Thursday, August 24, 2006

Faking The Funk

Stanley Kurtz is beating the drums of war at such a frenetic tempo that even Tito Puente would likely be impressed with the passion and stamina. In his most recent ode to war with Iran, Kurtz finds himself forced into a corner by the current political climate - in which there is no political support for an attack on Iran right now. Thus, Kurtz is compelled to advocate for the next best thing: going to the polls en masse to elect Republicans, because only Republicans can convey the credible threat of force needed to deter Iran from going nuclear (a consolation prize for crestfallen hawks).

Kurtz spares no scare when describing the consequences of electing Democrats this fall [emphasis mine throughout]:

So let’s review. A nuclear Iran is likely to give or lend nuclear weapons to terrorists, resulting in an undeterrable nuclear strike against an American city or cities. Only a credible threat of force can compel Iran to halt its nuclear program, or actually destroy that program, if necessary. In current political circumstances, we lack a credible threat of force. A Democratic victory this fall will solidify that situation, leaving Iran to race to nuclear capability before 2009 when a new president–especially a possible Republican president with greater political capital–accedes to power.

Wait. Let me rewind that first part again:

A nuclear Iran is likely to give or lend nuclear weapons to terrorists, resulting in an undeterrable nuclear strike against an American city or cities.

"Likely"? "an American city or cities"? Those are strong statements considering the series of variables involved, and the magnitude of the events predicted. For example, why would Hezbollah want to launch an attack on an American city or cities? Is that the focus of their operations? What was the last attack on an American city by Hezbollah?

As evidence for this catastrophic prophesy, Kurtz, in a circular fashion, relies on an article appearing in the National Review penned by fellow hawk Paul Johnson. In that article, Johnson mostly speculates about the situation in a manner similar to Kurtz, while offering little in the way of persuasive proof for his contentions.

No doubt sensing the weakness of his case - built on the mutually reinforcing guesswork of two strident hawks - Kurtz enlists an unwitting ally, Scott Sagan, who wrote an article in this month's Foreign Affairs (a periodical that Kurtz incorrectly labels as "Democrat leaning" to bolster the bi-partisan credentials of his thesis).

But don’t believe NR. Consider instead what a Democrat-leaning policy journal has to say. In an important article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Scott Sagan argues that Cold War-style deterrence won’t work with Iran. According to Sagan, the most radical element in Iran–the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–is likely to get a hold of nuclear materials and give them to terrorists, whatever Iran’s central government wants.

Wait, let me rewind that last part again:

According to Sagan, the most radical element in Iran–the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–is likely to get a hold of nuclear materials and give them to terrorists, whatever Iran’s central government wants.

According to Kurtz, Sagan said that the IRGC is "likely" to give nuclear materials to terrorists? Again, note the starkness of the prediction. Having just finished reading Sagan's article last night, it struck me as somewhat more emphatic and categorical than how I remembered Sagan's actual admonition. Here are the relevant excerpts from the Sagan piece:

Tehran, like Islamabad, would be unlikely to maintain centralized control over its nuclear weapons or materials. In order to deter Tehran from giving nuclear weapons to terrorists, in January 2006 the French government announced that it would respond to nuclear terrorism with a nuclear strike of its own against any state that had served as the terrorists' accomplice. But this "attribution deterrence" posture glosses over the difficult question of what do if the source of nuclear materials for a terrorist bomb is uncertain. It also ignores the possibility that Tehran, once in possession of nuclear weapons, would feel emboldened to engage in aggressive naval actions against tankers in the Persian Gulf or to assist terrorist attacks as it did with the Hezbollah bombing of the U.S. barracks at the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in 1996.

There is no reason to assume that, even if they wanted to, central political authorities in Tehran could completely control the details of nuclear operations by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The IRGC recruits young "true believers" to join its ranks, subjects them to ideological indoctrination (but not psychological-stability testing), and -- as the IAEA discovered when it inspected Iran's centrifuge facilities in 2003 -- gives IRGC units responsibility for securing production sites for nuclear materials. The IRGC is known to have ties to terrorist organizations, which means that Iran's nuclear facilities, like its chemical weapons programs, are under the ostensible control of the organization that manages Tehran's contacts with foreign terrorists.

Not overly optimistic, nor without ample cause for concern, but not quite what Kurtz says it is. To summarize, Sagan does say that Iran's central government would be "unlikely" to maintain control over the nuclear materials, with such control "ostensibly" vesting in the IRGC. And he does say that the IRGC has ties to terrorist organizations. But he does not say that the IRGC is "likely to give [nuclear materials] to terrorists" as Kurtz claimed - nor that such terrorists would attack multiple American cities if they did acquire such weapons. For that, one must read Sagan's arguments and take an enormous leap that the author does not intend - at least not as evidenced by his words.

Consider also that Sagan is comparing Iran's situation to that of Pakistan - in terms of the similar lack of centralized control over the nuclear program and ties to terrorism. While Pakistan's nuclear capacity is highly problematic for these reasons and more, it should be noted that, as of yet, Pakistan has not given nuclear weapons to terrorists in order to attack multiple American cities - even though the terrorists that Pakistan has ties to are al-Qaeda who actually have the intent and incentive to attack American cities as opposed to Iran's Hezbollah proxy. Why, then, is Iran likely to diverge from this model?

And so we see, as highlighted by praktike in terms of the intelligence shell game currently being perpetrated by the usual suspects (see, also Laura), a similar method of insinuation, exaggeration, embellishment and mendacity is being pursued with the purpose of goading the US into yet another disastrous war in the Middle East.

There is no doubt that Iran poses serious national security dilemmas for US policymakers at this time - and for the foreseeable future. The tragedy is, though, that with this type of dishonest analysis, and ginned up intelligence claims made in Washington, it becomes harder to accurately survey the situation and craft solutions to fit the crisis. Over-reaction and underestimation of the threat become all too likely depending on the perspective of the observer.

Something tells me we may want to re-assess how well this mode of policy making has been serving us. To coin a phrase, honesty leads to the best policy.

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?