Colin Kahl's new report on containing a nuclear Iran (done with a couple of his homies) is long, but worth it. I was asked to suggest cuts to a draft and honestly couldn't find any. It is the best thing I have read about Iran policy in a long time.
The problem is that much what he is recommending for containment is expensive stuff like forward-deployed missile defenses and conventional forces, and defense budgets are going in the other direction. He also wants us to get more involved in Syria and in attacking Iranian networks of "covert operatives, surrogates and proxies" across the region.
Ricks: We are almost out of time. Speaking of mutually shared decisions, the U.S. government is probably going to face one this year on Iran. How has everything we've been talking about shaped how we are going to be thinking about Iran down the road?
First David, then Michèle.
Crist: Well I think it's all interrelated -- issues in Afghanistan, issues in Iraq, all affect how we look at Iran and how we are positioned to be able to do something about Iran. I think it's all interrelated. Lessons I think have been institutionalized at least within senior leaders on some of the problems we had in Afghanistan and Iraq, especially second- and third-order effects. What are the consequences of different actions we take? What are consequences of conflict in general? Is regime change a viable option? Isn't it a viable option? If not, then how do we...? I mean, all that is in the background of all the discussions. And I think it's been very healthy in many ways.
Ricks: One of the issues that we've been talking about is the quality of civil-military relations and straightforward, candid, honest advice from generals to civilian leaders -- for which we have apparently just seen General Mattis quietly fired. [Ricks note: I should have said "pushed out early."]
Crist: On the record I won't comment on General Mattis's views.
I will say and I can say this with a certain honesty since I've helped draft many of the memos: He has been very candid on what his views of what needs to be done. I haven't seen anything like the Rumsfeldian approach to stifling alternative views, and so as a consequence while...And some people in the U.S. military -- maybe the political leadership isn't as receptive as they would like on authority issues and some other response...the dialogue is there, and frankly a lot of it gets to these ideas of what I have always thought of as one of the intangibles where you have breakdown in discourse between civilian and military leadership is as you say trust. And a lot of it is personality based. Just personalities of the individual players and how they personally get along, as well as concerns of political leadership.
Ricks: And you have seen a trusting, candid exchange?
Crist: I have from my level, absolutely. And I've sat in many -- not as many as Michèle and some of the others here -- but a number of meetings with senior leaders on both sides of it. And I have seen it be quite candid.
Ricks: My impression is that the Obama administration has been almost afraid of Centcom under Mattis and Harward -- the mad-dog symptom with two incredibly aggressive guys. But I see Michèle shaking her head. Michèle, jump in.
Flournoy: I would say of all the issue areas that I was exposed to in the deputies committees process, there was none where we took a more deliberate, strategic, questioning, and very candid approach than Iran. And it really started back -- this goes a few years back now when it was started up when Gates was still secretary of defense -- and I think the thought that was put into exactly what words the president says to describe our objective in Iran: Is it "prevent"? Is it "contain"? That was debated, the consequences downstream of choosing one versus the other, multiple senior leader seminars, war games looking at different options, going down the road of different scenarios, very close partnership with the military in actually setting the theater so that we are now communicating a degree of deterrence to back up the policy of sanctions and negotiations.
So I actually think on Iran, probably more than on any other issue that I've seen, it's been very strategic, very comprehensive. There's no idea that you can't bring to the table. There's no idea that hasn't been debated. And people may have very strong views and disagree. But this is not one where -- this was one where there was a real constant coming back to what are our interests? What are our objectives? How do we make sure we are applying rigor and not just going down the road towards confrontation with no limits or no boundaries or no sense of what we are trying to achieve?
Crist: I would add one more point in having looked at U.S. strategy for a long time on Iran. One thing that I found interesting that has evolved over the last few years that I haven't seen earlier is looking even beyond the nuclear issue. What is our long-term relationship with this country? Are we long-term adversaries? If so, how is that going to play out across the region? And how do we counteract that? And also, are there areas, I think, which despite the engagement piece, seemed to have died off, there has been a lot of thought given -- are there areas where there is mutual cooperation? And what will that lead to long term? Can we have maybe not rapprochement but some kind of détente with Iran?
Ricks: So can we start to get Putin to be aggressive again and drive Iran into our hands?
