Monday, January 23, 2006

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Bill Clinton is responsible for the Iran mess

So I see Brad DeLong is intervening intellectually outside his home area of expertise. Here are his latest thoughts on Iran (riffing off a Fareed Zakaria column):

Back in the George H.W. Bush administration the end of the Cold War broke the mold of world politics, and made new modes and orders of world affairs possible. George H. W. Bush and his advisors worked like dogs to establish two principles:
1. Aggression and conquest across national borders would be rolled back by the world community.

2. Superpowers would not intervene militarily outside their home regions without the blessing and support of the entire U.N. Security Council.

With these two principles in place, there was sound hope--well, some hope--that nonproliferation policy would succeed: diplomats could point out to countries thinking of developing nuclear programs that such programs (a) were expensive, (b) increased the chances that their citizens and cities would suffer thermonuclear death (are Pakistani and Indian citizens safer now that both have nuclear weapons? I do not think so), and (c) did not add to their national security--unless their government thought that it was so despicable and tyrannical that the entire Security Council would agree on its overthrow.

The George W. Bush administration broke principle number 2. It declared that there were three governments--Iraq's, Iran's, and North Korea's--that constituted an "axis of evil." North Korea's government claimed to have a nuclear deterrent and has survived. Iraq's government could not claim to have a nuclear deterrent and was overthrown. And Iran's government--and every other government--has drawn the natural conclusion: the threat of nuclear retaliation is the only protection against being overthrown by a U.S. president.

Let's clear some brush here:
1) DeLong's principle number 2 has not and likely never will be a cardinal element of American foreign policy, and anyone who tells you differently is selling you something.

This is not to say that the U.S. doesn't like the Security Council's imprimatur when it can get it. But neither George H.W. Bush nor Bill Clinton nor George W. Bush would ever say the Security Council gets a veto on out-of-theater military operations.

[But this allows other states to act in a similar manner!--ed. Yes, but since no other country has the logistical infrastructure to take military action against a country 3,000 miles away, that's a tradeoff most presidents can live with).

In fact, the two terms of the Clinton administration was one long, slow shift away from the Security Council's tendrils and towards clubbier multilateral institutions (NATO) as well as unilateral action. The Clinton team was fully prepared to take pre-emptive military action against North Korea in 1994 even though China would have vetoed any Security Council resolution authorizing force. They unilaterally struck both Afghanistan and Sudan following the 1998 embassy bombings. And, of course, they intervened in Kosovo with the blessing of NATO but not the Security Council.

By DeLong's logic, it's the Clinton administration's bellicose actions and rhetoric that forced the Iranians into proliferating. [UPDATE: Just to be perfectly clear -- I'm not really blaming Bill Clinton. I'm just taking DeLOng's argument, which I believe to be faulty, to its logical conclusion.]

2) DeLong's counterfactual is that if the Bush administration had not created an "Axis of Evil" or invaded Iraq, Ian would not be pursuing nuclear weapons. Yeah, not so much, no. Iran's nuclear ambitions -- and its weapons program -- did not spring forth from Bush's Axis of Evil speech. It comes from the fact that a) Iran is not located in the most stable region in the world; b) Iran's existential enemies -- the U.S. and Israel -- both have nukes; and c) The United States seems to be invading countries awfully close to Iran. I agree with DeLong that the administration is responsible for (c), but let's not kid ouurselves -- this was going to be a problem at some point.

3) I'm going to have to check, but I haven't been reading about any other countries -- or "every other government" -- frantically trying to acquire nuclear weapons since the invasion of Iraq. In fact, some countries -- such as LIbya -- have changed their minds and scrubbed their WMD programs. Other countries that one would expect to start proliferating, such as Japan, have not chosen to do so. This is partly due to the administration moderately successful Proliferation Security Initiative -- and it could also be due to the knock-on effect from invading Iraq. In fact, if memory serves, the Iraq invasion actually prompted the Iranians to want to cut a deal with the United States on its WMD program. An offer the Bush administration foolishly rejected.

There's a lot of blame to pin on the Bush administration for a whole bunch of policy sins. There's no need to invent nonexistent foreign policy doctrines for the administration to violate in the process.

