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Friday, June 09, 2006


Weeks Not Months

posted by Tim Saler at Friday, June 09, 2006 permalink View blog reactions
President Bush has laid down the gauntlet before Iran. If Iran should proceed with its development of nuclear technology, specifically the enrichment of uranium, there will be consequences. The President says that Iran has "weeks not months" to issue a reply to a recent diplomatic proposal from the United States and European allies.

Read on:
 The most recent proposal offered terms shockingly similar to those agreed to by North Korea early in the Clinton years. Republicans have routinely criticized that proposal and the Clinton administration for North Korea's failure to comply with the terms of the agreement. Charles R. Smith of the right-wing outlet referred to the North Korea agreement as a "soft-line appeasement policy."

If a similar proposal was characterized in such a way when the Clinton administration offered it to the North Koreans, why would the Republicans in the Bush administration offer a similar one today to the Iranians? The chief reason is that the administration knows that we do not currently have the military capacity to, if necessary, enter into a third simultaneous war of disarmament against Iran. Our military is stretched too thin with operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, neither of which appear likely to end any time soon. In fact, more troops are scheduled to be sent to Afghanistan in the very near future.

I have written previously of our tense and difficult relations with Iran. Those many words can be summarized into a simple truth: the most important step that Iran can take at this time to promote its long-term security is to continue forward with the development of nuclear technology. The news programs speak of "carrot and stick" proposals from the U.S. and her European allies, but there is no proposal as of yet discussed that offers the same kind of long-term security to the current regime in Iran as developing a nuclear weapon. Until we have come up with a proposal that offers the same or better long-term security, we should not expect to come to an agreement.

If Iran develops a nuclear weapon, it has become more insulated against external pressures. Not by a little bit either, but by many, many orders of magnitude. A nuclear Iran is an Iran which cannot be bullied by other countries and forced into a position of weakness or subservience. A nuclear Iran may choose its own destiny in the world. But a nuclear Iran is also a potential danger to its neighbors, and it should be that--and only that--which we should work to avoid. If we negotiate with any other goal, we will not be successful.

While there is reason for concern, there is not reason for panic. As Agence France-Presse reported this morning, "[t]he quality of enriched uranium being produced in April was appropriate for nuclear reactor fuel and was not the highly-enriched variety needed to make weapons." It appears at this time that Iran is developing nuclear technology for energy purposes. But the knowledge is there to develop nuclear technology for weapons purposes.

The truth is that without extremely invasive inspection rules, which Iran will almost certainly reject, we will never be able to ensure that Iran is not developing a nuclear weapon. Even if Iran accepted a proposal under which the U.S. supplied Iran with nuclear technology in exchange for ceasing enrichment, underground programs could still result in the enrichment of weapons-grade uranium. The best plan for ensuring our safety is to use diplomacy and trade to bring Iran into the international community. We must treat Iran the same way we treat countries like Pakistan, another nuclear power with an Islamic population. Rarely do we hear clamoring for military operations in Pakistan to disarm the country; in fact, we consider them to be an ally.

We must demand that, in exchange for access to the international community, Iran cease to fund and support terrorist organizations. While there is a considerable amount of fear regarding Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he is not truly in charge of that country. The moment he steps too far or gets too far out of line, the ruling clerics will rein him in or completely isolate him.

Ahmadinejad is not a dictator; he is an elected leader. There will be new elected leaders after him, potentially more extreme or potentially more moderate. Ahmadinejad voters told reporters in 2005 that they voted for him because it was a "slap in the face to America." His challenger was far more receptive to new, improved relations with the United States, but we were not listening. In fact, the Pentagon, in post-Operation Iraqi Freedom bravado, mused about potential military operations against the Iranian government.

Is it any surprise that Iran, after being brushed off by the United States for many years, decided to take matters into its own hands to ensure its security and that it would be respected by other countries in the world? We surely listen now when Iran has something to say. It took Ahmadinejad and a nuclear program to do it, though. There is a lesson to be learned from this.

