Beyond a Binary Choice: Thinking Through the Unthinkables on Iran

-

Yesterday, I returned to Washington, D.C. after helping to organize a thought-provoking session on Iran jointly sponsored by the New America Foundation, Aspen Strategy Group, and Aspen Institute. The meeting lasted three hours and was intense.
I’ll be drafting a report for the meeting, which after review by the principals involved, will be made publicly available — but which will also help articulate the areas of investment — financial and intellectual — needed in generating options OTHER than bombing Iran or, alternatively, acquiescing to Iran acquiring nuclear weapons.
The comments in the report will not be attributed to any specific person — Chatham House rules — but the participants in this useful meeting, in which one prominent participant said “there was much heat — and yet some light” (which I take as both a compliment and as hopeful), included:

Harvard University’s and former Clinton administration Pentagon official ASHTON CARTER, General WESLEY CLARK, CSIS Senior Vice President and Aspen Strategy Group Director KURT CAMPBELL, Princeton University Woodrow Wilson School Dean ANNE-MARIE SLAUGHTER, Newsweek International editor FAREED ZAKARIA,
Booz Allen Executive and former Bush administration Pentagon official DOV ZAKHEIM, Open Society Institute founder GEORGE SOROS, former Harvard University Kennedy School Dean and former Clinton Administration Chairman of the National Intelligence Council JOSEPH NYE, New York Times White House correspondent DAVID SANGER, College of William & Mary Associate Provost and former Director of Policy Planning at the State Department MITCHELL REISS,
National Journal columnist BRUCE STOKES, Armitage International executive and former Bush administration State Department official RANDALL SCHRIVER, Scowcroft Group Principal and former Pentagon official ARNOLD KANTER, U.S. News & World Report proprietor and Boston Properties CEO MORTIMER ZUCKERMAN, New America Foundation Senior Fellow Geopolitics of Energy Initiative Director and former Bush administration National Security Council official FLYNT LEVERETT, New York Times columnist NICHOLAS KRISTOF, Institute for Near East Policy director and former Presidential envoy on Middle East affairs DENNIS ROSS,
Barbour Griffiths & Rogers President and former Bush administration National Security Council official ROBERT BLACKWILL, Aspen Institute President WALTER ISAACSON, New America Foundation foreign policy programs Director and Senior Fellow STEVEN CLEMONS, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Democratic Staff Director ANTONY BLINKEN, former Clinton Administration State Department Spokesman JAMES RUBIN, and some others.

Some will note that the gender balance was way off in this meeting and not to my preferences. However, at exactly the same time we were meeting, a session organized by former Clinton administration Secretary of Defense William Perry of the “National Security Strategy Group” was taking place in Aspen which pulled away such participants as Albright Group Principal and former State Department Counselor WENDY SHERMAN and former State Department official and Brookings Senior Fellow SUSAN RICE.
I hope to solicit their views as well as some others in the evolution of a project we are hoping to launch on Iran, the Middle East, and proliferation challenges.
This group had a full diversity of views on how to approach the Iran nuclear question — and the single most important consensus that did seem to emerge from the discussion is that at some point in the not too distant future, President Bush will be handed a bleak, binary choice: either to authorize and launch an attack against Iran’s nuclear capacity and assets or to acquiesce. Developing other options is the challenge of the day — and those other options must be credible.
I will be writing more on the Iran issue in coming months, but I wanted to at least notify TWN readers that this meeting held in Aspen, Colorado occurred and accomplished the important objective of not only clarifying the competing paradigms that existed in serious policy circles regarding Iran — but that there are potential alternative negotiating strategies and policy courses that might give the President more than these two bleak options.
Strangely, a senior national security official whom I notified of this meeting counseled that while the topics I was promoting were “alluring”, they were also premature. The other point of consensus in the room of diverse political and policy players above is that considering the ultimate “unthinkables” on Iran today was not only “not premature” but was overdue.
More soon.
– Steve Clemons

Comments

55 comments on “Beyond a Binary Choice: Thinking Through the Unthinkables on Iran

  1. hoodia weight loss says:

    Hoodia Gordonii Plus is a cutting-edge, advanced appetite suppressant, metabolism booster, fat burner and energy enhancer all in one. This is a supplement if you are looking for more than just an appetite suppresent.
    http://hoodia.weightloss.lt/hoodia-review.php

    Reply

  2. nvagjm kcrtipfx says:

    fuzgxtkv oish ylmbzj aeynq ecbn zdpkqhwn yeohbpt

    Reply

  3. km4 says:

    “Democrats have to be able to stand toe-to-toe against Republicans and their failing policies on national security, be able to speak the language of national security, and convince the electorate that we are a “full-service” party to be trusted on national defense, health care, education, equal opportunity….
    The Connecticut race and Republican spinmeisters will be troublesome for Democrats. But the growing public awareness provides Democrats the opportunity to reshape our party to help America meet the challenges ahead. For Republicans, it signals the end of using patriotism to cover up for persistent failures to deal effectively with pressing national security issues”.
    - Wes Clark

    Reply

  4. km4 says:

    A Judgment on Iraq
    By Wesley K. Clark
    Republican strategists could hardly be happier with the outcome of the Connecticut Democratic primary. And Democrats should be deeply concerned in the near term. But if I were a Republican, I’d recognize this as the beginning of the end. Forget about the neocons. This era is over.
    Complete article
    http://securingamerica.com/
    Wes Clark in 2008 !!!

    Reply

  5. ladle spooner says:

    Steve can have any friends he wants to have and if his philosophical adversary is also his friend that speaks well of him since he has risen above enimity and chosen discourse and amiable cajoling to bring his friend around to Truth, Justice, and the American Way, the way we dream ourselves to be. Best to make those who would be nemesis our friends through common understanding of the human predicament, and setting forth from thence to solutions of pressing problems.

