 AM

Of course, invading Iran would just make it that much harder to win the war on terrorism. Possibly even put it out of reach (if it's not already).

One thing you have to realize, is that on terrorism, this administration are a bunch of weak-kneed doves who constantly bow down to Bin Laden and his group. Why? Because it's politically easy. It would be difficult to convince people that the way to fight terrorism is with butter, not guns.

Posted by: Karmakin | Nov 21, 2004 11:31:30 AM

Amusing, no?

A little, but only a little.

Posted by: SoCalJustice | Nov 21, 2004 12:14:22 PM

it's certainly possible. . .and intend to use this weapon to greviously injure America's fundamental interests.

No it's not. Reject the brainwash, rube. Neither Iran nor any other country will ever use a nuke or give nukes to terrorists. All you are doing is empowering the right wingnuts when you buy into their crap. The reason why the crazies now hold so much power in your country is because normally sensible people like you keep buying up the swill they're selling. What's worse, is that it's not even fresh swill but is just recycled cold war swill.

We've been down this road before and the right has been proven to be nothing but a bunch of fearmongering nutters. So reject the brainwash. The US is not going to be nuked by a rogue nation and terrorists are not going to turn a major American city into a smoking crater. If you believe otherwise, you're simply believing crazy talk.

Posted by: Robert McClelland | Nov 21, 2004 12:50:44 PM

Socal, I notice that your link "iranpressnews.com" does not appear to have any information about the organisation itself. Who are they? The related link krsi.net is based in Beverly Hills and is clearly run by iranian dissidents or the CIA, with no particular indication which. But this one gives no information at all, even their contact information goes through a javascript application that seems to hide the email address. Though likely I could get an address by actually emailing something to them. Their content appears on a par with krsi.net.

Posted by: J Thomas | Nov 21, 2004 1:14:28 PM

Nevertheless, in order to understand what's happening, one needs to understand how things look from their perspective...In retrospect, as we see, [Saddam Hussein] had some perfectly good reasons for pretending to have more in the way of WMD than he really had.

Matt, don't they teach you anything at Harvard? Those of who went to state schools (my degrees are from Wisconsin) knew this beforehand.

Posted by: litho | Nov 21, 2004 1:21:58 PM

The loss of the dollar's reserve currency status is going to happen, likely in the next five years, possibly in next five months. When it does, America will see its standard of living and economic power drop 30-50%. It's international political and military superiority would soon follow.

Unless we can a) somehow make a large part of the world unsafe for investment, b) gain actual advantageous control of oil distribution, c) force some of the world's economies into unproductive and inflationary directions, such as military spending. The only tools we have to change our competitor's direction are military.

A healthy, productive, peaceful Iraq would only be a place to send yen and euros instead of treasury bills, and a new market for China etc to maintain its trade surplus.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 21, 2004 1:50:09 PM

Well, this, in a nutshell would be why we have intelligence agencies- or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that is why other countries have intelligence agencies.

Maybe the odd thing here is that the Iranians probably don't have a nuclear weapons program, and the U.S. government probably knows this, but neither government can admit the facts. Rightwingers are like wiley Coyote running on air- they can only keep going as fast as they can and hope they reach the other side before they look down. For Bush, it worked. He crossed his air-bridge of lies, it collapsed into the canyon behind him, and he personally is safer than he's ever been.

For the rest of us, "the other side" is the situation we have in Iraq today- a solid moneymaker for the top 1% of America's moneyed classes, a budgetary abscess for the rest of us.

However, those rumors of a draft were overstated. With 82,000 students cut off of student aid, we should have lots of "volunteers".

Well, we tried to warn them....

Posted by: serial catowner | Nov 21, 2004 2:18:31 PM

But it's also definitely the case that the Iranian government has long had some perfectly good reasons to feel threatened by its many (Pakistan, Russia, Israel) near-nuclear neighbors which have now been joined by some very good reasons to feel threatened by the United States of America.

Shouldn't this be "nuclear near-neighbors"? Certainly you aren't saying that either Israel, Pakistan, or Russia is merely near being a nuclear armed state.

