Sunday, March 27, 2005
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The convenient out of "national dialogue "
Richard Clarke recently started a column in the New York Times Magazine on national security issues. His latest effort, on Iran, is a bit frustrating, but I'm on the fence about whether this the fault lies with Clarke or his word count.
Clarke spends the bulk of the article arguing that the invasion of Iraq has served Iran's national interest even better that Amercan interests, and argues that hoping for democratization to overwhelm Iran's mullahs would be foolish. He also takes potshots as the administration's recent decisions to recognize Hezbollah as a political party in Lebanon and allow the EU to take the (temporary) lead on nuclear talks.
With that, here's how Clarke closes:
Clarke was the NSC Director for Counterterrorism for more than a decade. He's just spent 500 words shredding the administration's menu of Iran policy options. One would think that this would be the right moment for Clarke, a genuine expert on this question, to introduce his own thoughts on the matter. Instead, we get a "national dialogue" cop-out. That's a close second behind "mobilize political willpower" on the list of Grand and Meaningless Policy Proposals. It's particularly odd with regard to Iran, since national dialogues about foreign policy tend to be limited to questions of grand strategy or imminent war.
It's possible that Clarke is fresh out of constructive ideas on this subject. To give him the benefit of the doubt, however, it's also possible that a 700-word limit on his column prevents a fuller explication of his thoughts. My money is on the former -- a savvy columnist would have put in a teaser for a future column devoted solely to this topic -- but I'll give him some benefit of the doubt and see what emerges in future columns.posted by Dan on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM
Perhaps the problem is that no US citizen within -2/+3 std deviations of the center will accept any foreign policy, but particularly one in relation to Iran, which does not include the United States determining the fate and future of the other nations - and again particularly Iran. But regardless of what W or anyone else in the United States does, it is very unlikely that the US will in fact determine the future of Iran. Help and nudge in a direction we prefer perhaps, but the Rumsfeld Collapse in Iraq has terminated forever the possibility of the US being a benevolent ruler of the Middle East.
So - what is Clarke to say? The "national dialogue" bit may be a cop-out, but perhaps is really IS saying that the US needs to be talking about this kind of thing so it can start the healing process (as the psychobabble set likes to say).
Crankyposted by: Cranky Observer on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
Perhaps Clarke does not want to spoil a good critique by being that guy who wanted America to accept Iran as a nuclear power, or make a grand bargain with the Islamists to keep them Bomb-free.
When observing Mr. Clarke last year I wondered whether he wasn't suffering from the McClellan syndrome. McClellan was the General who built the Army of the Potomac but failed to lead it to victory. McClellan was a brilliant man (not least in his own mind) and it was very clear to him that if George McClellan couldn't beat Robert E Lee, nobody could. Certainly not that doltish drunkard Grant. McClellan held no high opinion of Abraham Lincoln either and went on to lose to Lincoln in the 1864 presidential election.
I wonder whether Clarke has no good answers and therefore deduces that no-one else does either. If so Bush was perfectly justified in letting him go....posted by: Don Stadler on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
I have yet to see anything from Clarke that obliges me to take him moe seriously than the next commenter. He may have had access to more classified information, but it's not clear he has more common sense.posted by: Richard Heddleson on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
I think Clarke's column is an interesting piece of analysis in itself even if it doesn't present a solution to the Iranian problem.
There is no question that the Iranian regime has benefited from the war and its aftermath. One of their biggest benefits,which Clarke doesn't mention, is that the US has squandered much of its intelligence credibility and diplomatic capital in the last few years and these are crucial assets in isolating Iran and putting it under serious pressure to stop its nuclear weapons activities.
Considering that much of the bogus intelligence came from exiles like Chalabi with ties to Iran it almost makes you wonder whether Iran , or at least some elements in its regime, didn't help manipulate the US into the war. Of course having 150,000 US troops on its borders would be unnerving for them, but Iran may have calculated that ,Iraq being in its backyard ,it would be able to simultaneously keep the US bogged down while pushing its allies into positions of power. Which is pretty much how it has turned out.
Even if Iran didn't deliberately seek the war it has certainly played its cards well since then. War often creates unintended consequences and unwelcome beneficiaries and I think Clarke's column is a useful reminder of that.
posted by: Strategist on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
When the New York Times hires someone, they obviously hire him to repeat the "Bush is evil" and "Bush is an idiot" memes. If Mr. Clarke wants to keep his job, he'll continue to do exactly what he's doing now.
Meanwhile, Mr. Drezner will obtain, from reading the Times, just as much knowledge of the true situation in the Middle East as readers of the Times in 1930s obtained about the true situation in the Soviet Union.posted by: y81 on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
I think Clarke is wrong when he implies that Iran is going to have strong influence over Iraq. There is a strong theological split between the Iraqi Shiites, including Sistani, and the Iraqi clerical regime. The Iraqis are anti-theocratic, in part because they believe that if religion becomes part of government, then the clerics will become corrupted and people will turn away from Islam. And in fact, that is exactly what they have seen happen in Iran.
Najaf, in Iraq, is the traditional center for Shia Islam. It was over-shadowed the last three decades by Qom in Iraq because of suppression by the Baathists. Now that Iraq is free, Najaf is returning to its former influence, and that is very threatening to Iran. In addition, the great majority of Iranians who hate the present clerical regime now get to see a Shiite-majority democracy next door. All this is bad news for the Iraqi theocrats.posted by: Les Brunswick on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
But Les, Iran already has a strong influence on Iraqi politics. It's well known that Jafari is Iran's boy.posted by: praktike on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
Richard Clarke is an expert on counterterrorism, not on Iran. Had he written about threats to American territory, lives and property from terrorists receiving Iranian support I do not think he would been driven to the lame expedient of calling for a "national dialogue."
