Which Ideas Are Guiding Our Foreign Policy With Iran?

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On June 15th, 2007, Charlie Rose sat down with Henry Kissinger, Zbigniew Brzezinski, and Brent Scowcroft to discuss foreign policy and geo-strategy.  That’s over six years ago!

I was surprised to find that Brzezinski, Jimmy Carter’s National Security Advisor from 1977 to 1981, described very nearly what the Obama administration’s current Iran policy seems to be.  Runs from 32:52 to 35:10 (Sorry I couldn’t embed with the exact time-stamp).

A few minutes can explain a lot.  Well worth your time.

Addition:  Here’s a brief summary of that argument:

1.  The Iranians and the Iranian regime, despite what their intentions may be, have a right to enrich uranium up to 5% according to international law.   They’re doing this.

2. We’re asking them to abandon this right as a precondition to any negotiations, creating an asymmetry.  We should offer to lift sanctions first in return just to get them to swallow their pride and sit down for talks.  This pride may extend beyond the mullahs and regime, and go into the cultural and national psyche of Iranians.

3.  Whatever their intentions may be, unlike North Korea, the Iranian regime isn’t out and proud about nuclear enrichment and weaponization.  They’re at least claiming to follow international law which gives us some leverage.

As Kissinger points out, if we pursue this track we also need to be thinking that it all may be a time-buying exercise by the regime, we’ll have to use back channels and other means to at least get a sense that we’re getting SOMETHING for our troubles.

***After Syria and the Assad/Putin affair, and watching this administration’s leadership and strategy, I can say I’m highly sketical, to put it mildly.

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I can see Obama straining for some kind of legacy here, to lay himself down and bring some sort of Egypt/Israel peace accord home after seizing the Rohani window, but it’s clearly a longer shot.  Even if your aim is some kind of peace treaty, the price is high, and Obama’s typically been longer on ideals & speeches and shorter on delivery.

He’s also got the pro-peace, activist base to appeal to at home.  Domestically, Obamacare is crumbling and his poll numbers are sinking, which may create some daylight between the liberal/Left activist base and the realpolitik of the liberal internationalist policy-makers and elite.

Looking at the current state of Egypt, the continuing civil-war in Syria spilling over its borders, the Kurdish uprisings, the restless Turks and the spurned Saudis, it’s reasonable to wonder if Obama’s attuning himself to the costs associated both domestically and abroad for pursuing such a deal.

So, who’s running our foreign policy?

Well, people like Susan Rice and John Kerry, apparently working according to plans very similar to those Brzezinski laid-out above, under the ultimate direction of Obama.

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You do diplomacy with leaders you have.

The President has said that a nuclear Iran isn’t an option.

So, what other, other options do we have?

Addition: Over Egypt, John Kerry’s doing things his way, against the wishes of the administration and Susan Rice’s aggressive, disjointed, democracy  promotion.

Related On This SiteIsrael, Iran, & Peace: Andrew Sullivan Responds To Charges Of Potential Anti-SemitismSome Saturday Links On Iran-Skepticism, To Say The Least

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.

If only we could break through the hard-line, repressive, Islamist thugocracy down to the pragmatic, pro-democratic Green thinking, this would be a masterstroke, went the current and perhaps wishful thinking.

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

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

Full piece here.

Pejman Yousefzadeh trolled what he expected might be the Andrew Sullivan/Walt & Mearsheimer response to any failure in talks with Iran:  The Israel Lobby.

Sullivan responds, by clarifying that he’s not an anti-semite, but rather believes conditions on ground in Israel are leading it rightward, and that his position is one of realpolitik, tempering what are usually Left-Of-Center ideals with the reality of what’s possible:

Peace with Iran is possible:

‘My support for an agreement with Iran that grants it the right to enrich uranium at low levels and subject to routine, tough inspection regimens is also a function of dealing with the world as-it-is and not as I would like it to be’

But isn’t the theocratic, thugocratic regime of state-sponsored terror-mongers in Tehran not to be trusted?  Isn’t that the world as it is, too?

Why ally with Tehran more closely than with a Netanyahu-led Israeli government that while heading right, and admittedly playing us for its own interests, at least still has a functioning democracy?

Sullivan:

‘The Green movement proved that Iran’s younger generation is on the side of freedom, not theocracy. And yet that movement, like the regime, also insists that the country has a right to enrich uranium. On this, all of Iran is united.’

To be fair, few Western journalists have supported the Green Revolution in Iran as much as Sullivan has.  This could really shift our fortunes in the region…but note…that’s ‘could’.

Wouldn’t Obama’s failure of strategy, leadership, and basic competence in Syria lead one to pause?

What have we gotten in exchange for doing business with Assad & Putin?

What about the instability we’re seeing with the Turks and Saudis as we reduce our influence in the region…and as we basically ignore many of their interests as well as those of Israel, in order to pursue peace-talks with Iran?