Posted by: cmdicely | Nov 21, 2004 2:39:13 PM

Unfortunately it would not be irrational for the Iranian government to look at the outcome for Saddam, and then to look at the North Korean situation,and conclude that developing a nuclear weapon as quickly as possible is in their best interest. So far, at least, Kim Jong Il's bomb has kept him from Husein's fate

Posted by: phlogiston | Nov 21, 2004 2:44:38 PM

Oldman

Guardian reports that Pentagon is now war-gaming regime change, and Blair has told to choose.

Oldman sketches the necessary scenario. I have thought for a long time that the main point of Iraq was the flypaper theorey, that we needed many more casualties in order to justify further aggression....umm preemption. We gave Osama the chance, but he didn't cooperate. Now we bomb Iran just a little, lose a few divisions of staked-goats in Iraq, and we got a real war for Commander Codpiece.

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 21, 2004 3:41:50 PM

Guardian reports that Pentagon is now war-gaming regime change, and Blair has told to choose.

Well, isn't it supposed to happen near the 2006 election - massive fear-mongering and the all the rest? It would serve no purpose this or next year.

OTOH, just leaking this kinda stuff seems to make another 9/11 event so much more likely - preemption of preemption, so to speak... Oh, well.

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 21, 2004 4:16:43 PM

"It would serve no purpose this or next year."

Purposes of going early: get there before the nuke gets operational; disrupt Iraq and Palestinian elections; distract from Congress and domestic agenda; distract from currency collapse; provide some early losses in large numbers to polarize American politics into "craven appeasers and despisers of troops" and those who "will stay the course and show resolve."

How ugly will the country get when we have 50k more names for a new memorial across from the black wall?

Posted by: bob mcmanus | Nov 21, 2004 5:04:05 PM

"use this weapon to greviously injure America's fundamental interests"

I assume by "America's fundamental interests" you mean the actual lives of Americans, and not the oil of an Arab country? I think by using phrases such as this, including "national security" and "national interests", we blur what we really mean. The prime example example was when Wolfowitz exluded non-coalition countries in the rebuilding of Iraq because it was "necessary for the protection and essential security interests of the United States." huh? Whether it's lives, property, or natural resources, let's say so directly.

Posted by: JeffB | Nov 21, 2004 5:05:37 PM

"Unfortunately it would not be irrational for the Iranian government to look at the outcome for Saddam, and then to look at the North Korean situation,and conclude that developing a nuclear weapon as quickly as possible is in their best interest."

Even more unfortunately, it would not be irrational for the Iranian students, moderates, average citizens, etc., to look at the outcome of an American "liberation" for Iraqi students, moderates, average citizens, etc., and quickly conclude that a nuclear weapon is in the best interests of their country.

Posted by: Abigail | Nov 21, 2004 5:25:59 PM

Matt,

You're sounding a lot like NYTimes' Tom Friedman offering pragmatic, simple solutions, you know damn well this administration dismisses out of hand, first!

How about this familiar scenario - a pre-emptive bombing of key nuclear installations! What? We've no intelligence of their location? Wing it, we're bound to hit something!

Was Colin Powell's unnerving heads-up about Iran, a pre-diplomacy tact or just another outgoing Pres. Ike 'military/industrial complex' head scratcher?

Remember, nearly 70% percent of Iran's population is under the age of 30, and is screaming to be free (or for their TRL!). Reports say Iran is offering safe passage for Insurgents crossing their Iraq border.

And, the intelligence from the CIA now comes pre-manipulated.

Posted by: thatcoloredfella | Nov 21, 2004 6:50:02 PM

Matt,

I notice that whenever you discuss the Iranian nuclear program you rarely - if ever - mention it in conjunction with their long and active support for terrorism - including al Qaeda. I'd say this support factors heavily in our concern over their program.

No one has really answered the fundamental questions surrounding the Iranian program: is the weapon simply to augment the country's regional standing or is intended to be put to use either actively (using it via Hezbollah against Israel - which is unlikely, though it's been mused publicly) or passively (blackmail, quite likely).

