Blogs: Paul Pillar

Asymmetry in Syria and the Russian Drawdown

Obama the Realist

The Latest on Non-Nefarious Iranian Behavior

Paul Pillar

Those determined to keep shining a negative light on Iran have not had a good fortnight. Besides the reporting about the withdrawal from Syria, there was the strong showing by moderate supporters of President Rouhani in the Iranian elections. Typical of the way the pro-ostracism people are couching the news right now is an opinion piece by Dennis Ross titled “Why the Nuclear Deal Hasn't Softened Iran's Hard-Line Policies”. Most of the piece rehearses familiar facts about the shortcomings of the Iranian electoral system and the internal influence that hardline elements exert through certain institutions that they control. As far as external Iranian behavior is concerned, there is an all-too-familiar reliance on catchphrases, firmly in the “nefarious and destabilizing” tradition, that are thrown at the reader as if we should take them for granted, with no effort to match them with any evidence of what Iran actually is or is not doing.

Ross's piece refers, for example, to “continued regional aggression” by Iran. My dictionary defines aggression as “an unprovoked attack or invasion.” You know—such as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, or the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Where's the Iranian aggression? Then there is reference to Iran “employing terror” and “using the Shiite militias to subvert and coerce its neighbors.” In Syria, what Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies have been doing is helping to prop up the incumbent regime after it came under an armed revolt, with terrorist groups prominent among the opposition. In Iraq, Iranian forces and Shiite militias also have been supporting the incumbent regime and opposing ISIS—which puts them on the same side of that conflict as the United States. Ross says we should “make the Iranians pay a high price for bad behaviors” while offering them a way out that rejects their “demand” for “regional dominance”, and he suggests that pressure could work in the same way it did with the nuclear negotiations. But it strains one's imagination to think of any way such a vague bill of particulars, so divorced from what is actually transpiring on the ground, ever could be translated into a meaningful demand at a negotiating table, let alone a clause in a negotiated agreement. It's just a recipe for punishment in perpetuity, no matter what Iran does.

And what does Ross say about the new development concerning the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria? Not a word.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

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Tribal Beliefs and American Political Parties

Paul Pillar

Those determined to keep shining a negative light on Iran have not had a good fortnight. Besides the reporting about the withdrawal from Syria, there was the strong showing by moderate supporters of President Rouhani in the Iranian elections. Typical of the way the pro-ostracism people are couching the news right now is an opinion piece by Dennis Ross titled “Why the Nuclear Deal Hasn't Softened Iran's Hard-Line Policies”. Most of the piece rehearses familiar facts about the shortcomings of the Iranian electoral system and the internal influence that hardline elements exert through certain institutions that they control. As far as external Iranian behavior is concerned, there is an all-too-familiar reliance on catchphrases, firmly in the “nefarious and destabilizing” tradition, that are thrown at the reader as if we should take them for granted, with no effort to match them with any evidence of what Iran actually is or is not doing.

Ross's piece refers, for example, to “continued regional aggression” by Iran. My dictionary defines aggression as “an unprovoked attack or invasion.” You know—such as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, or the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Where's the Iranian aggression? Then there is reference to Iran “employing terror” and “using the Shiite militias to subvert and coerce its neighbors.” In Syria, what Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies have been doing is helping to prop up the incumbent regime after it came under an armed revolt, with terrorist groups prominent among the opposition. In Iraq, Iranian forces and Shiite militias also have been supporting the incumbent regime and opposing ISIS—which puts them on the same side of that conflict as the United States. Ross says we should “make the Iranians pay a high price for bad behaviors” while offering them a way out that rejects their “demand” for “regional dominance”, and he suggests that pressure could work in the same way it did with the nuclear negotiations. But it strains one's imagination to think of any way such a vague bill of particulars, so divorced from what is actually transpiring on the ground, ever could be translated into a meaningful demand at a negotiating table, let alone a clause in a negotiated agreement. It's just a recipe for punishment in perpetuity, no matter what Iran does.

And what does Ross say about the new development concerning the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria? Not a word.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

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Safeguarding Privacy, Inside and Outside Government

Paul Pillar

Those determined to keep shining a negative light on Iran have not had a good fortnight. Besides the reporting about the withdrawal from Syria, there was the strong showing by moderate supporters of President Rouhani in the Iranian elections. Typical of the way the pro-ostracism people are couching the news right now is an opinion piece by Dennis Ross titled “Why the Nuclear Deal Hasn't Softened Iran's Hard-Line Policies”. Most of the piece rehearses familiar facts about the shortcomings of the Iranian electoral system and the internal influence that hardline elements exert through certain institutions that they control. As far as external Iranian behavior is concerned, there is an all-too-familiar reliance on catchphrases, firmly in the “nefarious and destabilizing” tradition, that are thrown at the reader as if we should take them for granted, with no effort to match them with any evidence of what Iran actually is or is not doing.

Ross's piece refers, for example, to “continued regional aggression” by Iran. My dictionary defines aggression as “an unprovoked attack or invasion.” You know—such as Iraq's invasion of Kuwait in 1990, or the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003. Where's the Iranian aggression? Then there is reference to Iran “employing terror” and “using the Shiite militias to subvert and coerce its neighbors.” In Syria, what Iranian forces and their Hezbollah allies have been doing is helping to prop up the incumbent regime after it came under an armed revolt, with terrorist groups prominent among the opposition. In Iraq, Iranian forces and Shiite militias also have been supporting the incumbent regime and opposing ISIS—which puts them on the same side of that conflict as the United States. Ross says we should “make the Iranians pay a high price for bad behaviors” while offering them a way out that rejects their “demand” for “regional dominance”, and he suggests that pressure could work in the same way it did with the nuclear negotiations. But it strains one's imagination to think of any way such a vague bill of particulars, so divorced from what is actually transpiring on the ground, ever could be translated into a meaningful demand at a negotiating table, let alone a clause in a negotiated agreement. It's just a recipe for punishment in perpetuity, no matter what Iran does.

And what does Ross say about the new development concerning the withdrawal of Iranian forces from Syria? Not a word.

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

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