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July 04, 2005

Comments

For starters, we included Iran in the 'axis of evil', and it is no secret that parts of the administration want regime change in both Iran and Syria. By making this clear, we have given both countries a vested interest in our army being tied down in Iraq. It is in their interests that the insurgency continue for as long as possible, and that we be weakened to the greatest possible extent. And, of course, they are in a position to do this, by the simple expedient of supplying the insurgents with whatever they need. It seems to me to be beyond unlikely that we will be able to stop them from doing this as long as they see it to be in their interest... I have no idea whether it is now possible to undo the damage done by this administration's insistence on signaling its desire for regime change in both countries. (I suspect not in the case of Iran, especially after the election; possibly in the case of Syria.) Certainly I would have been much, much happier had we not had all that damage to undo.

I don't think this thesis survives an honest examination when considering the state of relations between the US and Syria, and especially Iran. Quite frankly, "axis of evil" and "regime change" statements did not change the status of Iran and Syria from neutral to hostile - probably merely from hostile to slighty more hostile. American troops on their borders without any heated rhetoric would have not have prevented them from believing that supporting the insurgency was in their best interest.

Rhetoric or no rhetoric, Syria and Iran would have happily exploited their ability to interfere with a crucial security interest of the United States. Nor would it be prudent to rely on their good faith to safeguard our interests were we to somehow reach an agreement.

See, a guy asks for some new, better, perhaps even bigger ideas, and pretty soon you've run out of space for the cards, letters, and e-mails listing the ideas.

It's like a Frank Capra movie with Jimmy Stewart playing somebody and Jean Arthur playing somebody.

Trouble is we've got Edward Arnold playing all the heavies and he's got one idea and that would be the first idea, the only idea, and who cares what you think!

Unless, of course, the White House is frantically seeking out citizen (Sebastian's iconic formulation) Hilzoy as we speak for her input.... at a White Houe Rove, Condaleeza, Cheney, Rumsfeld, even Bolton in his high chair, hands ductaped so he can't throw food, and Bush, the boy King Harry (who thought Falstaff's wisdom was mere drunken revery), shushing the room so Hilzoy might be heard.

This for Charles and Sebastian, meant well:

State Department career diplomats and employees, at times Colin Powell, at times Treasury Secretary O'Neill, career foreign and U.N diplomats all had ideas, a few similar to mine.

All rejected. All ignored. Some marginalized if they were black and thus strat
egically important to the Republican effort, the rest demonized in monolithic chorus from Rove's telephone, through the halls of Congress, into the FOX and clone mouthpieces, and in the blogosphere.

P.S. "at a White HOuse Rove" should read "at a White House roundtable, Rove"

These funky comment boxes!


Jonas: I disagree about the axis of evil speech, but that's past in any case. About the future: I do not propose relying on their good faith. I propose that we find some way to cut a deal, at least with Syria. Some parts of this, e.g. committing not to try to topple Assad, we can retract if and when we discover that they are not acting in good faith. Any part that's not in this way revocable would of course require more than mere assurances.

But what I think is clear is: that we need to try to do something of the kind.

John: have I mentioned how glad I am that you've returned from, well, wherever?

You did, but thanks!

"Wherever" would be a place I go when I'm tired of the sound of my own voice.

We don't control either land border of the US, at least so the abundanct availabity of BC bud and Colombian cocaine would argue.

It is rather odd that we are demanding that Syria do something immediately that we have been decades trying, and failing to do, which is to say to totally control a border.

How do you screen a crowd of Iranian shi'ias on pilgrimages to the holy cities of Southern Iraq? How do you tell that that Syrian truck driver is not what he seems? The answer is you don't.

Syria could pass the Patriot Act tomorrow, Iran could just let a few decades of Great Satan talk just blow away in the winds and become full time partners in the GWOT and you still are not going to seal borders that are hundreds of miles long.

As I understand it, the reason we have basically done nothing on North Korea is because there was, for years, a standoff between two different factions, one that wanted to engage the North Koreans and one that didn't. (Although what the alternative to engagement is supposed to be, I don't know.) It would be one thing not to resolve such a dispute when nothing turned on it, but this administration didn't resolve it even though North Korea got nuclear weapons while it festered.

North Korea got nuclear weapons while 'it' festered in the 1998-2000 timeframe. The reason we have done basically nothing with respect to North Korea is twofold--though neither are what you identified.

A) we have tried to get the UN and international community involved, but they aren't interested.

