Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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December 5, 2007
By: Kevin Drum

CARROTS AND STICKS....James Fallows argues that Monday's NIE, which turned down the threat level on Iran's nuclear program, is politically awkward for those who have "gone farthest out on the Iran-hawk limb." In particular:

To me it intensifies my main concern about Hillary Clinton: that, having voted five years ago for the war in Iraq, which she then continued to support for years, she went ahead this fall and voted for the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, which however you slice it was essentially a vote for legitimizing military action against Iran.

....Yes, you can argue — as Senator Clinton did just now in the excellent NPR radio-only Democratic candidates' debate — that world affairs require both carrots and sticks, that the threat of force is important for getting a regime's attention, and so on. But the reported change in Iran's behavior happened in 2003! It didn't have anything to do with Kyl-Lieberman.

As it happens, Hillary is a little over-hawkish for my taste too, and I think she made a mistake voting for Kyl-Lieberman. Still, this seems backward to me. Iran's about-face on its nuclear program may have had nothing to do with Kyl-Lieberman, but surely 2003 rings another bell in the carrots-and-sticks department? While there may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them. And if that's the case, it's pretty good evidence that sticks have a place in foreign policy, just as Hillary says.

This isn't an argument that the Iraq war was a good idea. It's an argument that once Bush made the decision to go to war, it was foolish not to take advantage of one of the resulting upsides. Iran was pretty clearly spooked after we crushed Saddam with such stunning ease, and was also pretty clearly ready to do a deal with us. But the Bush administration was so blinded by its own world historical importance, and so dominated by triumphant neocon ideologues, that it refused to see the deal that was in front of its own face.

Compare this to Ronald Reagan and the Soviet Union. It's true that the playground story of how Reagan stared down the Soviets and brought down the wall is tiresome: there were lots of reasons the Soviet Union fell, among them internal bleeding from the Afghanistan war, the mid-80s collapse in oil prices, and the ascension of Mikhail Gorbachev. Still, we now know that Reagan's defense buildup and enthusiasm for SDI was also part of it. But unlike Bush, Reagan was smart enough to take yes for an answer. When the other guy blinked, Reagan ignored the hawks in his own administration and signed the INF treaty with Gorbachev in 1987. Four years later both the Soviet Union and the Iron Curtain were gone.

Bush did the opposite. He wasn't willing to push back against Dick Cheney and the rest of the hawks in his administration, and so the chance to do a deal with Iran passed. But the chance was there, and if I were Hillary Clinton I'd argue that the threat of force was part of the reason. The only thing missing was a president smart enough to take advantage of it.

Kevin Drum 7:49 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (67)

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Try this: Iran's mortal enemy Iraq was found not to have nearly operational nuclear weapons and therefore Iran stopped their program.

Posted by: balMS on December 5, 2007 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

After the US military successes at the outset in Iraq, Iran offered the deal. That sequence of events is reasonably attributable to the invasion. Once the US rejected the deal, however, Iran had every logical rationale to ramp up its secret nuclear weapons program, but chose not to. Frankly, I would think that in a less-totalitarian government system, the Iranians would have had no choice but to pursue the nukes, but since Ayatollah Khameini calls the shots there, he was able to impose his decision without his reactionary faction barking for buildup.

Posted by: Greg in FL on December 5, 2007 at 9:05 PM | PERMALINK

Let's repeat this again, shall we?

They regurgitate exactly and put up on their blogs what you said to them.

Can't be said enough.

Posted by: anonymous on December 5, 2007 at 9:18 PM | PERMALINK

"Still, we now know that Reagan's defense buildup and enthusiasm for SDI was also part of it."

Uhh.. isn't that the "Team B" myth with the reality we now know being that the Soviet Union didn't increase defense spending in an attempt to keep up with Carter/Reagan and was, in fact, already collapsing all by itself?

Posted by: jefff on December 5, 2007 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

but I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them.

Kevin, not only do I agree with you, but I said the same thing in your comments section immediately after the NIE report about Iran was released, but some of the fellow commentators mocked me. As usual, it's great to see you and I are on the same page.
As for voting for Kyl-Lieberman, I think this may hurt her with the dovish liberal base which votes in the Democratic primaries, but I think it will actually help her in the general election. As Hillary persuasively points out,
"In fact, having designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, we've actually seen some changes in their behavior." And also she said, "The Iranians were supplying weapons that killed Americans. They were supplying technical assistance from the Qods Force, which is their special operations element. So I think we've actually seen the positive effects of having labeled them a terrorist organization because it did change their behavior."

This will help her with the general public because the general public supports the destruction of Iran's terrorist infrastructure.
Transcript of Hillary at thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/04/blogging-nprs-democratic-debate/index.html

Posted by: Al on December 5, 2007 at 9:19 PM | PERMALINK

There may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, but I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them. And if that's the case, it's pretty good evidence that sticks have a place in foreign policy, just as Hillary says.

I argue that 9/11, our derangement in the immediate aftermath, and the conquest of Afghanistan had much more to do with any Iranian capitulation than the Iraqi invasion. How could the Iranians NOT see that our invasion was going to do anything more than mire us in an uphill wheel-spinning and expensive struggle after all the looting and chaos?

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 5, 2007 at 9:24 PM | PERMALINK

Oh yeah, don't forget: Khatami was president then, not Ahmadinejad.

