Blogs: The Skeptics

What Is the Best Way to Deal with the Problem of Islamic Terrorism?

Grand Strategy: George W. Bush vs. Barack Obama

The Simple Reason Russia and America Keep Inching towards Crisis

Trump Should Shun the Iran Hawks

The Skeptics

Much of the book is folksy first-person recounting of Flynn’s colorful background as a child of a large working-class family, and the valuable lessons he learned. Presumably much of the foreign-policy analysis comes from Ledeen, and indeed some sections on Machiavelli and Hitler and the Kremlin and whatnot are taken verbatim from previous Ledeen blog posts. But it would be obtuse for those hoping for great things from a Trump presidency to not recognize the abysmal intellectual quality of the work, with its vague yet sweeping assertions of how unconnected countries, directed by Iran, are conspiring for America’s destruction. The book contains no sign of any genuine analysis of the capabilities, attitudes, ambitions or core interests of foreign states. In Flynn’s world, a great danger to America comes from leaders like Colin Powell who urge caution about sending American troops to war. To Powell, Flynn retorts, “If we win, our leaders will be hailed.”

To be blunt, Michael Flynn gives no evidence of possessing the analytical level of sophistication the national security advisor post requires; to have him as a principal foreign-policy advisor to the president is like asking an EMS technician to perform open-heart surgery. Flynn has succeeded in playing a foreign-policy analyst on TV, but if the counsel he gives the president reflects his tenure at the DIA or the book he has just published, he will incline to send the United States off on the same self-destructive course that destroyed the Bush presidency. Or worse.

Now that the campaign is over, one would hope that Trump and his team are willing to take a fresh and unvarnished look at the Iran deal, and more broadly at the country that has assumed such exemplary satanic status for Flynn, Ledeen and other neoconservatives. The main points in favor of the Iran deal hardly differ from those made by the Obama administration. The JCPOA essentially pushes the Iranian nuclear-weapons problem down the road for fifteen years, with provisions that severely limit (but do not eliminate) Iran’s nuclear processing capacity, in exchange for a reduction of sanctions that have cut Iran from the world economy. While it can be said that the deal peacefully shut down Iran’s march to the bomb, it can also be said that it doesn’t do this permanently—though Iran’s leaders have long forsworn any intent to acquire nuclear weapons and declared their immorality. Because of permanent intensified monitoring by the IAEA—a provision of the deal—the world will know immediately if Iran’s nuclear program ever becomes military. A realist would say that what will happen in fifteen years will depend on the situation then: whether Iran’s leaders conclude that best way they can deter an attack upon Iran by a nuclear-armed state is by attempt to develop a bomb themselves, or whether their diplomatic and security situation has become more secure. In the shorter term, Iran hopes to recover economically and modernize, and many in the West hope it can become a stabilizing force in a very chaotic region.

Before the JCPOA was achieved, no one who seriously studied the issue thought economic sanctions by themselves would stop Iran from developing a bomb if it chose to do so. War presumably could, either through invasion and occupation of the country, or the mounting of repeated, serial bombing campaigns against it, as some neoconservatives urged. Perhaps Israel would start the war, and the United States would then intervene in favor of its ally—neoconservatives urged the Bush administration to use Israel’s war in Lebanon in 2006 as an excuse to start a war against Iran.

Today, Trump faces the same tripartite choice as Obama, though from a different starting point: Either the deal, now the status quo, which monitors and limits Iran’s uranium enrichment; undermining the deal with the real possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon, developed at the time of Tehran’s choosing; or war. Of course, American abrogation of the deal, or efforts to render it nonoperative by imposing parallel additional sanctions on Iran, would be ineffective simply because the sanctions would not be multilateral. Europe, Russia and China want to trade with Iran. So the question—as it was in the years prior to 2014—boils down to whether or not a war with Iran is desirable.

Here, one must hope that Trump himself will ignore hawkish advice he will get from Flynn or the neoconservatives. The existing deal does bring some very concrete benefits to American companies and workers. Iran Air has already contracted to buy eighty jetliners from Boeing; plausible estimates of business lost to American companies as a result of economic sanctions run to the hundreds of billions of dollars. Of course moral and strategic considerations should override purely economic ones. But here the case for war is not persuasive at all. The United States has hardly recovered from its occupation of Iraq, where the costs, including long-term medical care for veterans, will soar into the trillions. There really is no reason to believe that a regime-change war against Iran, fought, as was the war in Iraq, primarily by Trump voters and their children, would go better.