B) no one, to my knowledge, has outlined what kind of 'engagement' can be useful when North Korea categorically refuses to have a verifiable disarmament protocol. Engagement to a non-verifiable disarmament protocol is what we had under Carter's disasterous Agreed Framework which is precisely what got us in such an ugly mess in the first place. Problems came up immediately under the Agreed Framework when North Korea A) wouldn't verify the end of its other programs, and B) insisted that the reactors to be built under the agreement not be verifiably incapable of creating material which could be used for weapons. As that broke down (almost immediately) it became clear to Clinton that nothing more could be done without precipitating an immediate crisis. So he chose to do nothing, and the nuclear weapons-building continued. It is not possible for North Korea to have built nuclear weapons in just the time between the Axis of Evil Speech and the time it became clear that they had them unless they had been cheating long before Bush came to office.

Nothing is being done about North Korea, because nothing CAN be done without the international community. And as I have said earlier, in such cases where you must wait for the international community, nothing is what will get done.

"Syria could pass the Patriot Act tomorrow..."

In case you are wondering, Syria already has an authoritarian regime which has much more invasive powers than are available under the Patriot Act. Just thought you would be interested in learning that.


But that said, I partially agree--Syria and Iran won't be able to 'control' the border. But it is possible that they could stop actively funding militants coming into Iraq.

I disagree about the axis of evil speech, but that's past in any case.

It's past for certain, but nonetheless, I'm perplexed by this formulation where that speech was the straw that broke the camels back with Iran. My guess is it would probably take a decade of cultivating relations with Iran to get to the point where diplomatic deals could be reliably made. "Axis of Evil" at most set us back six months on that ten year timeline. I'm not losing sleep.

And I'm confused. All the making deals with nasty regimes during the cold war was a constant criticism against our foreign policy by liberals and the left. What happened? I still agree, that's why I'm not ready to get on this left-led Kissingeresque bandwagon.

About the future: I do not propose relying on their good faith. I propose that we find some way to cut a deal, at least with Syria. Some parts of this, e.g. committing not to try to topple Assad, we can retract if and when we discover that they are not acting in good faith. Any part that's not in this way revocable would of course require more than mere assurances.

Fair enough. There's no harm in trying, but unfortunately, when we're dealing with diplomatic issues we don't know when somethings been tried or what happened at all. Reconciling the secrecy of diplomacy with the ideal of transparency of the democratic process is something that needs to be debated and solved before our political discourse even begins to resemble the facts on the ground.

(and I agree with Bruce Webb and his ironic comment, as I always considered the "securing borders" notion mostly a conservative fantasy. Can't happen here, and definitely won't happen in Iraq.)

As that broke down (almost immediately) it became clear to Clinton that nothing more could be done without precipitating an immediate crisis... Nothing is being done about North Korea, because nothing CAN be done without the international community.

Every time you go off on this particular tear I ask you the same thing: what strategy do you have that avoids this? How do you plan on curbing NK's nuclear development without losing Seoul? Thus far, I haven't heard a particularly convincing answer, and cries about the failings of the international community don't improve the argument at all.

In absolute terms, I'm not wild about the Agreed Framework. In relative terms -- i.e. given the parameters of the situation -- I think it was bloody brilliant and a damn sight better than the other options.

I don't understand what you like about the Agreed Framework so much. It allowed all sorts of nuclear research to go completely unchecked for almost a decade while we paid to keep one of the most nasty regimes on the globe in power.

My position on the Agreed Framework is that if you can't stop NK from having nuclear weapons, and you unfortunately seem to have conceeded that far, there is no reason to let them have nuclear weapons AND pay to otherwise keep the nasty regime in power. If those are the choices we could let them have nuclear weapons and not pay to keep them in power. I would prefer to work something out with China to get them to shut off the oil pipeline unless NK ends the nuclear program. I would prefer getting the UN to help deal with China's fears about dealing with refugees if they do so (As if the UN could be bothered with actual steps against nuclear proliferation). But the Agreed Framework just provides the illusion of action while in fact paying NK while it continues to work on its nuclear weapons. If the only choice is Agreed Framework or nothing at all, I don't see why nothing at all is so unattractive. Paying someone to not do something while they are doing that very thing and while we know they are doing that very thing seems like a deeply bad idea.

Nothing is being done about North Korea, because nothing CAN be done without the international community.

My understanding is that the US wants four other countries to come to the table, (China, Japan, Russia, and South Korea) and these four nations are in pretty solid agreement that they want the US and North Korea to have bilateral talks. And it's even possible that with John Bolton gone, they might get them.