Crist: Yeah, it's tough because in my personal opinion we are for a host of reasons adversaries in the region. We have two different strategic views of what we want out of it.
But the issue is bigger than just the nuclear issue. The nuclear issue is a symptom, more than a cause, of our problems.
THE END... -- or is it?
Recently I was at a foreign policy discussion in which a participant said that everybody agrees that the removal of Saddam Hussein was a good thing, despite everything else that went wrong with the boneheaded invasion of Iraq.
I didn't question that assertion at the time, but found myself mulling it. Recently I had a chance to have a beer with Toby Dodge, one of the best strategic thinkers about Iraq. He said something like this: Well, you used to have an oppressive dictator who at least was a bulwark against Iranian power expanding westward. Now you have an increasingly authoritarian and abusive leader of Iraq who appears to be enabling Iranian arms transfers to Syria.
And remember: We still don't know how this ends yet. Hence rumors in the Middle East along the lines that all along we planned to create a "Sunnistan" out of western Iraq, Syria, and Jordan.
Meanwhile, the Iraq war, which we left just over a year ago, continues. Someone bombed police headquarters in Kirkuk over the weekend, killing 33. And about 60 Awakening fighters getting their paychecks were blown up in Taji. As my friend Anthony Shadid used to say, "The mud is getting wetter."
Word on the national security street is that General James Mattis is being given the bum's rush out of his job as commander of Central Command, and is being told to vacate his office several months earlier than planned.
Why the hurry? Pentagon insiders say that he rubbed civilian officials the wrong way -- not because he went all "mad dog," which is his public image, and the view at the White House, but rather because he pushed the civilians so hard on considering the second- and third-order consequences of military action against Iran. Some of those questions apparently were uncomfortable. Like, what do you do with Iran once the nuclear issue is resolved and it remains a foe? What do you do if Iran then develops conventional capabilities that could make it hazardous for U.S. Navy ships to operate in the Persian Gulf? He kept saying, "And then what?"
Inquiry along these lines apparently was not welcomed -- at least in the CENTCOM view. The White House view, apparently, is that Mattis was too hawkish, which is not something I believe, having seen him in the field over the years. I'd call him a tough-minded realist, someone who'd rather have tea with you than shoot you, but is happy to end the conversation either way.
Presidents should feel free to boot generals anytime they want, of course -- that's our system, and one I applaud. But ousting Mattis at this time, and in this way, seems wrong for several reasons:
TIMING: If Mattis leaves in March, as now appears likely, that means there will be a new person running CENTCOM just as the confrontation season with Iran begins to heat up again.
CIVIL-MILITARY SIGNALS: The message the Obama Administration is sending, intentionally or not, is that it doesn't like tough, smart, skeptical generals who speak candidly to their civilian superiors. In fact, that is exactly what it (and every administration) should want. Had we had more back in 2003, we might not have made the colossal mistake of invading Iraq.
SERVICE RELATIONS: The Obamites might not recognize it, but they now have dissed the two Marine generals who are culture heroes in today's Corps: Mattis and Anthony Zinni. The Marines have long memories. I know some who are still mad at the Navy for steaming away from the Marines left on Guadalcanal. Mattis made famous in Iraq the phrase, "No better friend, no worse enemy." The Obama White House should keep that in mind.
I'm still a fan of President Obama. I just drove for two days down the East Coast listening to his first book, and enjoyed it enormously. But I am at the point where I don't trust his national security team. They strike me as politicized, defensive and narrow. These are people who will not recognize it when they screw up, and will treat as enemies anyone who tells them they are doing that. And that is how things like Vietnam get repeated. Harsh words, I know. But I am worried.
Alex Wong/Getty Images
Emma Sky, who has written for this blog on occasion, recently issued a sharp paper at CNAS that blasts the handling of Iraq by both the Bush and Obama administrations. She reports that Iraqis believe that the United States has lost Iraq to Iran, and that Iraqis now travel to Tehran to ask permission to oust Maliki. She concludes that, "America could learn that money can't buy love, that relationships are key, that strategic patience is needed, that allies should not be ignored and that a regional approach is needed as well as a bilateral one."