But even if one were to accept every possible rosy assumption about the cost of war, it is hardly clear this result is preferable to a complex status quo.

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Barack Obama: The Most Partisan U.S. President Ever?

The Skeptics

Much of the book is folksy first-person recounting of Flynn’s colorful background as a child of a large working-class family, and the valuable lessons he learned. Presumably much of the foreign-policy analysis comes from Ledeen, and indeed some sections on Machiavelli and Hitler and the Kremlin and whatnot are taken verbatim from previous Ledeen blog posts. But it would be obtuse for those hoping for great things from a Trump presidency to not recognize the abysmal intellectual quality of the work, with its vague yet sweeping assertions of how unconnected countries, directed by Iran, are conspiring for America’s destruction. The book contains no sign of any genuine analysis of the capabilities, attitudes, ambitions or core interests of foreign states. In Flynn’s world, a great danger to America comes from leaders like Colin Powell who urge caution about sending American troops to war. To Powell, Flynn retorts, “If we win, our leaders will be hailed.”

To be blunt, Michael Flynn gives no evidence of possessing the analytical level of sophistication the national security advisor post requires; to have him as a principal foreign-policy advisor to the president is like asking an EMS technician to perform open-heart surgery. Flynn has succeeded in playing a foreign-policy analyst on TV, but if the counsel he gives the president reflects his tenure at the DIA or the book he has just published, he will incline to send the United States off on the same self-destructive course that destroyed the Bush presidency. Or worse.

Now that the campaign is over, one would hope that Trump and his team are willing to take a fresh and unvarnished look at the Iran deal, and more broadly at the country that has assumed such exemplary satanic status for Flynn, Ledeen and other neoconservatives. The main points in favor of the Iran deal hardly differ from those made by the Obama administration. The JCPOA essentially pushes the Iranian nuclear-weapons problem down the road for fifteen years, with provisions that severely limit (but do not eliminate) Iran’s nuclear processing capacity, in exchange for a reduction of sanctions that have cut Iran from the world economy. While it can be said that the deal peacefully shut down Iran’s march to the bomb, it can also be said that it doesn’t do this permanently—though Iran’s leaders have long forsworn any intent to acquire nuclear weapons and declared their immorality. Because of permanent intensified monitoring by the IAEA—a provision of the deal—the world will know immediately if Iran’s nuclear program ever becomes military. A realist would say that what will happen in fifteen years will depend on the situation then: whether Iran’s leaders conclude that best way they can deter an attack upon Iran by a nuclear-armed state is by attempt to develop a bomb themselves, or whether their diplomatic and security situation has become more secure. In the shorter term, Iran hopes to recover economically and modernize, and many in the West hope it can become a stabilizing force in a very chaotic region.

Before the JCPOA was achieved, no one who seriously studied the issue thought economic sanctions by themselves would stop Iran from developing a bomb if it chose to do so. War presumably could, either through invasion and occupation of the country, or the mounting of repeated, serial bombing campaigns against it, as some neoconservatives urged. Perhaps Israel would start the war, and the United States would then intervene in favor of its ally—neoconservatives urged the Bush administration to use Israel’s war in Lebanon in 2006 as an excuse to start a war against Iran.

Today, Trump faces the same tripartite choice as Obama, though from a different starting point: Either the deal, now the status quo, which monitors and limits Iran’s uranium enrichment; undermining the deal with the real possibility of an Iranian nuclear weapon, developed at the time of Tehran’s choosing; or war. Of course, American abrogation of the deal, or efforts to render it nonoperative by imposing parallel additional sanctions on Iran, would be ineffective simply because the sanctions would not be multilateral. Europe, Russia and China want to trade with Iran. So the question—as it was in the years prior to 2014—boils down to whether or not a war with Iran is desirable.

Here, one must hope that Trump himself will ignore hawkish advice he will get from Flynn or the neoconservatives. The existing deal does bring some very concrete benefits to American companies and workers. Iran Air has already contracted to buy eighty jetliners from Boeing; plausible estimates of business lost to American companies as a result of economic sanctions run to the hundreds of billions of dollars. Of course moral and strategic considerations should override purely economic ones. But here the case for war is not persuasive at all. The United States has hardly recovered from its occupation of Iraq, where the costs, including long-term medical care for veterans, will soar into the trillions. There really is no reason to believe that a regime-change war against Iran, fought, as was the war in Iraq, primarily by Trump voters and their children, would go better.

But even if one were to accept every possible rosy assumption about the cost of war, it is hardly clear this result is preferable to a complex status quo.

Pages

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