The troop “surge” in Iraq is also a signal to Iran—but stopping Tehran’s nukes for good will require a different kind of leverage.
In essence, the policy issues come down to a debate over leverage—how much and what type of leverage is required for Iran to dismantle and bar the resumption of any nuclear weapons programs. The administration would argue that it currently lacks leverage, and so must continue to apply pressure and use indirect dialogue—that the Iranians are stubborn, only understand the use of force, can’t be given the impression that they are winning, and so forth. The administration seems to consider “sticks” the only form of leverage. But the truth is that the Iranians have survived almost thirty years of isolation, hostility, and war. The U.S. intervention in Iraq probably altered permanently the sectarian balance of power in the region in Iran’s favor. And whether our allies in the region appreciate Iran or not, its population of nearly 70 million people, enormous wealth of resources, and strong heritage make it a significant power. A policy of sticks alone is unlikely to persuade Iran to give up its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The administration’s dogged pursuit of leverage by sticks, unfortunately, is too much a holdover of the tough-guy, new-sheriff attitude that landed us in the Iraq mess. But another kind of leverage—carrots—could succeed. The United States is the largest economic power in the world, and has control, or very near controlling influence, over almost every international institution of significance to the Iranians. I believe we can gain far more from Iran by dispensing some carrots—and can also apply the sticks more effectively—if we are in face-to-face dialogue. Dangling some carrots now in an unconditional dialogue with Tehran while the surge in Baghdad is only beginning could prove decisive.
What can Congress do to help? First, push the administration to support Iraq with the nonmilitary resources that are essential to progress there. Congress should hold immediate hearings to investigate why the nonmilitary elements of the administration’s strategy have failed so badly, and why the appropriate resources cannot be brought to bear. Second, add pressure on al-Maliki to convince him to take the tough measures required to settle the issues of oil revenues, federalism, and the militias. Congress should strengthen its efforts to investigate corruption inside the economic-development program, and demand stronger accounting for the Iraqi government’s and leaders’ relationships with Iran. And third, demand that the Bush administration commence an unconditional dialogue with the regional powers and each of Iraq’s neighbors immediately. This is the next sense-of-the-Congress resolution that is required.
For the United States, the possible use of force against Iran must remain on the table. But military conflict is not inevitable, and neither is Iranian nuclear weaponry. It is a matter of strategy and leadership. It’s time for the United States to stop isolating those it disagrees with, pretending that other nations have more influence, asking others to carry the burden of dialogue, and leaving our soldiers in Iraq to struggle without an adequate diplomatic strategy to reinforce their efforts. The evidence of the administration’s lack of diplomatic leadership is evident in the new agreement with North Korea, which could have been reached four years ago before the North Koreans acquired fuel for additional nuclear weapons. We cannot afford more delays with Iran while we pursue a misplaced strategy. Congress and the American people should demand that the administration step forward and lead.
March 27, 2007
November 21, 2006
Americans want a new approach. Withdrawal? A bad idea. Partitioning? Won’t work. The right approach is one that addresses U.S. interests in the entire region.
By Wesley Clark
The mission in Iraq is spiraling into failure. American voters have sent a clear message: Bring our troops home, but don’t lose. That’s a tall order both for resurgent Democrats, some of whom are calling for a quick withdrawal, and the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, which is presumably crafting new options.
Instead of cutting and running or staying the course, it is time for us to begin to redeploy. But how can we do this and improve our prospects for success?
First, we have to think past Iraq and above partisan politics, folding actions in Iraq into a strategy to protect broader U.S. interests throughout the region.
Neither the Bush administration’s latest pronouncements nor the current political dialogue has adequately engaged these vital interests. The calamity in Iraq has hogtied the Bush administration, inviting disarray, if not instability, in neighboring countries that also require our attention.
U.S. interests include dissuading Iran from pursuing nuclear weapons and its hegemonic aspirations, providing security assurances for the rapidly developing Arab Gulf states and working with our friends in the Middle East to ensure access to oil resources and regional stability. (more…)
May 1, 2004
Washington Monthly, May 2004
The strategy that won the Cold War could help bring democracy to the Middle East– if only the Bush hawks understood it.
During 2002 and early 2003, Bush administration officials put forth a shifting series of arguments for why we needed to invade Iraq. Nearly every one of these has been belied by subsequent events. We have yet to find any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq; assuming that they exist at all, they obviously never presented an imminent threat. Saddam’s alleged connections to al Qaeda turned out to be tenuous at best and clearly had nothing to do with September 11. The terrorists now in Iraq have largely arrived because we are there, and Saddam’s security forces aren’t. And peace between Israel and the Palestinians, which prominent hawks argued could be achieved “only through Baghdad,” seems further away than ever.