I've long found Paul McHale, a former member of Congress and also a former Pentagon official, a clear thinker. Here he questions the Pentagon's "pivot" to Asia:
"Does it make sense for the United States Army to prepare for a protracted land war against China? . . . Should the Army really be focused on North Korea while paying insufficient attention to Iran? And if a post-2014 civil war in Afghanistan spills over the Durand Line and threatens the stability of Pakistan's government, are there any issues in Myanmar that trump the possible acquisition of nuclear weapons by the Taliban?"
I asked an American friend in Baghdad what Iran is up to there. This is his response:
Iranian activities in Iraq must be viewed in the context of regional considerations and multiple lines of effort.
Clearly Iran has been setting itself up to be a resurgent force and regional power broker for some time, and Iraq is a critical piece of the game board, yet just one piece. Iran stands in opposition to the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Israel of course, and the west in general. They stand with the Assad regime in Syria, Nasrallah/Hezbollah in Lebanon, and their global allies in China, Venezuela, and North Korea. The players that they stand neither with nor against, but a little bit of both, include the Turks who they're with on energy and Kurds but against on Syria, the Pakistanis who they stand with in regard to Talibs and Afghanistan and against with Sunni extremists, Shiite Yemenis who oppose Saudis, AQAP, and the Yemeni government, the north African emerging states, to include Egypt, and others.
What we see are not clearly defined operations with named objectives, rather a series of shaping initiatives intended to strengthen allies, develop transportation routes and mechanisms, and undermine the credibility of opposition governments. The end-state is a Persian/Farsi/Shiite Islamic state that is stronger than the other states in a region that is opposed to western powers, presence, and influence. They are shaping a series of lesser engagements that don't rise to the level of justifying western military intervention, but dispose of regimes they are opposed to, beginning with Bahrain and ending with Israel with Lebanon falling to Hezbollah while they were sleeping.
Near term, they cannot allow Syria to fall and are assisting in every possible way. Of concern is that should the Assad regime appear to be near collapse, a diversionary engagement will be directed against Israel by Iranian allies. As a sword can serve more than one purpose, these same antagonists will strike Israel in response to any Israeli or western action taken against Iranian nuclear facilities. While the world watches the right hand engaged in Syria, they miss the left hand working to organize kinetic opposition in Bahrain, Kuwait, and other Gulf States with sizable Shiite populations, which the Saudis, Qataris, and Emiratis will not abide. And then there is Iraq.
While we Americans espouse a "whole-of-government" approach to strategic objectives abroad, the Iranians actually practice it in Iraq. Diplomatically, they have a robust embassy in Baghdad and very active consulates in Erbil, Basrah, and Karbala. They are building upon the P5+1 conference, with the Iraqi Ambassador to Iran stating in August that they were ready to host another round in Baghdad. Iranian Defense Minister Ahmad Vahidi just concluded successful security cooperation talks in Baghdad. Economically, Najaf hotels are mostly owned by Iranian investors who spend more religious tourism money there than they do in Karbala. Iranians export electricity, finished goods, and smuggled oil into Iraq in exchange for hard currency.
On the religious front, there is a full-court PR campaign, to include radio and billboards, to replace Ayatollah Sistani with Ayatollah Shahroudi, an Iranian with a much more aggressive position on clerics and government than the even-tempered Sistani. Through a variety of agencies, Iran continues to fund Husseinyahs and affiliated social service organizations throughout Iraq. They have the remnants of the Badr Corps firmly ensconced in virtually all Iraqi security organizations ensuring that Sunni organizations are targeted, but they are not. Iranian proxies, such as Assaib Ahl Al-Haq (AAH) and Kitaib Hezbollah are being carefully reconciled with Baghdad while retaining arms to threaten those that stand in opposition. They continually dance with the Sadrists in the form of the Promised Day Brigade and lesser affiliates, seeking influence as opposed to outright control. Politicians and prominent civil servants or other civilians generally know better than to speak out against Iran.
Iran is very active, but they are not omnipotent and work within their limitations. They understand that they have just as many foes as they do friends -- thus they are patient. Iran does not seek to dominate the Gulf Region or Middle East today, rather they seek to improve their hand for the coming conflict of tomorrow. By all accounts, they're building a fairly strong hand to play -- perhaps we should consider improving our hand as well.