    Reply

  6. Den Valdron says:

    Well, I only know Steve minimally through his blog, and I have a slight sense of ongoing moral erosion. But I still think Steve is a good guy. I don’t know Steve’s friends or people that he approves of at all. Maybe they’re good guys, maybe they’re not. So I’m generally not inclined to discuss personalities, but rather look to positions.
    Thinking things over, the one constant involving countries which had or were pursuing nuclear weapons, and who got off that track (and there are distressingly few of them) was that there was a concept of de-escalation. That is, their issues with their neighbors defused so that in the end, they felt there was no particular advantage to having or pursuing.
    In the case of Argentina and Brazil, there was at one point a nuclear arms race by military governments. These governments disgraced themselves and were replaced by civilians, who simply did not see the point. There was no overt hostility, the principal concerns were domestic. There was an agreement for mutual sharing of information (openness and transparency) and cooperative de-escalatlion.
    In the case of South Africa, we had a state surrounded by hostile enemies and an internal insurgent and dissident movement. The rationale for pursuing nuclear weapons was not at all clear, perhaps national pride, perhaps from a perception that its internal problems were authored by hostile neighbors who might potentially be dissuaded or bombed.
    For the South Africans, the rationale for a nuclear weapon seemed to evaporate as their focus shifted increasingly to resolving their issues through a process of internal change. They came to see their hostile neighbors as irrelevant, and came to see the hostility of their neighbors as a symptom of their internal dynamics.
    Now, how do we apply these issues to Iran?
    Well, one thing is, if we apply these dynamics, it is questionable whether Iran is in serious pursuit of a nuclear weapon. The specific strategic issues that motivated Pakistan and North Korea, and the ones that motivated Argentina, Brazil and South Africa, do not seem to be present for Iran, or at least not present in the same ways.
    So, setting aside hysteria, the Iranian nuclear weapons program may be no more or less serious than the Japanese nuclear weapons program. An ‘in potentio’ issue for which there is no internal dynamic driving it, and therefore no real threat.
    But even assuming that there might be some interest there, what inferences should we draw?
    First, inner directed states, states focusing on their infrastructure, their civilians, their economies, their internal politics, seem to be quite indifferent to and uninterested in nuclear weapons – in that category, we can throw South Africa, Brazil and Argentina, but also Canada, Japan, Germany. This suggests that where a state feels relatively secure, and that its interests are most viably served by development of its internal structure, then you don’t get nuclear proliferation.
    Second, outer-directed, states seem more inclined to pursue such weapons. Outer-directed, I would argue, refers to states which define their existence against an external enemy or enemies who offer a threat which must be vigilantly guarded. Thus, Pakistan feels challenged by India, North Korea is challenged by America, Israel is challenged by the Arab sea, South Africa was challenged by the black sea, and Argentina and Brazil were challenged by each other. Iraq in its time was challenged by Iran.
    So, is Iran a challenged state? Well, despite border issues, Iran probably does not ‘feel’ challenged by Pakistan, notwithstanding Pakistan’s existence as a nuclear power on its borders. Nor has the proximity of Russia as a nuclear power amount to a challenge. Israel’s nuclear fleet may represent a general regional challenge, but frankly, I don’t see that Iranian/Israeli relations, or lack thereof, have any sort of real interface.
    On the other hand, the United States is a major and deliberate challenger to Iran, and has been for over 35 years, undertaking numerous hostile actions (downing passenger jets full of civilians, sanctions and economic embargoes, assisting Iraq in its war, occupying two neighboring countries, ringing with military bases and announcing a policy of regime change).
    This would certainly be a challenge sufficient to motivate a nuclear weapons program. On the other hand, the Iranians are not fools. The other challenges noted were open ended and long terms. Those who felt challenged did not see a specific time frame, but viewed their challengers as enduring and eternal. In that sense, it was worth the years of committment, the billions of dollars in resources, to make the investment in a deterrent which might not actually be mature for five to ten years after commencement.
    Five to ten years can be an immensely long time. Thus, very few international crises or rivalries will be seen as sufficiently persuasive to require the sort of committment.
    The Iranians, looking at the current status of American projects in the region, may simply conclude that the United States is not viable and simply will not last out the time. So, they’re not counting on a nuclear explosion, but they’re placing their faith in an American implosion. In my own view, that’s hardly unreasonable, if it is their view.
    There is an ironic twist. The committment itself places the state in a certain amount of danger. If, for instance, Syria embarked on a nuclear program, it would be highly vulnerable to attacks and escalations from an increasingly frightened Israel. Iraq’s nuclear program did suffer a pre-emptive strike.
    So, most nations that actually are serious about their nuclear pursuits are not only challenged, but have managed to find a ‘sweet spot’ of safety. That is, they are challenged, but not challenged.
    Argentina and Brazil might challenge each other, but neither was going to start a war or pre-emptively attack, India was not initiating hostilities against Pakistan, North Korea was safe behind its DMZ, Mozambique was not about to invade South Africa. Israel, even without nuclear weapons, had military superiority over its neighbors.
    The point is that if you have a real and imminent threat, then a nuclear weapon is generally going to take too long and too many resources to deal with that threat. You are better off deploying those resources elswhere to more immediate strategic and tactical payoffs. Deployment of resources and time to a nuclear program in that situation may involve committing to a long term course that simply sucks away your ability to cope with the short term danger… which means that there may not be a long term for you.
    So, in the case of Iran, there is a challenge, in the form of the United States. But it is a challenge that they do not expect to last long enough to justify a long term program. On the other hand, it is a challenge whose immediacy demands a tactical and immediate deployment rather than long term allocation.
    So strategically, the notion that Iran may have a live nuclear weapons program doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense.
    But assuming that Iran is covertly working towards nuclear weapons, how do you then get Iran voluntarily off that track?
    It strikes me that the key would be the opposite of what the United States is currently doing. You would need to de-escalate, downgrade or eliminate the challenge. As I’ve said, I think that the Iranian position is that they expect the challenge to implode. But if in fact, America intends to have a long term presence in the region, then it has to present as not being an existential challenge in the region.
    In some ways, the American posture is the worst possible. The US challenges, its capacity for an immediate or pre-emptive attack is dubious and grows more dubious with time, and it intends to maintain a long term challenge. So literally, there is a risk that the objectives and limitations of American foreign policy and strength could push the Iranians in that direction, rather than away from it.
    America’s best option might be to downscale its presence dramatically, support regional disarmament, and support a nuclear weapons free zone in the region (including itself). The barriers to this, of course, include Israel’s nuclear fleet, the economic importance to the US and Europe of arms sales to the region, and America’s own involvement in Iraq.
    Another option might be, in the event of a long term presence, simply to act as a neighbor rather than a challenger. In this case, America opens up dialogue, identifies issues of common interest and cooperates, and identifies issues of dispute and begins talking. Engage in a dialogue rather than a contest.
    I don’t hold out any hope for any strategy based on the bringing to bear of diplomatic or economic pressure. These efforts will correctly be perceived by the Iranians as both challenges and of short term and transient nature.
    On the one hand, it certainly will not dissuade the Iranians from any course of conduct. The Iranians will conclude, rightly or wrongly, that they can simply outlast any non-military political or economic maneuver. On the other hand, the hostile challenge therein will not moderate behaviour but entrench it.
    A direct diplomatic approach will almost certainly be irrelevant. If they are doing it, you won’t ‘talk’ them out of it. And if they aren’t doing it, then you’re just wasting everyones time.
    A military approach will almost certainly trigger military responses. It may also have unpredictable results, like initiating a program that doesn’t exist, or cause Iran to seek shelter with a nuclear patron. Remember the Cuban Missile crisis? Suppose Iran leases a military base to China, on the condition that the chinese plant some of their nukes and missiles there. That could happen very easily. Just about every outcome of a military option would be bad in the long term. Those expecting a happy ending are simply delusional.
    The answer seems to be to try and manipulate Iran’s international diplomatic environment to the point where it perceives no real challenge to itself, and to create opportunities which would allow it to become internally directed, focused on improving and enhancing itself.
    Frankly, I am not sanguine. This course seems antithetical to everything in American policy for the last sixty years overall, and for the last 35 years in respect of Iran. Certainly I can’t imagine any such policy coming out of the Bush/Cheney administration.
    But that’s how I see it…