Posted by: Doc at the Radar Station on December 5, 2007 at 9:27 PM | PERMALINK

What about the 3,886 carrots that the stick couldn't hold on to?

Posted by: elmo on December 5, 2007 at 9:30 PM | PERMALINK

once Bush made the decision to go to war, it was foolish not to take advantage of one of the resulting upsides.
absolutely... and the rapid victory in Iraq may well have had an impact on Tehran's thinking EXCEPT... this is not a clear cut case of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Bear in mind that even before the invasion, as far back as 9/11 and the aftermath, Iran had been making repeated efforts to begin a dialogue with Washington. There were public expressions of support and private practical assistance in chasing down taliban in Afghanistan. So even without an invasion of Iraq, Tehran was ready to make nice but was rebuffed.

Posted by: billy on December 5, 2007 at 9:45 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin--

I'd appreciate your proving that we now know that SDI and the defense buildup made a difference to Gorbachev. In, for example, Frances Fitzgerald's Way Out There in the Blue it's pretty clear that Gorby's initial concerns faded after some thoughtful analysis was done.

Nobody with any sense would credit the SDI program with changing anything. And it is by no means certain that Gorby was as gullible as Reagan was on this score. (Reagan apparently did believe that Good Old American Knowhow could construct an impenetrable shield.)

Posted by: jayackroyd on December 5, 2007 at 9:50 PM | PERMALINK

Americans should praise Allah for the wisdom of Iran's mullah's to avoid war with America over the nuclear bomb. They should still fear W. Bush.

Posted by: Brojo on December 5, 2007 at 10:04 PM | PERMALINK

Poor Kevin, He makes a reasoned argument and Al agrees with him. Its a topsy turvy world, surely.

Im sleeping just a little bit better knowing that the probability of our bombing Iran on Cheney's whim has gotten significantly lower. Not zero, but lower.

Posted by: troglodyle on December 5, 2007 at 10:10 PM | PERMALINK

There may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, but I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them.

This is so stupid, you can't possibly mean it the way it sounds.

The only way in which the invasion might have convinced them to drop the nuke program is because they didn't think they needed it anymore, given that we had just taken out their main enemy and were on our way to replacing it with an ally of Iran.

Remember that Iran supported the Iraq invasion.

Otherwise, the threat of invasion would be an incentive to build a nuclear bomb, not the opposite.

Come on. This isn't difficult. "Special pleading"? Give me a break.

Posted by: Jason C. on December 5, 2007 at 10:14 PM | PERMALINK

Of course, Kevin, you have to recognize that Iran was helping the United States in Afghanistan as far back as late 2001, and was interested in making a political deal as far back as 2002, predating the Axis of Evil speech in the SOTU. So while the Iraq invasion did spook the Islamic Republic, they were also ready to negotiate before then.

Posted by: dday on December 5, 2007 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

But other things were going on in 2003. The Iranians were making peace overtures to the US, and even offered to help with al Qaeda and Iraq. And why not? Saddam was their enemy, and al Qaeda considers them a bunch of apostates. And at the time they had a reformist president.

But Cheney and Bush rejected the overtures.

Posted by: Joe Buck on December 5, 2007 at 10:19 PM | PERMALINK

Hear! Hear! Jason.

Kool-aid tastes good, don't it Kevin?

Posted by: sidewinder on December 5, 2007 at 10:26 PM | PERMALINK

Tell me more about this internal bleeding from Afghanistan. I wonder if there is any relevance to the situation in the United States.... Nah. Coinkydink I'm sure.

Posted by: jerry on December 5, 2007 at 10:42 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

So how come wonks like Jeffrey Lewis are saying that IAEA inspections and the European visit were the major determinants?

Posted by: Cernig on December 5, 2007 at 10:51 PM | PERMALINK

Drum:

There may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, but I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them.

If you were better acquainted with intellectual honesty, you wouldn't have to use such awkward phraseology.

Posted by: Toby Petzold on December 5, 2007 at 10:52 PM | PERMALINK

Wow. What an incredible stretch. I mean massive pro-Hillary bent on this site apparently knows no limit at all.

So I'd be fine with that if Kevin would come on out and say that he's Hillary's guy - but this feined attempt at objectivism is getting pretty old.

Posted by: Huh on December 5, 2007 at 11:05 PM | PERMALINK

US intelligence got the Iraq WMD "program" 100% wrong.

Exactly what has happened since then to make US intelligence on the Iran WMD "program" at all credible?

Specifically: How do we know that Iran indeed had a WMD program? That it has abandoned it now? That it did so in 2003? Why believe any of this?

Posted by: JS on December 5, 2007 at 11:25 PM | PERMALINK

"But unlike Bush, Reagan was smart enough to take yes for an answer."

I don't buy this even a little. How about unlike Bush's GOP, Reagan's GOP still had some level heads (Baker, Schultz, Weinberger) who were able to overthrow the nutcases (the ones who haunt us today) and rein in Reagan who was well along the Alzheimer path. Also, closer to the top of the list than SDI was the fact that in the early 80s, Japan and Germany, the two countries the USSR helped defeat a generation earlier, had eclipsed the Soviet Union to become the world's second and third largest economies; a much more impressionable matter to the politburo than an American grandpa's feeble-minded ramblings.

Being taken again by the Bush administration on Middle East policy doesn't help Hillary, but thankfully she's otherwise pretty saavy and tough and can be trusted to not screw up all the time, like she did on this one. Which, puts her 4 or 5 orders of magnitude better than any Republican.