By Nathan R. Sherfinski
Best Defense diplomatic bureau
In an hour-long conference call hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, Iranian Foreign Minister, Ali Akbar Salehi discussed a range of issues including: nuclear ambitions, Syria, and anti-American sentiment. His tone was measured and notably non-inflammatory.
Salehi, who received a PhD from MIT, described Iran as acting with rational manner in its foreign policy. He dismissed concerns that Iran's nuclear program is intended for anything aside from civilian energy purposes. Salehi stated that Iran having a nuclear bomb would neither make the region more stable nor make rational sense. "Iran's possession of a nuclear bomb would only invite attack and threaten other countries; it would not increase security in the region," he stated in response to a question on the issue. He contended that energy diversification was the sole purpose of Iran's nuclear program. Furthermore, he reaffirmed Iran's position as a signatory to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons.
Regarding Iranian support for Syria, he reiterated strict opposition to foreign intervention of any kind and aimed to communicate Iran's role in resolving the conflict. "The Syrian people are entitled to democracy and freedom," he said. He went on to say, "We [Iran] have been in talks with the opposition for at least a year." He contended that a political, not a military, solution is the key to the issue and that Iran puts strong support behind U.N. efforts to resolve the situation. "We [Iran] are on the same wavelength with Brahimi, al-Arabi, and the quartet of countries," he stated. He did draw a red-line in Iranian support for the Syrian government. He asserted that, should the Syrian government use WMD, then Iran would pull its support for the government and any country that would employ WMD, "...loses legitimacy."
Salehi addressed the issue of anti-American sentiment, saying, "Iran has great respect for the United States." While he noted that Muslims must stand up for acts against the Prophet, he said that, "some went beyond what was expected." He contended his country is opposed to anti-Americanism or an "America-phobia," as he called it. He went on to say, "We [Iran] have no animosity toward the United States."
Nathan R. Sherfinski is a researcher at the Center for a New American Security.
More babbling at the UN today.
SABAH ARAR/AFP/Getty Images
I've long thought there was a good study to be done of Iranian advisory efforts in Iraq. They seemed to me a model of long-term, low-key influence. No big bases, but lots of effects.
Now maybe it seems that study should be expanded to Syria. An Iranian official, speaking about the Qods Force (AKA the foreign operations wing of the Revolutionary Guard) said over the weekend that, "A number of members of the Qods force are present in Syria but this does not constitute a military presence."
An Iranian foundation also has reportedly upped the amount of the bounty it has placed on the head of Salman Rushdie. Can you imagine if American foundations did stuff like that?
Meanwhile, someone blew up a bomb on the July 14 bridge into the Green Zone and killed a bunch of people at the checkpoint. I've walked across that bridge a lot. It was my point of maximum vulnerability, when I was outside the Green Zone yet not back in the able hands of the Washington Post security guys.
While Tom Ricks is away from his blog, he has selected a few of his favorite posts to re-run. We will be posting a few every day until he returns. This originally ran on April 13, 2009.
I'd be very surprised if Israel bombed Iran's nuclear facilities anytime soon, despite what a guy over at ForeignPolicy.com's cousin (or step-parent?) Slate is saying. He offers all sorts of complicated political analyses about why such an attack would be in Israel's interests.
I just don't see how Israel could physically do it as long as the Americans are in Iraq. Hitting Iran is a tough mission to begin with for Israeli aircraft. It would probably be impossible for Israeli aircraft to hit Iran without passing through Iraqi airspace -- and they could not do that without the Americans knowing and being able to stop them. Thus the U.S. government would be seen by Iraqis and others as an accomplice of the Israeli attack. The fallout of such a bombing would make life in Iraq very difficult for more than 130,000 U.S. troops, even before the Iranians embarked upon a course of retaliation that probably would include stepping up roadside bombings of U.S. forces.
Rather, I think the real danger time for Iran is when, if ever, we get U.S. troops out of Iraq. Then the coast will be clear for those Israeli refueling tankers and F-15s. What's more, we no longer will have 130,000 U.S. hostages in Iraq susceptible to Iranian violence, so the U.S. could join Israel in stepping up the pressure.
Speaking of barn doors and snazzy wording, Paul Krugman, in discussing the bailout of Spanish banks, uses the neat term "doom loop."