    Reply

  7. Publius says:

    One more thing, Steve, due to the strategic importance of Texas in creating a major shift away from mindless Republican unilateralism in national foreign policy for 2008 and onwards, it might be helpful to include candidate Barbara Radnofsky in future meetings of this type so she can (a) have any position on national security, Iran and Iraq and (b) have a credible position that will allow her to force Kay Bailey Hutchison to expend enormous effort to keep her seat in the Senate, if not lead Radnofsky to victory in November. Without undue optimism, if she develops a credible message on national security, it is entirely possible that she might replicate what just happened in Connecticut by putting “stay the course” on the defense and using “change the course” to achieve victory. Texas remains critically important in shifting the direction of national debate on foreign affairs priorities. True, there is a paucity of Harvard and Dartmouth alumni in Texas, but there is a wealth of talent, wealth, political influence, and Electoral College votes, as explained in more detail previously. Radnofsky’s current messaging posture leaves her vulnerable in November when/if all issues other than national security (Iran/Iraq) become irrelevant for November.

    Reply

  8. alec says:

    thanks for the response, harry. it sounds like you’ve led a very interesting life.
    my fiance and i are hoping to have kids… someday soon. i agree with you that it is one of the most important and meaningful things in the world (although, i guess as yet i still don’t know :) )
    as far as my job goes, i’m very lucky. i earn a good salary helping people all over the world. i have more “stuff” than i’ll ever need. MUCH more than most people in the world. i’m a very rich man in comparison.
    actually, along those lines, everyone might want to check out the following website:
    http://www.globalrichlist.com
    it’s a “salary calculator” that tells you where you fit in out of the 6 billion people on the planet. a very cool tool.
    for example, did you know that if you earn $50k/per year, you are “richer” than 99.02% of the people in the world?

    Reply

  9. Easy E says:

    Den and MP,
    Very well put. Unfortunately, these aren’t the kind of assumptions the Zakheims, Zuckermans, Ross’s, and the rest of the Aspen players, etc., wish to examine. The forces driving U.S. neocon policies overwhelmingly prefer the “blow up” option. Sad.

    Reply

  10. MP says:

    Excellent points, Den. Well worth considering. Our assumptions always have to be re-examined. Or examined for the first time.

    Reply

  11. harry says:

    alec, i’m an old man widowed with 16 grandchildren living in peace on 5 acres in upstate ny enjoying the internet wiseguys and joining in with malicious glee for great laffs. i was a railroad conductor in my yout and enjoy gardening now. hope you and your fiancee are able to have children and you get a better job to bring them up well. in the end that’s all that counts.