Advocates of the invasion are now down to their last argument: that transforming Iraq from brutal tyranny to stable democracy will spark a wave of democratic reform throughout the Middle East, thereby alleviating the conditions that give rise to terrorism. This argument is still standing because not enough time has elapsed to test it definitively–though events in the year since Baghdad’s fall do not inspire confidence. For every report of a growing conversation in the Arab world about the importance of democracy, there’s another report of moderate Arabs feeling their position undercut by the backlash against our invasion. For every example of progress (Libya giving up its WMD program), there’s an instance of backsliding (the Iranian mullahs purging reformist parliamentarians).
What is certainly true is that any hope for a “domino theory” rests with Iraq’s actually becoming something that resembles a stable democracy. But here, too, there has been little progress. Despite their heroic efforts, American soldiers have been unable to make the country consistently stable and safe. Iraq’s various ethnic entities and political factions remain deeply divided. Even the administration has concluded that the U.S.-appointed Iraqi Governing Council lacks credibility with the ordinary Iraqis it is intended to represent. The country’s reconstituted security forces have been ineffectual–indeed, in some cases, they have joined the armed resistance to our occupation. The ease with which the demagogue Muqtada al-Sadr brought thousands to the streets and effectively took over a key city for weeks has sparked fears that an Iranian-style theocracy will emerge in Iraq. And the American and Iraqi civilian death tolls continue to mount.
Whether or not you agreed with the president’s decision to invade Iraq–and I did not–there’s no doubt that America has a right and a duty to take whatever actions are necessary, including military action, to protect ourselves from the clear security threats emanating from this deeply troubled part of the world. Authoritarian rule in these countries has clearly created fertile ground for terrorists, and so establishing democratic governance in the region must be seen as one of our most vital security goals. There is good reason, however, to question whether the president’s strategy is advancing or hindering that goal.
President Bush’s approach to Iraq and to the Middle East in general has been greatly influenced by a group of foreign-policy thinkers whose defining experience was as hawkish advisors to President Reagan and the first President Bush, and who in the last few years have made an explicit comparison between Middle Eastern regimes and the Soviet Union. These neoconservatives looked at the nest of problems caused by Middle East tyranny and argued that a morally unequivocal stance and tough military action could topple those regimes and transform the region as surely as they believed that Reagan’s aggressive rhetoric and military posture brought down the Soviet Union. In a March 2002 interview on CNN, Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, one of the main architects of the Iraq war, argued that the moral judgment that President Bush made “very clear, crystal clear in his State of the Union message” in which he laid out the Axis of Evil is “exactly the same kind of clarity, I think, that Ronald Reagan introduced in understanding the Soviet Union.” In a speech last year, Defense Department advisor Richard Perle made the comparison even more explicit: “I have no doubt that [Bush] has the vision that Ronald Reagan had, and can envision, can contemplate change on a very large scale in Iraq and elsewhere across the region.” (more…)
December 15, 2003
When you fight a war, there is one rule you always follow: you never, ever leave a soldier behind. For three years now, George W. Bush has been leaving our soldiers in the lurch and leaving our veterans behind. If you want to support the military as President Bush says he does, you don’t send troops into a war without an exit strategy, and you always take care of those soldiers who fought in earlier wars. Mr. Bush has failed on both scores.
First, I opposed the war in Iraq, but I am willing to give credit where credit is due. Mr. Bush was right to go to Baghdad on Thanksgiving Day. But he should have brought more than the turkey stuffing. He should have brought a success strategy to Iraq, so that we can end the occupation, protect our troops and eventually bring them home.
On September 11, 2001 terrorists attacked America. At first, the Administration went after the terrorists and their state sponsors in Afghanistan. I applauded that effort and, like many Americans, I was encouraged by President Bush’s determination. But then something happened — a regular bait-and-switch. Instead of pursuing Osama bin Laden and the Al Qaeda network, Mr. Bush turned his focus on Iraq and went after Saddam Hussein.
Now we’re in a mess in Iraq. We should be reducing our vulnerability to terrorism, but the Bush Administration has committed our troops and treasure to a misguided war. Saddam Hussein is a villain. We all know that. But he did not arrange to fly those planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Al Qaeda did. And Al Qaeda cells continue to threaten our society. This is not a good strategy for winning the war on terror.