These statements are more significant than they may seem, because they provide support to skeptics of the official Israeli position that Iran must be attacked soon. And so I think this eases election-year pressure on President Obama: All he has to say to hawkish critics is, What do you think you know that the chief of the Israeli defense forces and the former head of Shin Bet don't know?
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images
I suspect that we may be, in some way. Maybe a "shadow war." Someone clearly is killing Iranian nuclear scientists. Someone is messing with their centrifuges. They seem to be under cyberattack. Someone is helping ethnic Baluchi rebels down in the southeast. And of course there are the less hidden steps, such as sanctions.
No, it isn't traditional war, and it doesn't look like anything John Wayne would want to star in. But put it all together and I do wonder if we already are in some kind of war with Iran.
If I were still a hard-working daily journalist laboring in the vineyard where the grapes of wrath are grown, I'd work on this issue full-time, covering it on the assumption that there is a war going on in the shadows. I'd try to cover it as it were a conflict, looking at the steps taken and the countermeasures, at the major players, at the assumptions about the other side. It would be tough to do but very interesting. And after a year or so I'd have the makings of a good book.
So I ran into a friend who knows a lot about U.S. policy and Iran. We sat down on a park bench and this is what he told me:
The worst possible thing to do is go to war with Iran. The key is the people -- and they are sick of the mullahs. Right now the pressure is working to separate the people from the regime. A limited strike would undercut all that.
Also, any attack would cause us to maintain a heightened, more expensive defense posture, and give them moral standing to retaliate.
So an attack is counter to all our long-term objectives. We are having more effect right now through economic pressure than ever before.
There is no doubt [that there is a huge divergence between U.S. interests and those of Israel]. We want to stop Israel from attacking so the issue is how to persuade Israel that we are serious about stopping Iran from having a weapon -- like a congressional finding that we will take all steps necessary to stop Iran. It means we will define red lines that can't be crossed.
But the bottom line is, I don't know a single person in government, civilian or in uniform, who thinks it is in our national interest to go to war with Iran now.
If we do go to war, it will not be small. Iran could reconstitute its nuclear program in maybe five years, but if we go after its abilities to project military power, we'd open a 15-year window."
JOHANNA GERON/AFP/Getty Images
For a reservist, Lt. Col. Danny Davis (author of the recently touted and then critiqued report on the Afghan War) sure gets around. I was told yesterday that when he was a major, he proposed that the United States conduct a ground invasion of Iran by air dropping an armored division northeast of Tehran and then doing a tank assault into the city.
I also was told that he proposed to General Abizaid that he be promoted to lieutenant colonel and put in command of the lead tank battalion in the assault.
So I wrote to Lt. Col. Davis to ask if all this was correct. He promptly wrote back, very nicely. (Reading his note below, I don't know why he would consider a private letter sent to a general by an individual operating in a non-official capacity to be classified. Nor do I see how something can be both private and classified, but these are minor issues).
Here is his note:
nice to hear from you - i am grateful that you sought out the facts instead of simply publishing an inaccurate, partial-truth.
i will tell you that the one quote you cite below is a gross mischaracterization of a private, classified document I did in fact write, and contains blatantly inaccurate information. six years ago i sent a private, classified letter and associated classified report to one individual that had as its subject Iran. it is unfortunate that someone is leaking isolated pieces of this classified document, out of context, to members of the media. unlike whomever is leaking this information, i will not discuss known classified material in public.
thanks again for asking about this before publishing something. as i understand it you did not agree with my report or some of its findings and thus i respect you all the more for seeking out my take on this deceptive quote before you publish your blog.
let me know if i may be of further help,
Meanwhile, President Obama told NBC in an interview that, "I think we have a very good estimate of when they could potentially achieve breakout capacity, what stage they're at in terms of processing uranium. But do we know all the dynamics inside Iran? Absolutely not. And I think one of the difficulties is that Iran itself is a lot more divided now than it was. Knowing who is making decisions at any given time inside of Iran is tough. But we do have a pretty good bead on what's happening with their nuclear program."
But don't be counting your chickens quite yet. John McCreary writes in NightWatch that, "Expect more Iranian support for Damascus and more Iranian Islamic Republican Guard Corps personnel to show up in Syria and in southern Lebanon. The Iranians do not appear ready to abandon Syria yet."
Meanwhile, Egypt looks like it might be moving into Phase II of its revolution.