    Reply

  12. Den Valdron says:

    I have to express a certain amount of concern over Steve’s defense of whasizname as being a nice guy who is pals with the Syrian ambassador.
    So what? People are never black and white. Concentration camp guards, outside their concentration camps, were funloving jovial family men. Serial killers are quiet friendly people. One should not mistake an affection or character for the realities of a persons actions or politics. Otherwise, it comes down to giving people we like a free pass, no matter how reprehensible they might be.
    At the same time, I find this penchant of Steve’s somewhat disturbing, because it highlights a flaw in the American system. The friendly rounds of handshakes and back patting often mask a policy and analysis apparatus that is badly frawed, distorts information, and doesn’t challenge its own premises. The result is a circle jerk producing bad decisions. This is a fairly theoretical complaint, but the practical results are all around us, and some of those practical results fill mass graves.
    Returning to the larger subject of the thread, I can’t help but wonder at the unchallenged premises.
    - Iran is a regional threat? Why? How? To whom?
    Who has Iran invaded lately? What neighbors have they threatened. Within their region, the Iranians seem to have been relatively good neighbors. More concerned with keeping their house in order (and perhaps not doing terribly well at that) rather than pissing in their neighbors swimming pools.
    - That there needs to be a strategy to meet this putative threat?
    Does there? Given current Iranian behaviour, we can assume that they’re going to spend the next couple of decades not invading their neighbors and not throwing their weight around. We can assume that they’re going to continue to try and get their house in order, expand their trade and so forth. So… what are we supposed to do about that.
    More to the point, is there anything that could or should be done, realistically, to forestall Iraq. There are realities at work here. Here are almost as many Iranians as there are Arabs in the whole rest of the middle east. Iran controls a third of the territory. They’re four times the population of either of their largest rivals. The reality is that simple economics and geography is going to make Iraq the middle eastern equivalent to the EU’s Germany. It is likely to become the driving economy and driving polity for the region. Now, the middle east oil producers are strongly oil export economies. But to the extent that there is any other economic or social infrastructure, how do you deal with Iran’s gravity?
    I don’t think you can. I think that gravity always wins out in the end, though you can, with the application of vast amounts of energy and technology, escape it for a time.
    So perhaps the United States would be better served trying to determine the most probable paths of evolution of the middle east, and trying to accommodate itself to these paths? Perhaps try and influence the direction, rather than impose its own half baked vision?
    Given that there is no evidence that Iran is actually seeking a nuclear weapon, isn’t this discussion pointless?
    If we are arguing that Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, then shouldn’t that argument be out in the open and fully debated, rather than accepted as an unexamined premise?
    If Iran is seeking a nuclear weapon, then realistically, what is our timeline? Ten years? Big deal.
    I applaud the search for a credible option to discourage nuclear weapons, short of actually trying to blow stuff up. But in the blowing things up category… isn’t it possible that the cure will be worse than the disease?
    I know of only one country in the world which possessed nuclear weapons and then dismantled them. That was South Africa, which manufactured six, conducted at least one test in the Indian ocean, and then simply closed it down, dismantled and walked away.
    Perhaps its worth while to examine the South Africa situation and reasoning, and how it does or doesn’t apply to Iran. Perhaps its worthwhile to explore this direction.
    I know of another case where two countries had advanced nuclear weapons programs, and chose to shut them down and walk away. Argentina and Brazil. Can that sort of process be replicated?
    One thing is for sure, it was not sanctions or threats which worked with respect to South Africa, Argentina or Brazil. So what did work? What took these countries away from their precipices?

    Reply

  13. alec says:

    just waiting for all you wackjobs to start claiming that today’s thwarted terrorist attack is just a hoax, perpertrated by “neocons” and aipac, as was 9-11.
    you idiots are the republicans ONLY saving grace!

    Reply

  14. alec says:

    “alec, the JDL is NOT a social welfare organization!”
    i don’t work for the jdl, asshole.
    it’s interesting to me that a big, brave patriot like POA doesn’t want to share any information about himself. what about you carroll? marky? harry?

    Reply

  15. km4 says:

    I was a Gangster for Capitalism
    by Major General Smedley Butler
    November 1935
    “War is a racket. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives”.
    ~ General Smedley Butler
    Bushco gangsterism with their neocons planners for perpetual war have changed the shape of the world for at least the next generation if not longer.

    Reply

  16. cripes almighty! says:

    alec, the JDL is NOT a social welfare organization!

    Reply

  17. Pissed Off American says:

    Oh come, I can’t believe I am reading some of this stuff. Does anyone seriously believe that a nation such as Iran, or Iraq, or Syria, would commit the insane act of attacking the US with nuclear weapons?? Shit, we would reduce them to molten silica on a matter of minutes. The whole thing is about ISRAEL. PERIOD. It is ISRAEL that possesses nuclear weapons in the Middle East, and it is ISRAEL that fuels the desire the Arab nations have for nuclear weaponry. And it is ISRAEL that has PROVEN that they are capable of the kind of MASS MURDER that a nuclear strike represents.
    And why don’t we, our discussions, talk more about how this fucker Bush has sold us this issue of nuclear proliferation while IGNORING the fact that the asshole has declared Pakistan as an “ally”, when in fact it is Pakistan that is irrefutably harboring terrorists, and is responsible for selling nuclear ARMS technology to both Iran and N.Korea???
    This is so fucking bizzarre that it defies description. BEYOND Twilight Zone stuff. Here these dangerous assholes like Cheney and Bush declare a TERRORIST SUPPORTING NUKE POSSESSSING MILITARY DICTATORSHIP as an “ally”, while they activelly work towards the destruction of the democratically elected governments in Gaza and Lebanon, Venezuela, and Haiti.
    And besides, why the hell are these inept and evil assholes determining ANY of our foreign policy decisions?? What success have they had??? Afghanistan is in a state of anarchy, the Taliban are a resurgent force, and the fuckin’ place is pumping heroin out in record amounts.
    Iraq??? Geez, do we REALy have tio discuss what an unmitiogated DISASTER that clusterfuck has become??? Good God, these lying pricks in the White House “liberated” the Iraqi people right into a death rate that is well over ione hundred a day, the infrastructure is NON-EXISTENT, the infant mortality rate is at record levels, and there is every indiocation the place will become a Shiite dominated theocracy, ruled by Shariia law.
    And gee, look what a good mediator and diplomatic catalyst Monkey boy has been in regards to Israel. Lebanon has been shoved back decades, and Hizbollah and Hamas are emerging as super heroes in the Muslim mindset. Good God, could we ask for a bigger disaster if there is truly a “Global War on Terrorism???
    And now these crazy bastards are going to start on Syria or Iran???? Give me a break.

    Reply

  18. p.lukasiak says:

    the reality is that Iran has no intention of building an arsenal of nuclear weapons to use agressively; the only reason they want nukes is as a cost effective deterrent to the various threats that it faces.
    Once the US withdraws from Iraq, and redeploys most of its forces outside the Gulf region, a very large part of the rationale for Iranian nukes will disappear — and the threat of sanctions might work under those circumstances. But with US forces in Iraq there is no way they are going to stop trying to acquire nukes…..
    (I’m not personally convinced that Iran IS really trying to build their own nukes. I mean, it would be a LOT cheaper to bribe enough people to allow a couple of dozen nukes that are sitting around with not a lot of security in the various nations that made up the former Soviet Union to find their way into Iran…..)