The war to overthrow the Iraqi Baathist regime was most in Iran's interest if one accepts a proposition that most American critics of the war do not: that without war, Saddam Hussein would have resumed and completed his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction. Threatening as such weapons might have been to us, it was against Iran that Saddam had ordered their use in the past.
But that's water under the bridge. At this time, it isn't clear either that an internal Iranian consensus about Iran's national interests with respect to Iraq exists, or that we have an accurate picture of the views of various Iranian political factions on that subject. It appears not unlikely that Iranian influence in Iraq has been exercised by different groups in contradictory directions in the past. This is probably still happening.
The cross-border traffic between Iran and Iraq is undoubtedly the Tehran government's major conduit for intelligence about developments in Iraq. There is no reason I can see why this should be a one-way street. I don't even know what a "national dialogue" is, but I'm pretty sure that the first thing to do if one is worried about a war starting over shaky intelligence is to get better intelligence.posted by: Zathras on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
"I think Clarke is wrong when he implies that Iran is going to have strong influence over Iraq"
posted by: s on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
BTW here is a relevant Time article by Tony Karon called: "Will Iran win Iraq's Election". Well worth reading.
(PS: I wrote the previous post by "s")
posted by: Strategist on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
Meanwhile, Mr. Drezner will obtain, from reading the Times, just as much knowledge of the true situation in the Middle East as readers of the Times in 1930s obtained about the true situation in the Soviet Union.
Thanks Judith!posted by: anon on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
Better watch out Daniel: you are in serious danger of being labelled "not serious", which as we all know is the worst possible thing the Radical Right can say about someone.
Crankyposted by: Cranky Observer on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
This is the same New York Times that published several front page articles about Lebanon in the last month, had a big article on the Assad/Hariri clash, had another big article on how Shias in Saudi Arabia were getting more assertive, and had several positive reports on Iraq (including one on the 80 insurgents killed in a raid, and another on how the US has regained control of a key road in Baghdad).posted by: erg on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
Clarke is no more a foriegn policy expert than he is a computer expert - remember the Y2K scare? He one of those most responsible for over-hyping the threat.
If you read the column closely you will see what Clarke really is - an expert on beurocratic warfare and survival.
He has done nothing more than sum up the conventional wisdom that his editors already believe in, dressed up with a few personal pronouns, and ended with warnings and a vague paltitude.
This is usless if you want to get anything done in the world, but if you want to position yourself to take credit for any success (or critisize any failure) it is almost perfect.
Jos seems rather harsh. How many people were walking around D.C. the week before 9/11, warning that al-Qaeda was going to kill hundreds of Americans?
That said, I guess it's a statistical likelihood that SOMEONE would've been saying that. Maybe it just happened to be Clarke. Still, from his book & other books (not all complimentary to him), I think he's sharper than most of the people running the present Administration.
Maybe he has no constructive suggestion because it's really hard to think of anything clever we can do by this point?posted by: Anderson on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
Clarke opposes military action and opposes sitting on the sidelines while the EU takes a softer approach. What about joining the EU in taking a softer approach? I don't see that as contradictory.posted by: Brian S. on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
>But Les, Iran already has a strong influence on Iraqi politics. It's well known that Jafari is Iran's boy. -- praktike
>Iran already has a strong influence over Iraq. The two leading parties in the UIA: Dawa and SCIRI have close ties with Iran. SCIRI in particular not only had its main office in Tehran but received military training from Iran's Revolutionary Guard. Other important leaders like Chalabi and Talabani also have ties with Iran. This doesn't mean that Iraq will be either an Iranian puppet or a replica of their theocratic model. But even if the future Iraqi government is just semi-friendly with Iran it will be a huge improvement for them over Saddam. -- s
The fact that there are close ties doesn't say which direction the influence will go. s starts by saying that Iran has strong influence over Iraq, which sounds like Iran gives the orders and Iraq follows. At the end he admits that this will not the case.
Furthermore, yes, Dawa and SCIRI have close ties to Iran, but they have become much more moderate in their views in the last two years. I think what is going on here is that when Saddam was in power, they had to follow Iran's rule in order to get its support. Now that Saddam is gone, they can go back to being Iraqi Shiites.
Everyone has this idea that Iran is going to use Iraq to spread its particular radical form of Islam. Heck, it can't even persuade its own population to follow it.posted by: Les Brunswick on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
Bearing in mind that Clarke was in charge of U.S. counterterrorism policy during the 1990s, when the U.S. engaged in almost no genuine counterterrorist activity, Clarke also misreads the importance of democratizing Iraq in taking down Iran's government.
True, Iran wanted Saddam gone, but this was short-sighted of them, and predicated on the hope of preventing the rise of a democracy in Iraq. A democratic Iraq, especially a moderate Islamist-led democratic Iraq, is a much greater threat to Iran that Saddam could have been, especially since the U.S. also had an interest in containing him. As Shia Iranians see free Shia Iraqis with voting power they don't have, this will increase pressure on the regime. The fact that Iraq's leading Shia have impeccable Islamic credentials means that Tehren's mullahs can't raise the religion card.
The problem is that this process could take a decade or two, and we don't have that. As the world's leading sponsor of terrorism, a nuclear Iran would be a nightmare, and we are probably only a couple of years away from that. So all options, however problematic, do need to be on the table.posted by: Kirk H. Sowell on 03.27.05 at 12:25 PM [permalink]
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