The suggestion that we have to offer carrots that change the security dynamics of the region is a bit wild - do we offer them a place under the nuclear umbrella we once extended over Germany? I'm not suggesting a regime change war is wise, or necessary, but ultimately if you believe that Iran MUST NOT obtain weapons, then war is really the only avenue. Sanctions won't work, we won't have the necessary cooperation. We cannot pressure Israel, Russia, Pakistan et. al. to abandon their weapons. We cannot irrevocably set back the effort with precision air strikes.

It's probably time to start ennunciating a containment and deterent policy vis. Iran with a special emphasis on terrorist proxies.

Posted by: Gregory Scoblete | Nov 21, 2004 8:10:14 PM

their [Iran's]long and active support for terrorism - including al Qaeda

I bet you think OBL was a close personal friend of Saddam. Prior to the 'liberation' of Iran no doubt we'll hear how the mullahs were all close personal friends of both of them.

It's true the Iranians have backed some unsavoury people in their time (mainly Hezbollah), but al quaeda aint amongst them. In fact, like most everyone else (most notable exception: our friends the Saudis) they considered them enemies. For one thing, al quaeda is sunni and backed the Taliban's persecution of Afghanistan's shia (many of whom had to flee to Iran).

Posted by: derrida derider | Nov 21, 2004 10:47:34 PM

In retrospect, as we see, he had some perfectly good reasons for pretending to have more in the way of WMD than he really had.


One second. What specific information do we have that Hussein pretended to have more WMD than he really had?

It is clear to me that Hussein's best move in the 1990s was to get rid of his weapons, let the sanctions be lifted, get oil money back and buy more weapons.

This strategy that was perfectly legal was not acceptable to the US.

The best strategy for the US was to lie and say Hussein did not get rid of his weapons until somehow or other Hussein was gone.

The game was structured such that one party had a clear incentive to lie about Hussein's weapon's program, and it was the US.

Now it seems that the US was lying pretty much all along, except when Madeleine Albright told the truth that the sanctions would not be lifted as long as Hussein was in power.

I thought everyone on the left understood this.

Why project US lies onto Hussein?

Posted by: Albert Grimm | Nov 21, 2004 11:03:34 PM

I agree on the main point concerning addressing Iranian security concerns.
Concerning the quote from "The country is ever more ..." onward, I'd like to add that this is the mild and friendly version of the current view on the US over here in Germany (AFAICT). And it seems this sentiment is shared pretty much everywhere outside the US. Frankly, this has me more worried than whatever stuff Iran may or may not have.

Posted by: marjus | Nov 22, 2004 2:00:40 AM

Purposes of going early: get there before the nuke gets operational; disrupt Iraq and Palestinian elections; distract from Congress and domestic agenda; distract from currency collapse; provide some early losses in large numbers to polarize American politics into "craven appeasers and despisers of troops" and those who "will stay the course and show resolve."

Well, Bob, if we are willing to contemplate motivations that cynical, then why assume that they prefer to 'get there before the nuke gets operational'? The CiC has an arsenal of 10,000 yummy nukes, some probably rotting in those silos since 1945. They're just begging to make an entrance.

Posted by: abb1 | Nov 22, 2004 3:02:33 AM

"Conservatives and religious movements have spent the last few years consolidating their control over the major political institutions - the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judiciary, even the media."

You know, this "conservatives control EVERYTHING" meme is getting out of hand. They control the executive and legislative branches. The judiciary is a wash at the Supreme court level, with four conservatives, four liberals, and one O'Conner. And don't mistake no longer having a lock on the media, for it being controlled by conservatives.

What's next? "Conservatives control the laws of physics!"?

Posted by: Brett Bellmore | Nov 22, 2004 7:55:48 AM

Hey, Brett, that quote was talking about Iran, not the USA. Stop being an idiot ok?

Posted by: Dan the Man | Nov 22, 2004 9:39:34 AM

"In retrospect, as we see, he (Saddam) had some perfectly good reasons for pretending to have more in the way of WMD than he really had."

These reasons were good enough that we should have assumed he was bluffing other people and not us?

Posted by: Jason Ligon | Nov 22, 2004 1:36:15 PM

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