The US has taken a relatively hard-line approach to the North Korean nuclear weapons program. Therefore its is improbable that North Korea will be included under the US security umbrella or receive large amounts of economic aid until its nuclear program is verified as dismantled beyond repair. Yet, an action of this magnitude would probably stem from a DPRK regime change. Nevertheless, there are members of the Bush Administration who willing to forgo a regime change in favor of an open dialogue that could lead to a diplomatic resolution. Unless the hawks and doves in the Bush Administration quell their policy differences concerning North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, which is doubtful, the 2005 six-party talks may be futile. cite

From what I've read, there was a period of quite good cooperation between the anti-terror efforts of the US and Iran in the aftermath of 9/11.

IIRC the reports correctly, that ended when the CIA reneged on the brokered deals as the politicans refused to cooperate with Iran.

It was similar with Syria: it's hard to have cooperation between the secret services while one side simultanously publically ponders overthrowing the "partner"'s regime.

All the making deals with nasty regimes during the cold war was a constant criticism against our foreign policy by liberals and the left. What happened?

A combination of things: (a) some of us grew up; (b) we won the Cold War; and (c) not all of the deals were equally morally repugnant.

Paying someone to not do something while they are doing that very thing and while we know they are doing that very thing seems like a deeply bad idea.

I think they were doing a different thing from the 'very thing' they had agreed not to do. Yes it was bad. The question is, were they doing the new bad thing because they wanted to get paid more, or because they would cheat no matter what the deal was? I don't think we can claim to know the answer really. In that context, it's far from clear that Agreed Framework II would be as bad as doing nothing.

As I understand the matter, one of NK's principal aims here is a pledge from us not to initiate war with them. I see no reason to refrain from giving this, as part of a deal. (Or more properly, signalling that we will do this, which calls their bluff at the least).

This is the issue, btw, that causes me the most heartburn. Iraq is probably headed for the fate of Pakistan -- corrupt civil rule alternating with military rule, a distinct improvement. Afghanistan will always be hopeless (or nearly so), but won't be a big enough sanctuary for AQ-like camps to actually be a threat to us. But when Mike Green leaves the Administration, policy thinking re NK will shift strongly neocon-ward.

Let's see,the Dems first on Iraq is[was] a good idea,don't do it.of course most of them didn't vote that way but let it pass. Their 2nd idea,or 30th or whatever,is also a good idea,send many more troops. Soooo,we should send more troops to a place we ought not to be in,ah,I think I'm getting it. If I may anticipate a brilliant riposte,"well we're there so let's do what it takes". And I suppose we can ferry those troops over while announcing a withdrawal date,certain,the Dems 29th good idea. And we should follow the rationale of the Vietnam war,which I'm told was a quagmire,a word I've heard recently in another context. But naturally we should do this before announcing the withdrawal date so as to gain support from nations that have shown no willingness to join and support us which of course is our{Bush's}fault,not their's. Seamless,tight,well thought out,impeccable. The repubs will need help on this and key Democrats will have to show leadership and enthusiam, I hereby nominate Sen Dick Durbin to lead the way. Oh,and we can send an envoy to Syria and Iran to apologize for bringing out the worst in them and diverting them from their peace loving,Swiss like ways.

"The question is, were they doing the new bad thing because they wanted to get paid more, or because they would cheat no matter what the deal was?"

I'm surprised that you think the answer to that is so mysterious, and I'm really surprised you think that you think the alleged ambiguity helps your case. If they are building nukes to try to extort more money, why in the world would you think that giving them more money would make them think they should stop building nukes? Could they not extort even more by continuing to build?

NK stopped doing the original bad thing as part of the Agreed framework, and started up doing a new bad thing. They only resumed doing to old bad thing, when their attempt to get paid (in money, or guarantees) for the new bad thing failed.

There are a finite number of bad things they can do. Will we have to pay for each? I suppose it might come to that. Although I'm not saying the Agreed framework II couldn't include some explicit downsides for cheating, and the like.

The superiority of doing nothing is still not evident to me. If we're playing for time -- waiting for some deus ex machina or another -- I'd as soon minimize the number of bad things that are going on.

Jonas: what I think of deals with bad countries depends a lot on the terms of the deal, and how important what we get out of it is. I oppose our current reluctance to push for investigations into the massacres with Uzbekistan in part because all we really have there is one base, which afaik we could just as easily put in Afghanistan, and the prospect of some possible influence with a thuggish regime, which we don't seem to be doing much with. (and there I tend to think: thuggish regimes do not last forever, and we lose, in the long run, by supporting this one.)

The case at hand is different, since (rightly or wrongly) the stakes for us and the region are a lot higher, and what we gain is a lot more important.