These are bumps in the road for Sullivan.  Iran’s newly-elected President Hasan Rohani is a man we can do business with, or at least try and do business with.  The Iran of today is analogous to the Soviet Union of the 1980’s (when our foreign policy was led by actual realists, not liberal internationalists and Obama’s coalition).

Iran is rotting from within, ready for a strong breeze to lift the lid and unleash the forces of history, freedom, prideful self-determiniation and Persian democratic statehood.

Sullivan:

‘We found a way to rescue the country from its regime, by engagement after a ramping up of opposition. I hope Obama and Rouhani can become the Reagan and Gorbachev of this moment. ‘

That’s a lot of hope, to say the least.

Just as Obama’s foreign policy makes us ever smaller, and drifts us into ever more limited strategic corners while promising lofty ideals and goals, Sullivan seems to have followed this logic where it leads and attached his fortunes to it.

If only that pesky Israel lobby weren’t getting in the way!

We’ll see what happens.

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As noted on this blog, the neo-conservative coalition (quite ok using our military to promote our ideals, often formed out of people with liberal backgrounds mugged by reality) is lacking fresh ideas and leadership, but not necessarily the passion of its convictions and the continued support of its many stale policy prescriptions (bomb Iran…really…that’s it?).

Frankly, the Republican foreign-policy establishment doesn’t seem up to the level it was with James Baker’s realism in the 80’s either.  Much of this establishment is out of gas and hasn’t dealt with the reality of our budgets, the surge of isolationism at home, and the deep structural changes going on throughout our society and on the ground in the Middle-East.  We’re in transition, to say the least.

But the Left seems even more ideological and rudderless, seeking even loftier ideals through grubbier street politics and re-runs of bad feminist, civil-rights style coalitions with back-room dealing and bad laws.

A pretty damned good overview of Syria for the non-initiated, including what’s been going on since 2011 and the backstory at the thehowardbealeshow. Recommended. Really.

-Many Europeans, and many European leaders traffic in an easy anti-Americanism, but also with rising percentages of Muslims in their societies and combined with their own histories, an easy and virulent anti-Israeli sentiment & anti-Semitism.  When even Bernard Henri-Levy has been warning of this dangerous trend, it might be worth paying attention.

See Adam Garfinkle’s piece on the potentially changing dynamics between the U.S. and Israel:

‘In truth, however, the relationship consists of a metaphorical triangle linking American Jewry with the governments of Israel and the United States. In the natural course of political events, all three actors intermediate between the other two, for good and ill. For example, even as American Jews lobby for Israel in American politics, Israeli governments sometimes get between American Jews and their own government’

Related on this site, see: John Mearsheimer’s offensive realism (Israel can’t go on like this forever, the Israel lobby leads to bad U.S policy decisions): Repost: From Foreign Affairs Via The A & L Daily: ‘Conflict Or Cooperation: Three Visions Revisited’

From HenryKissinger.Com, Published In The WaPo August 5th, 2012: ‘Idealism and Pragmatism in the Middle East’

Full piece here.

‘On all sides of the Syrian conflict, the commitment of the belligerents to democratic values and alignment with Western interests is, at best, untested. Al-Qaeda has now entered the conflict, effectively on the side that the United States is being asked to join. In such circumstances, U.S. policymakers encounter a choice not between a “realistic” and an “idealistic” outcome but between competing imperfections, between considerations of strategy and of governance. We are stymied on Syria because we have a strategic interest in breaking the Assad clan’s alliance with Iran, which we are reluctant to avow, and the moral objective of saving human lives, which we are unable to implement through the U.N. Security Council.’

Kissinger’s 90th birthday celebration is taking place in NYC.  It’s worth roaming around his site.

From my limited understanding, Kissinger had an amazing grasp of the ideology of the Soviet Union, the philosophical backstory, and the practical politics of the Cold War.  His essays on American political structure and the culture that produced it are a thing of beauty to read.  For decades he pushed for detente, and beat a path away from nuclear brinksmanship and the polarity we’d drifted into.  There are always compromises to be made in the chess game, and to recall and realize why you’re playing, what’s at stake and what’s possible.

I’m not always convinced we’re heading towards an ideal point, or the ideal bundle of universal values and institutions which have sprung from European philosophical idealism, but despite this deep and fruitful debate, Kissinger’s realpolitik always recognized the need for alliances, shared interests, treaties, and strategic common cause.  It’s rare to find such a serious intellect as well as a practical, nuanced, thinker with so much experience in war, peace, politics and diplomacy.

Here’s a conversation with Kissinger at Harvard (complete with the brief protest of a more idealistic, rigidly ideological, shouter of the ‘war criminal’ epithet):

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Related On This Site: Kissinger says our relations with China are incredibly fragile, and that due to its own past, it may not fit as easily into the Western models of statecraft as some would think: From The Online WSJ: ‘Henry Kissinger on China. Or Not.’

A Memo From Henry Kissinger To Gerald Ford?

From Newsweek: Henry Kissinger ‘Deployments And Diplomacy’