UPDATE: Brad responds in good humor with this post. His key piece of evidence is a quotation from pp. 489-90 of Bush and Scowcroft's A World Transformed:

Trying to eliminate Saddam [Hussein in 1991], extending the ground war into an occupation of Iraq, would have violated our guideline about not changing objectives in midstream, engaging in 'mission creep,' and would have incurred incalculable human and political costs.... We would have been forced to... rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable "exit strategy".... Furthermore, we had been self-consciously trying to set a pattern for handling aggression in the post-Cold War world. Going in and occupying Iraq, thus unilaterally exceeding the United Nations' mandate, would have destroyed the precedent of international response to aggression that we hoped to establish...
To which I must reply -- look at p. 356, Brad!!:
We would ask the [Security] Council to act only if we knew in advance we had the backing of most of the Arab bloc and we were fairly certain we had the necessary votes. If at any point it became clear we could not succeed, we would back away from a UN mandate and cobble together a independent multinational effort built on friendly Arab and allied participation. The grounds for this would be the initial UN resolution condemning Iraq, the subsequent resolutions, and Article 51, along with a request from the Emir of Kuwait. In the end, if sanctions failed and it came to using force, [Richard] Haass and [Bob] Kimmitt reminded us that our ability to rally the necessary political support, with or without UN endorsement, would be enhanced significantly if we were seen to have tried hard to make diplomacy work [with Hussein].
I fear this intervention is turning into a quagmire for Professor DeLong :-)

posted by Dan on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM


Clinton does share much of the burden, but the item you list as (c), American occupation of countries to the left and right of Iran, can't be overstated. As necessary as it may be, it surely is a significant factor in Iranian opinion and policy. Iran has much more reason to be nervous than it did in 2000, or even late 2001. And hence, nuke-hungry.

Of course, the US would be crazy to invade Iran, but the Iranians don't want to take the chance of trusting in reason.

posted by: b. phillips on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

The George I Administration "worked like dogs" to establish,

1. Aggression and conquest across national borders would be rolled back by the world community.

um, except in the Balkans where they rolled over like a dog.

posted by: remo williams on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

Regarding Iran and the Bomb: I think the occupation of Iraq has changed Iran for the worse. Before, it was a sort of religious oligarchy with the mullahs having the last word but with a restive population who were much less anti-western and anti-American. I question how much popular support there was for the bomb program compared to other social demands. Now, as far as I can tell from reading about Iran, the population is more in line with the Mullahs on security issues and support for the nuclear program is substantial. It's true that our policy has not created the desire for nuclear weapons, but it seems to have galvanized the population behind getting them. Just as here at home, the sense of danger encourages people to set aside other priorities for security.

posted by: Brendan McManus on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

If the threat of nuclear destruction played a significant role in keeping the US and USSR from going to war why doesn't the same principle apply to India and Pakistan?

So isn't your point that India and Pakistan are worse off because they acquired nuclear weapons
open to debate?

posted by: spencer on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

spencer - I think that's Brad's point, not Dan's.

posted by: Matt on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

There is more to it than just US troops in the surrounding countries. Iran is losing sympathetic countries, if not allies. Jordan, Libya, Morrocco, and Egypt have all been whistling a different tune varying degrees. The Euros are starting to soften if not shift towards US policy. Disturbances in other areas seem to be on the wane or are at least ineffectual. North Korea is being effectively dealt with. Outside of Iraq things seem to be going in the US's direction. And with several elections now under their belt things improving there as well. That has to have the Iranians nervous.

Nukes are the only tool that can get them global attention. What else are they to do if they don't want to appear as if they, too, are falling by the wayside?

posted by: Phocion on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

Speaking to Point 2, why should any administration follow a principle or doctrine if it is a bad one? Point 2 is definitely that and should be ignored if ever any heed was seriously paid to it.

In the cases where it has been followed there have been quite the list of disasters, most of these in Africa: Rwanda, Sudan, Congo to name a few. Correct me if I am wrong, but didnít the US issue its own directives and demands before acting in Liberia? The British and French do the same in West Africa. Australia didnít wait for the UN in East Timor.