After 9/11, the world stood with the United States in sympathy and solidarity. Today, our country is viewed as a bully. It didn’t have to be that way. (more…)
March 23, 2003
He had been a hero in World War I, and a very young Army chief of staff. As a retired general, he accepted an appointment to the Philippines and was later recalled to active duty. As the commander there, he suffered the humiliation of early defeat and the loss of his force. He fought back, later accepted Japan’s surrender, and, as the supreme commander of the occupation forces, set out to remake a nation. And he largely succeeded.
Under Douglas MacArthur’s tutelage, Japan emerged from the grip of a belligerent military-industrial complex and became a democracy. From an aggressive imperialist power, it was transformed into a peaceful state, using its vast resources to support international institutions and diplomacy around the world.
No wonder many are searching for the next MacArthur, someone to deal with the problems of postwar Iraq. As a model for regime change, it is neater and nobler than the untidy task of sorting out bickering Iraqi factions or relying on Iraqis with obscure or dubious intentions for themselves and their country. And for an administration run by corporate executives, there must be appeal in seeking a latter-day MacArthur to act as Iraq’s chief operating officer. Already last week retired Army Lt. Gen. Jay Garner, the military’s director of postwar planning, arrived at a Kuwaiti beachside resort with a large team from the Pentagon’s newly created Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Assistance.
But the circumstances of Japan and its transformation bear so little resemblance to those of present-day Iraq that both the analogy and the pursuit of a new MacArthur are off the mark. Almost nothing from the lessons of postwar Japan can be applied directly to Iraq, and consequently, neither the approach nor the character of a MacArthur are appropriate for the mission in Iraq. Just consider the facts. (more…)
September 9, 2002
As the Bush administration raises prospects of war with Iraq, USA TODAY asked experts to explore critical military, diplomatic and political factors involved and the possible consequences. This is part of that occasional series.
Saddam Hussein is a cunning, stubborn opponent, as I well know. As commander of U.S. forces in Europe in the late 1990s, I watched Iraqi forces violate the “no fly zone” and defy United Nations inspection teams. He is the kind of leader who starts wars, as when he invaded Kuwait in 1990 and then struck Israel with SCUD missiles. He has a strong streak of irrationality, and, apparently, a messianic complex.
If Saddam had the SCUD missiles armed with nuclear warheads that he wants, the Middle East would face terrible new risks. He might strike at Israel or go after another neighboring state, holding his missiles as a second-strike deterrent. Or Israel might launch preventive strikes. We must act to prevent this kind of war.
The president will address the United Nations on Thursday. This is an appropriate journey. But is the administration asserting that we should start a war now to prevent one later? Rushing too quickly to invade Iraq presents greater problems now than Saddam does.
Saddam has been seeking nuclear weapons for more than 20 years. In 1991, the CIA said he was within six months of having a nuclear weapon. The latest information says he has tried in recent months to acquire aluminum rods necessary to enrich uranium. Despite all of the talk of “loose nukes,” Saddam doesn’t have any, or, apparently, the highly enriched uranium or plutonium to enable him to construct them.
Unless there is new evidence, we appear to have months, if not years, to work out this problem. And today we are still at war with al-Qaeda. These terrorists weren’t destroyed in Afghanistan, just scattered. Thousands of fighters remain, plotting their next moves. (more…)
September 15, 2001
We must target and destroy the terrorist network. There is no room for half measures
America is indeed at war. The attacks in New York and Washington have raised the dangers posed by international terrorism to a new level. But despite the awful familiarity of the devastation, an effective US response is likely to be something unfamiliar.
For the US, the weapons of this war should be information, law enforcement and, rarely, active military force. The coalition that will form around the US and its Nato allies should agree on its intent, but not trumpet its plans. No vast military deployments should be anticipated. But urgent measures should be taken behind the scenes because the populations and economic structures of western nations will be at risk.
And the American public will have to grasp a new approach to warfare. Our objective should be neither revenge nor retaliation, though we will achieve both. Rather, we must systematically target and destroy the complex network of international terrorism. The aim should be to attack not buildings but people who have masterminded, coordinated, supported and executed these and other attacks. I can hear warnings to us to narrow our objectives because the task is so difficult, warnings there may be failures and actions that can never be acknowledged. But now all must accept at face value the terrorists’ unwavering hostility to the US and all that it stands for. There is no room for half-measures in our response.
Our methods should rely first on domestic and international law, and the support and active participation of our friends and allies. Evidence must be collected, networks uncovered and a faceless threat given identity. In some cases, astute police work will win the day, here and abroad. In others, international collaboration may be necessary. Special military forces may be called on to operate in states that are uncooperative or unable to control their own territory. In exceptional cases, targets will be developed that may be handled by conventional military strikes. (more…)