Posted by: dennisS on December 5, 2007 at 11:28 PM | PERMALINK

JS - SOME US intelligence got the Iraq WMD program at least 90% right. And Cheny's goon squad managed to suppress all those dissenting opinions in 2002. One of the guys from the State Dept that got it mostly right is now in the CIA and Cheney's goons are mostly out of the loop.

Too bad you didn't get the word.

Posted by: Butch on December 5, 2007 at 11:30 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe it's because I only drift back here once in a while to see what some of the intelligent posters are saying, but I sense a slow drift rightwards in Kevin's thinking.

Kevin, as you can see, you layed out 2 or 3 statements as if accepted fact and have found they are pretty easily knocked aside as kool-aid beliefs.

The underlying lesson is that our "enemies" are pretty much always more willing to negotiate with us than hawks ever accept.

That goes for the USSR, Iran, and even Saddam Hussein. There were so many more ways to have skinhed this cat than the PNACnuts ever wanted you to understand, but you seem to have swallowed it all.

You must be hanging out with the wrong crowd. Or it's a hormone imbalance. You took a fall? You explain.

Posted by: notthere on December 5, 2007 at 11:33 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin Drum wrote, “there were lots of reasons the Soviet Union fell . . . we now know that Reagan's defense buildup and enthusiasm for SDI
was also part of it.”

I join jefff, jayackroyd, and dennisS in raising a eyebrow of doubt.

Posted by: Joel Rubinstein on December 5, 2007 at 11:46 PM | PERMALINK

So Butch, since you got that memo and I didn't -- when did US intelligence make the transition from being bogus to being dependable? What year?

Posted by: JS on December 5, 2007 at 11:47 PM | PERMALINK

"But the Bush administration was so blinded by its own world historical importance, and so dominated by triumphant neocon ideologues, that it refused to see the deal that was in front of its own face."

Kevin,

I think your comment is off point. The problem with Bush and Cheney is they are never satisfied. Just when they get a concession, they try to get another concession. After that, another concession.

There is no end to their desire to keep making more and more demands. They get their kicks by making demands, not by getting what they say they want. Bush and Cheney love to threaten their perceived enemies. They get off on making threats. However, even when people capitulate, Bush and Cheney can't calm themselves and say. "OK, fine, we're done."

Posted by: daveb99 on December 5, 2007 at 11:51 PM | PERMALINK

How do you figure that the time for deal-making with Iran is past?

As for the rest, what politician doesn't take credit when something good happens, it's always a result of their very wise leadership?

I think those that say the Iranians gave up their program when they found out that Iraq had none are right. So in a weird way, the neocons do deserve credit.

Posted by: Horatio Parker on December 5, 2007 at 11:57 PM | PERMALINK

Iran halted nuke program because of Iraq invasion?
That's perfect GOP spin -- it's surprising Bush didn't use it himself. He'll probably get around to it.
It was obvious nearly a year before the invasion and all through the trumped-up war campaign that Bush-Cheney intended to invade Iraq. So why not take the nuke program down in 2002 instead of 2003? Maybe they made the decision in 2002 and just waited til 2003 to make sure Bush was crazed enough to go through with it. So, in 2003, now that it was clear that the U.S. was doing what Iran had tried to do for 25 years -- get rid of Saddam and clear the way for the Shiite majority to take over -- Iran figured it could spend money and time in more productive ways. Like suppressing the moderate movement in their own country and electing a hard-liner who they figured could bring off the bluff that they had a revved-up nuke program and they were fixing to use it on Israel.
Bush-Cheney got played about ten ways on this one.

Posted by: secularhuman on December 6, 2007 at 12:07 AM | PERMALINK

The NIE itself makes a pretty reasonable argument that the Iraq invasion had little or nothing to do with it. The biggest thing that changed in 2003 was that Iran realized they couldn't keep the covert weapons program a secret - the IAEA was on to them. Iran needed at least a fig leaf of compliance w/ the Non-Proliferation Treaty in order to retain the support of Russia & China in the face of what they expected to be a concerted US-led effort to build international support for an invasion. So they decided that their best course was to drop the covert weapons program, and instead go with a public, NPT-compliant effort to reprocess uranium. A much smarter diplomatic strategy, focused on denying the US the causus belli it was seeking, and one that could still get them within a short leap of nuclear weapons about as quickly as the covert program ever would have. The actions of a rational, intelligent regime.

The key points are (1) while there seems to be no weapons program any longer, they're still pursuing nuclear weapons capability; (2) they're still years away from that; and (3) they're not crazy.

I'm squarely in the camp that says a war with Iran would be a disaster, and we should be putting our energy into avoiding that rather than ginning up pretexts for it. I think a grand bargain with them could be negotiated & that such a bargain would be better for our interests than the alternatives of warfare (the case against which should be obvious) or containment (a costly and difficult policy to sustain, and not worth it just to stop Iran from completing its rise from pariah state to middling regional power). But we should recognize that a negotiated deal with Iran means giving them some extent of a security guarantee & some degree of regional prominance. It's not going to be an easy pill to swallow, it's just a lot better than the alternatives.

Posted by: TW on December 6, 2007 at 12:12 AM | PERMALINK

JS, you need to catch up.

The 2002 NIE had supressed dissent due to Cheney and his confederates apply pressure all over the intelligence pantheon, setting up his own propaganda department, and on and on.