So does where is the benefit to people on the ground for adhering to this invented principle?

posted by: Phocion on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

The oft repeated line that "Libya rolled ONLY after the invasion of Iraq" is a great Heritage foundation talking point, but it was well in the works before the invasion. The Libyan strong man and his family were keen to integrate into the broader world even before 911.

posted by: centrist on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

Mr Drezner, you raise interesting questions which suggest Mr. De Long's analysis is not perfect. But on balance I think his emphasis is correct. Clinton's use of US Military force in KOSOVO, in concert with NATO was more a "police action" than a war . Zero US Military deaths in combat... less than three months duration. The objective was to halt genocide ( I despise the term "ethnic cleansing") This policy had broad European support. Clearly the security council was not going to vote unanimously to take action as the Russians were entangled in Chechnya. More importantly, I feel nothing but revulsion towards Saddam and his kind but 50 years of intermittently bad behavior on our part in Iraq and Iran including the overthrow of a democratically elected government certainly would propel those two nations and others to accelerate the development of weaponry that might cause a world power to think twice about another invasion. I pray we can bring peace to the Middle East. I believe we are more likely to reap what we sow.

posted by: michael savoca on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

an addendum to my comment above if I may...the democratically elected government to which I referred, was NOT Iraq's...but rather the overthrow of the Iranian government by our CIA in the early '50s. And of course, years later, Saddam was our surrogate if not our friend as we helped him kill hundreds of thousands of Iranians during nearly a decade of the Iran Iraq war. Now the very way this current war has been prosecuted ,makes it more difficult to get enemies to reconcile and stay away from WMD.

posted by: michael savoca on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

"But this allows other states to act in a similar manner!--ed. Yes, but since no other country has the logistical infrastructure to take military action against a country 3,000 miles away, that's a tradeoff most presidents can live with)."

Congratulations. You've just given the best justification for terroristic attacks in the US. Countries or people that don't have standard logistical infrastructure will resort to unconventional means to strike 3000 miles away.

posted by: Jon on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

Michael Savoca I am pretty sure that we are still in Kosovo, so that 3 month part is a little off. Yes, it was not a "war" but just an air, land and sea effeort.


posted by: BCN on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

"North Korea is being effectively dealt with."

Phocian, that's great news! Ah, what are we doing to effectively deal with north korea?

I'm glad we're finally persuading them to give up their nuclear program. That thing had a lot of people worried.

posted by: J Thomas on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

Democrats are (almost) always good for the US economy... but for some reasons are always responsible for America's bad foreign policy towards Iran! ... Kennedy verses Mosadegh, Carter verses Pahlavi... Clinton verses Khatami!

posted by: Iranian Woman on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

"but for some reasons are always responsible for America's bad foreign policy towards Iran! ... Kennedy verses Mosadegh, Carter verses Pahlavi... Clinton verses Khatami!"

What exactly was Carter's bad policy towards the Shah ?

posted by: erg on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

This catfight would be more interesting with oil, mud, and your wives involved instead of you two.

I'm going back to FARK.

posted by: jerry on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

No disprect meant to Mrs Drezner or Long, but I would rather have Salma Hayek vs. a DeLong Nominee.

posted by: erg on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]


posted by: Brad DeLong on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

Dan Drezner -- I fear this intervention is turning into a quagmire for Professor DeLong

Yes, that is an understandment.

I have subsequently awarded Brad DeLong the first Deborah Howell Award for Journalism Inaccuracy. :-)

Deborah Howell, of course, is the Washington Post reporter with whom he is battling over inaccurate news reports regarding the Abramoff stories. Brad has resumed his ongoing campaign, elevating the issue to Jim Brady.

Regarding Brad's new award - Clarification and Award Ceremony:

Clown Show Cage Match: Brad DeLong and Daniel Drezner (Yet Another Why Oh Why Can't We Have Better Blog Posts? Brad DeLong Edition)


January 24, 2006
Daniel Drezner Intervenes Intellectually Outside His Home Area of Expertise

Appreciate your fine assistance in making this award possible.

Best Regards,

Movie Guy
Deborah Howell Award for Journalism Inaccuracy Committee
- In recognition of Washington Post level of reporting inaccurcies
and blogging journalism errors in judgment

First Award Recipient:
Dr. Brad DeLong

posted by: Movie Guy on 01.23.06 at 11:44 PM [permalink]

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