JohnT: If I decided to attribute to you all the views that any Republican had ever held, they'd look pretty inconsistent too.So what?

And about opposing the war but wanting it to be fought competently if we had to do it at all, which involves more troops, what's so odd about that? It's like saying: you shouldn't do this operation on this patient in the first place, but if you do, you need to take the time to do it right. If someone said "hah, you're being inconsistent", that person would be not just wrong, but dumb.

There's been some interesting dicussion recently in Belgravia Dispatch about closing the border with Syria. I think the eventual consensus was, it pretty much can't be done. Not enough troops, too many well-established smuggling networks already exist, a lack of intelligence contacts within the border communities, etc. I would imagine it's much the same for the Iranian and Saudi borders, as well.

I don't have any problem with coming to an agreement with Syria, but how exactly would we verify it? As far as Iran goes, I think the level of mistrust between our two nations is so high that there simply is no possibility of a deal, either on border controls or nuclear weapons. At this point, I think the best we can hope for is that they are smart and careful enough to not let the weapons they will soon build fall into the hands of terrorist groups. At this point, I doubt we could even slow them down much with airstrikes. Their nuclear facilities are spread far apart, and they probably have a lot of hardened underground facilities as well.

OK, so we can't do this.

Whyfore, then, did we not consider this fact beforehand? It rather goes back to the first Democratic idea Hilzoy mentioned, doesn't it?

Iran and the new government of Iraq (Shia) have connections and they are growing more extensive. For example Iraq's primie minister is visiting Iran to discuss a pipeline to allow Iraqi oil to be refined there. Iran is also pursuing a policy of development includinng hundreds of thousands of religious tourusts. The Iraqi economy could use these.

In much of the south we have come to accept the dominance of conservative Shia militias and leaders. They are preferble to the alternative. Even in Baghdad young women can get acid in their face for immodest dress.

Sadly our Iraqi policy has come down to the quelling of the insurgency, dozens of other problems are on the back burner and we will take any help we can get. Currently Iran is a defacto partner. It is encouraging stability and some growth. Of course it is also laying a base of power and alliance, extending it's role in the region etc. but we don't want to mess with them because they could make thiings there very hot.

For those of you interested, I posted a longish comment with a large number of links here. Unfortunately, it is in a thread that still is experiencing typepad problems, but it is readable, I think.

The LATimes just had this article about conditions within NK (the author, Barbara Demick, was the one who was called a NK stooge for reporting an interview with a NK cadre in China)

The NK is demanding bilateral talks because the US has managed to separate itself from the concerns of the other nations in the region and NK has deftly capitalized on that. That we have done that, especially when NK had nothing to do with our current problems in Iraq or with supporting AQ, is proof that our ability to manage foreign policy under this administration doesn't even deserve a D-.

Bush won't close the borders because he wants more foreign fighters to come in to the country, as this supports his current position on Iraq: that it is the center of the Terror fight.

Another proposal:

The outcome in Iraq will not satisfy all twenty-seven proposed reasons for invasion. Pick. Start sacrificing the dreamworld possibilities of getting all the others too - and ensure we get the crucial ones.

If Rumsfeld can't tell the generals right now what the top three priorities are then one of them should literally plant a boot in his ass.

Rice and Hadley should know them as well. And if the public knew wth those priorities are, what would public support be like? Not a rhetorical question, but the implications are troubling.

CMatt, the problem is that the real top reason was to shore up the GOP with a war, continuing the political 'state of emergency' that has served Bush so well since 9/11. After that it comes down to securing Middle East oil on terms favorable to the administration's cronies, politically deniable denial of oil to other countries at will, and a situation allowing many billions of dollars to be pumped into contractors with no questions answered.

Note: I'm judging their reasons from their actions. Their statements (as have been pointed out before) don't match with their actions, unless they have a degree of incompetancy matched only by crackheads.

Barry: the trouble with deriving reasons from actions is that it presupposes a certain level of clear-headedness and instrumental rationality. This means that a lot of quite plausible explanations are lost to you, including some of the ones that seem most plausible to me in this case.

hilzoy: "Barry: the trouble with deriving reasons from actions is that it presupposes a certain level of clear-headedness and instrumental rationality. This means that a lot of quite plausible explanations are lost to you, including some of the ones that seem most plausible to me in this case. "


hilzoy, what would those be? I'm interested. I can imagine lots and lots of smaller reasons, that would add weight to a decision, but which I wouldn't think of as drivers.

And I do think that the biggest problem for historians and political scientists of the mid-21st century, when they study this, will be to sort out things, since there obviously was so much disconnect from reality here.

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