Planning on attacking Iran? "Better pack a lunch," advises my friend, retired Lt. Col. Terry Daly, who knows a lot about war. His point was that airstrikes alone against Iranian nuclear facilities wouldn't do much. If you are going to attack Iran, you need to hit its ability to retaliate, and that means that pretty soon you have a big fat war on your hands.
I can't believe we are discussing this. I am hearing lots of depressing talk that there is a good chance that Israel will attack Iran sometime this year and that we will get sucked into the ensuing mess. In some ways, there already is a kind of shadow war under way with Iran -- Stuxnet, the drone intrusions, the recent explosions and assassinations, the sanctions.
But for all that, I just can't see Obama getting us involved in another Middle Eastern war. The American people certainly have no appetite for it. I think he almost certainly would lose reelection if a war broke out, because his base would fall apart and the left would go into opposition.
At any rate, an article by my CNAS colleague Colin Kahl that went up last night on the website of Foreign Affairs argues well that the "containment vs. attack" mindset is a false dilemma. In fact, he says, even if you attacked Iran, you'd still have to contain it afterward. So a series of airstrikes is not a substitute for containment, but a prelude to it.
By David Asher
Best Defense department of non-kinetic actions
U.S. Treasury Department sanctions against Iran are having a remarkable impact and much more is soon to come. In recent weeks the Iranian currency has crashed and the Iranian balance of payments, a close proxy measure for its oil revenue seems heading toward a deficit. Moreover, recently enacted legislation -- requiring banks to cease dealing with the Iranian Central Bank for oil imports within 60 days -- will soon be implemented. For Tehran, oil is money. Thus, cutting off oil revenue could soon bring the Iranian economy to its knees. Iran's threats to block the flow of oil via the Strait of Hormuz -- with the goal of sending oil prices skyrocketing -- is a sign that the Iranians are feeling pain. For Tehran it can only get worse.
The problem with sanctions is that the longer they drag on, the more affected countries develop the means to skirt them. Saddam's Iraq came under the weight of a vast sanctions regime for over a decade and the government did not fall from power, let alone change course. Iran is a nation of sophisticated traders and we can expect it to undertake a web of evasive measures to struggle on. Moreover, even if the Iranian economy is brought to a halt, history shows that those in power will be the last to suffer. In fact, Iran's hardline Revolutionary Guards appear to be gaining power as the nation moves onto a quasi-wartime footing.
To enforce sanctions and significantly enhance pressure directed against Iran's leadership (not just its people), the U.S. should consider an Iran-Hezbollah Illicit Activities Initiative similar to the one used against Kim Jong Il's regime, 2001-2006, and akin as well to the strategy applied successfully against Slobodan Milosevic and his cronies in the Balkans in the mid-90s (see the testimony). These previous interagency and international initiatives brought together U.S. and foreign government partners to apply a matrix of pressure strategies to directly effect the hold on power of the North Korean and Serbian regime leaders and coerce them to either give up global defiance or potentially fall from power. Notably, both initiatives incorporated domestic and international law enforcement against the illicit support networks and financial sanctuaries for regime leaders, in addition to the targeted and broader trade sanctions being applied currently against Iran.
Pretty much every seriously sanctioned regime in history has gotten into illicit activity to offset the cost imposed by sanctions. Iran is no exception to the rule. It appears to have been quietly engaged in state directed illicit activities to benefit the Revolutionary Guard and their antecedents since the onset of the revolution (and accompanying sanctions) -- everything from illegal technology procurement and weapons smuggling to involvement in narcotics trafficking and money laundering. In the coming months, as sanctions bite harder and oil profits disappear, we can expect the scale and importance of these illicit activities for the IRGC (and Hezbollah) to increase dramatically. However, the more Tehran and its affiliates rely on illicit activity, the easier it will be to apply law enforcement and international law strategically to hold their leaders and their finances accountable. Provided a sufficient enforcement dragnet is created, Iran may fall into the same self-created trap as North Korea and Serbia. However, if an enforcement system is not rapidly assembled, we can safely assume that Iran -- particularly with the help of China and Russia -- will embrace the black economy as well as marshal sanctions workarounds that could enhance the power of the IRGC, speed up its nuclear timeline, and heighten the chances of conflict.
