During the summer, the Best Defense is in
re-runs. Here are some favorites that ran in late 2012 and in 2013. This item originally
ran on March 26, 2013.
[Here are Parts I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII, VIII, and IX.]
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.
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
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