We must be a strong nation, but at the same time we must be a humble nation. We must maintain a military capable of defeating any aggressors, but we must never become so belligerent that we refuse to listen and speak with other countries. Some will say that it is not worthwhile to talk to and negotiate with other countries. They say that it would be much easier to blockade, implement economic sanctions, bomb, or invade.

But let there be no mistake: war is never, ever the "easy" answer, as anyone who has experienced it will testify. War should be the last resort, and those who call for war against Iran today must be given notice: this country has not arrived at last resort, and we will under no circumstances allow this country to be rushed into another armed conflict.

(11:45 PM: I would also like to recommend readers to check out Victor Davis Hanson's excellent editorial in the Chicago Tribune, available here.)


Nice post, Tim. In my view, the fact that the Administration went through all the rigramarole only to end up where we would have been all along, only served one purpose: to weaken our image. This is the diplomatic equivalent of retreat from Somalia.


It's nice to see someone recognizing that Ahmadinejad has very little real power. It's a bit disappointing to speak of him as an "elected leader." He is barely any such things, as the Iranian "elections" had no legitimacy by international standards at all. No, he's not a dictator--the real dictator is Ali Khamenei, whose literal title is "Supreme Leader," and he has all control over everything important in Iran, including all military and security matters.

Amhadinejad is a pseudo-elected hand-chosen puppet, and we would do well to remember that.

As for it being a great mistake not to negotiate directly with Iran: such has been the policy not just of this administration but of every administration starting with Jimmy Carter onward. So a question immediately emerges: would normalizing relations with Iran's religious dictatorship regime (which no administration has done since the Shah was desposed almost 30 years ago) do something to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons? In what way? Our direct negotiations with North Korea never stopped them.

Now of course I make no mistake of thinking we should invade Iran and decapitate the regime there. But then, I don't believe this nation "rushed to war" in Iraq or anywhere else, nor that military action against Iran will be "rushed." The word "rush" in my experience is used by people who just plain disagree with the current administration on all matters as a matter of course. How the hell do you call 12 years of inspections and sanctions, and more than an entire year of public debate in newspapers, on television, on the internet, ending with an overwhelming vote in Congress, followed by four months of building up and final ultimatums delivered before invasion, as a "rush?" I immediately snear at anyone who uses this phrase, because it's indefensible. We didn't rush into any war in Iraq, and we aren't rushing anything on Iran now.

You want to know what a rush to war with Iran would like like to me? We wake up in the morning and find out troops are entering Tehran. That would strike me as a "rush."

What I see here is the idea that if we only talk to the religious dictators of Iran, that will somehow slow them down. Why would it? Indeed, wouldn't opening up public dialogue with them merely legitimize their despicable, hated, barbaric regime? Would it not make life harder on democracy advocates within that country?

I would cheer wildly were we to invade. But political realities are such that we probably couldn't afford another occupation. Not because the military can't handle it but because public support won't be there for it. That's a shame in my view, and I wish I were wrong. I just don't think I am.


well, Dean I would say that it is true that the election was a sham, but it is also true that Iranians do tend to regard their government as legitimate. So there's a gray area in there - enough to support Tim's argument at any rate.


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Nation-Building was founded by Aziz Poonawalla in August 2002 under the name Dean Nation. Dean Nation was the very first weblog devoted to a presidential candidate, Howard Dean, and became the vanguard of the Dean netroot phenomenon, raising over $40,000 for the Dean campaign, pioneering the use of Meetup, and enjoying the attention of the campaign itself, with Joe Trippi a regular reader (and sometime commentor). Howard Dean himself even left a comment once. Dean Nation was a group weblog effort and counts among its alumni many of the progressive blogsphere's leading talent including Jerome Armstrong, Matthew Yglesias, and Ezra Klein. After the election in 2004, the blog refocused onto the theme of "purple politics", formally changing its name to Nation-Building in June 2006. The primary focus of the blog is on articulating purple-state policy at home and pragmatic liberal interventionism abroad.