    Reply

  19. alec says:

    where is the outrage?
    Sri Lanka rebels say army offensive kills 50 civilians
    KANTALE, Sri Lanka (Reuters) – Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebels said on Thursday more than 50 civilians were killed and 200 injured in their territory in the island’s east during a major army offensive to capture a disputed water supply.
    more at:
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20060810/wl_nm/srilanka_dc_87

    Reply

  20. alec says:

    Alec,
    Just curious…do you ever offer anything except for ignorant sniping? Tell us more about yourself. How old are you, what is your line of work, are you married, etc.
    Hmmm?
    Posted by Marky at August 10, 2006 01:10 AM
    I wish to know more about Alec too. Do you have children? Are you teaching them well so that they have children, and their children have children, onward through the ages? Because that is what only matters in the end. Many are called but few are chosen. Are you chosen, Alec, to go on with your seed; or are you a gutter snipe because Life has passed you by?
    Posted by harry at August 10, 2006 08:18 AM
    ————————————————-
    ignorant sniping?! as if you and your nutroot cronies offer anything other than uninformed and nearly fascist pablum. it’s pathetic, really… and hilarious taboot :) the funniest part is that carroll thinks she is “winning.” HA! and sensing how empowered the pissed off american, carroll, marky and other wackjobs feel posting innane comments in the periphery of the blogosphere is truly priceless! thank you!
    as for me, I’m 35, enagaged to be married in september and i am a consultant for a large, non-profit, social welfare organization headquartered manhattan.

    Reply

  21. MP says:

    Steve: I’m don’t know the backgrounds of the people at the conference. How much solid, first-hand knowledge they have of Iran. They may have a lot or a little or none at all, I don’t know.
    But as a general point, I agree with Tracy Lightcap. What he/she says makes perfect sense. It’s quite clear that the people now making decisions have virtually no useful knowledge–or only very one-sided knowledge–about the countries we’re dealing with in the ME. Of course, even with a lot of good knowledge, one still has to make the right decisions, strategically and ethically.

    Reply

  22. Pissed Off American says:

    “Zakheim is not a neocon — not at all. He is a conservative, and he’s at odds with the Middle East over our policy there and our tacit support of Israel’s disproportionate response.”
    Dang, Steve, I didn’t know they served Kool-Aid at these functions you’re attending. A simple google search of Zakheim alliances are all one needs to do to place him near the top of the heap of the zionist/neo-con radicals. Ask him where our TRILLIONS of dollars of Pentagon funds got off to the next time you soil your soul by dining with this guy, will you? A dual Israeli/American citizen, a card carrying member of AIPAC, a PNAC member, a compatriot of Feith and Perle, a player at OSP, the list goes on and on. You sure you dined with Zakheim last night, and not Donald Duck?
    Man, its one thing to defend Reid as anything other than a mewling opportunistic fraud, but it is quite another to defend the devil. You didn’t buy any bridges from him, did you?

    Reply

  23. Tracy Lightcap says:

    Ah, Steve, Steve.
    You’re worried about the gender balance in the room at your conference. The gender balance. The gender balance.
    Bud, what you should have been worried about – and I mean in spades – is that there is not a single expert on Iran on the panel. Not one on their society, not one on their politics, not one on their ideology. And, not to put too fine a point on it, not a single Muslim, Shi’ia or not.
    If there is one thing that our recent experiences with 4G wars with other cultures should have taught us by now, it is that the knowledge of the actions of our opponents that seeps up to the decision-making level is nearly worthless. Sure, a lot of these guys have a lot of second hand knowledge about Iran, the kind of stuff you pick up from “insiders” and “intel”. This kind of puddle-deep exposure is almost guaranteed to recapitulate and reinforce our old friend “conventional wisdom”. Either you get a conflict of views, usually drawn from the losers in current policy debates, or a symphony of nodding heads among supporters of that policy.
    You guys at the NAF need to get put about half these worthies in the room with an equal number of people who ACTUALLY KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT IRAN. Then – and only then – can you have a chance to come up with ideas that break the stale crust of the usual take on these vitally important matters.

    Reply

  24. cahn do says:

    Pakistan should give Iran a few nuclear weapons with the means to deliver them as a peace gesture so that Iran has no fear that Pakistan might use its nuclear arsenal on them. Suspicions would be relieved and they can live together in peace, neither thinking the other is anymore a threat. Relieve tensions on that front, that is my hope for the coming days if it hasn’t happened already since July 12.

    Reply

  25. Publius says:

    Steve,
    Magnus Ranstorp was on NPR this morning commenting insightfully on the situation in Great Britain. Al Qaeda is clearly still alive and well. UBL still plots. Bernard Haykel argues that Hezbollah and Al Qaeda would never cooperate. Although his expertise is substantial, this judgement strikes me as a bit optimistic, particularly if Iran is attacked by the 3 nations UBL/AZ despise most. As advised by the 9/11 Commmission and the letter George received, it’s time to enrich the treasury of imagination in dealing with these complex and foreign situations – sooner rather than later.

    Reply

  26. bakho says:

    The concern about Iran getting nukes is overblown. States get nukes to deter wars, not to use them in wars. Neighboring Pakistan and India both have nukes and that should be far more of a concern. After the US used nukes, no one else who has had them has used them because the MAD is plenty of deterrent. Nuke programs are bad for the environment (look at Washington, or Rocky Flats or SC, or contaminated cities in the FSU, or the British pollution of the North Sea. They are a drain on the economy and come with a heavy price. Nukes are useful as a deterrent to hot wars (US and USSR still have not gone to war) but are not very useful in a war because of the reprocussions. Since WWII, the US has not used nukes. The Soviets did not nuke Afghanistan. Britain did not nuke the Faulklands. France did not nuke Algeria.
    The big issue is the lack of diplomatic effort by the Bush administration and their stupid belief that military force or threat of military force are more effective than skillful diplomacy. This belief in military force has made the destruction of Lebanon US policy. Destroying Lebanon will have far worse consequences in the future than a nuclear Iran. States can be relatively easily deterred from using nukes. Failed states lack the ability to control militant organizations. Jihadis are next to impossible to control without a strong state.

