Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Toward a Hagelian Foreign Policy?

In late October, Senator Chuck Hagel sent a letter to President Bush, copied to Condi Rice, Stephen Hadley and Robert Gates (as discussed here). In that letter, Hagel made the following points about maintaining international cooperation in the effort to confront Iran's potential nuclear aspirations [emphasis added]:

Unless there is a strategic shift, I believe we will find ourselves in a dangerous and increasingly isolated position in the coming months. I do not see how the collective actions that we are now taking will produce the results that we seek. If this continues, our ability to sustain a united international front will weaken as countries grow uncertain over our motives and unwilling to risk open confrontation with Iran, and we are left with fewer and fewer policy options.

There are growing differences with our international partners. Concerns remain that the United States' actual objectives is regime change in Iran, not a change in Iran's behavior. Prospects for further action in the UN Security Council have grown dim, and we appear increasingly reliant on a single-track effort to expand financial pressure on Iran outside of the UN Security Council.

In keeping with this theme, Kevin Drum recently wondered aloud whether the release of the NIE would actually aid our effort to mount a unified, international front against Iran - now that the military option seemed so remote a danger. Robin Wright in today's Washington Post suggests that this shift could, in fact, be a factor in spurring the process:

The draft of the long-delayed third resolution is still being negotiated, and early versions are often tougher than the final product. But its scope is significantly wider than the two previous U.N. resolutions, even though it does not go as far as the sweeping sanctions the United States took unilaterally in October against the 125,000-member Revolutionary Guard Corps, Quds Force and three banks, officials say.

...The proposal indicates that there is still an appetite for significant new punitive measures against Iran even after the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate last week concluded that Tehran had halted its nuclear weapons program four years ago, according to officials from several countries.

Which prompted K-Drum to remark:

"The international community is not being dissuaded by the NIE," says an unnamed European diplomat. Perhaps so. Or perhaps the NIE is actually making things easier?

Matt Yglesias captures the essence of this dynamic pretty well, in a response to Drum's question:

I'd say probably easier. The fact of the NIE's release seems like a decisive signal that the really nutty war faction inside the Bush administration has been defeated and that policy is being driven by people who are worried about Iranian nuclear activities, but who also have a basic grip on reality. American officials like that are the sort of officials that diplomats around the world are prepared to work with. Foreign officials weren't, however, interested in being used as dupes who were supposed to provide a veneer of cover for an insane military adventure. I bet that if you saw a new administration with a clearer commitment to laying out a path for improved US-Iranian relations, you'd see even more willingness on the part of the international communtiy to contemplate punitive measures if Iran is unresponsive.

The underlying principle is simple enough: the US secures more international cooperation when people see us as acting rationally and responding in a reasonable manner to events around the world. Acting frightening and erratic, or paranoid and hysterical, isn't helpful.

I would guess that the "new administration" Matt envisions doesn't include a certain Rudolph Giuliani anywhere near the Oval Office.

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