"How does this end?" ask Elbridge Colby and Austin Long. Their answer: Not well. They advocate instead a policy of containment. I think they are right.
Also, someone killed another Iranian nuclear scientist. What do the little grasshoppers think of this assassination program? I'd be interested in reading a history of targeted killings of weapons scientists and dealers. As I recall, the French killed arms dealers who were supplying the Algerian rebels during that war.
Longtime grasshoppers know I've been skeptical about Israel actually carrying through on threats to strike Iran in an attempt to degrade the Iranian nuclear weapons program.
But I've heard two comments lately that have me recalibrating a bit:
Wired' s "Danger Room" has a fun contest to guess Iran's next plot against America, such as "Build a giant horse, fill it with Quds operatives and leave it on the Tijuana side of the border." My favorite: "Finance Sarah Palin's campaign for President in the 2012 elections."
I don't know what to believe. Juan Cole makes a pretty good case that the facts of the matter make it look like it was not really run by the Iranian government, mainly because of the sloppiness of the accused, which is said to be uncharacteristic of Iranian overseas operations. On the other hand, one thing I learned in two decades as a reporter was never to underestimate the potential of people to screw up, especially large organizations. I mean, who would have believed that people in the White House would hire a bunch of semi-competent "third-rate" thugs to break into the Democratic Party's national offices?
This news article sounds like the beginning of a crime novel set in Iraq. I wish someone would write one.
BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: Two Iranians were found dead, two cops were assassinated and other two wounded, police sources said.
The source told Aswat al-Iraq that the Iranians were identified by their passports, while the cops were on duty in a check point in Doura area, south Baghdad.
No other details were given.
The culprits fled the crime scenes.
Muhannad Fala'ah/Getty Images
By Joseph Sarkisian
Best Defense bureau of Iranian affairs
The Marine Corps University's recently published monograph titled, The Strategic Culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran, brings to light an unconventional viewpoint on Iranian grand strategy. Its author, Michael Eisenstadt, dispels the myths surrounding Iranian policy while providing an in-depth analysis of the creative calculus the regime uses when making its decisions at home and abroad. It is this calculus that the United States must solve in order to achieve more effective engagement.
Eisenstadt makes the case that the Iranian regime operates in a very pragmatic, calculated manner as opposed to the image of an "irrational, 'undeterrable' state with a high pain threshold," that its leadership likes to portray. Being able to see past the rhetoric of holocaust denial, destruction of Israel, and fears of a nuclear apocalypse, which Iran intentionally uses to paint itself as a fearsome enemy, will be key to making tangible diplomatic progress.
In his view, the image of Iran as an irrational actor is overblown -- but the idea that Iran seeks to become a regional power capable of exerting influence over the entire region and becoming the guardian of Islam is real. Iranian defense planning is formed around this goal, as well as to deter potential adversaries and to achieve self-reliance from the outside world.
The argument that, "The Islamic Republic of Iran (IRI) is an unconventional adversary that requires unconventional approaches in planning, strategy and policy" is underscored by the fact that the conventional method of sanctioning to change behavior has done nothing to stop uranium enrichment.
The unconventional approach suggested by Eisenstadt suggests a rewriting of the policy manual on Iran. The United States must spend less time countering Iranian hard power and more time countering its even stronger soft power, pay more attention to the effectiveness of Iranian psychological warfare, and brainstorm better ways to pierce the veil of Iranian ambiguity. Once more of these unconventional tactics are implemented, the end of the 32-year diplomatic stalemate may finally come within reach.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
The Iranian president was going on today about a secret American plan to sabotage Pakistan's nukes. I thought he might be onto something in a Seymour Hersh-like way until I got to his revelation of American plans for a "massive presence" of presumably American and allied troops in Pakistan. I can honestly say I don't know of one American, in government or out, who thinks that sending a bunch of troops into Pakistan is a good idea. Not one.
Meanwhile, just to be helpful, Iran has deployed submarines to the Red Sea. I wonder if this is to pressure Saudi Arabia over the crackdown in Bahrain. But that is just a guess because I don't know enough about the Middle East to know if I am even in the ballpark. Maybe it is a response to the Israeli move of submarines through the Suez Canal nearly two years ago.
Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military for the Washington Post from 2000 through 2008.