    Reply

  27. harry says:

    I wish to know more about Alec too. Do you have children? Are you teaching them well so that they have children, and their children have children, onward through the ages? Because that is what only matters in the end. Many are called but few are chosen. Are you chosen, Alec, to go on with your seed; or are you a gutter snipe because Life has passed you by?

    Reply

  28. Steve Clemons says:

    With all due respect to the posters on Dov Zakheim, the information that has been linked shows how inaccurate and defamatory some material can be on the web.
    Zakheim is not a neocon — not at all. He is a conservative, and he’s at odds with the Middle East over our policy there and our tacit support of Israel’s disproportionate response.
    I had dinner with Dov Zakheim last night — at a small forum he chaired with the Ambassador of Syria. If he were any of the things that some have posted here, he would not have been hosting the Syrian Ambassador with whom he clearly was old friends.
    Steve Clemons

    Reply

  29. Marky says:

    Alec,
    Just curious…do you ever offer anything except for ignorant sniping? Tell us more about yourself. How old are you, what is your line of work, are you married, etc.
    Hmmm?

    Reply

  30. Easy E says:

    Virtually entire Dem leadership is on the “Israel has a right to defend itself” bandwagon. Funding stops if there’s any hint of straying from the wagon. GOP’s Hagel is taking a cutting edge “opposition” position which may prove effective in countering Dem’s establishment “Israel-first” strategy. Regardless, this has never been about Republican vs. Democratic matters.

    Reply

  31. Gloria says:

    I see that Wes Clark was at this meeting. I am still wondering how he got on the “Israel has a right to defend itself” bandwagon immediately, and via FOX, no less. Never a mention of proportionality or any attempt as an ANALYST to adopt a more neutral position in explaining the actions of both sides. Politically, I would have thought he would have wanted to adopt a more “statesmanlike” posture, perhaps that of an “honest broker” approach. In his appearances on FOX early in the conflict he sounded like a spokesman for the Bush Administration.
    What really confounds me is that Clark has in the past and to this day espouses dialogue with Syria and Iran…and yet, he roars out of the box supporting a planned operation by Israel that smacked of PNAC from day one…and which is now widely discussed as being a way to lay the groundwork for attacks on Syria and/or Iran. I cannot believe that Clark doesn’t see the connection.
    As someone who has strongly supported Clark, I have moved to a more neutral position because I find this to be a very questionable call on his part.

    Reply

  32. Easy E says:

    Zakheim and Zuckerman? Why do these evil-doers continue to shape our foreign policy? Aspen and these sessions sound more sinister than thought provoking. On a related note, here’s a link where James Bamford discusses ‘A Clean Break’/War for Israel agenda for Iraq, Syria and Iran on MSNBC’s ‘Countdown with Keith Olbermann’:
    http://www.corvuswire.com/cleanbreak.htm

    Reply

  33. alec says:

    “Thinking about Steve’s comments more…I think a revolution right here in the USA is not only not premature but long overdue.
    Let’s not keep war a specator sport, let’s all get in the game.”
    this community is full of such beautiful people who embody all the righteous attributes of compassion, hope and love.
    what an inspiring vibe.

    Reply

  34. Carroll says:

    Thinking about Steve’s comments more…I think a revolution right here in the USA is not only not premature but long overdue.
    Let’s not keep war a specator sport, let’s all get in the game.

    Reply

  35. alec says:

    POA wrote:
    “Dov Zakheim is an evil son of a bitch, and he would consign us to ashes if he thought it would benefit Israel.
    I see now where the IDF is claiming it has captured Iranian soldiers in Lebanon. Once again, I must re-iterate, this is DESIGNED to escalate, and Iran is obviously the goal of the escalation. By the end of the year our soldiers will be dying to do more of Israel’s bidding in Syria and Iran, the dead in the ME are going to number in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and we will be damned lucky if China and Russia are not waving nuclear sabers at us.”
    wrong. wrong. wrong. nothing new from you.

    Reply

  36. Matthew says:

    John: You are flirting with blasphemy! You are trying to offer a logical solution to a problem our President and his British Butler (Billmon’s phrase) don’t want solved. The never-ending war is our governing strategy. If we have peace, Bush has to go back to talking about “No Child Left Behind”–not exactly equivalent to squawking into a megaphone at Ground Zero.

    Reply

  37. John says:

    Nuk’em or nothing doesn’t sound like much of a strategy. Has anyone thought of giving Iran firm security guarantees in return for its abandoning the nuclear program? I bet Iran would even agree to mutual non-agression treaties with its neighbors, particularly if Israel were defanged.

    Reply

  38. Jerome Gaskins says:

    The only action needed is for the US & UK to stop propounding the myth of Iran seeking nuclear weapons.
    We should treat them as we want to be treated. We expect the world to forgive us of our transgressions, so we should forgive them of taking hostages.
    After all, we did steal their democracy.

    Reply

  39. DonS says:

    These fine upstanding and influential power posessing being speak within the parameters of us against them. I think. The way forward in the future, for real conciliators is to think of a third way, that acknowledges the legitimacy of those we now see as enemies.
    Oh forget it. I’m in a much too idealistic tonight to be acceptable.

    Reply

  40. HollyC says:

    This meeting is excellent news- many are waiting on the edges of their seats to hear more about what bringing such fine, serious minded folks together may yield.
    Thank you.
    a wes clark democrat

    Reply

  41. km4 says:

    Nixon ’68 quote fits George W. Bush today
    “When the strongest nation in the world can be tied up for … years in a war … with no end in sight, when the richest nation in the world can’t manage its own economy, when the nation with the greatest tradition of the rule of law is plagued by unprecedented lawlessness, … and when the President of the United States cannot travel abroad or to any major city at home without fear of a hostile demonstration – then it’s time for new leadership for the United States of America.”
    – Richard Nixon, 1968
    The only edit was Vietnam. Everything else basically the same!