Similarly the 2005 was somewhat compromised. And this one has been hanging out there for a year as Cheney has been trying to supress the relevant parts concerning the Irani weapons program. (So it's hard for the preznit to say the administration knew nothing of what was going on.)

What has not been trusted is when the NIE is used by powerful and bullying politicos who try to shape their own message through it.

The 2002 was centred around a lying stoolpigeon related to Chalabi, who the US intelligence services never spoke directly to, an accumulation of lies, and ignoring all evidence contrary to the deductions they assumed.

The US intelligence services, all 16 of them, must have some pretty good intelligence to unanimously come to this conclusion and withstand the pressure Cheney has tried to put on them.

Now you can line up with the idealogues and psycopaths like Cheney, Bolton, Wolfowitz, Kristol and their cohorts of sycophants who wouldn't know a real intelligence assessment if it smacked them over the back of the head, and only accept their own self-generated propaganda

OR

you can line up with the people who put their arse on the line to get this assessment out for the benefit of the US making informed decisions.

Your choice.

Oh, and you seem the lazy sort. Don't ask for cites. They are just too easy to find.

Posted by: notthere on December 6, 2007 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

And if you accept the recent NIE as correct (as Kevin does) then you should not ignore (as Kevin does) the precise reasons this same NIE gives for Iran's aboutface: Not, it does not mention the US invasion of Iraq as a reason. Instead, it seams to suggest that it was the result of international pressure (like UN/IAEA). It makes this point no fewer than three times:

We judge with high confidence that the halt, and Tehran's announcement of its decision to suspend its declared uranium enrichment program... was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work.

and

Our assessment that the program probably was halted primarily in response to international pressure suggests Iran may be more vulnerable to influence on the issue than we judged previously.

and

Our assessment that Iran halted the program in 2003 primarily in response to international pressure indicates Tehran's decisions are guided by a cost-benefit approach

I didn't see any mention of the Iraq invasion as a reason.


Has the UN now infiltrated the US intelligence agencies?

Posted by: JS on December 6, 2007 at 12:19 AM | PERMALINK

Off topic but wanted to let everyone know that there's an immensely interesting audio of oral arguments made today before the Supreme Court in Boumediene v. Bush & Al Odah v. US. If you go to c-span.org and look under 'Recent Programs' (right below Romney's mug) you'll see the link.
I tremble at the make-up of the new Bush SC.

Posted by: nepeta on December 6, 2007 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

notthere -- did you know all this last week too -- before this NIE came out? Or did you discover it this week?

I'm glad to hear that you have complete faith in US intelligence going forward.

Posted by: JS on December 6, 2007 at 12:23 AM | PERMALINK

I sense a slow drift rightwards in Kevin's thinking

He's just drifting back to where he was before. Read some of Kevin's posts circa March 2003. He doesn't come off well.

Posted by: Jason C. on December 6, 2007 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK

JS - WHICH US intelligence? You do realize that there are a bunch of intelligence agencies that contribute to the NIE don't you?

Which of the agencies got it right and which didn't back in 2002?

(I've already given you a hint...)

Posted by: Butch on December 6, 2007 at 12:30 AM | PERMALINK

Hey Kevin,

I've been reading your blog on a daily basis since it was called Calpundit, and you consistently provide some of the best policy analysis, and most thoughtful writing, that can be found anywhere on-line.

However, in this particular post, you seem to have (I believe inadvertently) engaged in a form of rationalization that enabled you to come to a conclusion with which you are comfortable, but that fails to stand up to greater scrutiny (and reason).

The problem is that by attempting to judge Sen. Clinton's actions and statements in a sort of historical vacuum - i.e. that her hawkishness in the run up to the Iraq War and the war itself helped to convince the Iranians to shut down their nuclear program- you ignore the context in which her decisions where made.

We know now that the Iraq War, despite how it may have influenced Iran in the Spring of 2003, has been a terrible mistake- for our security, our effort against Al Qaeda (and related terror groups), for our military, and for the people of Iraq.

However, there were those who predicted this potential result all the way back to 2002. These people included Jim Webb, Brent Scrowcroft and yes, Barack Obama (and others of course). They each warned (or predicted) that a unilateral invasion of Iraq could very well end up in a quagmire, that we might not be able to get out once we went in, that failure would have disastrous consequences for the region, AND that it would be a costly distraction from our fight against Al Qaeda.

So for Sen. Clinton to be able to say that the threat of force that she supported was part of the reason that Iran shut down their program, you FIRST have to 1) ignore the fact that Clinton voted to give the President the authorization to go to war knowing that doing so would likely lead to war, that 2) such a war would be a distraction (from our fight against AQ and the Taliban in Afghanistan) and that 3) such a war would be extremely costly, and perhaps intractable.

Same with her Kyle-Lieberman vote; while it may not have been a bad idea in that it MAY have scared the Iranians into changing some of their behavior, the most important consideration that should have been made before casting that vote was: What is the likelihood that the Bush Administration (and in particular, VP Cheney) will use this to go to war with Iran. That is why people criticize her vote on that resolution, not because they feel any sympathy for the Revolutionary Guard.

And who is to say that the same behavior change could not have been achieved through other means (intense diplomacy with economic sticks and carrots).

