JG - US post-election foreign policy
US post-election foreign policy
published: Sunday October 12, 2008
"No disagreement between Obama and McCain reaches the level of the importance of their disagreements over Iraq and Iran. Policy between these countries will shape perceptions of the new president more than policy on any other issue. In some ways the election is a referendum on Iraq."
So writes former US ambassador to the United Nations under Bill Clinton, Richard Holbrooke, in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, in an article titled 'The Next President: Mastering a Daunting Agenda'.
McCain is so visceral and unreasoning on Iran and Iraq that he is to the far right of even the Bush administration. He once sang at a rally, "bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran".
He is passionately opposed to talking with enemies and in his first debate with Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama he was insistent that the US should not yield on this. In this, McCain displays a frightening naivety about US foreign policy history - or is so blinded by passion that he cannot think straight.
What was President Richard Nixon doing when he initiated dialogue with Peking (now Beijing) in 1971 after 22 years of non-contact? China was one of the moist repressive regimes in the world with a regime which was responsible for the murder of millions of its own people in the Cultural Revolution.
This breakthrough in US-Sino relationship came because a Republican administration was wise enough to know that one has to engage enemies. Nixon and Henry Kissinger - now an adviser to McCain - spoke to Communist Party Chairman Mao Zedong. Reagan spoke to the enemy Russia during the Cold War.
Highly reasoned arguments have been advanced from some of the best foreign policy minds in US academia and the think tanks to show the folly of the isolation of Iran and the tough stance about no talks. Today, North Korea is being engaged through the Six-Party talks and this is one of the most repressive and dangerous regimes in Asia.
Besides, the "bomb, bomb bomb" Iran option is not pragmatic. Some of the best arguments against this militaristic approach to Iran have been advanced in a series of papers published by the Centre for New American Security.
In these tightly reasoned and learned pieces, the scholars have dissected the naive assumptions underlying the hawks' views on dealing with Iran.
In the paper, 'Military Elements in a Strategy to Deal with Iran's Nuclear Program', Aston Carter evaluates what an air strike against Iran would accomplish. "Most analysts believe that there are facilities involved with Iran's nuclear programme that have not been declared to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). Plus, after an air strike Iran could suspend IAEA inspections, rebuild its facilities and begin its uranium enrichment again."
The commitment to nuclear power is shared by the Iranian society as a whole and by all the elite groups. Pursuing 'regime change' in Iran would not solve the problem of the quest to make Iran a nuclear power. Besides, uranium enrichment is not proscribed under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Republican presidential hopeful Senator John McCain, R-Ariz. - AP
Carter looks at the costs of an air strike against Iran. The country could retaliate against US and partner targets in the region. Remember that Iran is now supreme in that region, thanks to the US which removed its fierce and powerful enemy Saddam Hussein and routed power from the Sunnis.
Besides, says Carter, "Iran could attempt to interrupt Gulf oil shipping with missiles, mines fast patrol boats and submarines. Finally, Iran could threaten to cut off its oil exports, which are the fourth largest in the world and which exceed any amount that Saudi Arabia could easily substitute through increased production."
Of course, this would be at a heavy cost to Iran itself, for which oil supplies constitute 85 per cent of budget revenues.
Besides, the US would not get the support of the international community for any unilateral strike. What you have to bear in mind is that the ground has shifted from under the feet of the hawks since the publication in December of that eye-opening report of the National Intelligence Estimates which revealed that Iran suspended its nuclear weapons programme from 2003, though it continues with uranium enrichment - which is not forbidden under the NPT.
This has made Europe and Japan less willing to go along with any hysteria over Iran today. While the Iranian government continues to flout decency and to issue rogue-statements about wiping Israel off the map, referring to Israel as a stinking corpse, you can't bomb a nation for fascist and inane rhetoric.
The Iranians, of course, are not cooperating with the inspectors from the IAEA and is certainly not a responsible international actor. Iran is an authoritarian state which sponsors terrorism. Make no mistake about that.
The issue is: how do you bring that state back to international decency and have them respect the rules of international engagement? The way of John McCain is not the way to go.
The US cannot afford to take any action which would see it being further alienated from its allies and from the international community at large. It certainly cannot take any action which would further erode its respect and inflame passions in the Middle East. That would be sheer lunacy.
The US cannot afford another war in the Middle East. It can barely conduct its present two wars let alone to start another. (Plus, its financial crisis puts it under further constraints).
The US's best option is to go for diplomacy and moral suasion with its allies and certain key states, such as China and Russia, which have strong growing strategic interests in the Middle East and with in Iran in particular.
In its paper titled 'Iran: Assessing US Strategic Options', the Centre for New American Security says, "the next American president must come to office with an Iran plan ready to implement on Day one of his administration. That plan should centre on game-changing diplomacy with Iran. The next president should shift from portraying Iran as part of an Axis of Evil to offering to put US-Iran relations on a fundamentally different course."
This is no "appeasement", as the right-wingers like to shoot back. It is simply good, pragmatic and strategic engagement as the militaristic options are really non-starters, considering Iran's terrain, size, strategic clout and regional influence.
Let's face it: As the centre paper says, "The only way for the United States to conclusively impose its will on Iran would be - in theory - to invade and occupy Iran and install a new regime. Such an option would be extraordinarily costly in dollars, lives and prestige, far more so than the Iraq War. And its far more likely to fail than to succeed. This option is clearly off the table."
And the impact of limited military strikes would be temporary and recoverable. Plus, China and Russia would seriously oppose any such action and they would be joined by Europe. The diplomatic approach - which is the Obama approach - is the only sensible and viable approach.
Says the paper: "The next president should conduct negotiations with Iran across a range of issues. There would not be preconditions for conducting the negotiations but American position in the negotiations would depend on Iranian actions."
No precondition was set for negotiating with the Soviet Union during the Cold war, and the US is negotiating with North Korea today though that rogue state has tested nuclear weapons. "It is past time to negotiate directly with Iran," says the paper.
An excellent article on the various options for dealing with Iran, and a first-rate critique of the hawkish, militaristic options is the piece 'A Win-Win US Strategy for Dealing with Iran' in the winter 2007 issue of the journal, the Washington Quarterly.
A most revealing poll of foreign policy experts appears in the September/October issue of Foreign Policy titled 'The Teheran Timeline'. It says the principal strategic outcome of the war in Iraq - a classic case of an unintended consequence - is not the removal of Saddam Hussein or a rise in militant Islam, but the emergence of Iran as a powerful country in the Middle East. This is what the Bush administration has bequeathed to the next president who, hopefully, will not come from its own party.
The removal of Saddam Hussein and the Sunni leadership in Iraq has created a Shia crescent in that region.
The US war of choice in Iraq has strengthened Iran. Such has been the misguidedness of the Bush foreign policy. Says Foreign Policy: "(The experts') confidence that US policies can adequately address the Iranian threat has never been lower.
"The experts give the US policy toward Teheran an average grade of just 2.8 on a 10-point scale. More than 80 per cent of the experts, including 69 per cent of conservatives, believe US policy toward Iran is negatively affecting America's national security interests. This appraisal represents the most critical view of US policy toward Iran since the index began two years ago."
McCain is set to make things worse if the American people should ever trust him with power. People all over the world hope the American people will not.
Assessing the sharp philosophical differences between Senators Obama and McCain on foreign policy, Richard Holbrooke says, "it is clear that the electorate is being offered two different versions of the United States role and two different attitudes toward diplomacy."
We hope good sense will prevail.
Ian Boyne is a veteran journalist who may be reached at email@example.com. Feedback may also be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.