    Reply

  42. km4 says:

    So now we have the shameful spectacle of an American president asking his rubber stamp Congress to redefine the meaning of “war crimes,” lest at some future date and in some future place he and his flunkies be forced to account for theirs. Just call it the Milosevic Amendment.
    Is there a pit of slime so filthy these moral cretins won’t drag us through it? A cup of national humiliation so bitter they won’t make us drain it to the dregs?
    Apparently not.
    http://billmon.org/archives/002661.html

    Reply

  43. SW says:

    We know enough about the Bush administration now to realize that they don’t do policy. They do domestic politics. Ask Paul O’Neill. There is no policy shop.
    Right now, the Republicans are headed for disaster in November.
    And a Republican disaster in November is a personal disaster for the architects of our current predicament. A predicament that is not without a certain amount of legal exposure.
    One thing that must be avoided at all costs is subpoena power in the hands of a Democratic house of representatives.
    Therefore, there is but one move left on the chess board.
    Bomb Iran.
    Bomb Iran in October.
    Bomb Iran late enough so that you get the “rally round the flag” effect. It just might get you over the hump in the elections and stave off a Democratic majority in the house.
    Do it in October, and the negative consequences, soaring gasoline prices, major unrest in the region, blowback at home and in Israel, won’t be felt until after the election.
    First of course you would give a heads up to Israel so they could clear out the boarder with Lebanon.

    Reply

  44. your news says:

    “The ticking clock and Tehran”
    ……We’ll be speaking Farsi before long if Tehran’s mad mullahs have their way, and it is lamentably the case that they’re far stronger today than they were a couple of years ago, thanks to the hand-wringing European allies of ours who deluded themselves that diplomacy might actually persuade these deranged medieval gangsters to follow accepted nuclear accountability rules…..
    That was the 2nd paragraph of an editorial in the NY Daily News on January 24th, 2006. The paper is owned and published by Mort Zuckerman. The editorial page is his bully pulpit.

    Reply

  45. Carroll says:

    I would be more encouraged if the Aspen meeting had started with the question..”Why would Iran want to attack the US anyway”.
    Which isn’t asked because the answer is they wouldn’t..unless the US or Israel was a threat to them.
    I never thought I would see the exact same German sceniro played out in the world again chapter by chapter, complete with half the population asleep at the wheel just like the complacent German society.
    The Ministry of Propaganda.. aka the US media, the new Jews on horseback..aka the Arabs…the extending of the Motherland..aka the Neo empire.
    For the Israelis, WWIII is and always has been about the zionist version of the German Lebensraum …
    “Without consideration of “traditions” and prejudices, it [Germany](Israel) must find the courage to gather our people and their strength for an advance along the road that will lead this people from its present restricted living space to new land and soil, and hence also free it from the danger of vanishing from the earth or of serving others as a slave nation.
    — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf 1 The geopolitical concept.
    For Bush’s America it is about a 60 year old dry drunk trying to be the decider and a man by doing mano-mano against his daddy’s way in all things and a cabal of paranoid pyschopaths who think they can colonize the ME and it’s resources, even though every other country on earth thruout history has failed at colonizing empires, and that the US, thru them personally of course must rule the world, because only they are fit to wield power and rule.

    Reply

  46. Publius says:

    Excellent work, Steve, even if there seems to be a shortage of Persian and Arab names and warfare analysts among the roster of listed counsellors. (Also one or two who lack realist credentials and a shortage of heartland/southern elites/journalists.) Gauging and predicting the behavior of this very opaque society – Iran – requires native fluency in the cultural and linguistic signals of Iran’s leadership if analyses of Iranian reasonableness/rationality are to foster reliable prediction of that regime’s regional behavior. Concerning the suggestion by the NSC official that your Aspen council is premature, the suggestion should come as no surprise. This administration are masters at deception. Also, missing utterly from the analysis of the Lieberman defeat is how blissfully irrelevant the IraQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ “pro-war/anti-war” debate will be if Iran is attacked in October – truly a desirable outcome from Rove’s perspective and continuing focus on the seriousness and toughness of The Decider/CIC in campaign message formulation. Consider the focus of current public and media attention now that Israel is attacking Lebanon/Hezbollah. Iraq has virtually vanished in the public mind. IraNNNN has already been linked with the “bad guys” in this conflict in the minds of heartland voters. Do Bush & Rove have any interest in allowing public attention to re-focus on the disaster of Iraq in the period leading up to an election that will determine whether Bush’s agenda can proceed or lead to near certain impeachment investigations? No. More usefully, at least in public comments, progressive analysts are ignoring very recent war-mongering history. Rove/Bush created the doomed conditions for any negotiations with Iraq on WMD by conjuring a very effective but false image of Iraqi non-compliance with Security Council Resolutions and other legal obligations and by potraying Iraq as a dangerous rogue state. Rogue state, yes. Dangerous, no. Similarly, Rove/Bush engaged in pseudo-diplomacy with the complicity of a far too eager to please Tony “Yo” Blair with the intention of using those diplomatic gestures as a mere ruse of good faith in achieving non-violent conflict resolution. Deja vu. It is time for the major progressive advocacy organizations interested in curbing this administration at the polls in November to realize that the current ill fortunes of the RNC and administration can be erased PROVISIONALLY in time to rally public support for the limited purpose of supporting the party that is “serious about the war on terror [IraNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN].” How many experts at the Center for American Progress, Brookings, etc. have advisors working on the question of Iran currently and – just as importantly – have a serious media strategy to alert the Establishment media, the progressive community and the public more generally to this real and forseeable gamble with the nation’s security for the sake of maintaining a Republican majority in the House of Representatives? Several reliable reports indicate close, concealed coordination between Olmert and Bush prior to the Israeli attack on Lebanon, and public statements by Israeli government officials are amply nourishing the dossier of evidence to build up Iran’s rogue nation credentials. (The still influential PNAC crowd makes no secret of their desire to attack Iran.) The timing of this incursion into Lebanon could not have been better from a RNC domestic politics perspective, and it was unforeseen by far too many debating these issues in the strategy councils of the progressive side of the Washington establishment. Any day now, Hezbollah will retaliate viciously against Israel, raising the temperature of the conflict and the acuteness of the sought for “birth pangs” of the new Middle East. Nasrallah warned Arab Muslims to leave Haifa today. Hezbollah must replenish its ammunition by some means in order to sustain its effort against Israel. Who might dare to supply Hezbollah in what would be a certain provocation if not an overt act of war against Israel? Iran. Certainly, Iran’s ambitions to become a nuclear power must be halted as long as it is ruled by religious zealots, but in the absence of overwhelming preemptive domestic and international pressure the Bush administration has no incentive to check those ambitions in circumstances that would deprive the “Commander-in-Chief” of a chance to display his peacock’s tail against the land of the Peacock Throne. What of the pragmatic considerations that we will be overstretched if we attack Iran and that Bush knows this? Has being overstretched ever deterred the militarists in this administration? Certainly, a land invasion of Iran is inconceivable, but a potent bombing attack of unprecedented force (possibly involving tactical nuclear armaments) would inflict sufficient damage to forecast the deterrence of serious retaliation by Iran, retaliation which this administration is too arrogant to imagine as likely if not certain.
    As recommended in the spring, if he has not already, George Soros needs to speak urgently with (1) Magnus Ranstorp and the other experts recommended at that time, (2) talented media strategy firms and (3) Reid, Pelosi and the heads of the DSCC and DCCC. It’s time to get serious about the nexus between international gamesmanship and domestic politicking.
    Cheers.