And finally, you make it sound as if there was little doubt that Sen. Clinton voted the way she did in 2002 because she believed that the threat of force was necessary to get the desired behavior change from Saddam. While I believe that she used this to rationalize her vote (and as you said, there is value to that idea), it seems more likely she voted the way she did out of fear of appearing "soft" or "weak" on matters of defense and national security.

And regardless, even if she did believe that the President should have the 'threat of force' to use as a stick against Saddam, she 1) SHOULD have understood that giving the President that authority meant he was going to use it, and that 2) the potential costs of going to war were much too great. And it was this lack of any serious cost-benefit analysis by those who voted to give the President the authority to go to war (not to mention the Administration itself) that made this foreign policy disaster possible in the first place.

Posted by: Aaron M on December 6, 2007 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Of course none of this excuses H. Clinton's willingness to give Bush the keys to drive us into another war.

Forget Iran for a moment. Why is she placing ANY trust that Bush would act wisely?

Posted by: J C on December 6, 2007 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

Really, look at the NIE report itself. There is not a single mention of the Iraq invasion as being part of the incentive for Iran to stop its nuclear weapons program. If they had an inside source who might provide them with "high confidence" that the program was discontinued, and who also attributed to various kinds of international pressure due to exposure of the program, don't you think that that source might have specifically mentioned the Iraq war as one major such source, if indeed it were so?

The reality is that a natural reaction of a country like Iran after the Iraq war would be not to discontinue a nuclear weapons program, but rather to expedite it, seeing it as the only available strategy they might have for defending themselves against the US. Really, given that Iraq was invaded despite the failure of weapons inspectors to find WMD (and despite its possessing no WMD), wouldn't the reasonable inference of Iran be to believe that there would be absolutely no point in caving to Bush's demands regarding nuclear weapons, because he would invade no matter what if it were his whim? Indeed, didn't Korea pretty much follow that path in its own strategy, beefing up its nuclear weapons program to appear to have a deterrent?

Posted by: frankly0 on December 6, 2007 at 12:34 AM | PERMALINK

While there may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them. And if that's the case, it's pretty good evidence that sticks have a place in foreign policy, just as Hillary says.

Um, Kevin, maybe you can cut to the chase and explain exactly who you think it is that's arguing that sticks *don't* have a place in foreign-policy. And what exactly are you suggesting about the future course of American foreign policy if the stick in question is a disastrously planned & horribly executed war which had the effect of (among other things) strengthening Iran's regional position & weakening our global standing? If your takeaway from the invasion & occupation of Iraq is the usefulness of sticks, then you're not such a smart guy.

Posted by: junebug on December 6, 2007 at 12:38 AM | PERMALINK

Oh yes - as notthere has mentioned the published NIE is usually slanted to give the most favorable light possible on current admin policy. This is not a new thing, although I believe the current admin has gone quite a bit further in suppressing dissent than previous administrations.

So the fact that the admin published an NIE that disagrees at all with their "hair on fire about Iran" position is a pretty clear indication that after the 2002 debacle they can't get any of the dissenters to back down anymore.

Good - some adults with a bit of spine in the intel agencies.

Oh yeah JS - you did pick up the part about multiple agencies, didn't you?

Posted by: Butch on December 6, 2007 at 12:39 AM | PERMALINK

And everything in the second paragraph of frankly0's 12:34 comment is exactly right.

Posted by: junebug on December 6, 2007 at 12:41 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Kevin, wake up. Stop and think for a minute about Iran's likely motive for pursuing a nuke program in the first place. It is doubtful that they intended to bomb Israel, or anybody else. It was defensive, and their biggest threat, perhaps their only real threat was Saddam.

When we invaded Iraq their primary need for a nuclear defense went away.

The invasion of Iraq was not a stick -- it was a carrot.

Posted by: Dave Howard on December 6, 2007 at 12:46 AM | PERMALINK

Butch, what I am cautioning against is liberals cherrypicking the the intelligence, so to speak, to prove their points -- but only when it is convenient to do so.

Kevin took the reference to Iran's change of heart in 2003 to conclude that Bush's war had something to do with it. But the very same NIE seems to contradict this -- as I posted above.

Others are looking at the same NIE to say -- see, Bush/Cheney were wrong.

So one guy going from the State Department to CIA has changed things? I'm not aware that the CIA has changed that much in other ways -- has it stopped all its torture, renditions, or other similar activities recently -- or since "Cheney's goons" left (and when exactly was that?)

Or are you saying that the NIEs are now coming from the State Department intelligence?

Rather than accepting anything coming from any intelligence agancies (under Bush) just when it is convenient to do so. I'd rather disbelieve them on all counts. And if you think that Cheney's influence has disappeared. I'll call you an optimist and wait a bit longer. YMMV.

Whether Iran had a nuclear program is irrelevant. They were not required by any binding UN resolutions not to have one. Making a big deal of this is lending credence to the view that an Iranian nuclear program was a good reason to bomb them.

Posted by: JS on December 6, 2007 at 12:52 AM | PERMALINK

Fluffing Reagan for the sake of Hillary Clinton.

What is this world coming to?

Posted by: adam on December 6, 2007 at 1:06 AM | PERMALINK

Just to follow up my point a bit, I do think that the Iraq invasion might have had the right sort of effect on Iran in getting it to discontinue its program IF it had been employed as a true "stick" for bad behavior.

The problem was that Bush refused to respect the findings of the weapons inspectors. No WMD were found in Iraq; indeed no WMD existed, yet the country was nonetheless invaded. If you're Iran, what incentive would this provide for stopping your nuclear program? Wouldn't the correct inference be that there's no point in discontinuing such a program, because it would be futile to do so?

And if the Iraq war were indeed an important reason behind Iran's stopping its nuclear weapons program, why did it wait at least six months after the invasion to stop it? A program could easily be stopped overnight if they wanted to, that is, if they thought that doing so would serve any productive purpose. The defeat of Saddam seemed its most "stunning" immediately after the war commenced, and it only went downhill from there. Why the delay? Why not stop it at the earliest possible stage so that it would look as if one is doing everything one can to behave well? I think the answer is, because good behavior clearly meant nothing to Bush.

I think the most plausible scenario is that Iran's first reaction was like N. Korea's: build up a nuke program so that it might at least appear one had a deterrent. It also makes perfect sense, though, that at a later stage, Iran simply saw that stopping its nuclear weapons program would, in a predictable and knowable way, affect some things it really did care about. Namely, behaving well would remove potential economic sanctions by European countries.

There's nothing remarkable about that progression. It is pretty much precisely the progression that N. Korea went through, though over a greater amount of time.

It would make sense in that context for Iran to choose to discontinue its program, given the value they attached to economic stability and progress.

Posted by: frankly0 on December 6, 2007 at 1:17 AM | PERMALINK

Still, we now know that Reagan's defense buildup and enthusiasm for SDI was also part of it.

Yes, because military buildups always cause nations to change their governments to be more like that of their enemy. Saber-rattling never gets their back up and hardens their opposition. If I think about it for a year I might come up with an example besides Ronald Jesus Reagan slaying the Commie Menace, but I only have history books to turn to, not comic books.

How embarrassing that a grown man not on the receiving end of Dan Bartlett's faxes believes this crap.

Posted by: calling all toasters on December 6, 2007 at 1:49 AM | PERMALINK

There's a lot about this that doesn't make sense. If Iran believed that Bush was a threat to attack because it believed it was on the path to getting nukes, why would Iran stop its program but keep that fact a secret? Similarly, if we accept for the sake of argument that Iran was dropped its nuke weapons program worried about the might of the US following the 2003 invasion, as Kevin argues, why wouldn't they resume the program by 2005 when it became clear that the invasion was a massive disaster and Iran's influence in the region was on the rise?

Posted by: Jeff S. on December 6, 2007 at 2:03 AM | PERMALINK

"notthere -- did you know all this last week too -- before this NIE came out?"

JS, like I said, do your own research, little baby. It's all out there.

Alright. Start Here, then work back, you lazy troll.

Of course your mind is already set. Nobody is less trustworthy than the liars and psychopaths who have killed so many for undeclared objectives. But they are your heroes, and you are just out to waste everyone's time. Ignorant ideology sure must be bliss.

Posted by: notthere on December 6, 2007 at 2:05 AM | PERMALINK

Nobody is less trustworthy than the liars and psychopaths who have killed so many for undeclared objectives. But they are your heroes

What are you talking about? Who are my heroes? What in my posts made you think you know who my heroes are? Can you be specific?

Posted by: JS on December 6, 2007 at 2:50 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin, you write: "But unlike Bush, Reagan was smart enough to take yes for an answer (from the Soviet Union).... Bush did the opposite. He wasn't willing to push back against Dick Cheney and the rest of the hawks in his administration, and so the chance to do a deal with Iran passed. But the chance was there, and if I were Hillary Clinton I'd argue that the threat of force was part of the reason. The only thing missing was a president smart enough to take advantage of it."

Agreed.

And I would say that Clinton could make an even stronger case. Forget Iran. She could argue that the authorization of force against Iraq in 2002 persuaded Saddam -- to everyone's surprise, including George W. Bush -- to re-admit UN inspectors. Those inspectors were in the process of revealing that Iraq had no WMD. Instead of claiming a great victory for what some might call "coercive diplomacy," Bush went ahead with his war.

Posted by: CMcC on December 6, 2007 at 5:18 AM | PERMALINK

Butch, what I am cautioning against is liberals cherrypicking the the intelligence, so to speak, to prove their points -- but only when it is convenient to do so.

Who is cherry-picking the intel? What liberals? Name names. Be specific. Mighty nice of you to worry -- concern troll much? -- but you've presented no evidence of liberals having cherry-picked intel conveniently to their advantage to merit such caution.

Posted by: Apollo 13 on December 6, 2007 at 6:21 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin took the reference to Iran's change of heart in 2003 to conclude that Bush's war had something to do with it. But the very same NIE seems to contradict this -- as I posted above.

Kevin does not say he arrived at his assumption based on the NIE. He doesn't cite the declassified NIE in his post to support his argument. The context of his argument is "carrots and sticks."

Posted by: Apollo 13 on December 6, 2007 at 6:29 AM | PERMALINK

While there may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them.

Allow me to chime in with those taking you to the woodshed on this one, Kevin. If Bush's disastrously incompetent invasion of Iraq influenced Iran's decision to suspend its program, it's because the US took out one of Iran's regional rivals (as well as Israel's, of course). As others have pointed out, acquirign a nuke pronto would have been a very rational reaction to the US invasion. Also, if the invasion scared Iran out of its nuke program, the developing quagmire in Iraq -- which surely vetoes a military invasion, if not an airstrike -- would have been reason to resume the program, which apparently has not happened.

You really ought to read your own comments. It's lame in the extreme to advance an argument pushed by Bush Administration water carriers such as Trashy, especially after it's already been shot down in your own forums.

I am also compelled to point out that 9/11 was also a significant event in Iran's decision process -- Iran began reaching otu to the US then, which the Bush Administration by alnd large rebuffed. Remember your own "not taking 'yes' for an answer post, Kevin? Sheesh!

Posted by: Gregory on December 6, 2007 at 9:10 AM | PERMALINK

The Hillary Doctrine much resembles the Bush Doctrine. It's sticks-sticks, not carrots-sticks. Hillary's defense of her Iran vote as being part of a policy of carrots and sticks was a bold face lie. What carrots have we offered? The fact that the very important people in media and politics didn't pick up on this shows how little they understand what the phrase carrots and sticks means.

Posted by: SJH on December 6, 2007 at 9:15 AM | PERMALINK

... surely 2003 rings another bell in the carrots-and-sticks department? While there may have been multiple reasons why Iran shut down its bomb program, I think you'd have to do some pretty serious special pleading to argue that our invasion of Iraq wasn't one of them.

Read and learn, Mister Drum. Read and learn:

US Intelligence Review Directly Contradicts Bush's Line On Iran
by Gareth Porter [Inter Press Service]

... The NIE does refer to the role of "international pressures" in halting Iran's program, but contrary to Hadley's argument, it suggests that the decision to halt weaponzation was not prompted by threats and pressure. The key finding of the estimate also indicates that the intelligence community believes Iran is more likely to forego the nuclear weapons option if the United States deals with its security and political interests than if it relies on threats and sanctions.

The estimate concludes that the halt in the weapons program was ordered "in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran's previously undeclared nuclear work". That is a reference to the situation facing the Iranian leadership in 2003, when its acquisition of nuclear technology from the A.Q. Khan network had already been exposed but there was no threat of either military action or economic sanctions against Iran over the nuclear issue.

A major feature of the diplomatic situation in the fall of 2003 was the willingness of Britain, France and Germany to negotiate an agreement with Iran on a wider range of security issues, based on voluntary Iranian suspension of uranium enrichment. ...

[Incidentally, Iran didn't have any actual "bomb program" in 2003, as you inaccurately put it. Consult the full article above for the NIE's conclusions regarding the extent of their research efforts.]
.
.

Posted by: Poilu on December 6, 2007 at 9:38 AM | PERMALINK

If the quick, successful invasion of Iraq by the US persuaded Iran to abandon its nuclear weapon development program, then the continued threats by W. Bush and Cheney to preemptively attack Iran despite Iran's assurances and the UN's investigations that nuclear weapon development no longer existed should have caused them to restart it.

The idea that sticks work can be contradicted by examining ourselves. If the US were threatened by a superior power to end a weapons development program or risk a preemptive strike, most Americans would invoke the state motto of New Hampshire and give that superpower a big wet raspberry. We should be grateful Iranians are not as aggressive as Americans.

Posted by: Brojo on December 6, 2007 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

Thank you Aaron M @ 12:33 for saving me lots of time and saying it better than I could have and more fully than I would have. Great comment.

Kevin, I hate to pile on, but..."Hillary is a little over-hawkish for my taste too, and I think she made a mistake voting for Kyl-Lieberman."

If that's true, why the excruciating, labyrinthine, poorly reasoned and factually challenged rationalization for HRC's argument?

Fallow's point was that HRC's vote on Kyl- Lieberman showed her true colors (more than a little polluted by neocon-villager-VERY SERIOUS FOREIGN POLICY THINKER, project American power beltway bullshit), and that it was absurd to invoke the carrot/stick rationale while using the NIE to (ex-post) defend that vote.

Please consider:

1. Given the dance she's had to do around her AUMF vote and her subsequent failure to admit error on that vote, what does it say about HRC's judgement and foreign policy instincts that she gave George-Dick support (again) for their bellicose rhetoric? Could she possibly believe that they wouldn't weave that support into a whole fabric of lies to justify invasion of Iran if that served their purposes?

2. Why is, oh, say, Michael O'Hanlon part of HRC's FP team? The guy is a progressive thinker's poster-boy for what's wrong with village thinking about foreign policy.

3. Why did you quote the Fallows piece if you weren't going to respond to its substance?

Clinton's answer was a non-answer, her implied rationale was absurd, and Fallows hit the nail on the head.

Posted by: Adams on December 6, 2007 at 11:30 AM | PERMALINK

Kevin does not say he arrived at his assumption based on the NIE. He doesn't cite the declassified NIE in his post to support his argument.

That's very funny Apollo13. What hat do you think he pulled "2003" out of then? His entire post is about the NIE -- his first sentence indicates that, and his Fallows quote is from a post titled "Three simple points about Iran/NIE". The fact that Iran dropped its nuclear program in 2003 was in the NIE. Kevin takes this and says -- hey, 2003 was also when the Iraq invasion happened, so the two must be related. But he does not say, as I posted above, that the NIE specifically claims that Iran's alleged action happened for a very different reason (international pressure).

Many commenters here have criticized Kevin on this. You seem to think that doing so means one is a troll?

Posted by: JS on December 6, 2007 at 11:45 AM | PERMALINK

you've presented no evidence of liberals having cherry-picked intel

You obviously haven't followed the argument here. My original post questioned whether US intelligence should be trusted before or after the NIE. It questioned whether one NIE that goes against Bush means that US intelligence is suddenly to be taken at face value after all its past failures.

This was not an argument against this particular conclusion on Iran. It was an argument against the dependability of US intelligence given its record.

If Cheney's reign was the only reason US intelligence screwed up -- then why has it been so widely reported that intelligence on Iraq during Clinton was pretty much the same? (To his credit, Clinton did not go to war over it -- but he and Hillary and others have repeatedly said that the information they were getting about Iraq was the same as what Bush got). And "slam dunk" Tenet was not a Cheney plant; he was nominated by Clinton.

As I said (and you and notthere ignored) my criticism does not support Bush or Cheney; quite the contrary. It says (as others have also argued here) that even if Iran had had a nuclear program this was no reason for war.

So do you think that all the commenters here that have criticized Kevin are concern trolls? Or does this apply only to those who still have reservations about US intelligence?

Posted by: JS on December 6, 2007 at 11:57 AM | PERMALINK

But the chance was there, and if I were Hillary Clinton I'd argue that the threat of force was part of the reason. The only thing missing was a president smart enough to take advantage of it.

Surely it didn't escape Clinton's attention that that smart president was still missing in September 2007 when she voted for Kyle-Lieberman.

Posted by: cowalker on December 6, 2007 at 12:03 PM | PERMALINK

2. Why is, oh, say, Michael O'Hanlon part of HRC's FP team?

Or Richard Holbrooke, who one month before Bush's Iraq invasion complained that Bush was wasting time going to the UN to ask for another resolution? And that he should have invaded sooner?

Posted by: JS on December 6, 2007 at 12:24 PM | PERMALINK

Classic Post hoc ergo propter hoc.
While definite info is not available, the Russians who were selling reactors to Iran doubt any pre-2003 program, the IAEA has never seen any either and other evidence is not supportive of any nuclear weapons program.
...President Bush declared on June 25 that "we will not tolerate" a nuclear armed Iran. His words are empty. The physical evidence for a nuclear weapons program in Iran simply does not exist....No one can read the collective mind of a government. But even if Iran proves in the future to have ambitions for developing nuclear weapons, any actual production is years, perhaps decades away. Furthermore, Iran has fully acquiesced to the international inspections process. Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). On June 22, the head of the Iranian Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam-Reza Aghazadeh, reiterated that all of Iran's nuclear facilities are open for inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in compliance with treaty guarantees.

Given Bush's bellicosity and his proven propensity to launch wars without provocation, it would behoove a nation to begin an nuclear weapons program, not end one.

Posted by: Mike on December 6, 2007 at 12:42 PM | PERMALINK

"Still, we now know that Reagan's defense buildup and enthusiasm for SDI was also part of it."

Seriously, Kevin, where's your evidence? I see that many commenters before me have referenced the fact that, to demonstrate that Reagan did anything more than get elected at the right time in history, you would have to demonstrate that the Soviets increased military spending in response to Reagan's build-up. This should be a simple thing for you to find if it's out there.

As for your other claim about the Iraq invasion resulting in Iran's abandonment of a nukes program, same question. Evidence? Not even hardcore, dispositive evidence; just some indication of that out of the NIE, or by some other nation's intelligence/diplomatic apparatus. I'm not saying it's impossible (though I do find the opposite result more logical), but you really need evidence for this kind of assertion.

Posted by: jeff on December 6, 2007 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Boy, do the wingnuts ever come out in force when Kevin strays from proper leftist orthodoxy. Dopes.

Posted by: Brian on December 6, 2007 at 4:33 PM | PERMALINK

"Still, we now know that Reagan's defense buildup and enthusiasm for SDI was also part of it." Wait, what? Since when is that "known"?

Maybe it's "known" in the same sense that Iran's slavering devotion to blowing itself up if it can take out Israel too is "known": it's a neoconservative talking point that was popular in that part of Washington that believes that sort of thing. The kind of people that babble nonsense that is expected to be believed if they are to bestow the label of "serious" on you.

I'd hope you're above that.

As for Reagan: his sole contribution was that as an actor, he could tell when somebody isn't acting. Gorbachev wasn't acting. He was, oddly enough, pretty much on the level.

It's notable enough, but has nothing to do with any of his "evil empire" crap. Precisely the opposite.

Posted by: Demosthenes on December 6, 2007 at 4:41 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin,

You've got the point on the Iraq war and its aftermath exactly right. (not that my agreement is going to make much difference here)
The Bush administration was so caught up in their ability to change the world, that they culd not engage with the more mundane task of looking for opportunities in the existing political situation. This was the hubris that gave us the "reality based community," and suggested that they were not subject to its constraints.

It is (just barely) possible that the Iraq war did not play a significant part in Iran's decision to halt its nuclear weapons program. However, absent evidence to the contrary, the timing makes an strong arguement for some sort of relationship. Post hoc, ergo propter hoc is not a conclusive argument, but it is not always wrong, either.

Also, JS,

The reason to trust this report over earlier ones (on this matter, at least) is sourcing. An Iranian official, General Asghari, disappeared in Turkey last February, and is generally believed to have defected to the US (or an allied European country). He was not directly involved in Iran's nuclear program, but he brings the first insider's perspective on Iran's decision making that we have had available to us. Again, this is not conclusive (there is no official confirmation of Asghari's defection), but it certainly suggest that we know more now than we did in 2005.

Posted by: heedless on December 7, 2007 at 9:54 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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