Richard Epstein At The Hoover Institution On The Iran Deal

The classical liberal/libertarian law and economics thinker is not on board.  In fact, the title of his piece is: ‘Obama’s Disastrous Iran Deal.’

As I see it, what much opposition to the Iran deal boils down to is this:  The Iranian regime is full of people so untrustworthy that good faith dealing with them is nearly impossible, if not actually impossible.  This was a supremely difficult task with a LOT of downside risk involved and opportunity costs to boot.

The Obama administration’s claim has heretofore been:  It’s this deal or war.  A kind of determined, defiant, activist peace-dealing has reigned, along with the usual political rhetoric and freezing-out of people who think differently.

Many people with dogs in the hunt are not on board with the deal.  The major ones being a Republican-controlled Congress, many Americans keen to our security interests, a vast majority of Israelis, as well as most all of the Saudi kingdom (Sunni, oil-rich, and which funds its own Wahhabi terrorism, and which is right next door to its bitter foe).

The devil is in the details, and if the details don’t sufficiently address why a nuclear-armed Iran is so bad, why lifted sanctions empower a laundry-list of anti-American and anti-Western security interests (Putin especially, and the old Moscow-Tehran-Damascus alliance), Hizbollah and Hamas terrorists, destabilizing Shia militias and Revolutionary Guard activity, then the deal won’t achieve what it claims to be able to achieve.

The logic has pretty much remained the same and this is why I’m generally in the opposition:  Short of maintaining sanctions, threats of force or other punishment, short of war or some other potential confrontation, the Iranian regime and many of its people will likely get deliverable nukes, and nearly no outcome of this fact will likely lead to greater peace, cooperation, and stability in a volatile region, nor in the world.

Pretty strong language out in the public square from Epstein:

‘This agreement does not require detailed study to conclude that it is a dead loser. Nonetheless, the United States has put it forward in the United Nations for approval before Congress has spoken, and the President, incorrigible as ever, has announced that he will veto any Congressional legislation that seeks to block the treaty. Many members of his own party do not share the President’s unfailing instinct for self-destruction. They should join the Republicans to reject the treaty by veto-proof majorities in both houses before the President and his team can do any further harm. ‘

Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.

Henry Kissinger & George Schulz Via The WSJ: ‘The Iran Deal And Its Consequences’

Piece here (link may return behind a paywall)

A good analysis, likely worth your time. ======================

This blog remains skeptical, and mostly critical (surprise me) of the potential Iran deal so far, because, as Richard Epstein has pointed out, without the threat of force, the deal doesn’t have the leverage needed to really put pressure where it’s needed:  Upon a throughly committed, anti-American incentivized group of mullahs and post-1979 revolutionaries running terrorism, militias, guns and money around the region (and sometimes further afield) to become as powerful as they can.

Deliverable nukes are not just a means for an authoritarian theocracy to keep repressing its own people (though there’s plenty of that) nor a way to quell Iranian hostility towards and isolation from international institutions (plenty of that, too), but also a way for deeper Persian, Shia, and national Iranian identity and pride to assert itself in a dangerous region under an authoritarian theocracy. The basic security issues are more than mullah-deep, and the basic security of the Saudis, Israelis, and other interested Sunni-led countries and parties leads one to conclude this could easily turn into an arms race.

This is very risky if you’d prefer peace, or fighting the wars that you need to fight for the security of yourself and your own people, for treaties, alliances and trade, basic human rights or whatever interest or ideal you’d like to see leading our policy in the world (I’d prefer to stay ahead of war in the first place). More details at the link:

‘Under the new approach, Iran permanently gives up none of its equipment, facilities or fissile product to achieve the proposed constraints. It only places them under temporary restriction and safeguard—amounting in many cases to a seal at the door of a depot or periodic visits by inspectors to declared sites.’

The negotiations may yet do a lot of harm because they may not be capable of stopping the Iranian regime from buying time, nor ultimately getting deliverable nukes, nor changing nor constraining their activities enough for the possible opportunity costs involved. Our authors finish with:

If the world is to be spared even worse turmoil, the U.S. must develop a strategic doctrine for the region. Stability requires an active American role. For Iran to be a valuable member of the international community, the prerequisite is that it accepts restraint on its ability to destabilize the Middle East and challenge the broader international order. Until clarity on an American strategic political concept is reached, the projected nuclear agreement will reinforce, not resolve, the world’s challenges in the region. Rather than enabling American disengagement from the Middle East, the nuclear framework is more likely to necessitate deepening involvement there—on complex new terms. History will not do our work for us; it helps only those who seek to help themselves

Addition:  Richard Epstein ‘Barack vs. Bibi:’ takes the classical liberal, non anti-war libertarian position:

‘In the end, it is critical to understand that the current weaknesses in American foreign policy stem from the President’s adamant reluctance to commit to the use of American force in international relations, whether with Israel, Iran or with ISIS. Starting from that position, the President has to make huge unilateral concessions, and force his allies to do the same thing. Right now his only expertise is leading from behind.  The President has to learn to be tough in negotiations with his enemies. Right now, sadly, he has demonstrated that toughness only in his relationships with America’s friends and allies.’

Another Addition: Adam Garfinkle has a thoughtful piece on American political discourse and the Iran deal.

Another Addition: Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’ So what are our interests and how do we secure them as the fires in the Middle-East rage?  Michael Totten makes a case here in Why We Can’t Leave The Middle-East.’  He gets push-back in the comments

Democracy as we envision it requires people to constrain themselves within laws and institutions that maintain democracy…through Mill’s utilitarianism?: Thursday Quotation: Jeane Kirkpatrick – J.S. Mill  Is Bernhard Henri-Levy actually influencing U.S. policy decisions..? From New York Magazine: ‘European Superhero Quashes Libyan Dictator’Bernhard Henri-Levy At The Daily Beast: ‘A Moral Tipping Point’
Do we try and invest in global institutions as flawed as they are…upon a Kantian raft of perpetual peace?:  Daniel Deudney On YouTube Responding to Robert Kagan: Liberal Democracy Vs. Autocracy

Two Reactions To Netanyahu’s Speech To Congress

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest ‘The Prime Minister’s Speech:’

The whole of Obama’s foreign policy comes under scrutiny, including backsliding away from the tougher line on Iran at the beginning of the p5 + 1 negotiations, into what is now only a ten-year time-line.

Mead:

‘So the Moderate Islamist strategy, essentially the only strategy that is un-horrible enough for liberal strategists to contemplate without self-loathing, is, while not totally useless, incapable of stabilizing the region or of making the terror madness go away—or even of keeping the threat within some kind of marginally acceptable bounds.

Even so, the proponents of this strategy can’t bear to let it go. The alternatives are so ugly and dispiriting, and so deeply unwelcome to the Democratic base, that the Obama wing of the Democratic Party’s foreign policy establishment can’t bear to think about them, much less conduct American foreign policy on different and more realistic lines. (Camp Clinton, by the way, seems somewhat less inhibited.) As a result, the deeper the Obama administration’s Islamist strategy runs into the mud, the more bitter its proponents become about what they increasingly see as the Israeli millstone around the neck of American foreign policy. This is when high minded liberals and progressives find themselves tempted to echo the arguments of the anti-Israel paleocons, and when fantasies of an all-powerful, unpatriotic Israel Lobby begin to loom in their minds.’

Oh, there’s always someone to blame.

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Notice Dan Drezner doesn’t focus on Obama’s overall policy achievements, but rather on the little that Netanyahu’s speech may have achieved relative to its stated aims; his inability to sway the people actually making Obama, and Americas,’  foreign policy .

Which is true, as far as it goes:

‘Meanwhile, the GOP leadership in Congress, when they’re not busy disagreeing with each other over strategy, can take solace that they one-upped Obama in the war of foreign policy trolling.

And since the American public still supports cutting a deal with Iran, the Obama administration can be confident that their message of “let’s continue to make a good faith effort on negotiations” will be well-received at home.’

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As for me, I’d still like more realism, and think that there perhaps was a window for dealing with the mullahs in Iran, but that such a window has likely passed as the deal appears to get worse as the expectations get lower.

I don’t find much in common with Obama’s team and his pro-peace, activist base, and find little to recommend them from the consequences of his Middle-East policies in action so far.  I think he’s got many wrong ideas and remain skeptical about how our leverage is being used in negotiating with such dangerous people.

Witnessing party Democrat reactions to the speech is sad enough, as is the grumbling and confusion over at the GOP and my general distaste for the political class at the moment.  Such seems to be life in D.C., a two-party town, when it comes to dealing with Iran.

These are the people we’ve got.

***Addition-I’m assured by an emailer that the people in Iran who don’t favor the mullahs and may not favor deliverable nukes (for the glory of Persepolis, by Jove), are very ‘moderate’ indeed.  Just like all those moderates in the Muslim Brotherhood, the moderates in Syria and Iraq, Egypt, Palestine and even Libya, they are about to burst into pure democratic social justice awareness and peaceful democratic self-governance.

Short of that, the global trans-national peace raft and coalition of concerned institutions has TOTALLY got ISIS, the mullahs, the Wahhabis, the Israelis, al Shabaab, Boko Haram, al Qaeda, the House of Saud, Hamas, Hizbollah, the King of Jordan etc…under control.

This is what global progress looks like, and if you disagree, you’re pretty clearly a warmonger.

Thanks emailer!

Another addition:  As posted, what worldview could help account for our current foreign policy?:

Well, this is the dawning of the age of Aquarius:

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Adam Garfinkle At The AI: ‘Of Humanitarian Zones, Ghost Soldiers, Kurdish Ways, and Calculating Mullahs’

Full piece here. (Just click on the homepage and re-enter if the link doesn’t work)

‘Iran has not created the weaknesses and failures of the Arab world, but it has set out to deepen and exploit them. Whosoever does not understand this, which may include the aforementioned President, resembles the reality-challenged individual who thinks that one can affect the position of a shadow by doing things to the shadow.’

And what might the Ayatollah be thinking?:

One possibility:

‘In my view, the Supreme Leader’s main concern is domestic control and stability. I think he worries that a deal with the Great Satan might unleash all sorts of fermentation, especially among the young, who would interpret an agreement in very broad social terms. That would threaten the regime, forcing him to decide between co-optive reform, or unleashing the Basij to bash skulls, or oscillations of both. I don’t think he wants to do either if he can help it’

What about an unadventurous foreign policy, but still very risky nonetheless?

-Dexter Filkins on Iran here.

-Scowcroft and Brzezinski may be offering plans: ‘George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’

Which Ideas Are Guiding Our Foreign Policy With Iran.’ Some Saturday Links On Iran-Peace At What Price?

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-Semitism

Some Wednesday Links-P5 + 1, ISIS & Ticking Clocks

It might be worth revisiting this piece by George Schultz and Henry Kissinger now that the p5 + 1 preliminary negotiations have been extended for another seven months.

No deal is probably better than a bad deal, and perhaps this kind of dealing:

‘Some adjustments are inherent in the inevitable process of historic evolution. But we must avoid an outcome in which Iran, freed from an onerous sanctions regime, emerges as a de facto nuclear power leading an Islamist camp, while traditional allies lose confidence in the credibility of American commitments and follow the Iranian model toward a nuclear-weapons capability, if only to balance it.’

Historic evolution?

I’m guessing it’s certainly true that some people in Iran (the Green Revolution) would like to be out from under the mullah-controlled, Basij supported deep state.  The ruling cadre has plenty of political enemies within Iran (across broader groups, from religious minorities to the politically and economically oppressed).

Yet, for our sakes, it’s tough to deal with shady bunch of fiercely nationalistic, former Revolutionary guard types in charge: Perfectly happy to get nukes, become the big dogs in the region, keep funding Hizbollah and doing all the shady, destablilizing things they’ve been doing, just now with nukes.

This would continue to be really bad for the Sunnis in Iraq, the Saudis, and the Israelis, among others, as well as pretty much all American interests.

Whether it’s aggressive, untrustworthy terrorist-funding types, to more moderate calculating, wheeling-dealing types buying time and maximum advantage, this was always a longer shot which required serious diplomacy.

I’d love to be proven wrong, but I suspect this approach always required experience, timing, testicular fortitude, and enough realist leadership that seems sorely lacking in this White House.

The clock keeps ticking.

Feel free to highlight my ignorance.  Any thoughts and comments are welcome.

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Over at the nearly completely erased Syrian/Iraq border and to the Kurds left to fight for their survival.

The Turks really can’t afford an independent Kurdistan, but they probably really can’t afford an ISIS-controlled Islamo-thunderdome next door, either.  Erdogan has to keep his opposition down, and still ride the Islamically resurgent wave rolling throughout the region.

From VICE:

From this NY Times piece on the state whatever’s left of the Iraqi Army:

—————-

“I told the Americans, don’t give any weapons through the army — not even one piece — because corruption is everywhere, and you will not see any of it,” said Col. Shaaban al-Obeidi of the internal security forces, also a Sunni tribal leader in Anbar Province. “Our people will steal it.”

Two Links From The American Interest & It’s Willer Time

Adam Garfinkle (as of July 11th) at the American Interest on ISIS/ISIL, the Kurds, the Iranian regime (the U.S. position can’t allow deliverable nukes for Iran, the Iranian regime is by hook or by crook aiming for deliverable nukes):

‘Do not go soft in the P5+1 negotiations, do not erode the sanctions regime further, and be prepared to build it back up if Iranian behavior warrants; keep repeating the determination that Iran will not have nuclear weapons and that all options remain on the table to prevent it; prepare multi-level economic warfare plans short of kinetic strikes, not to exclude naval blockades; intercept Iranian arms shipments to insurgents in the region and, perhaps, once unloaded, sink the ships; reveal Assad’s chemical weapons declaration to have been bogus; quickly and significantly aid the FSA to do real harm to Iran’s Alawi allies in Damascus; and, above all, use the current ISIS crisis to harm Iran for the longer term.’

This blog is generally sympathetic to Kurdish aims, but in the wake of Iraq we have other interests to balance: Independent Kurdistan-A Good Outcome For American Interests? Longer odds, lots of risk: Adam Garfinkle At The American Interest’s Via Media: “The Rise Of Independent Kurdistan?”From Reuters: ‘Analysis: Syrian Kurds Sense Freedom, Power Struggle Awaits’

Four More Months-The White House & The Iranian Regime

Walter Russell Mead is not happy with the media’s investment in a certain narrative: ‘As Libya Implodes, “Smart Diplomacy” Becoming A Punch Line:

‘But luckily for Team Obama, the mainstream press would rather die than subject liberal Democrats to the critiques it reserves for the GOP. So instead, as Libya writhes in agony, reputations and careers move on. The news is so bad, and the President’s foreign policy is collapsing on so many fronts, that it is impossible to keep the story off the front pages.’

And now for something to wash all that down.  Pretty much unrelated.

It’s Willer Time:

Four More Months-The White House & The Iranian Regime

Secretary Of State John Kerry has announced a four month extension of the initial preliminary talks with Iran, stretching them until November 24th:

Claudia Rosett is unhappy with language coming from the White House, worried that we’ve already legitimized too much.

It’s tough to see what happens in the next four months that hasn’t happened already:

The phrase is absurd. Iran’s nuclear program is manifestly not about peace. If it were, there would have been no need for Iran’s collaboration with Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan nuclear network, no need for secretly built Iranian enrichment facilities, no need for Iran’s years of maneuvering under sanctions, no need for Iran’s work on long-range missiles to deliver nuclear weapons, no need for the whole vast elaborate web of deceits and dodges and ploys with which Iran has built its nuclear program. There would be no need now for months and months of multi-tiered haggling in Vienna with the U.S., Britain, France and Germany (and, nominally, with China and Russia — which have managed the trick of both supplying materiel to Iran’s nuclear program, and bargaining over the results). There would be no need for secrecy. There would be no need for any more Iranian nuclear program going forward. Iran’s regime could dismantle its entire nuclear kit, and amuse itself with developing the country’s vast wealth of oil and gas.’

Click through for more.

It’s hard to see from here how the divide gets bridged:  An Iran which sees nuclear enrichment and weapons as a right, a big stick, and a matter of national destiny, and a U.S. that sees an Iran with nuclear weapons as fundamentally unacceptable.

In Iran, you’ve got a theocratic, repressive regime which sponsors terrorism far beyond its borders, props up Assad and runs guns to Hamas and various others. This is a deep State largely controlled by an Islamic revolutionary security apparatus which squelches domestic political opposition, spies on its citizens, and has been known to murder and jail dissenters and opponents. There are some democratic elements, journalists, and many business interests in Iranian society, of course, bumping up against the Baseej, the Supreme Leader and the theocracy, but they don’t have too much control over their country.

It was argued that with newly elected Hassan Rouhani as President, this was the best chance for something to happen.

By and large, we’re out on a limb with a crafty, authoritarian regime at the end of the day, generally not to be taken at its word most of the time but which probably acts in what can be recognized as rational ways (aiming for regional domination and nuclear weapons as a matter of national destiny, for starters).

I keep putting this quote up from this piece over at the Atlantic: From The Atlantic: Samuel Huntington’s Death And Life’s Work

“Although the professional soldier accepts the reality of never-ending and limited conflict, “the liberal tendency,” Huntington explained, is “to absolutize and dichotomize war and peace.” Liberals will most readily support a war if they can turn it into a crusade for advancing humanistic ideals. That is why, he wrote, liberals seek to reduce the defense budget even as they periodically demand an adventurous foreign policy.”

What about an unadventurous foreign policy, but still very risky nonetheless?

-Dexter Filkins on Iran here.

-Scowcroft and Brzezinski may be offering plans: ‘George Shultz & Henry Kissinger At The Hoover Institution: ‘What A Final Iran Deal Must Do’

Which Ideas Are Guiding Our Foreign Policy With Iran.’ Some Saturday Links On Iran-Peace At What Price?

Israel, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-Semitism

Two Thursday Links On Foreign Policy

Claudia Rosett At PJ Media: ‘The Upside Of Russia’s Threat To Trash The Iran Nuclear Talks:’

Reaching out to the leadership in Iran is risky, but Rosett seems to think it isn’t worth the risk at all:

‘I’ve been in Vienna for the first two rounds of these talks, Feb. 18-20 and March 18-19, and there’s no sign that this diplomatic process is going to stop Iran from getting the bomb. Rather, Iran is making some temporary and reversible concessions, while continuing to enrich uranium, and refusing to give up its ballistic missile program or abandon construction of a heavy-water de facto plutonium-factory reactor near Arak’

Zavid Jarif seemed pretty clear about Iran’s right to enrich as of March 20th, 2014.  This will be tough to bridge.

Putin’s pursuing an ethno-nationalist petro-empire and our most common interest would still be in preventing Islamist terrorism (Iran funds terrorism, mind you).  Is the Moscow-Tehran-Damascus alliance worth bargaining with?  Meanwhile, the Saudis and Israelis are taking their own precautions, given Iran’s right next door.

Many Chinese interests line-up against ours.

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Robert Kagan at the Washington Post: ‘President Obama’s Foreign Policy Paradox:’

Per Kagan:  You wanted isolationism, withdrawal, and a light footprint, America, you’ve got it and you don’t seem pleased:

‘For many decades Americans thought of their nation as special. They were the self-proclaimed “leader of the free world,” the “indispensable nation,” the No. 1 superpower. It was a source of pride. Now, pundits and prognosticators are telling them that those days are over, that it is time for the United States to seek more modest goals commensurate with its declining power. And they have a president committed to this task.’

So, what next?

Some Saturday Iran Links

Stephen Schwartz, via the Center For Islamic Pluralism, is not happy about the deal nor the Syrian part of the equation:

The White House celebrates an Iranian “interim nuclear deal” that, like the Syrian chemical weapons deal, ignored Iran and Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria. Predictably, Al-Assad was thrilled by the outcome of Iran’s Geneva performance. Al-Assad, official Syrian media crowed, “saw that Iran’s achievement will reflect on Syria due to the strategic relation between the two countries. President [Hassan] Rouhani, for his part, reaffirmed Iran’s standing by Syria.”

Perhaps it’s safe to assume that Putin’s going to do what’s best for Putin, Assad for Assad, and Rouhani and the mullahs for Rouhani and the mullahs.  These are people with whom we can barely do business, if at all.

Walter Russell Mead and his staff remain skeptical.  Remember, this deal is a first tentative step in which the Iranian regime will be expected to meet many conditions.  What have they sacrificed so far?

‘As it stands, Iran looks to be emerging from the sanctions saga with the upper hand. Its influence is spreading and its clients succeeding, from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon. Foreign Minister Zarif is currently on a tour of the Gulf, looking to expand that clout by mending and strengthening financial links and touting Iranian diplomatic prestige. This is not the behavior of a country that has just ruefully acquiesced to western demands.’

One of the more positive pieces I could find comes from Foreign Affairs.   What needs to be done in the meantime if the deal’s going to survive?:

‘Washington must therefore convince the Gulf States that it is committed not only to halting Iran’s nuclear program but also to containing Iran’s principal means of projecting regional influence through asymmetric operations. This would likely take the form of intelligence collaboration and prosecutions that target the Gulf operations of Iranian proxies such as Hezbollah and military units such as the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — both of which engage in violence, subversion, and terrorism outside Iran’

A lot of leadership, diplomacy, and engagement are required.

Addition:  It’s easy to envision many ways in which this will break-down into a much more volatile and difficult situation for our interests.

Via The New Yorker: Negotiations With Iran

Podcast here.

‘On this week’s Political Scene podcast, Dexter Filkins and Hooman Majd join host Dorothy Wickenden to talk about the ongoing negotiations between the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China—and Germany (known as the P5-plus-1) and Iran.’

Have a listen.

Bilal Saab at Foreign Policy: ‘Hezbollah Under Fire’-That’s Iranian regime-backed terrorist group Hezbollah fanning the flames in Syria.

Dexter Filkins on Iran here.

On this site, see the best I’ve been able to round-up: ‘Which Ideas Are Guiding Our Foreign Policy With Iran.’

Walter Russell Mead At The American Interest: ‘Iran: Keeping The World’s Oddest Couple Together’

 Dexter Filkins Book On Afghanistan And Iraq: “The Forever War”Repost-’Dexter Filkins In The NY Times: The Long Road To Chaos In Pakistan’