    Reply

  47. Pissed Off American says:

    “Steve, you do realize that Rabbi Dov Zakheim is a signee of PNAC, a rabid Zionist who no doubt is more loyal to Israel, worked at System Panning Corporation which dealt with remote control technology of airplanes, worked with Tridata Corporation who investigated the WTC bombing in ’93 and was the Pentagon Comptroller when over one trillion dollars went unaccounted for. If you want his opinions about something, I suggest you ask him about his role in 9/11. Be careful who you choose to associate with.”
    Posted by ManagedChaos
    Dov Zakheim is an evil son of a bitch, and he would consign us to ashes if he thought it would benefit Israel.
    I see now where the IDF is claiming it has captured Iranian soldiers in Lebanon. Once again, I must re-iterate, this is DESIGNED to escalate, and Iran is obviously the goal of the escalation. By the end of the year our soldiers will be dying to do more of Israel’s bidding in Syria and Iran, the dead in the ME are going to number in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, and we will be damned lucky if China and Russia are not waving nuclear sabers at us.

    Reply

  48. ManagedChaos says:

    “Booz Allen Executive and former Bush administration Pentagon official DOV ZAKHEIM”
    Steve, you do realize that Rabbi Dov Zakheim is a signee of PNAC, a rabid Zionist who no doubt is more loyal to Israel, worked at System Panning Corporation which dealt with remote control technology of airplanes, worked with Tridata Corporation who investigated the WTC bombing in ’93 and was the Pentagon Comptroller when over one trillion dollars went unaccounted for. If you want his opinions about something, I suggest you ask him about his role in 9/11. Be careful who you choose to associate with.

    Reply

  49. Matthew says:

    MP, I think you are on to something: “Isn’t the problem of Iran acquiring nukes just the problem of nuclear proliferation in general…”?
    Maybe we should phrase this way: “Isn’t the problem of Iran–or any oil exporting country–with nuclear proliferation?” Do we really fear an Iran that we can’t attack? In a world with diminishing oil supplies, it might be unacceptable to have oil exporting countries with WMD. You can’t “liberate” them…

    Reply

  50. MP says:

    Steve: Did anyone there have a realistic estimate (in your view) as to when Iran might acquire deliverable nuclear weapons?
    Isn’t the problem of Iran acquiring nukes really just the problem of nuclear proliferation in general–what does it mean for the world, how do we contain it or roll it back or just live with it?

    Reply

  51. marky says:

    Why isn’t it a realistic scenario that a nuclear-armed Iran will lead to a balance of power and more stability in the region?
    Hasn’t the situation between India and Pakistan gotten less tense since both have nuclear weapons? I admit I don’t follow that news closely, but several years ago, the conflict between them was near daily front page news—not so today.
    I would prefer to see Iran not have nuclear weapons, but it is not realistic to expect other ME nations to eschew nuclear weapons in the presence of an aggressive nuclear-armed state in the region.
    By the way, I have a thought experiment. Suppose that Syria were actually a formidable military power, and suppose that Israel kidnapped two members of the Syrian parliament whom they claimed were terrorist leaders (an all too plausible event, I’m sure you’ll agree).
    Suppose that then Syria bombed the infrastructure of Israel and bombed the houses of their military leaders, leading to hundreds of deaths and the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Israelis.
    Would this be a proportionate response?
    What value does the US get from paying billions of dollars to a country which spies on us, sinks our ships, sells our military secrets to our enemies?
    I don’t get it.

    Reply

  52. Easy E says:

    The pragmatic scenario that should be investigated is (1) global disarmament of all nuclear weaponry (U.S., China, Russia, France, India, Pakistan, Israel)and (2) allowing Iran to develop peaceful nuclear capability. What’s so difficult about a balanced and consistent global nuclear policy?

    Reply

  53. Pissed Off American says:

    Judging from the events of the laast theree weeks it is obvious we should be FAR MORE concerned with ISRAEL’S possession of nuclear arms. Not only because they have demonstrated in Lebanon that they are not above committing mass murder, but also because of thier propensity for false flag terorist operations, and thier long history and ongoing practice of espionage against the United States. Should we finally waver in our subservience to thier agenda, they HAVE the weaponry to stage a false flag nuclear event in the United States. Certainly the proceeds of the first “trifecta” have nearly been spent, and you can bet the responsible parties are scrambling for another thriller that will send us back to our duct-taped basements.

    Reply

  54. Matthew says:

    What is unthinkable about a nuclear armed Iran? What doom and gloom scenario will occur? That assumption should be investigated.

    Reply

Add your comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *